1) Brahmin: the rich, priestly caste
2) Kshatriya: the military and elite ruling caste
3) Vaishya: trading and agricultural castes
4) Shudra: the serving class--servant's to the first three
5) Untouchables--the people were entirely shunned by society and were not actually considered to be their own caste because they were not worth noticing or mentioning.
When I was in the 6th grade, I had an amazing teacher who I knew only as Miss Nelson. (Really not kidding.)
One day she came around the class while we were doing individual work. She held a hat with many folded-up pieces of cardstock in it above our heads. She told us to pick one without looking. Mine had a purple dot colored on it. There were five different colors, and what color we picked determined what group we would be in. Miss Nelson had decided to teach us about India's caste system.
I was lucky enough to blindly pick the color that represented Brahmin, or the highest, richest caste. The teacher instructed us on how to place our desks into lines by caste. The Brahmin's, of course, were in front. Members from other "castes" were assigned to us as our protectors or servants. The servants had to follow us wherever we went around the room, because they had to wait on us hand and foot. The warriors had to do the same, in order to "protect" us.
That meant I was annoyed because people had to follow me around all day, while they were annoyed because every time I got up from my seat, they had to as well. I remember the teacher handing the upper two castes of children water bottles, saying we might be thirsty. Then she gave us Brahmins a candy bar as well. One of the children in the class objected.
"That's not fair!"
"No, it isn't," Miss Nelson said, "but this is the way it was."
I remember a profound silence settling over the class. What a great way to drive a point about inequality home in a classroom of twelve-year-olds. On our first recess, we were allowed only to talk to and play with those of our caste. (By 2nd recess, she gave us a break. :D)
It was a supremely enlightening experience and, of course, soon after I started formulating a story. I actually started writing it, but I never felt like I could get all the research I needed. I was too young to have an adequate grasp on it all. Besides, my premise was VERY Romeo and Juliet. What can I say? Teenaged-girl.
Now, looking back, I can see how profoundly that experience effected me. I would still like to do a story set against this backdrop, but probably won't very soon. It's something to think about for the future, though. And hey! You learned something new, didn't you? :D
What do you think? What kinds of conflict would you put into a story based upon the caste system in India?