ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Caste-based Differentiation in Sinhalese Society

This paper interrogates as to how caste-based differentiation exists among the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka despite the near absence of the economic structures that initially underpinned the caste system. It looks at the role of Buddhism and democracy, two supposedly egalitarian institutions, in encouraging the perpetuation of caste-based differentiation among the Sinhalese. Such differentiation is not always reproduced in discriminatory terms, but rather—as in the case of democracy—as a bargaining tool of group identity that secures access to patronage goods and resources. In contrast, in the case of Buddhism, caste operates behind a veil of public denial and serves as a “filtering” function in ritualistic gatherings and the organisation of the Buddhist order.
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