Definition of caste in English:

caste

noun

  • 1Each of the hereditary classes of Hindu society, distinguished by relative degrees of ritual purity or pollution and of social status.

    ‘members of the lower castes’
    mass noun ‘a man of high caste’
    • ‘While Varna describes the four castes, Ashrama discusses the four stages of life of a Hindu.’
    • ‘This led him to insist that as long as the Dalits and other low castes remained within the Hindu fold, they would continue to suffer.’
    • ‘In case your Hinduism is a little rusty, the Brahmans are the priest caste in traditional Hindu society.’
    • ‘Even when Hindus were converted to Islam, Hindus of higher caste got relatively better treatment than Hindus of the lower castes.’
    • ‘Traditionally there are four castes in the Hindu religion, the fifth section of society being the untouchables, so lowly they are considered outside the caste system.’
    • ‘It is only on the level of the third, the Vaishya caste, that life is devoted primarily to the ideology of wealth.’
    • ‘Hindu castes also play a role in the rural economy.’
    • ‘All three villages have a mixed population of Hindus of different castes.’
    • ‘Those boarding the crowded bus constitute a cross section of Indian life - Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, higher and lower castes, middle class and poor.’
    • ‘He was born into the Brahman caste which meant he was from the highest ranking caste of Hindu priests.’
    • ‘The higher Hindu castes usually cremate their dead.’
    • ‘Speakers said the Dalits suffer under the Hindu caste hierarchy and this move restores their self-respect.’
    • ‘It is the middle class which is intermingling with all sections and castes of the society, working together in offices, industries, business and government.’
    • ‘Because if you are only born a Hindu, then obviously you are born into a caste.’
    • ‘Hindus of many castes and sects and from many parts of India have migrated, taking with them traditions that were familiar to them back home.’
    • ‘The children who benefit from the scheme are Hindus of all castes, as well as Muslims and Christians.’
    • ‘Indian Christians are said to still discreetly follow pre-conversion castes of their Hindu forefathers.’
    • ‘Members of the upper castes consider the lowest castes to be ritually unclean, therefore marrying someone from a different caste, whilst not officially outlawed, is generally not recognised.’
    • ‘The lower status service castes are associated with hereditary crafts such as mat weaving, jewelry making, and clothes washing.’
    • ‘Hindu religious theory justifies the division of society into castes, with the unavoidable differences in status and the differential access to power each one has.’
    class, social class, order, social order, social division, grade, grading, group, grouping, station, stratum, echelon, rank, level, degree, set
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1mass noun The system of dividing society into castes.
      ‘caste has survived among Goa's Christians’
      as modifier ‘the caste system’
      • ‘The more pressing question, in fact, seems to be not whether, but how certain interracial spaces managed to survive within the racial caste system.’
      • ‘Mauritanian society is strictly divided into a rigid caste system that flies in the face of the country's supposed march towards political liberalisation.’
      • ‘The caste system reflects Indian historical occupation and religiously defined hierarchies.’
      • ‘While Bhutan has no caste system, a pattern of discrimination against the minority Hindus of Nepalese origin exists.’
      • ‘This caste system consists of three major parts within a colony.’
      • ‘In these cities and their suburbs, there is now a developed class system overlying and in many respects displacing the more traditional caste system.’
      • ‘No human community ever existed in the past, nor does it exist now which does not have caste system in one form or the other.’
      • ‘This is a strange kind of caste system and women find it very hard to break.’
      • ‘To do otherwise is to lock our society into a type of caste system.’
      • ‘In practice, the inherited distinction between rural and urban residents produces a deeply entrenched caste system.’
      • ‘For instance, in the lower caste systems within India, is expected that children will perform manual labour to help repay family debt.’
      • ‘The caste system was obliterated legally, with one stroke of the pen, the day free India was born.’
      • ‘But there was precious little serious reporting on just what precisely is entailed in our economic caste system of haves and have-nots.’
      • ‘Historically, the society was divided along caste and color lines.’
      • ‘He added that the deeply entrenched caste system meant it was almost impossible for people of lower castes to assume any position of power.’
      • ‘Most are from among the Untouchables in the now outlawed caste system, and regard it as their duty to pay off their parents' debts.’
      • ‘The weak character of the empire came from the rigid caste system that divided people and created unstable feelings among them.’
      • ‘For another, the hierarchical, non-democratic, caste systems of childhood have nothing in common with contemporary political credos.’
      • ‘The ideological framework of colonial Spanish America's caste system is familiar.’
      • ‘It was resolved to launch a national campaign for the abolition of both the caste system and dowry because together they tended to reinforce the system of caste endogamy.’
    2. 1.2 Any class or group of people who inherit exclusive privileges or are perceived as socially distinct.
      ‘those educated in private schools belong to a privileged caste’
      • ‘He cannot do anything about his time at Eton but he must make more connections outside a privileged caste of friends.’
      • ‘Almost half a century later their privileged lifestyle and their aura of being an exclusive caste still attracted comment.’
      • ‘Everybody attaches themselves to a group, a tribe, a caste.’
      • ‘A republican government does not comfortably coexist with a submerged caste within the population.’
      • ‘He insisted that the Soviet bureaucracy was not, as Trotsky had analyzed, a reactionary privileged caste, but rather a new ruling class.’
    3. 1.3Entomology (in some social insects) a class of physically distinct individuals with a particular function in the society.
      ‘in both ants and termites the workers can include specialist castes such as soldiers’
      • ‘The new study also reveals how elements in the genome may influence the development of vastly different honeybee castes, such as queens and workers, from the same genetic material.’
      • ‘In many termite species, for example, soldier castes are highly developed, and colony members never leave their nests of dead wood because, like gall aphids and gall thrips, they are able to feed off the walls.’
      • ‘Eusocial aphids have an altruistic soldier caste that defends colonies from natural enemies.’
      • ‘And after identifying worker ants in several of the fossils, he believes that ants had already begun to specialize into castes.’
      • ‘Individuals of the worker caste are usually effectively sterile, and reproduction is monopolized by the queen caste.’

There are four basic classes or varnas in Hindu society: Brahman (priest), Kshatriya (warrior), Vaisya (merchant or farmer), and Sudra (labourer). The lowest class, the scheduled caste (formerly known as untouchables), fall outside the varna system and have historically suffered extreme discrimination

Phrases

  • lose caste

    • 1Descend in the caste system, e.g. by taking employment regarded as of lower status.

      • ‘It is a sign that they are all the same community and can live and eat together without losing caste.’
      • ‘Indian soldiers were only too happy to go to war on behalf of the Empire, even though, for Hindus, crossing the dark ocean meant losing caste.’
      1. 1.1Come to be regarded with less respect; lose status.
        ‘they lost caste by moving away from the old house’
        • ‘If departments were bad, ministers could be sacked; if ministers disagreed with their colleagues, they could resign without losing caste.’

Origin

Mid 16th century (in the general sense ‘race, breed’): from Spanish and Portuguese casta ‘lineage, race, breed’, feminine of casto ‘pure, unmixed’, from Latin castus ‘chaste’.

Pronunciation

caste

/kɑːst/