Why is caste identity in India both fluid and static?

Model Answer


The development of caste consciousness emerged with colonial-era census, transforming it into a competitive force. This led to the formation of caste associations, which later evolved into pressure groups and political entities, all vying for state resources like jobs and education.

Eg: Mahajan Sabha and Jat Sabha.


Caste identity in India exhibits a dual nature. Below the “line of pollution” in rural domains and private spheres, it remains largely static. Yet, in the realm of politics and economic structures, it takes on a fluid character.

The surge of identity politics in 1960s followed by the Mandal era politics of 1990s, further accelerated the malleability of caste identity. Middle castes, such as Jats in Punjab, Patidars in Gujarat, Kammas and Reddys in Andhra, and Yadavs in Bihar and UP, benefiting from land reforms, secured political power and became dominant castes. However given the heterogenous nature of caste blocs, some thrive while others lag behind. This has compelled the latter to assert their subcaste identities to leverage reservation policies, heightening the dynamism and complexity of caste identities in contemporary India.

Conversely, for outcastes like Dalits, caste remains static and oppressive with severe restrictions on commensality within India’s socio-cultural fabric. Though Dalit consciousness and identity have developed from Ambedkar’s efforts in 1930s to the Dalit movements of the 1970s, the benefits have primarily accrued to a select Dalit middle class. In rural areas, Dalits still encounter a rigid and oppressive caste identity, evident in violent incidents aimed at suppressing their demands for rights and entitlements. Instances include the Kilvenmani violence of 1968, Dharampur violence of 1977, the Karamchedu violence of 1985, and the Hathras rape case of 2020.


Thus, caste identity is enduring through the sands of time in different forms in different places for differential motives at different points of time in Indian social fabric.

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