The Elgar Companion to Social Economics
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The Elgar Companion to Social Economics

Edited by John B. Davis and Wilfred Dolfsma

As this comprehensive Companion demonstrates, social economics is a dynamic and growing field that emphasizes the key role that values play in the economy and in economic life. Social economics treats the economy and economics as being embedded in the larger web of social and ethical relationships. It also regards economics and ethics as essentially connected, and adds values such as justice, fairness, dignity, well-being, freedom and equality to the standard emphasis on efficiency. The Elgar Companion to Social Economics brings together the leading contributors in the field to elucidate a wide range of recent developments across different subject areas and topics. In so doing the contributors also map the likely trends and directions of future research. This Companion will undoubtedly become a leading reference source and guide to social economics for many years to come.
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Chapter 11: Caste and Diversity in India

Ashwini Deshpande


Ashwini Deshpande Introduction Insights into the Indian caste system, in its changing manifestations from the ancient through the colonial to the contemporary, come primarily from the vast pool of research that has been undertaken by sociologists, historians, political scientists – almost all social scientists except economists. Faced with analyzing persistent underdevelopment in India, the primary focus of economic research on inequality and poverty has been on the overall trends. Intergroup disparity is only recently coming to the fore in shaping the contours of research on inequality to gain deeper insights into the pattern of stratification. Intergroup disparity in India is multifaceted: religion, region/language, gender and class are all very important descriptors of intergroup disparity. I focus on caste because of the enduring relevance of caste categories in contemporary India, and due to the presence of caste-based affirmative action policies enshrined in the constitution of independent India. Also, while caste is conventionally associated with Hinduism, all major religions in India exhibit features of caste divisions. Caste in English translates two distinct concepts – the varna and the jati. Briefly, the varna system divided the ancient Hindu society into initially four, later five, distinct varna (castes), that are mutually exclusive, hereditary, endogamous and occupation-specific: Brahmins (priests and teachers), Kshatriya (warriors and royalty), Vaisya (traders, merchants, moneylenders) and Sudras (those engaged in menial, lowly jobs), that later split into those doing the most despicable menial jobs, the Ati Sudra or the former ‘untouchables’. The operative category that determines the contemporary social...

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