Caste Politics in Indian Society: Overview

“The caste system had grown by the practice of the son always following the business of the father”, said by Swami Vivekananda. The caste system in India originated 2500 years ago and is not prevalent only among Hindu but also among Sikhs, Muslims as well. When this separation of people is used to gain powers in the political, social, or civil arena then it is referred to as Caste Politics which eventually results in violence and riots. Here, let us discuss the importance of Caste Politics by illustrating examples.

Rest in History:

Why this separation of people into caste emerged in society? Who initiated the move and what is the purpose? Of course, all the negativity that India has was sown by the western world when they entered our motherland in the name of trading. The British instituted the caste system in India for the working of major governmental institutions, which resulted in the control of monopoly influences by upper castes or forward castes after the independence too. Soon, when the greed for power comes to light in gaining political position, the concept of Caste Politics came into existence.

Statistical Data Speaks:

According to the 2011 census of the Ministry of Home Affairs of Government of India, the total population of the country is 1,028,737,436 in number. Caste identity, which had been a source of exclusion, discrimination, and social stigmatization, in the social and political context of contemporary India, is gaining more positive meanings for socially marginalized groups as caste capital becomes a key source for groups’ identity politics. The total population of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in India is 166,635,700 and 84,326,240 respectively. When considering the proportion, it is 16.2 for the former and 8.2 for the latter. There are nearly 3,000 castes and 25,000 sub-castes in India which are related to their occupation. However, the difference between caste and sub-caste is not clear-cut. Both have similar attributes. A sub-caste is a sub-division of caste if needed to be defined. For instance, Kanyakubja, Suryupari, and Gaur Brahmins are examples of castes, and Shrimali, Purohit and Pushkarna Brahmins are examples of sub-castes in India. But, Dalit’s social and political mobilization has recently gained much attention in India and abroad giving a broad understanding of Caste Politics in Indian society.


The most prominent political aspect of the caste system of India is Untouchability. It resulted in denial of people’s entry into temples, access to common resources like water and so on. They were the people who are considered as lower castes people and are imposed with certain jobs other than which they are not allowed to carry on. They were the people who do menial jobs like Scavengers, water carriers, Skinners of hides of dead animals, wage workers, and agricultural laborers. Such a situation made backward castes people believe that they are incapable to carry on other works and think themselves lower than others living inside the cocoon for a long time. When they come out to hold powers they were forced to go back to their same place treating them as untouchable creating Caste Politics. This was, however, the pre-independence situation in India.

Though casteism, inter-caste conflicts and incidents of caste violence are more prevalent in rural areas yet they occur in the urban areas as well. In independent India, competition among different castes seems to be the normal situation. With the passing of political power to the people, castes have become pressure groups and are competing for power. Many examples are cited in this regard:

  • A few years ago, in one state, a very large number of Yadavas were recruited in the police department because a Yadav enjoyed the highest political power in the state.
  • In the 1950s, there was a case of a state in which a Reddy Chief Minister appointed a large number of Reddys as ministers.
  • In one state, a Jain officer gave preference to Jains and a Rajput officer to Rajputs in all appointments.

This tendency increases not only hatred for other castes but also leads to caste politics in the country. Such conflicts abound in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Gujarat, and Maharashtra. When one caste numerically preponderates over other castes in one geographical area, it seeks the position of a ‘dominant’ caste by attempting to secure economic and political power. When a caste enjoys one form of dominance, it is frequently able to acquire the other forms as well in the course of time.

The Initiative by Government:

With independence, major initiatives in the area of removing caste injustice and inequality were to be attempted. The constitution of India extended political rights to all citizens irrespective of religion, caste, gender, language, and race. Therefore, this included the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and the constitution also specifically in Article 17 declared that untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. For instance, in 1955, Parliament passed the Untouchability (Offenses) Act which further specified that any offenses were punishable. Again in 1976, the protection of civil rights (amendment) Act was passed which provided for stringent punishment, the appointment of officers and special courts to deal with the offenders and provide legal aid for victims and so on.

Political involvement:

  • Due to differences with Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. Ambedkar left the government as a law minister and founded the All India Scheduled Caste Foundation. But, it did not do well in elections.
  • In 1956, Ambedkar led millions of Mahars, which is his community and converted to Buddhism. He could do this because reservations were not denied to Buddhist converts unlike Scheduled Caste’s conversion to Islam and Christianity.
  • After his death, based on his letter published posthumously the “Republican Party” was founded. It had minimum success in the Bombay Assembly election. In the early 1970s, a new trend identified as Dalit Panthers emerged in Maharashtra as part of the country-wide wave of Caste Politics.
  • In north-India, a new party, The Bahujan Samaj Party emerged in the 1980s under the leadership of Kanshi Ram which declared electoral power as a basic aim and strategy. This party is alike with any political force as long as it advances its votes share and gets political power.
  • It got Mayawati, her 1st Chief Minister in alliance with BJP in 1995. It had also aligned with Devi Lal and Chandra Sekhar against VPC and in 2007 Mayawati came to power on her own for the 1st

Empowerment in all ways:

Soon, Non-Dalit parties and groups taking up issues of concern to Dalits have also played a significant role in their empowerment. Non-Governmental Organisations that have taken up agricultural laborers issues such as wage problems demand employment guarantee schemes, right to work, House sights, Abolition of child labor, Right to Education and so on have all contributed to the new Dalit self-confidence.

Know the Present Condition:

After the political independence of the country in 1947, besides industrialization and urbanization, other factors which affected the caste system are the merger of various states, enactment of several laws, the spread of education, socio-religious reform measures and movements, westernization, growth of modern professions, spatial mobility and the growth of the market economy. There is no sign of caste system losing its grip. The only visible change is in the attitude of different castes to rise in the caste hierarchy and gain social prestige ( Read Sanskritization). While changes in the caste politics are continuous and regular, the caste system remains intact for all practical purposes.


A more recent dilemma has emerged concerning caste politics. It is the competition between different Scheduled Castes. As the benefits of reservation are inevitably availed by better-off castes among the Scheduled Castes the disadvantaged once begin to demand quotas and Intra-scheduled Castes hostility is becoming increasingly politically visible. We all know that politics is the acquisition of power for the realization of certain goals and power is acquired by consolidating positions through mobilizing the group (caste) support. Since in India, the social system is organized around caste structure, therefore, caste and politics can never be separated.


T 00-005: Total Population, Population of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and their proportions to the total population. (2011). Retrieved from

Kristina, G. (2015). Subaltern Autonomy: Dalit Students’ Identity Politics in India. Retrieved from

How many castes are there in India? (n.d). Retrieved from

Ram Ahuja, R. (1999, January 1). Society in India: Concepts, Theories and Recent Trends. Rawat Publications.

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