CASTE IN TWENTY FIRST CENTURY INDIA: SOCIOLOGICAL REFLECTIONS ON UNIVERSITY STUDENTS’ PERCEPTIONS IN SOUTH INDIA
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The caste is a defining feature of Indian society. The progress of India to a large extent is determined by the extent of the abolition of the caste system. Indian society witnessed a wide range of protest movements across the ideological spectrum in different historical conjunctures but the caste system remains a hegemonic force in the social life of people from the time of birth to death. The current article aims to understand the role and relevance of the caste system in 21st century India. The paper worked with five hypotheses: modern India has eliminated the caste system; caste conflict is a major problem in India; it is acceptable to associate mostly with one’s caste group at a mixed social function; people should be free to marry whoever they want to regardless of their caste, and it is acceptable for people from different caste groups to spend time with each other as an unmarried couple. The study, based on a sample of 447 university students in a South Indian university, argues that caste as a system is losing its structural significance in the urban space. However, it remains a powerful social institution in the rural areas across states in Indian society. The study found that though the majority of the respondents felt that caste is changing, it still plays a key role in shaping social interactions and marriage choices both in rural and urban spaces. Thus the paper argues that caste plays a significant role in the 21st century despite colonial and post-colonial modernity and constitutional egalitarianism.
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