With 884 million people in 1991 (or with the disputed Jammu and Kashmir, 899 million), India is after China the world’s most populous nation. In size and complexity, it is more like Europe than a single European state. It is often said that the bond that holds India together is Hinduism, but the country’s principal religious faith is less a unifying force than the contrary. Being a Hindu defines one’s place in Indian society far less than being in one or another of the castes into which Hindus are divided. The English word caste is used to translate two Hindi words, varna and jati, which must be distinguished in order to understand the institution. The literal meaning of varna is color, a significant criterion of differentiation. “A light skin color is valued almost universally.… In many Indian languages [as also in English] the words fair and beautiful are used synonymously.… Virginity and a light skin are among the most desirable qualities in a bride.” 1