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an endogamous and hereditary social group limited to persons of the same rank, occupation, economic position, etc., and having mores distinguishing it from other such groups.
any rigid system of social distinctions.

Hinduism. any of the social divisions into which Hindu society is traditionally divided, each caste having its own privileges and limitations, transferred by inheritance from one generation to the next; jati.
Compare (def 13).
any class or group of society sharing common cultural features:
low caste; high caste.
social position conferred upon one by a caste system:
to lose caste.
Entomology. one of the distinct forms among polymorphous social insects, performing a specialized function in the colony, as a queen, worker or soldier.
of, relating to, or characterized by caste:
a caste society; a caste system; a caste structure.
Contemporary Examples

If races are our castes, then this makes sense, since—in a caste system—your status is mostly a function of your position.
Are Black Names ‘Weird,’ or Are You Just Racist? Jamelle Bouie September 12, 2013

We deeply feel the heart-touching good wishes of the people across the world of all caste, color, and creed.
A Day for Malala Nina Strochlic November 8, 2012

Especially not a country like India, which must come to terms both with its multiculturalism and its caste and religious mix.
Jaipur Saga Bigger Than Assassination Threats Against Salman Rushdie Suhel Seth January 21, 2012

Everything is about access and the badge hierarchy at Davos would make the Indian caste system blush.
Gal With a Suitcase Jolie Hunt January 30, 2010

“You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State,” he declared.
Why Pakistan’s Mohammed Ali Jinnah Was No Nelson Mandela Kapil Komireddi April 6, 2013

Historical Examples

Or take the power of caste in another direction—its callous cruelty.
Things as They Are Amy Wilson-Carmichael

They will form a caste—poor, stern to itself, and redoubtable.
Initiation into Philosophy Emile Faguet

The caste usually bury the dead with the feet to the north, like the Gonds and other aboriginal tribes.
The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India R. V. Russell

“We hear this is a religion which spoils our caste,” they say, and that is the end of it.
Things as They Are Amy Wilson-Carmichael

It is considered by the Tellis as a breach of caste rules to sail in a boat or ship.
Castes and Tribes of Southern India Edgar Thurston


any of the four major hereditary classes, namely the Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaisya, and Sudra into which Hindu society is divided See also Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaisya, Sudra
Also called caste system. the system or basis of such classes
the social position or rank conferred by this system

any social class or system based on such distinctions as heredity, rank, wealth, profession, etc
the position conferred by such a system
(entomol) any of various types of specialized individual, such as the worker, in social insects (hive bees, ants, etc)

1550s, “a race of men,” from Latin castus “chaste,” from castus “cut off, separated; pure” (via notion of “cut off” from faults), past participle of carere “to be cut off from” (and related to castration), from PIE *kas-to-, from root *kes- “to cut” (cf. Latin cassus “empty, void”). Originally spelled cast in English and later often merged with cast (n.) in its secondary sense “sort, kind, style.”

Application to Hindu social groups was picked up by English in India 1610s from Portuguese casta “breed, race, caste,” earlier casta raça, “unmixed race,” from the same Latin word. The current spelling of of the English word is from this reborrowing. Caste system is first recorded 1840.

A specialized group carrying out a specific function within a colony of social insects. For example, in an ant colony, members of the caste of workers forage for food outside the colony or tend eggs and larvae, while the members of the caste of soldiers, often larger with stronger jaws, are responsible for defense of the colony.
caste [(kast)]

One of the four hereditary social divisions in Hinduism. Members of any one caste are restricted in their choice of occupation and may have only limited association with members of other castes.

Note: Caste has come to mean a group of persons set apart by economic, social, religious, legal, or political criteria, such as occupation, status, religious denomination, legal privilege, skin color, or some other physical characteristic. Members of a caste tend to associate among themselves and rarely marry outside the caste. Castes are more socially separate from each other than are social classes.

Note: During the height of segregation in the United States, African-Americans were sometimes loosely referred to as a caste.


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