Caste is a most rigid form of class, and class is a more fluid form of caste. If we go through careful definitions of each, we find much overlap; also class and caste are found in both developed and less developed countries
In India, castes are ancient family lines arranged in a hierarchical order, a dominant caste at the top, outcastes at the bottom, and other castes in hierarchical order in between. Those in the lower castes suffer endless social and economic disabilities while the higher castes are endowed with extensive social and economic privileges.
The reality of caste in India renders the often repeated ritual classification of castes quite useless to explain economic and social power with only one exception. Caste and out caste could be seen as analogous to white and black in the nineteenth century American South. Within regions and localities of India a dominant caste is usually identifiable. If we tried to make a Western analogy to the caste system we might look at the Russia described by Tolstoy. In that Russian context, categories analogous to Indian castes would be something like land owners, professionals, tradesmen, workers, and serfs.
Religious tradition and exchanges of daughters in marriage customs hold castes together. Family customs (care and compassion) are followed inside castes with honored patriarchies exercising familial authority. Families are the status unit (not individual ranks of patriarchs as in the European system of sir, baron, earl or duke). Relationships of families internal to caste may be explained as a class system.
The hierarchy of castes governs day to day production processes---who may do what. The highest caste made rules for their convenience and comfort, the next caste enforced these rules over the lower castes and out castes who carried out the whole range of unpleasant work maintaining the Indian society.
The struggle to eliminate or mitigate the political and economic disabilities of the lower castes and the out castes has been an on going process in independent India. This process seems to many observers to be proceeding in the "all deliberate speed" of the American civil rights movement since the prohibition of slavery in 1865. Due to one of deviations of the caste system in Kerala (the ritual exclusion of the large Kerala caste called Ezhavas along with the out castes from temple entry), the movement to destroy the economic disabilities of caste got an early start in Kerala. Religious restrictions of marriage within caste are maintained, but where ever governmental authority can be applied with effect, caste discrimination in Kerala has been set aside.
(Directory) March 20, 2000