- Date: 1613
- 1 : one of the hereditary social classes in Hinduism that restrict the occupation of their members and their association with the members of other castes
- 2 a : a division of society based on differences of wealth, inherited rank or privilege, profession, occupation, or race
- b : the position conferred by caste standing : prestige
- 3 : a system of rigid social stratification characterized by hereditary status, endogamy, and social barriers sanctioned by custom, law, or religion
- 4 : a specialized form (as the worker of an ant or bee) of a polymorphic social insect that carries out a particular function in the colony
A caste is a combined social system of occupation, endogamy, culture, social class, and political power. Caste should not be confused with class, in that members of a caste are deemed to be alike in function or culture, whereas not all members of a defined class may be so alike. Although Indian society is often now associated with the word "caste", it was first used by the Portuguese to describe inherited class status in their own European society. English caste is from Latin castus "pure, cut off, segregated", the participle of carere "to cut off". Application to Hindu social groups originates in the 17th century, via Portuguese casta "breed, race, caste".
Discrimination based on caste, as perceived by UNICEF, is prevalent mainly in parts of Asia (India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Japan) and Africa. UNICEF estimates that such perceived discrimination based on caste affects 250 million people worldwide.