Introduction to Social Stratification

Defining Social Stratification Social stratification refers to the division of individuals in different groups, categories, strata or layers based on social differences like income, power, wealth, and status and biological differences like gender and ethnicity. This follows that class inequalities, gender inequalities and ethnic inequalities reflect the various forms of divisions or stratifications that exist in society. There has never been an equal society. People have always known some form of social stratification.

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Some past major forms of stratification are the Caste System, the Slavery System, the Feudal System, and the Apartheid System while major contemporary forms of social division include the Class System, Ethnic Inequality, and Gender Inequality. The caste system The Caste system was once very predominant in India. The Aryan priests divided society into a caste system with four parts. This system determined Indian occupations. The priests and teachers were the highest caste- the Brahmins.

The second in rank were rulers and warriors- the Kshatriyas, with merchants and traders third in rank- the Vaishyas. Last were the workers and peasants- the Shudras, who were born to be servants to the other three castes. People could not change their caste. They had to marry and socialise with people from their own caste. Another group in India’s caste system were the untouchables- the Dalits. The untouchables are the people that have been thrown out of their caste because of something that they did wrong. The children of these people were also untouchables.

They did the most despicable jobs in society like burning animals. For thousands of years, Indians have been divided by the Caste System, giving all the opportunities of success to the higher castes and oppressing the lower castes. The Caste system was once supposedly devised to bring order, discipline and specialization. It “lays down social, moral and ethical precepts for the guidance of the people and formulates rules for observance of rites and ceremonies; it is absolutely binding (compulsory, necessary) on Hindus”. Walker) It symbolizes social conditions. (Klass). It however had a profound influence on the social life of the Hindus for over ages; a few examples of its negative influences on some sections of the society are oppression, ‘untouchability’ and denial of entry into religious places. While all those benefited by it sing its praises, those disadvantaged by it curse it utterly. In other words, lower castes detest it with vengeance. (Walker) High caste status is associated with purity (hence white for Brahmins).

If a Dalit came into physical contact with a Brahmin, the latter perform ritual cleanliness-like bathing in flowing water and changing clothes Low castes perform unclean jobs like burying corpses, killing animals – must live outside villages to prevent “pollution” of the rest of the people Purity or pollution. The Caste System has been outlawed in 1950 with the passage of India’s constitution Similar to the US’s Affirmative Action program Some political offices in parliament and state assemblies are designated for ex-Untouchables Educational scholarships and quotas help educate Dalits Perpetuated discrimination against Dalits

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