Understanding the Persistence of Caste: A Commentary on Cotterill, Sidanius, Bhardwaj and Kumar (2014)


  • Yashpal A. Jogdand
  • Sammyh S. Khan
  • Arvind Kumar Mishra


We contextualise Cotterill, Sidanius, Bhardwaj, and Kumar’s (2014) paper within a broader literature on caste and collective mobilisation. Cotterill and colleagues’ paper represents a fresh and timely attempt to make sense of the persistence of caste from the perspective of Social Dominance Theory. Cotterill and colleagues, however, do not examine caste differences in the endorsement of karma, and take behavioural asymmetry among lower castes for granted. Cotterill and colleagues also adhere to a Varna model of the caste system that arguably is simplistic and benefits the upper castes of Indian society. We caution that emphasising behavioural asymmetry and endorsing the Varna model might further stigmatise lower castes, especially Dalits, and feed into a conformity bias already predominant in caste-related psychological research. We argue that the conceptualisation and operationalisation of Right-Wing Authoritarianism, Social Dominance Orientation and legitimising myths in the Indian context needs to take into account the particular meaning and functions of these constructs in specific intergroup contexts, and for identity positions salient within these contexts. We contend that any examination aimed at better understanding the nature of social hierarchy and oppression within the caste system and Indian society in general remains inconclusive without including a focus on the construction and contestation of social categories and social identities.