India Social Structure

With its diversity of ethnicities, languages and castes, India offers a picture of confusing differentiation.

Caste system

The caste system is mostly something that many associate with India first. The term caste, however, is not an Indian term, but is derived from the Portuguese word “casta” (pure, unmixed) and was brought to India by the Portuguese colonial rulers at the beginning of the 16th century. The Indian name for caste is jati (birth; type of birth, birth group) .

The classical mythological order system comprises four main sets – also called varna: Brahmins (priests and teachers), Kshatriyas (rulers and soldiers), Vaishyas (merchants and traders) and Shudras (workers and artisans). Below the main box are the casteless – also called untouchables, who call themselves Dalits. From the point of view of the four varnas, the Dalits are considered unclean. The Adivasi are completely outside the caste system.

You are born into a caste, so ancestry is a decisive criterion for belonging to a caste / Jati. Nevertheless, there are opportunities for social mobility in this social order. In everyday Indian life it is not the four Varnas that play the leading role, but the numerous Jatis. Jatis are arranged in a hierarchical order and connected to one another, traditionally assigned to specific professional groups (washer, potter, hairdresser, etc.) and usually regionally distributed. This social order was and is subject to constant change, which has visibly accelerated since the colonial era and especially after the country’s independence. According to the Indian Constitution of 1950, no Indian may be discriminated against because of his caste membership,


According to, there are around 200 million Dalits (the Broken) in India. The Dalits are increasingly resisting discrimination and extreme exploitation and are calling for an end to “Indian apartheid”. The Indian government is now to be put under pressure not only from within but also through international solidarity to finally apply the existing legal precautions against discrimination against the Dalits.

At the beginning of May 2001, on the initiative of Bread for the World, the Dalit Solidarity Germany (DaSoDe) platform was founded in Frankfurt to help the Dalits in their struggle. With the establishment of the Dalit Solidarity in Germany, the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) was expanded at the same time. In addition to organizations from South Asia and the USA on the European side, the India Committee of the Netherlands and Dalit Solidarity Network UK belong to this group. The NCDHR is active in India.

One of the most famous Dalits is Dr. Ambedkar, the “father of the constitution”.


The Adivasi (“the first residents”) are made up of numerous and very different ethnic groups and make up around 7% of the total population.They are the most disadvantaged and excluded social group. There are around 500 indigenous peoples in total. These live mainly in wooded areas that are often difficult to access and in mountainous areas. According to the 2001 census, only about 2.4% of the Adivasi live in cities. A few years ago, an umbrella organization of the Adivasi Jai Adivasi Maha Sangh was founded to play an increasing role in the fight for land rights.


The first Muslims appeared in India at the beginning of the 8th century. Today India is home to the second largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia with almost 200 million people (14% of the total population). Indian Muslims are mainly found in the states of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Maharashtra, Assam, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka and Kerala. The group of Muslims in India is severely disadvantaged and often victims of so-called ethnic violence (communal violence, violence between ethnic groups), as the report of the official Sakhar Commission shows.


The gender ratio (the number of women in relation to men) is strongly distorted – to the disadvantage of women. In this context one often speaks of India’s lost daughters. Although the gender ratio has improved slightly in the last two decades, there are still only 940 women per 1000 men in India. This is a result of the low priority value, the women will be given, which is partly due to the practice of dowry payments. Due to the preference for sons, female fetuses are aborted despite the prohibition, girls are systematically neglected, often mistreated, which in turn increases female child mortality. Many women experience domestic violence frequently after marriage. Dowry murders are the order of the day, and widows are often cast out by their families and their families after losing their husbands.

Many actors in civil society try to use concrete examples to present the life and work of Indian women with a socially critical intention and to give impulses for action towards a humane society.

The fate of a 23-year-old Indian medical student who was cruelly raped by six men in an empty bus in New Delhi on December 16, 2012, seriously injured with an iron bar and then thrown naked from the bus caused a nationwide outcry. Despite all medical efforts, she died on December 29, 2012. In September 2013 four offenders were sentenced to death and the early morning of March 20, 2020 executed. In a BBC documentary, the broadcast of which has been banned in India, the family members of the murdered student as well as one of her murderers and a defense lawyer have their say. Both men do not blame the perpetrator, but rather the victim for this crime. This clearly shows that the image of women still prevails in the extremely patriarchal society of northern India.

India Women

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBTQ)

The situation of the LGBTQ community in India is difficult, discrimination is the order of the day. In a sensational ruling in 2018, India’s Supreme Court lifted the 150-year-old criminal liability of homosexuality. The judgment is justified with the equality of all citizens before the law. This recognizes individual and social diversity as the foundation of the constitution and society. The so-called third gender in India now also enjoys special rights.

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