people varied. Some of them were only village chiefs, some dominated a tract
comprising a number of villages, while others dominated an entire region.
Thus, there was a definite hierarchy among these chiefs. They constantly
contested against each other and tried to enhance their position.
Increased Privileges of Brahmins and Kshatriyas The caste system
formed the basis of the society as in earlier periods, but now the Kshatriyas
and the Brahmins were given more privileges, while more and more social
and religious disabilities were placed on the Sudras and other lower castes
than in the earlier period.
Proliferation of Caste System Contemporary writers mention a large
number of subcastes such as potters, weavers, goldsmiths, musicians, barbers,
and fishermen. Some of these were earlier guilds of workers which now
began to be classified as castes (latis). It is significant to note that the Smriti
writers of the period regard handicrafts as low occupations. Thus, most of the
workers were also classified as untouchables.
Emergence of Kayasthas Sometimes, it was found difficult to classify new
castes in the varna scale. An instance of this is the Kayastha caste. It seems
that originally people from different castes, including Brahmins and Sudras
were called Kayastha because of a particular occupation they carried on. In
course of time, they emerged as a distinct caste.
Position of Women
Women continued to be denied the right to study in the medieval north Indian
society. Furthermore, the marriageable age for girls was lowered, thereby
destroying their opportunities for higher education. The omission of all
reference to women teachers in the dictionaries written during this period
show the poor state of higher education among women. Women, in general,
were distrusted. They were kept in seclusion and their life was regulated by
the male relations—father, brother, husband and son.
However, with the growth of property rights in land, the property rights
of women also increased. In order to preserve the property of a family,
women were given the right to inherit the property of their male relations.