The Important Characteristics of Indian Caste System as described by Dr. G.S. Ghurye are:
(1) Segmentation of society into various divisions:
Caste system according to Dr. Ghurye, divides whole society into separate groups in which status, social duties and rights are different. In such a society caste feeling amongst the individual is more dominant than social feeling. Each caste has its own rules and regulations and if a member breaks these, he is expelled from the caste.
He further states that in such caste bound society the amount of community feeling must have been restricted and that the citizens owed moral allegiance to their caste first, rather than to the community as a whole.
There is a well defined stratification in the arrangement of various castes, with Brahmin at the top. Next to Brahmins come Kshatriya then Vaishya and then Shudra. As this system is based upon the birth of an individual, change from one caste to another is very difficult. But there are exceptions.
In Indian villages this characteristic of caste is still present in its rigid form but in big cities where industries have gripped persons of all caste, into one lot, this rigid form of hierarchical form of caste system is gradually losing its conservation.
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(3) Restrictions on feeding, drinking and other social interactions:
There are sets of rules by which a person belonging to caste is forbidden to take food with the members of another caste. There are other sub-rules in which it has been defined that which kind of food can be taken with the other caste. Thus a Brahmin cannot take food cooked with water in a Kshatriyas’ house but he can take food prepared and cooked in full ghee.
(4) Restrictions on marriages:
According to Westermarck restriction on inter-caste marriages is the main characteristics of any caste system. Inter-caste marriage is strictly prohibited in Hindu society. In fact each of the main castes of Hindus is sub-divided into such castes and marriage outside one’s own sub-castes is not favoured.
In the same manner individuals are checked from marrying to member of other region though he or she may belong to the same caste. Thus we see that marriages are restricted with endogamous merits of such caste belonging to a particular region.
(5) Disabilities and privileges of different castes:
Each caste is socially desired to perform certain occupations. Thus Brahmin cannot choose the profession of weeper and vice versa. Some castes are debarred from certain social privileges while others are given extra privileges. In Hindu caste system, Brahmins are the most priviledged castes and Shudra are worst priviledged casts.
A Shudra cannot even touch an individual of higher caste. He cannot go to a temple or open a provision store. Besides these there are some kinds of restriction in the choice of occupations amongst various casts. In traditional Hindu caste system there was clear-cut division of occupations amongst the four castes.
A shudra could not take the profession of priest. A Brahmin could not make shoes. But due to foreign administration and changes in the environment of the country, this division of occupation lost its importance. After the independence and with the dawn of industrial era these restrictions have been fastly disintegrating.