The caste system is a system of division of labour and power in human society. It is a system of social stratification, and a basis foraffirmative action. Historically, it defined communities into thousands of endogamous hereditary groups called Jatis. The Jatis were grouped by the Brahminical texts under the four well-known caste categories (the varnas): viz Brahmins, Kshatriyas,Vaishyas, and Shudras. Certain people were excluded altogether, ostracized by all other castes and treated as untouchables.
Although identified with Hinduism, caste systems have also been observed among other religions on the Indian subcontinent, including some groups of Muslims, Buddha. Caste is commonly thought of as an ancient fact of Hindu life, but various contemporary scholars have argued that the caste system was constructed by the British colonial regime. Caste is neither unique to Hindu religion nor to India; caste systems have been observed in other parts of the world, for example, in the Muslim community of Yemen, Christian colonies of Spain, and Japan.
The Indian government officially recognizes historically discriminated lowest castes of India such as Untouchables and Shudras underScheduled Castes, and certain economically backward castes as Other Backward Castes. The Scheduled Castes are sometimes referred to as Dalit in contemporary literature. In 2001, the proportion of Dalit population was 16. 2 percent of India's total population. Since 1950, India has enacted and implemented many laws and social initiatives to protect and improve the socio-economic conditions of its Dalit population.
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By 1995, of all jobs in the Central Government service, 17. 2 percent of the jobs were held by Dalits. Of the highest paying, senior most jobs in government agencies and government controlled enterprises, over 10 percent were held by members of the Dalit community, a tenfold increase in 40 years but yet to fill up the 15 percent reserved quota for them. In 1997, India democratically elected K. R. Narayanan, a Dalit, as the nation's President. In the last 15 years, Indians born in historically discriminated minority castes have been elected to its highest judicial and political offices.
While the quality of life of Dalit population in India, in terms of metrics such as poverty, literacy rate, access to health care, life expectancy, education attainability, access to drinking water, housing, etc. have seen faster growth amongst the Dalit population between 1986 and 2006, for some metrics, it remains lower than overall non-Dalit population, and for some it is better than poor non-Dalit population. A 2003 report claims inter-caste marriage is on the rise in urban India.
Indian societal relationships are changing because of female literacy and education, women at work, urbanization, need for two-income families, and influences from the media. India's overall economic growth has produced the fastest and most significant socio-economic changes to the historical injustice to its minorities. Legal and social program initiatives are no longer India's primary constraint in further advancement of India's historically discriminated sections of society and the poor. Further advancements are likely to come from improvements in the supply of quality schools in rural and urban India, along with India's economic growth.
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