• caste system india marriage

This is India! 64

Welcome back to This is India! I always have funny/weird stories about India to share with friends or family when I talk to them. This is just meant to be an honest portrayal about my life in India through short anecdotes. I also share here what I’ve been up to online outside Werkenntwen.

What I was up to other than here:

  • My life is feeling pretty ordinary this week. I’ve been working out (this is new for me, and sucks), taking kick boxing classes, cooking a lot of Pinterest stuff (hello kit kat cream cheese brownie)… then realizing the eating is probably canceling the working out. Also, learned how much sugar REALLY goes in Koolaid, and yes, I’m drinking some cherry right now anyways.
  • Workwise… I’m working on a little secret project & I can’t tell you about it yet or it will ruin the surprise! But it’s going to be 1. Helpful for you all 2. A lot of work for me.

Now your story,

Maybe you’ve heard of the caste system in India. If not, you can read up here as it’s quite a lot to explain. If you read books about Indian culture, you may find that in the older days, the caste system was really harsh and there wasn’t much pity for those born in a lower caste.

It’s meant to be “in the past” and not followed like that today. In fact, some Indians may tell you it doesn’t exist anymore, as some have told me. Others will say it does, but it’s not talked about.

I have read about what it used to be like and have had friends some South India explain how it affects them, but I’m not sure how lower castes really have it in India. I don’t know if they are still treated terribly by higher castes… I hope not! (if you want to read a book that talks about it, try God of Small Things it’s really popular and touches on the caste system in Kerala)

There was a group called “untouchables” and in the book I just mentioned, I read that in the 70’s, the family wouldn’t let the “untouchable” walk in their house without walking backwards… and other mean things.

From Wikipedia:

“Since 1950, the country has enacted many laws and social initiatives to protect and improve the socioeconomic conditions of its lower caste population. These caste classifications for college admission quotas, job reservations and other affirmative action initiatives, according to the Supreme Court of India, are based on heredity and are not changeable.Discrimination against lower castes is illegal in India under Article 15 of its constitution, and India tracks violence against Dalits (untouchables) nationwide.”

I’ve also had friends explain that they have to marry someone from the same caste or maybe higher.

From what I know, Indians are meant to disclose their caste when applying for jobs and college… although its said that is so they are not discriminated against – which sounds similar to affirmative action which is something we have in the US.

There was outrage a month ago when this article came out from Times of India: Four Degrees in Hand and He Still Cleans Mumbai’s Sewers. Take a second to read it.

There are articles like this often though, and caste is sometimes even an issue when you try to get an apartment. A girl in Goa posted this, a photo she took of the newspaper with her phone:

caste system india marriage

So, they aren’t exactly pretending the caste system doesn’t exist. Which makes it all very confusing!

What do you think of this? Any Indian readers want to shed some wisdom?

This is India!

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About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing and lived on the beaches of Goa, India for the five years. Now she lives in Mexico where she gives advice on the 40+ countries she’s visited in the last 10 years. She’s the author of two India travel e-books: Guide to India and Insider’s Guide to Goa. Her blog, Werkenntwen, like its name, is a contradiction combining off-beat adventurous places with glamorous and bespoke travel. Werkenntwen has been featured in ELLE, Marie Claire, Grazia, and Cosmopolitan magazines. She’s a writer for Bravo TV.


  1. Pritam August 21, 2015 at 6:55 pm - Reply

    Ugh !! The Caste System… It very much exists even today in India. That newspaper clip just proves it. It is especially true when it comes down to marriage. In the cities like Mumbai/Delhi, it is much less conspicuous. However, in smaller towns and villages, it is big thing. You will sometimes read in newspapers about honor-killing and such. It is the same crap.

  2. Rachel August 21, 2015 at 8:51 pm - Reply

    When I was in India, I was told straight up by the guesthouse owner in Agra that yes, though illegal (since like 1901 I believe?) the caste system is very much alive in well in India. You marry someone in your caste or risk being dis-owned by your family, plain and simple. I imagine this is less common in more progressive families and communities but otherwise I was told it was still the norm for most Indians. My boyfriend and I were traveling throughout India, obviously staying in hotel rooms together, and this was a situation of much fascination to most of the guesthouse owners and often led to conversations like the one we had with the guesthouse owner in Agra. Once it was to the horror instead of fascination of a guesthouse owner and he actually revoked our reservation and kicked us out when he found out we weren’t married and sharing a room in his guesthouse!

    • Saurabh Singh August 21, 2015 at 11:57 pm - Reply

      Actually many sections our Indian population are extremely conservative , including regions in and around Agra, Delhi (UP etc) . Staying together before public disclosure(marriage/engagement etc) may be seen as practice of sexual fantasies … :)
      which is not traditionally acceptable and people refrain their kids from seeing that.!!!…
      Though many urban sections do not even care , but since people(and hotel operators , in turn) may not want any agitations , so you would have faced trouble :(

      I suppose it is best idea to leave the circumstances on their fate and the people on theirs.
      Better find accommodating places /hotels as their are many now-a -days.

      Please let me know your other concerns. I shall feel happy to help !! :)
      Cheers !!

    • Rachel Jones August 24, 2015 at 5:56 pm - Reply

      Wow that’s crazy!! Never happened to me so far.

  3. venus john August 22, 2015 at 12:00 am - Reply

    i am sure it exists in the interiors of india in the villages.
    the badaun rape case was about the upper castes terrorising the lower cast women.
    and its no use complaining to the police,as they side with the upper castes who are rich and powerful.
    in the cities,the lower castes are in good shape,they have reserved seats for jobs and in professional colleges.so there is no stigma attached to being of a lower caste in the cities.

    of course there is a lot i don’t know about the caste system in india,as i don’t belong to any caste being a catholic in india..

    • Indian August 22, 2015 at 12:47 am - Reply

      You’r right Ms John, but it is sorry to say that the cast system in India is still prevalent – (for more information just follow this link – http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/an-unholy-affair-dalit-christians-fight-upper-caste-aggression/article1-1375632.aspx )

      • venus john August 24, 2015 at 6:29 pm - Reply

        thanks for the link..i had heard of dalit or backward caste catholics,in the newspaper..but haven’t really met anyone..i don’t know if this caste system amongst catholics exists in goa nad mumbai or even kerala.
        we were supposed to have been converted two thousand years ago,byt the apostle st.thomas who came from syria..
        and it seems 100 brahmins were the inital converts,and then there were a lot of other converts.i really don’t know my caste.but i don’t look like a brahmin,being dark complexioned.but some of my cousins have aryan looks..so we seem to be a mix of all castes.
        i am not much of a church goer and too interested in religion..though i like the wisdom in the hindu upanishads, love in the gospels,philosophy in the buddhist teachings..
        one of my housemaids was an ‘adivasi’ who is a staunch christian from chattisgarh..i suppose that makes her a dalit. but i think only the hindu lower castes have seats reserved for them for jobs in government service etc..
        i think the lower caste christians do not have seats reserved for them.
        if my ancestors converted to chriatianity to escape from the hindu caste system,then that was a good move..i would do it too,if i were in their place..
        in my view,its best to do away with religion altogether,and study the religious texts only as philosophy..

    • Rachel Jones August 24, 2015 at 5:54 pm - Reply

      Thanks for that insight.. that’s really sad! Nice you don’t have to deal with it as much.

      • venus john August 24, 2015 at 6:43 pm - Reply

        yes,but being a woman in india,and from a minority community,an single,is a bit like being of a lower caste in my experience,luckily,i am educated and belong to the economic middle class ..
        so i don’t face what the lower castes in the villages face..but i find it difficult to survive too..if you live in a third world country that is corrupt,and don’t join in,then you may not get a job either..

  4. sasi August 22, 2015 at 3:43 am - Reply

    Trying to decipher this with simplistic western knowledge and limited exposure is futile. Its basically making sense of a result of 5000+ years of evolution with barely 200 years of recent historical knowledge doesn’t really work that way, or will be catastrophically confusing.

    • Rachel Jones August 24, 2015 at 5:53 pm - Reply

      Maybe so, but I can’t live here for years and not wonder about it.

  5. Ponraj August 22, 2015 at 9:55 am - Reply

    Cast system is root of “so called” The great Hinduism and untouchability is a branch of it. American Racism was based on color which was visible to eyes. But indian Caste racism has strong hold on ppl brain and inherited based on birth . not only in village , City ppl has it underneath their brains , during marriage it wakes up. Even 100 Periyar or 1000 Ambedkar cannot change it.

  6. Jennifer Ryder Joslin August 22, 2015 at 10:12 am - Reply

    When we were in Jaisalmer, India last year a local from the Brahmin caste told us that if he were to touch someone from the lowest caste, even by accident, his family would make him wash in a bucket of water with gold in it to purify him. Although he seemed not to totally agree with this, he was actively teaching the same values to his 4 year old son as “it’s tradition”. Made me sad to see the discrimination being passed on :(

    • Saurabh Singh August 22, 2015 at 5:43 pm - Reply

      I think it is more when people have abundant to survive that the mnd thinks in this direction. In Raj. , of course some people were richer by land and need not do jobs.
      But it gets lost in poorer states like Bihar etc. where people BLUFF … :D or lie about castes..
      So as a result it sometimes becomes useless to keep surnames there. Consequently either they dont mind or they go after property, status of Job etc. as a filter criteria ?

    • Rachel Jones August 24, 2015 at 5:53 pm - Reply

      That’s really sad :(

  7. vinay nagyal August 22, 2015 at 10:07 pm - Reply

    caste does exist. unlike the US, the indian system has kept track of lineage through surnames and caste systems. like the US, india is a melting pot of races (Negroids from the south, Caucasians from the north, Mongoloids from the east) and the caste system has prevented inter-breeding in a major way. Please note that caste by itself is not an evil. what is evil is discrimination based on caste. that has drastically reduced, to a level LOWER than the average black-white discrimination that happens in the US. in fact, caste based reservation in jobs is 50% irrespective of capability and it is time now to remove reservations. it is not rare to find “low caste” millionaires and “high caste” beggars nowadays.

  8. Alana | Paper Planes August 22, 2015 at 10:09 pm - Reply

    Thanks for writing about this. What an eye-opening look at Indian culture and history. It’s interesting to hear that some say its a thing of the past, others that it doesn’t exist at all, and still others that say it does (but isn’t talked about)… that newspaper clipping is especially powerful and seems to indicate something else altogether: that it does exist and it exists in 2015, and that it is talked about. I definitely see what you mean about it being a hard concept to fully understand.

  9. Tim UrbanDuniya August 24, 2015 at 10:26 am - Reply

    Interesting… and a bit sad. Over the centuries many people and their families in India have converted to Christianity, Catholicism and Islam to ‘escape’ the caste system, only to find castes within those communities in India as well. Apparently, the caste system was so ingrained in people’s thinking that they felt the need to appropriate it into the adopted religion. Same in Pakistan, where caste is an issue for many people, despite it having no real basis in Islam.

    • Rachel Jones August 24, 2015 at 5:49 pm - Reply

      Yeah I know what you mean. I’ve noticed that as well.

  10. Mishika August 24, 2015 at 3:29 pm - Reply

    Caste system was never made to belittle any person.
    In fact it was a simple segregation based on the type of profession followed by the person.
    Over the decades, this system has taken a different turn and now is used (misused) in many ways:
    • Jobs reservation
    • Exploitation of people in name of caste

  11. sunil gupta August 25, 2015 at 4:01 pm - Reply

    I totally agree that cast system has its roots very deep in the rural areas which contribute more than 70 to 80% of the population, and in my opinion the urban areas are more cosmopolitan and have more serious issues like money, work stress, travel, pollution, space etc which takes priority to the cast system.
    But it would be totally absurd to say, it does not exist in the urban areas, we as Indians tend to ignore it as we have been living this way since a very long time, you can easily see particular community not being encouraged in building townships, large family business being run by a family of a particular community and promotions being imparted to employees of the same community, govt sector jobs being shared to the not so deserving candidates from the same state. There are hundreds of more examples and it will always continue till there are more important categories that can be defined like power, status and money.
    But for the newspaper cutting, i have to disagree slightly, i do agree that it is is discrimination, but the issue of arranged marriage is a altogether a different topic, and people tend to marry between the same sub-sub-community because it is like finding a life partner with a ‘less stranger’ and way of life in a traditional household in the same sub-community may be similar that to a complete foreigner. This has nothing to do with compatibility of the to-be bride and groom in any which way. I hope this makes some sense in the already too complicated topic being discussed. Thanks.

    • Rachel Jones August 26, 2015 at 11:53 am - Reply

      Hey Sunil thanks for sharing your thoughts to help us understand.

  12. Soumya August 26, 2015 at 1:06 am - Reply


    This might be an interesting read as well. Many look at it as simultaneous occurrence of ‘progressive’ and ‘discriminatory’ attitude regarding 2 different identities of the same person.. Someone in the comments of this article has shared an interesting perspective on how preferring someone from a particular community/caste is not always discriminatory, but also a matter of familiarity/knowing.. Though, I only find it unbelievable that someone would be unfamiliar with “other” community/caste folks in the current space that at least metropolitan cities of the country are. Is there a distrust/discomfort amongst people from different caste/community? If so, isn’t it all rooted/developed around caste discrimination?

    • Rachel Jones August 26, 2015 at 11:54 am - Reply

      Hi Soumya thanks for sharing that. I agree with you that it seems rooted in discrimination, but then I’m an outsider looking in.

  13. Priyanka August 26, 2015 at 4:17 pm - Reply

    We are Indians and we like our cast system because…caste system is important in India.
    Because: The caste system has maintained the racial purity of the higher caste by forbidding indiscriminate inter-marriages. It has also remarkably promoted the habits of cleanliness by insisting on purity in rituals.

  14. Govind K August 31, 2015 at 7:58 pm - Reply

    I agree that the caste system could be quite confusing for a traveller living in/visiting India.. As a goan living in Australia,I get asked about the caste system a lot.

    The caste system was a way of segregating people based on their profession ,with intellectuals at the top ,followed by people in defense, then business owners and eventually workers at the bottom.Over many generations, its possible that this system was manipulated by powers that be to maintain their higher status through their family name.This exercising of power over several generations has metamorphosised into one racist system.

    As someone who has close to 500 years of documented ancestral history in goa,it pains to see the ultra conservative attitudes that have carried through generations.But hey ,as long as we do take pride in our right to intellectual lunacy :-p

  15. rakhi September 1, 2015 at 6:28 pm - Reply

    @Rachel Jones

    We are Indians and we like our cast framework in light of the fact that… position framework is critical in India.

    Since: The position framework has kept up the racial virtue of the higher station by denying unpredictable between relational unions. It has additionally strikingly advanced the propensities for cleanliness by demanding virtue in ceremonie


  16. ANAIR September 7, 2015 at 7:31 pm - Reply

    Lot of people, especially from India, commenting about caste and class seem to miss a fundamental point. Human beings are never meant to be classified. It is this classification which has driven all humans to the situation we are currently in. There is religious classification, national classification, color classification, even gender classification, state classification and caste classification. Point is that, till these classifications remain, people will keep fighting with each other.
    Well, maybe God created us and then suggested class so that we can keep fighting and hence keep our population in check. But then, did God fail!!!

    LOL @Rakhi … sorry, didn’t understand a word you said.

  17. Tina February 11, 2016 at 2:05 pm - Reply

    @Rachel Jones

    I hate casteism system in India. Very much exist even today. Newspaper clip proves that. When it comes to marriage it’s a big deal in all the cities, for smalls towns people it’s a big deal. People getting killed everyday because of this cheap thinking.


  18. Marie Pierce February 20, 2016 at 3:02 pm - Reply

    I really love India.. a Multi_religious country.. but its sad to saying that Caste-ism is still alive here… Peoples,Places especially food is really good here.. but they cooked many of them in Very much oil… Which is not so Good for health… They are also quite helpful for tourists.. as i visited.. Agra in 2009 with my love to see Tajmahal. Peoples of India knew that how to spread love not Hate.

  19. Annabel March 11, 2016 at 5:59 pm - Reply

    Intriguing… and somewhat tragic. Throughout the hundreds of years numerous individuals and their families in India have changed over to Christianity, Catholicism and Islam to “departure” the position framework, just to discover standings inside of those groups in India also. Obviously, the station framework was so instilled in individuals’ reasoning that they felt the need to proper it into the embraced religion. Same in Pakistan, where station is an issue for some individuals, regardless of it having no genuine premise in Islam.

  20. Raj April 15, 2016 at 5:12 am - Reply

    Caste is more like a group now. People marry within their group. More like whites marrying whites and black marrying blacks in US. Sure, there are cross-marriages in US..same in India.
    In some rural areas, there is unfortunately, still discrimination against the ‘lowest’ rung (lowest – i.e. groups doing meneal jobs). On the other hand, the affirmative action is abused too. There are ‘reservations’ everywhere… mainly, well-off guys seek reservations based on their caste. Any problem they face, they bring out that it’s because of their caste.
    The ‘untouchability’ aspect, which exists only in some rural areas is terrible…but, I find westerns (esp. christian missionaries) lot more brain-washed about it while reading about India.
    Btw, you should know that ‘Caste’ is not an India word. It was brought by portugese and Brits labelled each of the groups as ‘lower’, ‘upper’ etc.. In India, it was ‘jati’..which means profession. The classification was by profession (which is not by birth).

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