The idea of indigenous people in South Asia is more complex than elsewhere, in part because it involves longstanding and intimate contact between ‘tribal’ and non-tribal peoples (Béteille 1998; Gardner 1985; Lukacs in press). Additional complications arise from the hierarchal and endogamous structure of Hindu social and ritual organization, including the plight of people who occupy the lowest stratum of the hierarchy — ‘untouchables’ (Charsley 1996; Delikge 1992; 1993). Because the system of socioreligious stratification known as caste does not encourage social mobility, new ethnic identity is often sought by groups whose position in the hierarchy is low (Dumont 1980; Klass 1980; Kolinda 1978). Biological anthropologists are interested in the caste system for the opportunities it offers to understand the interaction of cultural behaviour with the biological patterning of human genetic and phenotypic diversity (Majumder 1998; Majumder et al. 1990; Malhotra 1974). Although most Westerners perceive caste as an immutable category, in which membership is ascribed, and hierarchal rank is forever fixed, many accounts of castes changing their occupational and ritual status have been documented (Silverberg 1968). Some castes seek to elevate their ritual or economic position by claiming higher status and adopting an appropriate new caste name, while others lay claim to indigenous origins seeking to benefit from rights and privileges that accompany autochthonous status. Such claims often involve adopting new or different patterns of behaviour commonly associated with the new social, religious, indigenous or occupational position claimed. This process is sufficiently common in India to be labelled ‘Sanskritization’ when a Hindu caste emulates higher castes (Srinivas 1968), ‘Hinduization’ when tribal or non-caste groups emulate Hindu castes, or more generally, ‘elite-emulation’ (Lynch 1969).