Caste and the Law

10 Pages Posted: 10 Feb 2019

Date Written: January 30, 2019


As one of the organizing principles of Indian society, it is scarcely surprising that caste has many interfaces with the legal system. The relationship between caste and the law is a complex one: if the law claims to govern a society that is, at least in principle, broadly committed to egalitarianism in the public sphere, it must necessarily take account of — and intervene into — caste structures that are driven by the contrary logic of hierarchy. But the very act of doing so — as we shall see — becomes constitutive of changes in the concept of caste itself, under pressure from the force of law. Law and caste, therefore, are in constant tension with one another, and their relationship remains a fluid and dynamic one.

A complete analysis of the numerous interfaces between caste and the Indian legal system would require many volumes. Here, I shall limit myself to flagging four main themes: first, the ways in which caste appears in the Indian Constitution (I); secondly, the role of caste in the Indian Supreme Court’s engagement with reservations (II); thirdly, the jurisprudential link that has been drawn between caste, territory, and religion (III); and fourthly, legislative attempts to prevent and redress caste-based domination and subordination (IV). I have chosen these four themes because, while the first structures any enquiry into the relationship between caste and law, the rest are salient and live issues today; moreover, they are specifically relevant for interdisciplinary studies. Each of these issues has seen the courts drawing upon insights from sociology, anthropology, and history (among other disciplines), to arrive at their conclusions. While the form of reasoning — and the outcome — is, of course legal in character, the important judgments rely upon — and have an impact upon — aspects that go much beyond the field of law, and will probably be of interest and concern to a wide range of scholars.

Keywords: Indian Constitution, Caste, Law

Suggested Citation

Bhatia, Gautam, Caste and the Law (January 30, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Gautam Bhatia (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

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