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Intra-caste Purity and Social Ostracization

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The chapter focuses on what, I argue, is one of the two central characteristics of caste panchayats which have been conserved through their long evolution, that of social ostracization. It unpacks the category of social ostracization with meticulous detail expounding how engrossed the very idea of ostracization is in the caste life even in its intra-caste notion. It shows how falling out of purity is an unavoidable fact of human life in a caste universe and it is these episodes of pollution and the ostracization they entail that are then projected onto the inter-caste level as well. It also tries to grasp the social meaning of such ostrcization. I do this to show how the observance of intra-caste discipline is necessary for the maintenance of inter-caste disciplining, i.e. a hierarchy of castes. I use this to describe the social-psychological world that caste produces for in-group members through the methods of social ostracization.


  • Pollution
  • Purity
  • Social boycott
  • Loyalty

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-981-16-1275-6_4
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  1. 1.

    The literature on pollution and purity had noted that similar practices were found in all major religions and in different societies of the world. Most religions including Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, and Judaism separated in some form or other states of holiness from that of uncleanliness (Smith 1927) and the unclean or unexplained was considered magic as opposed to the sacred in western cultures (Frazer 1913). Durkhiem too pointed to the ‘presence of a distinct social need to protect their fragile religious sacred from the surrounding profane’ present in most cultures across the world. The profane however meant the ‘cultural other’ in these cultures.

  2. 2.

    I use the word generative here to communicate the specific intra-caste life-world, where observance of everyday life, has a constant potential of generating events of pollution and purity.

  3. 3.

    Unless the sexual contact is at an intra-caste level and is established in a way that has over ruled the traditional and accepted norms of the caste with regard to seeking such contact.

  4. 4.

    This may, in the present context, explain how particular voting behaviour may come to be considered polluting. More on this, later.

  5. 5.

    Varnashrama dharmas are the four stages in the life of a Brahman male. A Brahman boy on reaching puberty is given a sacred thread in his upanayana ceremony when he enters the celibate student life, the Brahmacharya Ashrama. This is followed by the Grishasta ashrama or householder’s life. The third stage is the Vanaprashta ashram where he is to denounce the world and leave for the forest to live a life or a hermit. The final stage is the Sanyasa Ashrama which is a renunciation stage of giving up on all material pleasures and seeking moksha or liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

  6. 6.

    The practice of extending social recognition to group members, by adorning the foreheads of women with dots of vermillion-turmeric powder and men’s foreheads with vermillion powder. The practice has religious and deep social connotation. It may be worth adding here that this recognition is discontinued for a woman upon the death of her husband or during her menstruation, as she is considered impure.


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© 2021 The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd.

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Ingole, A. (2021). Intra-caste Purity and Social Ostracization. In: Caste Panchayats and Caste Politics in India. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore.

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