Caste conflict refers to conflict between two castes or group of castes on specific issues. In general it is side effect of the problem of casteism. Apart from casteism caste conflict arises when,

  1. One caste attempts to dominate over others,
  2. When higher castes exploit the lower castes,
  3. When castes perceive other castes as barriers in there mobility and in achieving political power, and
  4. When caste find that they are not able to share in the new economic opportunities or acquire symbols of high status.

Sociologists like A. Beteille, M.N.Srinivas, A.R.Desai, Edmund Leach look into caste conflict as lower caste attempt for social mobility. Conflict is the foundation to social change.The reason for conflict is desire for space in social life by a group of people which is challenged by another group. Though caste conflicts found more in the rural areas but they take place in urban areas as welL A number of caste violence cases were recently reported in the urban localities in Gujarat and Maharashtra. Caste violence occurred mostly in the rural areas of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, and Bengal Some politically motivated caste conflicts have been reported from Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.

Causes of Caste conflicts (Few Case Studies)

  1. Dominance of one caste over others
  2. Exploitation of lower castes by upper castes
  3. Barriers in mobility and achieving political power
  4. Competition for economic opportunities and acquiring symbols of high status.
  5. Dominance of one caste over others : The analysis of the exploitation of castes by the locally dominant caste is crucial to the understanding of caste conflicts in rural areas in India. Occasionally, a caste is dominant in a group of neighbouring villages, if not in the district or the region. According to M.N. Srinivas a caste is ‘dominant’ when it preponderates numerically over the other castes, when it also wields preponderant economic and political power, and when it enjoys a high ritual status in the local caste hierarchy. The number of educated persons and the nature of high occupations people in the caste are also two important elements of dominance. When a caste enjoys all the elements of dominance, it may be said to be dominant in a decisive way. But decisive dominance is not common. The different elements of dominance are distributed among the castes in a village. Thus, a caste which is ritually high may be poor and lacking strength in numbers, while a numerically populous caste may be poor and ritually low. When a caste enjoys one form of dominance, it is frequently able to acquire the other forms as well in course of time.

However, this does not apply to untouchable castes. The castes whose members are landless labourers, tenants, or very small landowners are many a time exploited by the dominant castes.Sometimes the untouchables also decide to give up performing services such as removing the dead animals from the houses of the higher castes, beating drums at the festivals of village deities, and removing the leaf-plates on which the high castes had dined during festivals and weddings. The upper caste people become annoyed and beat up the untouchables and set fire to their huts.The attempt to dominate and resistance to dominance, thus, lead to caste conflicts.

  • Exploitation of lower castes by higher castes The attitude of the upper castes has always been to consolidate and maintain their high social status.The intermediate and lower castes feel deprived and exploited It is thus this attempt of ‘assertion’ of high caste people which creates caste conflicts. The best examples of these caste conflicts due to exploitation, economic grievances and deprivation are found in Bihar. Brahmins, Bhumihars, Rajputs and Kayasht has have always been in conflict with upper backwards like Yadavs, Kurmis and Koeries, and lower backwards like Dhanuk, Kumbhar, Lohar, Telli, Kahar, etc. Many caste carnages had taken place in Bihar out of rivalry. The most brutal massacres in the last fifteen years were; February 1992 massacre in Bara village, 40 kilometres from Gaya in which forty-four upper caste Bhumihars persons of Savarna Liberation Front were killed by1,500 backward caste MCC raiders. December 23, 1991carnage in which ten low caste members and supporters of Maoist Communist Centre were killed by the upper caste SLF. Eight Harijans were burnt alive by the Kurmis (rich landlords) in Belchi in May 1977; and in 1978 several landless agricultural labourers were burnt alive by the Kurmis in Bishrampur. There is long list of such massacres.The growing escalation of caste-class tensions in Bihar’s countryside is the result of emergence of private senas on caste-class basis.

Some people describe these killings in Bihar in terms of agrarian unrest rather than caste conflicts. But the evidence does not prove so since the upper caste persons killed mostly the middle class peasants who on an average have only five big has of land The upper castes are least interested in land reforms. They even sabotage schemes like the Jawahar Rozgar Yojana which aims at helping the poorer sections. They also try to grab the funds meant for distribution among the poor low caste people. There are upper caste landlords who own up to1,000 acres of land. The Minimum Wages Act has also been reduced to a farce. Serfdom continues asa well-established practice in most regions of Bihar.Thousands of bonded labours continue to be exploited and are forced to lead miserable lives.The efforts of some voluntary organizations are sabotaged by the upper caste lords in collusion with the administrative officers.

The above description shows, that the exploitation of the backward castes by the upper castes, the refusal of the backward castes to render any unpaid labour and sell their products at reduced rates to landlords and money lenders, the demands of the lower castes for occupancy rights over their land, stoppage of menial services and payment of nazrana, etc., lead to violent reactions on the part of landlords and moneylenders mostly belonging to upper castes and result in caste riots. The reprisals taken by the landlords against the lower and backward castes are: to deprive them of their lands and to turn them out of their houses on the ground that the houses belonged to the landlords; refused to allow their cattle to use the ordinary grazing ground and to take water at the ordinary drinking tanks; and complete social boycott (Jha). In these caste conflicts, the backward casts and Harijans have moved towards the MCC and the forward castes towards the SLF.

  • Barriers in mobility and achieving political power : According to M.N. Srinivas mobility of individual castes in local caste hierarchy has always been possible. The potent sources of mobility are: the process of sanskritisation, gaining access to some source of wealth, appealing to census officers to change the status of assets in the decennial census, and mobilizing caste groups by forming caste associations. Not only the members of the higher castes achieved political power as the Marathas, Reddis, Nairs, Coorgs in South India claimed, Kshatriyas status through ownership of land but even tribes and intermediate and low caste people too, became politically powerful and claimed Kshatriya status. For example, Yadavs Kurmis and Koeries in Bihar, Patidars in Gujarat, Pala in West Bengal and Bhumij and Munda tribes in east India established their claims to be Kshatriyas.

According to Srinivas, many low and backward castes concentrated on acquiring the symbols of high status that is, possession of political power, education, and a share in the new economic opportunities. The high castes resented the appropriation of the symbols of high rank by the low castes.They could no longer rely on the political authority to punish those who dared to appropriate those symbols.They thought they had the ‘moral authority’ of physically punishing and ostracizing the low caste people attempting such appropriation. The newly established institution of decennial census in 1901came to the aid of ambitious low castes.They thought that by claiming the high caste status in the records of census reports, no one would dispute their rank.

There was a widespread move among castes to assume new and high soundingSanskritic names. Mythology, traditions and particular customs were also citied in support of the claim to high rank. All this led in caste conflicts, because though initially the aims of low castes were to inform caste customs and claim a high rank but after independence, these castes became political pressure groups demanding electoral tickets, ministership in the cabinets, jobs in administration. Caste conflicts in Gujarat, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh and in many states in 1970s,1980s and 1990s were the result of these claims.

In short, the mobility course attempted by the low and backward castes as a means to get rid of social and economic oppression and to as obtain their legitimate rights, has always been resisted by the upper castes to protect their own vested interests.This resistance attempt on the part of the upper castes and mobility movement on the part of the lower castes leads to conflicts between them.

  • Competition for economic opportunities and acquiring symbols of high status: Though the status of each caste is fixed in the caste hierarchy but in the absence of clear-cut hierarchy, vagueness characterizes the position of many castes. In independent India, competition between 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 and using power to benefit caste fellows. This tendency has increased caste conflicts in the country.Sometimes the desire for successfully competing with other castes compels small segments to unite and form a single caste category. As Andre Beteille has pointed out, “Competition for power and office requires a certain aggregation of segment as individually they cannot compete in the struggle for power.” When they come together, they are regarded as powerful castes. The example of Kolis in Gujarat and Yadavas in North India provide an instance of coming together and forming a single caste category in order to strengthen their political power.

What is important to remember in caste conflicts is that although numerical strength is an important basis of power for a caste but what is more important is organization. In this regard, people with some social and economic standing in the caste play a crucial role.Small tenants and landless labourers have very little power. Far from being able to maneuver for benefits and privileges, they are not even able to get what they are entitled by law (Andre Beteille). Such people are sometimes lured by revolutionary organizations to join them and fight for their rights and status.Caste carnages in states like Bihar and Andhra Pradesh are the result of such efforts.

Different Views on Caste Conflict

According to Cultural Perspective (Dumont, Bougie, Coomaraswami), caste in India is a hierarchical institution.Status of every caste is clearly spelled out So possibility of caste conflict was historically absent in Indian society.

M.N.Srinivas Yogendra Singh contradicts this view of culturists and indicate how Brahmins superior
position is challenged by Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras by Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, respectively Birth of these new religions has shown that how conflict influences dynamism in orthogenetic culture of Indian society.

Intensity of caste-conflict increased during medieval period when lot many intermediary caste received patronage from Mughak and subsequently going for secular mobility. They claimed Kshatriya status. Upper castes questioned rise of new Kshatriyas who refused to accept superiority of old Kshatriyas, leading to caste conflict

  1. According to Andre Beteille, caste conflict had two different dimensions in India- Inter caste conflict, Intra caste conflict The intensity of the two is variable in time and space. According to Beteille, in the past caste conflict in India was identity centric conflict Now it is slowly moving towards interest focused conflict
  2. Stevenson in his study found that dalit community in South India evidently fought against each other pertaining to right over ritual symbol putting turban on ritual occasions and so on.
  3. Oscar Louis in his study found that in Western UP, Jats sand Rajputs fought against each other in search of superiority and dominance.
  4. F.G Bailey in study of Bissipara found caste conflict between different caste group in search of both ritual and secular superiority.
  5. According to T.K. Oomen, in the decade of 60s and 7Os, caste association like All India Kshatriya Mahasabha, Dalit Panther Party, Backward class mobilization in South India largely comes into prominence. These associations make efforts to promote vertical integration between sub-castes, contributing for homogenization of people on the basis of supra-caste identity.Srinivas calk this as Varnisation of caste in India.
  6. Ghurye considers that consolidation of caste is offering justification to caste conflict on one hand and on the other it is affecting to the process of national integration.
  7. According to S.C. Dube, green revolution and resultant economic affluence of farmers in Western Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana gave rise to consolidation of intermediary castes in North India. This consolidation of castes and their search for power led to caste conflict in few cases. In the same manner, All India Agrawal Mahasabha strengthened its organization and campaigned to show that it carries capacity to resist violence from outsiders. Edmund Leach calls it as caste-grades coming together and F.G. Bailey calls it as assimilation of caste clusters.
  8. T.K. Oomen points out that caste conflict are nothing but lower caste search for equality and higher caste challenge and protests to it When elements of justice, equality, democracy are injected in a traditional society people refuse to accept old fashioned, exploitative laws. So people organize formally, claim new status and involve in protest and conflict.

In contemporary times, caste and caste conflict is not having an organized manifestation, the way it was present in the past However in everyday newspaper, atrocities against Dalits, specifically against dalit women are reported.

Thorat in his study of violence against Dalits finds out that during the year 2001and 2002 found that

  1. Atrocities against Dalits maximally reported in the states of Rajsthan, T.N, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh.
  2. He finds out that economic conditions of these states are potentially different However, Brahminic cultural ideology of superiority is equally present
  3. He considers that the incidents of atrocities are neither reported by police nor subjected to public scrutiny. This indicates that now in a democratic society like India, dalits face isolation discrimination, segregation in India.
  4. He suggests that now dalits are organizing protest taking the help of civil society institutions. They are worrying least about money power, muscle power and hegemonistic dominant caste. So Caste and caste conflict in India is a sub-altern struggle for appropriate space in democratic India that was historically denied to dalit community.

Sometimes caste and caste conflict is driven by political equation. This is discussed in detail by Rudolph and Rudolph and Anand Chakravarti :

  1. Rudolph and Rudolph consider it as a politics of bargaining, where each caste empathized with immediate upper and immediate lower caste to constitute a consolidation for political success, to gather strength to withstand violence of others.
  2. Anand Chakravarti in his study found that caste factions try to get support from adjoining caste groups for political success or to resist domination or violence of other castes.

Lastly it can be concluded that caste and caste conflict is still prevalent However nature, form and genesis of caste and caste conflict have changed Presence of caste and caste conflict is a testimony to the fact that there is a contrast between traditional cultural perceptions and modern values of equality and justice.


The caste system in its distorted form has given rise to the problem of casteism. It has crept into every
sphere of our national life. As a result of casteism people have started to ignore the interest of society.

According to Kaka Kalelker, “Casteism, therefore, is an overriding, blind and supreme group loyalty that ignores the healthy social standards of justice, fair play, equity and universal brotherhood”.

Casteism which exercises a negative influence on the network of social relations is caused by several
factors of which the following may be noted:

Endogamous Nature of the Caste : Casteism is often the result of restrictions imposed on the marriage that take place in the Hindu society. Each caste and sub-caste is endogamous in nature. It means that members of a caste or sub-caste have to marry within his or her own caste or sub-caste. Because of this rule of endogamy, marital relations are confined to a small circle/section of the people. Individuals are more prone to develop their loyalties and admiration to their own caste or sub-caste people. This practice of endogamy makes the people to become somewhat narrow-minded.

Strong Desire of Enhancing Caste Prestige: People belonging to a particular caste or sub-caste have the tendency of developing loyalty to their caste or sub-caste and to become more conscious of its relative prestige in society. Every member thus tries his level best to see that his caste prestige is safeguarded and enhanced This type of loyalty towards the caste makes the members of the caste favour the members of the caste wherever they get the opportunity. Excessive caste loyalty tends to keep other caste people at a distance.

Improvement in the Means of Transport and Communication leading to a Better Organization of Caste: Advancement that has taken place in the field of transport and communication has helped the members of the caste to be in touch with one another regularly. It has also helped them to strengthen their caste organization and conduct activities on caste lines.Caste organization and caste get-together are on the increase.

Urbanization Indirectly Favouring Casteism: Industrialization and urbanization have been attracting people in a large number towards cities. When the rural people go to cities they naturally search for their nearer and dearer ones on the basis of their caste. They consider their own caste people as their potential friends and well-wishers. Hence the city atmosphere has also contributed to the strengthening of caste feeling and caste- mindedness.

Powerful Hold of the Caste Over the member: Caste is a strong cohesive group. It has a powerful hold over its members. Member of the caste also look to the caste of obtaining the needed help and assistance in times of crises, difficulties and emergencies. Dependence of the members on the caste in this way has further added to the problem of casteism.

Consequences of Casteism Casteism, though has certain benefits to the members of the caste on the individual basis; it has several harmful effects on the society as a whole.Some of the major consequences of casteism can be noted here.

  1. Hindrance to the Developments of National Feeling. Members of the caste imbibed with the spirit of casteism are more prone to show their loyalty to the caste rather than to the community at large. Casteism divides people in the name of caste and encourages intolerance, jealousy, rivalry and conflicts among members of the caste.Caste clashes and tensions that are in society for one reason or another, ends unity of society and damages social harmony.
  2. Dangerous to Democracy: Strictly speaking, caste and democracy cannot go together. Caste is based on inequality, whereas democracy assures equality and equal opportunities to one and alL Since democracy and caste system co-existing in India, clashes between them are inevitable. Indian politics has become very much complicated because of the caste interference. Caste plays its role in the processes of selection of candidates to the election, formation of cabinet, distribution of portfolios, and so on. It means at every stage in politics caste creates tensions, misunderstandings, in fights, rivalries etc. It is in this way national interests are undermined and national unity is underscored.
  3. Encourages Moral Degeneration. Casteism contributes to the moral fall It encourages nepotism. It makes one go out of the way to help and favour people of one’s own caste. People of the same caste also look to the caste leaders to favour them in the entire situation. This kind of favour damages the moral values and encourages corruption.
  4. Casteism Leads to the Negligence of Talents and Efficiency. If candidates are selected and appointments are made on the basis of caste, it definitely damages talents, abilities and efficiencies of the people. When unwanted and inefficient people are selected for high offices in the name of caste, honesty, efficiency and duty consciousness becomes the first casualty. It is clear from the above that casteism has dangerous effects on the society. Though people know casteism is bad they have become the victims of that Even those who condemn it in public are privately stuck to it M.N. Srinivas has rightly said that the caste “is so tacitly and so completely accepted by all including most vocal elements in condemning it, that it is everywhere the unit of social action.” More than the common people, politicians seem to be contributing much to the survival of casteism. “Political leaders belonging to different castes seem to secure political and other advantages for themselves at the expenses of other, and to this end they utilize the caste sentiment Caste consciousness and caste prejudices which exist among the masses are thus turned by politicians into caste passions.” One of the seasonal politicians of India, Namboodiripad himself has stated, “The existence of caste consciousness, caste prejudices, discontent on the basis of caste inequalities, all these are impediments in the way of the development of the country as a whole, and therefore, of the developments of ‘lower’ and ‘backward’ castes themselves”. Suggestions for solution of the problem of Casteism Casteism is no doubt a social evil that has to be counteracted and removed Some have even gone to the extent of telling that even caste system is to be wiped out But removal of caste and casteism is not easy thing. Caste has very strong roots in our social set up and hence it cannot be uprooted from our society. It is need of the hour that the ugly face of the caste, that is, casteism, should be wiped out We can suggest some solutions in this regard to counteract the problem of casteism.
  5. Education : Education seems to be the most ideal solution to the problem of casteism. People must be properly educated about the dangers of practicing casteism. Parents, teachers, elderly people, political leaders should take precautions against contaminating the young minds with casteism.
  6. Encouragement to Intercaste Marriages : Marital relations represent the most intimate relations between men and women. Encouragement and promotion of intercaste marriages will help young men and women of different caste to come closer and to develop healthy relations among them.
  7. Minimum use of the term ‘Caste’: Necessary precautions must be taken to see that the word ‘caste’ is used only in limited context The young generations must be encouraged to give the least importance to it. This is possible only when we make lesser use of the term ‘caste’.
  8. Promotion of economic equality: Wide economic gap is found between the upper caste people and the lower caste people. This economic gap widens the social distance and contributes to the development of caste prejudices. Hence, efforts must be made to provide equal economic opportunities for the lower caste people to attain economic prosperity.
  9. In M.N.Srinivas opinion most of the shortcoming of the caste system can be removed and the door opened to democratic equality through adult franchise, five year plans, and the provision of education, constant progress of the backward classes and the influence of the culture of higher caste on the living standards of the lower castes.
  10. According to Ghurye, the conflicts originated in casteism can be removed by encouraging intercaste marriages. Co-education should be introduced at the primary level and boys and girls should be given the opportunity to come together. This will lead to improvements of the behaviour between different sexes simultaneously with which casteism will be actively refuted Intercaste marriage will be encouraged and the individuals marrying out of their own castes will be instrumental in creating an atmosphere that will be fundamentally opposed to casteism.
  11. According to Mrs. Iravati Karve, in order to put an end to the conflict arising out of casteism, it is necessary to create economic and cultural equality between the castes.
  12. According to Prabhu, the conflict created by casteism can be ended only when the internal aspects of conduct are influenced For this it is necessary to try and develop new attitudes in the people. The cinema can do much towards the creation of these attitudes.

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