Global Ambedkarites

Meaning of the word CASTE

Meaning of the word CASTE

Meaning of the word CASTE

Meaning of the word CASTE

Meaning of the word CASTE


The word caste is an English word and a HYPERNYM, derived from the Spanish/Portugese word, ‘CASTA’. 

It makes it easier to understand what the word ‘Caste’ actually means, if you understand the two words, HYPERNYM and HYPONYM.

HYPERNYM (Dictionary meaning) is a word with a broad meaning constituting a category into which words with more specific meanings fall; a superordinate. For example, colour is a hypernym of red.

A hypernym is a word with a general meaning that has basically the same meaning of a more specific word.

For example, dog is a hypernym, while collie and chihuahua are more specific subordinate terms called HYPONYMS.

HYPONYM is a word whose meaning is included in the meaning of another word:

“Horse” is a hyponym of “animal” and “Animal” is a Hypernym of “Horse”.


 ‘Animal’ is a Hyponym of the Hypernym “living things”. Similarly the word “Plant” is also a hyponym of “Living Things”. 

Similarly, the words Varna, Jati, Race, Clan, Tribe and Occupation, all having SPECIFIC meanings and so are hyponyms of the hypernym, “CASTE”, a word with a more GENERAL meaning.

Casta/Caste doesn’t mean Jati but jati falls in the broader category of Casta/Caste. Caste is not Jati but Jati is Caste 

Nor does Casta/Caste mean Varna but Varna too fall under the category casta/caste. Caste is not Varna but Varna is Caste.

The words Varna and/or Jati and/or Occupation and/or Tribe ALL FALL UNDER THE GENERAL TERM CASTA/CASTE.

Casta/Caste (in the Indian sense) = Varna and/or Jati. It can also mean occupation (explanation below).

So, when the Varna and/or Jati apologists say caste is a European construct, tell them, “You ARE right. Caste IS a European word and they do have a dictionary meaning but Varna and Jati are NOT European words. Therefore, it’s not their job to define these terms and they did not create them. So let’s specifically talk about Jati/Varna or occupations and NOT about the general term, caste.”

When the British used the word “caste” as an admin/legal term to give an identity to the formerly identityless (religionless, Varnaless and Jatiless) untouchables, they  did not and were NOT trying to give them a Jati, Varna or any religion. The Avarna (Varnaless) Untouchables had their own beliefs and customs but you could not identify them with (and so classify them as) any legally known /mainstream religion. The only way to identify these identityless untouchables was by the work they engaged in. So their ‘occupation’ (Hyponym of the word caste), had to be listed in a specially made schedule for the purposes of allowing them some sort of representation. That’s why they are called the ‘Scheduled Castes’, NOT because they had a jati. TODAY, what really were occupations of the identity-less untouchables are WRONGLY seen as jatis.  No, their occupation is not a casta/caste either but the CATEGORY ‘occupation’ is a casta/caste.

That is why for most SCs in rural areas, their occupation is almost always same as their “caste”.  A Dhobi/Chamar/Bhangi etc by occupation is almost always a Dhobi/Chamar/Bhangi by caste too BUT in Varnadharmis (all of whom have jatis), it is often the other way round; i.e. their occupation is supposed to be based on their jati. However, they often follow a trade that is most convenient/suitable/lucrative to them. So, in  many cases their trade does not match their jati or Varna duties. 

Learning about the Hindu faith is incomplete without learning about Varna and Jati. Mention of the the foreign word ‘caste’ is not required when learning about what is commonly called the “Hindu religion”.

However, a great percentage of people wrongly, albeit unknowingly, translate the word ‘Jati’ as ‘caste’. This is a BIG big mistake as there is no equivalent word for Jati in any foreign language. Even more confusion is caused when the word ‘Varna’ is translated as caste by another group of people. For Varna too, there is no equivalent word in any other language. So it’s best to use the original words. When you mean ‘varna’, use the word Varna, not caste. When you mean Jati, use jati. When you mean both Varna and Jati, it’s ok to use caste but it’s still better not to. What does ‘annihilation of caste’ mean?

The Jati and Varna system is unique to those whose roots are from the Indian subcontinent.

Whenever Varnadharmis, the Varnaists or Jatists say, “Caste is a Colonial construct,” they simply cause diversion away from discussing Varna and Jati. In that case, it’s best to simply say something like,  “Ok, let’s not use that foreign word in our discussion. Let’s just talk about Varna and/or Jati then.”

That stops them right in their tracks, preventing diversion.