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Social structure theory explains that the structure accounts for collective representation of people’s expectation into a pattern of societal norms, institutions, that define and shape people’s behavior towards each other. This theory further explains that social relations exists because of the norms which shape such interactions (Scott 2006). Pierre said that such social rules are embedded below the level of our consciousness hence we can act in a routine way without even thinking about action (Bourdieu 1993). The theory tries to tell us that social structures shape our bodies so that we all act in synergy with each other. This article will argue that how the structure of caste plays out in our daily lives creating antagonism through a routine way.

The Manusmriti is a written Hindu record which has talked about division of people into 4 varnas (The chaturvarnas) based on their birth and it has codified the casteist nature of the social structure in which we live. Manusmriti tells us that everything above our navel is pure with our mouths being the purest part of our body. The Brahmins took birth from the mouth of god therefore they are considered pure and the Shudras were born from the legs and therefore they were considered “impure”. It made sure to codify such laws which would prohibit the Shudras to come on an equal footing with the Brahmins. Manusmriti shaped the social relation between the varnas in such a way that shudras were in the bottom most position in the hierarchy of social power: A position where it was a right of the higher varnas to oppress the shudras. They were prevented from collecting wealth as it would bring “pain to the Brahman”. They were bound to work as a slave for the higher caste. It has a provision where it says that hot oil shall be poured inside  the eyes and ears of a shudras if he tried to advice a brahmin (Buhler 1993). Such rules written in a Hindu book makes clear that the division between people by birth was inherently oppressive in nature.

Dr Bhim Rao The rules written down in the shastras had established a social order which had shaped the social interaction between a Brahmin and a Shudra to that of an oppressor and oppressed. He explained that the only way to change the system is by changing the social order we live in (Ambedkar 1936). Thus, Caste system is established by Hindu social order, by codifying their Brahmanical representation of society in the forms of shastras (Manusmriti in our discussion) and these shastras have shaped our mindset which lead to formation of an oppressive caste structure in the society.

Social structure theory will tell us that irrespective of whether we realize it or not, but our castes have influenced our thoughts and opinions in the society. Caste antagonism lives with us in the forms of Mass-Violence, Humor, the language we use, the conditions we put for not having any type of inter-caste interactions (for example inter-caste marriage), prevention of dalits from entering temples, drawing water from wells and in many other forms where our actions undermine people from a caste.

Humor is a way through which people depict our inner views in a very casual sense. The type of humor that we use can promote caste antagonism in our daily conversations. We read a lot of Anti-Reservation jokes which, on the one hand, portray the problems faced by the upper caste due to such norms, but on the other, by having a content which sends a message that the peril of the lower caste is a farce and through reservation they are misappropriating the upper caste’s rights, demeans the positions of the backward classes as it fails to acknowledge their actual social positions. These jokes are usually made by people from privileged positions who are ignorant about the backwards caste’s situation and such ignorance contributes towards building of a caste antagonistic system. The structure doesn’t obligate the upper caste to care about the lower caste and such jokes act in absolute synergy with this structure. The privileged caste is infamous for demeaning the lower caste by killing them[1], by taking away their basic need for subsistence[2] or by using words which will demean them. Just because these jokes do not do any of the above directly doesn’t mean that they are not antagonistic because such jokes are result of the social structure established by our shastras which embed rules and notions to deal with people of different castes.

Chamar and Bhangi are castes registered as Scheduled Castes in India. They are “Untouchable” because this caste is deemed to be dirty by birth. Cate antagonism stays alive through colloquial use of Hindi words such as “chamar” or “bhangi” or “pallan” while referring a person, with a bad/low virtue or someone who does not have a high paying job, or when someone doesn’t look good. At the same time, we use words such as “brahmin” or “sadhu” while referring person with a high virtue. This is because we have preconceived notions for different castes and hence we don’t hesitate to use the names of such caste as an analogy to associate them with different virtuesIn the case of Arumugam Servai vs State of Tamil Nadu[3], the supreme court held that calling someone by the name of their caste such as chamar, pallan is derogatory and hence it will come under the meaning of Section 3(1)(x) of The Prevention of Atrocities Act. They held that by calling a dalit a Chamar, we demean their status.

. These forms contribute towards a caste antagonistic society. While holding a criminal trial, the judge looks at all the actions which take place in the pursuance of the crime and the accused are convicted for all their actions even if it is a mere abetment of crime or attempt to commit the crime. The law holds them guilty because all the above acts come from a malicious intent to commit the act and that such acts finally contributes in commission of the crime. This article has tried to portray the same reasoning: That our thoughts are a result of rules and notions embedded below our level of consciousness where we can think about our actions and because of this we contribute to form a caste antagonistic society.

Hence, when we talk about caste we need to keep in mind that caste antagonism has forms which we may unknowingly practice. We need to be mindful about the ways through which we communicate about caste because the Hindu social structure has already placed its norms in our minds. By not being mindful, we might promote the ideas of this structure through our minute actions. We can fight in the war of destroying caste system by changing such minute actions since a change in these actions contributes towards a change in our social structure.



Ambedkar. 1936. The Anhillation of Caste.

Bourdieu. 1993. Sociology in Question. SAGE Publication.

Buhler. 1993. The laws of Manu. Library of Alexandria.

Scott. 2006. Sociology: The key ocncepts. Abingdon: Routledge.

Picture Reference: https://i0.wp.com/roundtableindia.co.in/images/why_do_you_worry_about_caste.jpg


[1] See Khairlanji: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/Readers-Editor/Khairlanji-the-crime-and-punishment/article16149798.ece

[2] See Chakwara: http://ambedkar.blogspot.in/2002/09/chakwaras-dalits-face-social-boycott.html

[3] (2011) 6 SCC 405









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Written By Surya Kiran Singh

2nd Year Law student at OP Jindal Global University.

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