In 1947, India’s new leaders sought to institute secular, democratic government in history’s most durable social and religious hierarchy. They were egalitarians devising the basic political arrangements for a civilisation permeated by inequality in every sphere and in which the marks of inequality were visible in every form of collective life. To a degree unparalleled elsewhere, the inequality of what the Constitution called the ‘socially and educationally backward classes of citizens’ was an attribute not of individuals but of self-perpetuating communities that we call ‘castes’. This chapter explores the complex history of caste in post-colonial India. I emphasise ‘history’ because there is an understandable presumption that caste is a primordial Hindu institution that has maintained its essential characteristics while all around has changed. This presumption must be discarded at the outset.
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