According to M.N. Srinivas, the features of caste prevailing through the past centuries may be described under 9 heads:
(a) Hierarchical Division of Society Caste:
This brings an element of hierarchy in society by dividing it into different strata, Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra on the basis of relative ritual purity. These major groups are again subdivided into a number of small groups which are also graded into various positions in terms of high or low.
Each caste is a hereditary group. The membership of the caste is confined to those who are born into it by an endogamous marriage relation. The status of an individual is determined by virtue of his birth.
Each caste has a traditional occupation and all the members strictly follow this occupation to earn their livelihood. The takeover of one’s occupation by another is punishable in the village panchayat.
Every caste is an endogamous group. This endogamous character is maintained by the rules and regulation of marriage. However, gotra exogamy is maintained in each case,
This refers to the beliefs, practices, rules and regulations that determine inter- caste relationships and that are observed with regard to the kind of food and water taken. The members of a higher caste are prohibited from taking food or water from a lower caste. However in case of fruits or dry foods such restrictions are not observed. The violation of the prohibition is punishable in the caste panchayat. There are also restrictions in social intercourse. There are certain castes whose touch is considered to be pollution and hence they are regarded as ‘untouchables.’
(e) Unique Culture:
Every caste has a distinct culture, traditions and customs which distinguish it from those of the other groups. The behavioural pattern, food habits, drugs etc. is prescribed by the caste rules. This unique culture of a caste is handed down the generations through the process of socialsation.
(f) Closed Group:
Endogamy, unique culture and heredity combined together make caste a closed group. No person can enter into a particular caste excepting by birth in that case.
Every caste has its own organizational structure known as caste panchayat which lays down rules and regulations that have to be obeyed by the members of that caste,
(h) Rights and Privileges:
These vary from caste to caste. Generally the Brahmins enjoy the most privileged position and have extensive rights, which they can exercise over the members of other castes. They have a dominant position in social, political and economic fields of rural life. Such rights and privileges decrease as one descends the caste hierarchy. The lowest untouchables have a few rights but more obligations and duties.