The caste system of social stratification divides India less now than when this photo was taken in the early 1900s. Even today, the lower castes (as the girls in this photo) have lower literacy rates and life expectancies than those in the upper castes.
Photograph by William M. Zumbro, National Geographic

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  • On September 16, 1932, reformer Mohandas Gandhi started a six-day fast in Bombay (today, Mumbai) to protest caste separation in India. Caste is a hereditary social status, usually associated with societies on the Indian Subcontinent. The British government, which controlled India at the time, separated India's electoral system by caste. The “untouchable” lower caste (now called Dalits) had different political representation than those in the upper castes, called Brahmins. Six days into Gandhi's fast, the government reconsidered its actions.

    Gandhi was a leader in the Indian independence movement, which ended with the division of the British Indian Empire into India and Pakistan in 1947. Gandhi was regularly in and out of jail because of his civil disobedience, which many called passive resistance to British rule. He often used fasting, also called a hunger strike, to protest what he thought were unfair government policies.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    caste Noun

    specialized type of social insect that carries out a specific function in a colony, such as a worker, drone, or queen.

    division Noun


    government Noun

    system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

    hereditary Adjective

    having to do with inheritance, or the passing of characteristics from parents to offspring.

    independence Noun

    state or situation of being free.

    Indian subcontinent Noun

    landmass in south-central Asia carried by the Indian tectonic plate, including the peninsula of India.

    Mahatma Gandhi Noun

    (Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, 1869-1948) leader of Indian independence movement.

    representation Noun

    action taken on behalf of another person, group of people, or organization.