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The lowest ranking caste, or varna, in the traditional four-caste divsion among Indian castes. Shudra caste often had traditional roles providing menial labor, which was not necessarily unclean. These four castes are Brahmin (priestly or learned caste), Kshatriya (warrior caste), Vaisya (businessmen and tradesmen), and Shudra. Varna literally means "color", impliciting recognizing that lower-caste people are of a darker complexion.

The Shudra title, like the other three, is more of a classification than an actual caste. An Indian caste is often a mixture of several factors. This includes a faith tradition relatively particular to the caste, certain social customs particular to the caste, and often a specific traditional role in village life. For instance, Shudras may be barbers or blacksmiths. The specific role often has little relevance to modern life, especially in city life. A specific caste may be classified into the four-caste system as noted above. Jats and Gujjars are examples of distinct Shudra castes.

People belonging to the same caste may share a great deal of identity deriving from their caste background, because of each caste's social distinctiveness. Typically people refer to their caste as their "community". Westerners might find this similar to how Roman Catholics, Jews, Mormons, or other religious groups may have some social affinity for others in their religious group, given shared religious and social outlets.

Shudras often performed menial roles in old society. Those roles may continue in villages. Even in more modern settings, such as cities and towns, Shudras often are poor, and have difficulty coming up in society. Some Shudras castes are classified by the government as backward castes, meaning those castes are underpriviledged. They are allocated extra seats in schools and jobs within the government based on their caste. Nonetheless, most Shudras do not live in the poverty of Untouchables, the lowest caste.