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 A brief overview

Caste dominated the Hindu social scene in India, when it originally acted to separate the light skinned Aryans, who invaded the country from the northeast, from the dark-skinned people who lived in the south of the country, but later it came to segregate the different occupations. People were born into a particular caste and lived, worked and died in that caste, without hope of change, except that they could lose caste, by suffering contamination in various ways and could only regain their caste by a complex system of cleansing.

 Hierarchy of servants

'A very practical household problem presented by caste, was that a large range of servants had to be employed, because each would do only the tasks allowed by his particular caste.  At the very top of the pile was the khansamah, the cook, whose great skills were passed down from father to son. Below him, the head bearer supervised the other servants, served at table and was in charge of all the coming and goings within the household. The khitmagar  laid the table and cleared it after meals, brought the food from the kitchen at the bottom of the garden, and did the washing up. The misalchi (scullion), prepared the vegetables, scoured all the cooking utensils and kept the open cooking fire going and generally assisted the cook. The syce (driver) who was always available whenever he was required, looked after and drove the car, keeping it in spotless, gleaming condition. The mali, gardener, lived by the entrance to the house, took note of everyone who entered, and he also looked after the garden, keeping the flower beds full of flowers, the lawns immaculate and each day placed fresh flower arrangements in every room. At the very bottom of the pile was the jemedar, the sweeper, who cleaned the floors and toilets and looked after the dogs, because the other servants would lose caste by coming into contact with a dog.'

 Inviolability of caste.

So important was the concept of caste that Hindus would rather die of starvation than eat food that might have been prepared by Europeans or Moslems or might contain something forbidden such as beef.


This was a very ancient Hindu practice in which the widow demonstrated her utter devotion to her late husband by immolating herself on his funeral pyre. Though abolished by the British in 1829, it was still followed illegally in certain remote districts for some time after this.