Caste Vs. Class: How Status Plays Into India’s Social Media, and Ours

Groups on Orkut, India’s Facebook equivalent, are often divided by castes.

Photo: Jazz Defo

I’ll often join a group on Facebook, without much thought, when a friend requests me to do so. I wanna share the love, and don’t necessarily take the time to delve deeper into the meanings of of groups like, “Hot Chocolate” “F-ck Gluten, I’ll Punch Gluten In the Face” and “Those Who Enjoy + Partake In the Distribution and Acquisition of High Fives” (yes, all groups I am a part of).

But it is certainly interesting to check out some of the groups on Orkut, India’s Facebook equivalent, as did a recent Global Post article. That’s because it is a place where “young, urban” Indians can meet people in their caste, as part of groups such as Brahmins of India, The Great Marathas and i love intercaste marriage.

Oh, right, the caste system. Something we sometimes forget (or maybe assume has changed in the youthful, urbanized centers of the country?) about India, what will all of the yoga this and spiritual that, and even with the well-publicized slums that we consider somewhat comparable to our homeless in the West.

Seems the caste system, according to social media expert Gaurav Mishra, has failed to shift much at all:

Surprisingly with urbanization, with education, with more people traveling and getting exposed to other cultures, these divisions have not really gone away. Caste even now — even in urban, educated India — is still an extremely big issue.

Caste Vs. Class

It really should come as no surprise that the caste system ended up playing a role in social media. From the more simple voting in polls about the shyness factor of Brahmin (one of the highest castes) girls to the more complex socio-political ramifications of discrimination, programs similar to affirmative actions, and empowerment or disempowerment within tribes, social sites are simply a microcosm of culture the same way they are in the West.

Hearing about this setup made me ponder our own social networking ways. Then I remembered an article I read about the caste…ahem, class divisions popping up between MySpace and Facebook users, beginning in 2007. As Facebook initially was an “invite only” platform for college students developed by a couple of Harvard minds, it quickly became the “cool clique” to get into.

The divisions between Facebook and MySpace became clear: one was for college students, the other was for those who didn’t quite make the cut.

Even though it opened to high school kids in 2005, their beginnings, and the negative media coverage that MySpace was beginning to get about being “sketchy”, made the divisions between Facebook and MySpace clear: one was for college students, the other was for musicians and those who didn’t quite make the cut. And to some extent, although Facebook has grown by leaps and bounds since then, the socio-economic breakdowns have remained the same.

So, I can’t help but wonder – are our social networking habits really that different from India’s? They may not be quite as well-defined, but there certainly seems to be a similar flavor.

What do you think of India’s caste system showing up in their social media, and the class system showing up in ours? Share your thoughts below.

Related Articles

7 ways to welcome babies into the world 5

Authenticity and the banana pancake trail in India 16

A Kashmiri wedding, part 1 10

  • Dona

    Great comparison between Myspace and Facebook. I’ve got more thinking to do around this….I feel a blog post response coming on. :-)

  • Bobbi Lee Hitchon

    Great post. Never even thought about this. Really interesting.

  • Turner

    I never thought about that connection between Myspace and Facebook, but sounds dead on. Myspace is dead to me, anyway.

  • Reeti


    Orkut is not India’s Facebook equivalent. It might have been five years ago, but there are far more Facebook users today.

  • Shreya

    For the first time, and very reluctantly, I find myself disagreeing with something that has been published on this website…the caste system, and Indian culture overall are much too complex to be discussed in this way. Also, like Reeti says, Orkut is not the Facebook equivalent for India. I don’t think it is true that the caste system is as intrinsically relevant to divisions in Indian society as it used to be, at least in the urban context. I am Indian, born and brought up and educated in India, and I am pretty sure I can speak for myself and other urban friends about the increased flexibility of these divisions that would have been rigid some time ago.

    • christine

      Shreya, thank you for disagreeing! You’re right, the caste system is entirely too complex for someone like me, who has never been a part of it, to write about. The article that I referenced was an intriguing find to me, but even as I related what it said, I knew that there was certainly deeper implications underneath it AND that the media often likes to play up to old prejudices. So I apologize, and am glad that you shared your obviously much more embedded point-of-view.

      Mostly, I wanted to bring forth the idea that Americans in general don’t like to believe that divisions still exist for us that would be comparable to the caste system, even though that might be the case.

    • 4thaugust1932

      You shouldn’t talk about caste unless your parents are inter-caste

  • 4thaugust1932

    Caste != Class
    Economic mobility != Social mobility

    In America there is no system in place today that forces people to remain separate or keeps one Class subservient to another.

    If you were born the son of a street sweeper, but excelled, you could become a doctor or lawyer or some celebrity or entrepreneur – and at the same time you would be fully accepted by your peers.

    Not so in India. The Caste system freezes everyone in place. It is extremely difficult – almost impossible – for someone from the lowest Caste to rise in education and social status.

    A Dalit would never be allowed to marry into one of the higher Castes and would never be accepted as an equal.

    And for a Dalit to make it into medical school or opening a restaurant or become a priest in a temple or become a member of high society in India is very rare indeed.

  • Shovon

    Christine, Orkut has been dead a long time back in India. 

    Caste system in India is very real and some times it can get really ugly too. Even in an urban, educated society, prevalence of caste system is widespread. But, it can vary from region to region and culture to culture. e.g. In the northern parts of India, especially the states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan & Punjab, an inter caste marriage may actually mean a death sentence for the couple, while in the east – in the states of West Bengal, Orissa, Assam & the North East – it may be tolerated to a large extent as long as both of them are from the same religion. 

    With continued urbanization and increase in the purchasing power, nowadays a new division is fast emerging. That between the affluent Indian and his not so lucky counterpart.

    But the assertions on Dalits are factually wrong to a large extent. In India, there’s a reservation system in place, one that ensures that in education institutions as well as in Govt. jobs, there is a fair share of people from all the castes. Of the total, 15% is reserved for Scheduled Castes (SC), 7.5% for Scheduled Tribes (ST), 27.5% for the Other Backward Castes (OBC) and the rest are open to all.