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The emphasis here will be on the increasing rigidities of the so-called pollution barrier, by which is meant the formalisation of social barriers separating those of superior caste from the lowest or most unclean and inauspicious caste groups, in circumstances of growing con¯ict in both town and countryside, in the period before the First World War. Turning next to the power and resources of the twentieth-century Indian state, Chapters 6 and 7 focus on the electoral arena and the impact of modern political institutions on the experience of caste, ®rst in the late colonial era, and then in the period since Independence.

Gail Omvedt in particular has thus rejected older Marxist views of caste as mere `superstructure' or `false consciousness' in a world where the true realities of political economy were to be seen as those of class-based oppression. 29 Some of those who have argued in these terms have at least hinted at the idea that Dumont's picture of caste may therefore be an accurate if only partial re¯ection of Indian reality, not in the sense of being a timeless expression of age-old `traditional' values, but as a product of economic and social change in comparatively modern times.

Here, as in the Bhagavad Gita, the focus is on the concept of dharma. This key principle of `caste Hindu' thought is usually understood as the code of duty, religious law and right human conduct which de®nes the path to virtue and spiritual ful®lment for all humankind. In the Institutes of Manu, the source of this dharma is the will of the divine creator who gave each of the four human archetypes or varnas a distinct moral quality, and a calling to follow. 14 All wellbeing and merit, indeed the preservation of the entire created universe, depend upon this strati®ed ordering of castes.

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