Castes are unique feature of Indian civilization: The social structure of India is to a large extent based on caste structures and caste identification. In the past the caste system was determined on the basis of the occupation and a person belonging to a particular caste had to follow the ancestral profession. This arrangement also perpetuated the feeling of superiority and inferiority, because certain castes came to be considered as the exclusive prerogative of certain castes and the others were not given any share in the administration of the country. But during the British rule. under the impact of Western civilization this traditional concept of caste as a segmental division of society, in which an individual can live his life fully, underwent a serious transformation.
The status of a person came to be determined on the basis of his financial position, irrespective of his caste attachment. This setback to the caste system was largely due to the introduction of the new means of transport and communication as well as the introduction of Western laws and norms of rule of law. The Western education also played a significant role in weakened the bonds of caste. But subsequently the Britishers realized the importance of caste as a divisive factor and revived it in a new shape the principle of ‘divide and rule’. They tried to organize caste based organization.
After independence the Constitution tried to discourage caste system and introduced universal adult franchise, terminated separate electorates and prohibited untouchability and discrimination on various other grounds, it did every thing possible to discourage caste system. It is a strange irony that while taking these steps for loosening the hold of caste system, the Constitution also made certain special reservations and safeguards for certain castes and classes. As a result the caste system penetrated deep into the Indian society. Prof. Srinivas believes that caste system still continues to be an important factor in the politics of India.
He says, There is a widespread impression among educated Indian that caste is on its last legs and that the educated urbanized and westernized members of the upper classes have already escaped its bond, Both these impressions are wrong. These people may observe very few dietetic restrictions, many outside caste and even religions but this does not mean that they have escaped the bonds of caste entirely. They show caste attitudes in surprising contexts. As such castes play important role in Indian Politics. In appointments caste plays important role.
Prof. Rudolphs has said, “Within the new context of political democracy caste remains a central element of India’s society while adopting itself to the values and methods of democratic politics.” Indeed, it has become one of the chief means by which the Indian mass has been attached to the process of democratic politics. Generally voting is done on caste lines and marriages take place on caste basis.