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Did British colonial powers invent the Indian caste system?
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Colonial bureaucracy created the caste system

Colonial bureaucratic processes divided the population into castes. These bureaucratic divisions grew into social divisions.


In the first British census of India, carried out in the 1860s, the responses to the caste question vary wildly as Hindu society grapples with the construct of caste and Brahman social identity.

The Argument

The concept of a caste system was implemented during the British colonial period. This is visible in the country’s census documents. In the 1860s the responses to the caste question vary wildly, indicating that the majority of the Hindu population had little awareness of the four castes and their position in the social hierarch being thrust upon them. Later censuses reveal that by the end of British colonial rule, the caste system had become an entrenched part of social society. Each Hindu family knew its place in the caste system and social identities were less malleable. In their attempts to classify and categorize the Indian sub-continent, the British framed Indian diversity through religion and caste. This bureaucratic imposition led to the creation of the caste system.

Counter arguments

The simple inclusion of caste in a census question would not be sufficient to raise distinct societal differences among the population. Even if the British embraced the caste system for bureaucratic purposes, the bureaucratic process could not arouse or create a “caste consciousness”. There must have been other forces at play in Indian society. [1]



[P1] Census documents show that at the beginning of British rule, few Hindus knew their position in the caste system. [P2] Therefore, the caste system was not in place prior to colonial rule. [P3] The bureaucratic processes employed by the British created the caste system.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P3] Bureaucratic processes alone are not sufficient to enact social change.


This page was last edited on Monday, 27 Apr 2020 at 11:51 UTC

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