Ghurye’s approach towards caste is attributional Attributional approach discusses primarily the significant features of the caste system and what distinguishes it from other forms of social stratification. For Ghurye each caste was separated from the other in a hierarchical order. This ordering sprang from the attributes of a caste. Ghurye cognitively combined historical anthropological and sociological perspectives to understand caste and kinship system in India. He tried to analyze caste system through textual evidences using ancient texts; on the one hand and also from both structural and cultural perspectives, on the other hand. Ghurye studied caste system from a historical comparative and integrative perspective.

Later on he did comparative study of kinship of Indo-European cultures. In his study of caste and kinship, Ghurye emphasizes two important points :

  1. The kin and caste networks in India had parallels in some other societies also.
  2. The kinship and caste in India served in the past as integrative frameworks.
  3. The evolution of society was based on the integration of diverse, racial or ethnic groups through these networks. Ghurye highlights six structural features of caste system as follows:
  4. Segmental division : Membership of a caste group is acquired by birth and with it come the position in the rank order relative to other castes.
  5. According to Ghurye, During british rule, people of different castes joined same occupation, say army therefore occupational status (Class Position) was same but in private life caste identities still dominant Even in British organization caste hierarchies persisted Caste was able to maintain its distinctive identity even in class structure or private life due to the reason that caste councils (having legislature, executive and judicial powers). British structure couldn’t touch private life Indian Caste man. Also, voluntaristic integration of caste culture through marriages, death, rituals strengthened case values and norms and accepted voluntarily dictates rules of caste councils. Therefore caste contributes to segmentation of people while culture promotes unity of people of India.
  6. Hierarchy : Following from the above, society was arranged in rank orders, or relations of superiority or inferiority. Thus Brahmins were accepted as highest in the hierarchy and untouchables at the very bottom.
  7. In opinion of Ghurye, Hierarchical nature of Indian society generally over glorified by westerns schools. They suffer from Eurocentric bias. Ghurye cites ‘Jon Hayer’s writings’ (1670) Hierarchical gradation of people clearly exists but hierarchical position of caste is not absolutely visible. For example, In south India, Brahmanical superiority is not automatic but constantly challenged or resisted Bhakti Saints were considered purer than Brahmins in reality. Kayasthas and Nayars asserted their position through mughal patronage. So hierarchical system (caste) persists; but hierarchical position in reality isn’t ideal Negotiation of internal forces. So actually caste is a Competitive Hierarchy.
  8. Ghurye makes comparative analysis of food behaviour among various caste groups in different parts of the country (TN, Bengal, Maharashtra) to come forward with a conclusion that there is a strong correspondence between food hierarchy and caste hierarchy. Develops Interactional theory to caste. He concludes by indicating that if a caste receives highest no. of food items from maximum numbers of caste then lower is it’s position in caste hierarchy and vice versa.
  9. Pollution and purity: In this idea the whole effort of a caste was to avoid contamination from polluting object (those involved in unclean occupations or of the lowest castes). This shunning of pollution is reflected in the residential separation of the caste group.
  10. Civil and religious disabilities and privileges of different sections : These were placed on every caste which gave permission to its members only to interact with particular groups of people. This included its dress, speech, customs and rituals and from whom they could accept food. The system was geared to maintain purity of the group members, hence of the caste group.
  11. Lack of choice of occupation: Ghurye felt that every caste had a traditional occupation. The clean castes had clean occupation whereas unclean and impure castes had defiling occupations.
  12. Restrictions on marriage : This trait of the castes was very distinct and essential to keeping it together as a group that maintained its own distinct character. Essentially it maintained that one could only marry within ones castes.

Besides the above characteristics, Ghurye laid particular stress on endogamy as the most important feature of the caste system. Any effective unit of the caste hierarchy is marked by endogamy. Every caste had in the past segmented into smaller sub-divisions or sub-castes. Each of these sub-castes practiced endogamy. For example, Vaishya castes are divided into various sub-castes such as Agrawal, Maheshwari etc.

Caste is also linked with kinship through caste endogamy and also clan (gotra) exogamy. Gotra has been treated as thoroughly exogamous unit by the Brahmins and later by the non-Brahmins. The basic notion here is that all the members of a gotra are related to one another, through blood, i.e., they have rishi (sage) as their common ancestor. Therefore, marriage between two persons of the same gotra will lead to incestuous relationship. It will lead the lineage of the gotra to near extinction.

The relationship between caste and kinship is very close because

  1. Exogamy in our society is largely based on kinship, either real or imaginary and
  2. The effective unit of caste, sub-caste is largely constituted of kinsmen.

To Ghurye, these are three types of marriage restrictions in our society, which shape the relationship between caste and kinship. These are endogamy, exogamy and hypergamy. Exogamy can be divided into parts :

  1. Sapinda or prohibited degrees of kin, and
  2. Sept or gotra exogamy-The gotra were kin categories of Indo-European cultures which systematized the rank and status of the people. These categories were derived from rishis (saints) of the past These rishis were the real or eponymous founder of the gotra. In India, descent has not always been traced to the blood tie. The lineages were often based on spiritual descent from sages of the past. Outside the kinship, one might notice the guru-shisya (teacher-student) relationship, which is also based on spiritual descent. A disciple is proud to trace his descent from a master. Likewise, caste and sub-caste integrated people into a ranked order based on norms of purity pollution. The rules of endogamy and commensality marked off castes from each other. This was integrative instrument, which organized from into a totality or collectivity.The Hindu religion provided the conceptual and ritualistic guidelines for this integration. The Brahmins of India played a key role in legitimizing the caste ranks and orders through their interpretation of Dharmashastras, which were the compendia of scared codes.
  3. Ghurye said caste system is a functional division, provides order to Indian society. He did not refer to pitfalls, drawbacks which have entered the caste system. He opposed caste riots near Bombay in between Brahmans and untouchables. He said such things are happening because different caste groups are not following their classical duties or dharma.
  4. Ghurye has been criticized by Coral Upadhyay, as he provides Hindu classical view of caste system. Upadhyay said Ghurye has not been an empirical sociologist and he did not refer to the ideological aspects of caste system. Which could have strengthened these ideas.
  5. Sujatha Patel said, his view are Brahmanical views which cannot be sustained in all parts of India. She said in certain areas Brahmans are not regarded ritually superior.


Srinivas approach to study of caste is attributional. The sociologists using the attributional approach stress the attributes of caste. However, each of them lays emphasis on one or other of these attributes and how they affect interaction. In case of Srinivas, we find that he chooses to study the structure of relations arising between castes on the basis of these attributes. Thus he introduces dynamic aspect of caste identity very forcefully. This aspect becomes dearer in Srinivas’s work on positional mobility known as ‘Sanskritisation’ and concept of ‘Dominant Castes’.

Srinivas assigned certain attributes to the caste system. These are :

  1. Hierarchy: To Srinivas, hierarchy is the core or the essence of the caste system. It refers to the arrangements of hereditary groups in a rank order. He points out that it is status of the top-most or Brahmins and the bottom-most or untouchables, which is the clearest in terms of rank. The middle regions of hierarchy are the most flexible, who maybe defined as members of the middle ranks.
  2. Occupational differentiation : Srinivas finds a close relationship between a caste and its occupation. He says that caste is nothing more the “systematization of occupational differentiation”. Castes are known by their occupations and many derive their name from the occupation followed e.g., Lohar, Sonar, Kumhar, Teli, Chamar etc. He also stresses that occupation are placed in a hierarchy of high and low.
  3. Restrictions on commensality, dress speech and custom are also found among castes. There is a dietic hierarchy and restrictions on acceptance of food
  4. Pollution: The distance between castes is maintained by the principles of pollution. Srinivas too argues that the castes must not come into contact with anything that is polluted whether an object or being. Any contact with polluted renders a caste impure and demands that the polluted caste undergo purification rites. If pollution is serious such as when a high caste person has sexual relations with an untouchable, the person involved may be removed from his or her caste.
  5. Caste Panchayats and Assemblies: Besides the above mentioned attributes of a caste, every caste is subject to the control of an order maintain body or a Panchayat. Elder of each caste in a village together maintain the social order by exercising their authority collectively. Further, every caste member is answerable to the authority of its Caste Assembly. The authority of a Caste Assembly may extend beyond village boundaries to include in its jurisdiction of caste in other villages. Srinivas views caste as segmentary system. Every caste, for him, is divided into sub-castes which are :
  6. The unit of endogamy;
  7. Whose members follow a common occupation;
  8. The units of social and ritual life;
  9. Whose members share a common culture; and
  10. Whose members are governed by the same authoritative body, viz., the Panchayat.

From the above, we can infer that the attributes of a caste definitely determined the nature of intercaste relations. There attributes or customs of caste also determine the rank of a caste. This becomes obvious in the work of Srinivas on caste mobility or sanskritisation.

Varna and Caste

  1. He emphasis that you can’t understand India, without understanding caste. Many western schools, mistakingly considered caste and varna synonymous. Varna theory proclaims that caste is a product of segmentation of particular varna but Srinivas says, it’s not so, caste has not came out of varna. It’s complex reality. A matter of fact that capturing power, proximity with ruling class, migration and changing one’s cultural traits through sanskritisation.
  2. Different varnas changed their social ranks. Also people of same varna do not enjoy relative superiority to inferior varnas. Such Eurocentric analysis is not apt for India. Therefore he argues that “Caste is implicit in Varna” therefore caste and varna coexist “Caste is different from varna “ and “Caste and varna are regularly engaged in conflict with each other. So relationship is dynamic and complex.
  3. According to Srinivas, Varna is an evolving concept As Rigveda was expanded it evolved Initially 2 Varnas, based on race-Aryans and Dasayus. Later Rigveda mentions 3 Varnas based on race and occupation as Brahma (Priest-Fair), shetri- (Red-Wamos),vis-(mix colour-Commoners), Later, Purushashuta tells 4 Varnas, Varnas evolved from bodily parts of god Brahmins as priest, teacher and composers coming out of mouthing god Kshatrya as ruler coming out of Arms of god Vaishya as traders coming out of thighs of god and Shudra coming out of legs (Calves) as serviceman, agriculturalists.
  4. Later tatriya Samhita edits the brahmanical origin is mouth of god to face of god It signifies all the good in society. It shows that through editing texts, Brahmanical supremacy was glorified So varna system subjected to evolution and reinterpretations.So very complex phenomenon. Varna system does not give full understanding of Indian society. But caste includes all so caste understanding is totalistic and all inclusive.
  5. Varna system professes ‘homogenetic category’ of Varna but in reality they are diversified on the basis of castes, e.g. Shudra Varna and diverse backgrounds. Some tribal merged into caste system, some rich and powerful Shudras, some traditional Shudras. Therefore diversity is present among them. Dynamic relationship exists, not simple and homogenous hierarchy present Varna gives unrealistic, contesting, textual and static view of social reality. Therefore he suggest for empirical understanding through field view instead of book view.

Why them Varna still used in Indian Society?

  1. In opinion of Srinivas, caste is numerous, localized and diverse group. So in far lands, we need to use our Varna identity to locate our castes.So that food exchange rules can be followed accordingly.Therefore Varna streamlines inter caste relationship in inter-regional level.
  2. When caste model does not give space for mobility (as sanskritised castes who are politico-economically powerful). They can fulfill their apparitions through model & mobility.
  3. Therefore Varna provides a readymade model to develop an empirical sense of caste. So many sociologists do not make a distinction between book view of India, different from field view of India. They use Varna view of India to explain Indian society as hierarchical and static, which is so different from social empirical fact.
  4. Therefore, Varna should be treated as an ideological frame of reference to study empirical nature of caste.


Besides caste, Srinivas looks for yet another source or manifestation of tradition. He found it in the notion of ‘dominant caste’. He first proposed it in his early papers on the village of Rampura. The concept has been discussed and applied to a great deal in work on social and political organization in India. He had defined dominant caste in terms of six attributes placed in conjunction :

  1. Sizeable amount of arable land;
  2. Strength of numbers;
  3. High place in the local hierarchy;
  4. Western education;
  5. Jobs in the administration; and
  6. Urban sources of income.

Of the above attributes of the dominant caste, the following three are important :

  1. Numerical strength,
  2. Economic power through ownership of land, and
  3. Political power.

Accordingly, a dominant caste is any caste that has all three of the above attributes in a village community. The interesting aspect of this concept is that the ritual ranking of caste no longer remains the major basis of its position in the social hierarchy. Even if a caste stands low in the social hierarchy because of being ranked low, it can become the dominant ruling caste or group in a village if it is numerically large, owns land and has political influence over village matters. There is no doubt that a caste with relatively higher in ritual rank would probably find it easier to become dominant But this is not the case always.

In his study of Rampur village, there are a number of castes including Brahmins, peasants and untouchables. The peasants are ritually ranked below the Brahmins, but they own lands and numerically preponderant and have political influence over village affairs. Consequently, despite their low ritual rank, the peasants are the dominant caste in the village. All the other castes of the village stand in a relationship of service to the dominant caste, i.e., they are at the back of the dominant caste.

In opinion of Srinivas, Dominant castes in India in many places have accommodated democracy. It has become part of ruling parties, other political parties attract them.

In his book caste and democracy and other essays he said caste has accommodate with democracy. Y.Singh said traditional institution of caste is playing a modern role. He said it plays many roles.

  1. It plays economic role by control and possession of economic resources.
  2. In political role they take the decisions and mediate between conflicting parties.
  3. For long period it played role of conservation and status quoism which is being challenged increasingly.
  4. Dominant class plays cultural roles by deciding where cultural performances will be held. They decided the modern cultural events.

Pauline kolenda said that Srinivas took the term dominant from Evans Pritchard who had studied never tribe of sudan and had used terms dominant clan as superior clan which may have village relevance, area relevance or regional relevance.

K.L. Sharma said, there are no all India ‘Dominant Castes’ but there are people who say all India dominance exists.

Srinivas was criticized for this concept with the charge that is was smuggled from the notion of dominance, which emerged from African sociology. Repudiating the critique, Srinivas asserted that the idea of dominant caste given by him had its origin in the field work of Coorgs of South India. His field work had impressed upon him that communities, such as the Coorgs and the Okkaligas, wielded considerable power at the local level and shared such social attributes as numerical preponderance, economic strength and clean ritual status. He further noted that the dominant caste could be a local source of sanskritisation. Sanskritisation and dominant caste are therefore representation of Indian tradition. And, in this conceptual frame work, the traditions of the lower castes and Dalits have no place, nowhere in village India; the subaltern groups occupy the status of dominant caste.

Through this theory he validated fieldwork as an essential methodology of the disciplines of sociology and social anthropology. Secondly, it offered a ground view that challenged the colonial notion of caste as static and unchanging. Through terms such as “sanskritisation”,”dominant caste”, “vertical (inter caste) and horizontal (intracaste) solidarities”,Srinivas sought to capture the fluid and dynamic essence of caste as a social institution.Thirdly, it rejected the idea of a rigid, pan-Indian caste system, widely upheld in scholarship then. Instead his study asserted the importance of the regional dimensions of caste and the “little traditions” of Hinduism. At a time when an influential section of India’s intelligentsia optimistically believed that caste would disintegrate under the march of modernisation, it was both prescient and brave of Srinivas to have argued to the contrary. Caste, he firmly believed would continue to find expression in the public and private lives of Indians. Srinivas, however, never supported caste-based reservation as a programme to alter unequal caste equation.

Deepankar Gupta while criticizing Srinivas said The criteria of numbers is wrong. In western U.P. Jats are 9% and Dalits are 25% but power is held by the Jats.

His views on caste hierarchy

  1. M.N. Srinivas’s view on caste hierarchy is different from his predecessors who believes that it is the Ritual hierarchy, e.g. Louis domant argues that it is all accepted and institutionalized hierarchy based on pureness. So it is fixed hierarchy. Srinivas reject this view, due to its textual orientation. Instead he argues for empirical understanding of caste hierarchy. He proposes concept of two hierarchy, i.e. (1) Ritual hierarchy (2) Secular hierarchy.
    • Ritual hierarchy is defined by birth, food mannerism, language, dress, ritual and rites (purity and pollution).
    • While secular hierarchy is largely defined by wealth, political power and education, occupation.
  2. He considered that on the basis of empirical evidence that ritual status of a caste is not definitely fixed as glorified by Indologist and culturologist. e.g. Lingayat Brahmins of Karnataka proclaim superior status even in comparison to born Brahmins; In Bengal the follower of lord chaitanya identifies themselves as parchaskhyas who follows strict ritual standards even in comparison to Brahmin and obtain superior status in relation to local Brahmin; Bhumihars is Bihar consider themselves as Brahmins and their brahanimcal reclamation has been acceptable other, S.C. Dube in his study of Rajgaonds and M.S.A. Rao is his study of Yadavs found out that all these castes were originally shudras, by obtaining access over land, capturing power in the local community, developing organizational character they could obtain superior caste status.
  3. ARDIAN MAYER in his study of Rampheri village finds out that Jat are dominant in economic structure, Rajputs in political structure and Brahmin in ritual structure. On the same live Oscar Lewis in his study of Rampur village finds out that Rajput dominate in secular sphere, so also Jats and they look down on Brahmins. So rise in secular hierarchy is questioning to Brahmanic supremacy.
  4. M.N. Srinivas writes that going for new occupation, new caste nature, preparing fictions genealogy, going for Jati compaign, receiving support from lower caste, new legislations, political patronage, migration in India have accomplished upward mobility. Therefore secular mobility is not end-in-itself it fertilizes ritual mobility.So he explains caste as dynamic social institution.

Therefore, on one hand he rejects cultural/lndological view of caste and on other he speaks about the functions and destructions of caste mobility for which he is identified as structural functionalist.

His views on Caste and Politics

While dwelling on concept of dominant caste. M.N. Srinivas indicates that, caste forgetting their internal differences are associated together with common purpose and when their interest is gratified they get dissociated He calls this coming together of castes as Varnisation of Caste e.g.

AJAR in North India for resonation
  1. M.N. Srinivas reflecting on dominate caste contradicts to the view points of Mayron weiner and gunnor Myrdal who believed that constitution, modern education, rural development programmes, rise of case free employment and process of democratization will lead to decline of ‘Caste India’ and rise of modern India stratified on class lives. Contradicting to his argument he advocates that more India is becoming modern have maximum control over the benefits of progressive modernity. Therefore old identities are used expanded for gratification of contemporary interest This he calls as the growing secular role of caste and decline of ritual role of caste so, caste role, caste composition all are changing, but still caste is not replaced by class in India.
  2. Marxist sociologists like Yogesh Atal, Ghanshyam Shah calls this as classification of caste indicating that dominant caste is not a caste or combination of castes rather they come together driven by common economic and political interest Therefore they are class.
  3. Srinivas rejects Marxists and Modernists approach caste indicating that caste and India have a perpetual union with each other. More the caste is becoming weaker (ritual), more it is becoming stronger (secular) in India. Today caste is a toll for collective mobilization to gratify secular interests. Political campaigns, caste associations are proactive.Caste groups are going for movements/demonstrations operating as pressure groups, whether they capture power to control the government or one empowered staying outside the government For e.g. Recent Agitation and demands by castes like patidars in Gujrat, Marathas in Maharashtra, Jats in Haryana.
  4. T.K. Oomen took further Srinivas’s discussion. Where he explained caste operating as ‘power reservoir’ while caste leaders emerging as ‘power exercisers’. He considers this political mobalisation of caste led to rise of ‘caste elites’ in contemporary India.

Therefore Srinivas concept of dominant caste and his discussion on politics and caste subsequently offered Indian sociology. The new concepts like ‘vote bank politics, AJGR, BIMARU. Which can be identified as middle range theories as that of R.K. Marton.


Dumont’s main areas of interest are social anthropology and Indology. He has written on wide range of subjects such as Hinduism, caste, kinship and social and political movements in India.

Dumont’s perspective on caste system was primarily concerned with the ideology of the caste system. His understanding of caste lays emphasis on attributes of caste that is why his approach is called attributional approach to the caste system.

  1. For him caste is set of relationships of economic, political and kinship systems, sustained by certain values which are mostly religious in nature. Dumont says that caste is not a form of stratification but a special form of inequality whose essence has to be deciphered by the sociologists. Here he identifies hierarchy as the essential value underlying the caste system supported by Hinduism.
  2. According to Dumont caste divides the whole Indian society into a larger number of hereditary groups distinguished from one another and connected together by three characteristics:
    • Separation on the basis of rules of the caste in matters of marriage and contact whether direct or indirect (food).
    • Interdependent of work or division of labor each group having in theory or by tradition, a profession from which their members can depart only within certain limits.
    • Gradation of status or hierarchy which ranks the groups as relatively superior or inferior to one another.
  3. Dumont highlights the state of mind which is expressed by the emergence in various situations of castes. He calls caste system as a system of ideas and values which is a formal comprehensible rational system.
  4. His analysis is based on a single principle-the opposition of pure and impure. This opposition underlies hierarchy which means superiority of the pure and inferiority of impure.
  5. This principle also underlies separation which means pure and impure must be kept separate. According to Dumont the study of the caste system is useful for the knowledge of India and it is an important task of general sociology.
  6. He focused on the need to understand the ideology of caste as reflected in the classical texts, historical examples etc. He advocated the use of an Indological and structuralist approach to the study of caste system and village social structure in India.
  7. Dumont in his book Homo Hierarchicus has built up a model of Indian civilization based on non-competitive ritual hierarchical system.
  8. Louis Dumont was primarily concerned with the ideology of the caste system. His understanding of caste lays emphasis on attributes of caste that is why; he is put in the category of those following the attributional approach to the caste system. Dumont identifies ‘hierarchy’s is the essential value underlying the caste system, supported by Hinduism.

In Dumont views :

  1. India is composed of many small territories and castes;
  2. Every caste is limited to particular and definite geographic area; and
  3. Marrying outside one’s own caste is not possible in the caste system.

Dumont’s Concept of Pure and Impure :

While considering the concept of pure and impure, Dumont had two questions in mind: Why is this distinction applied to hereditary groups? And, if it accounts for the contrast between Brahmins and untouchables, can it account equally for the division of society into a large number of groups, themselves sometimes extremely sub divided? He did not answer these questions directly. But, the opposite has always been two extreme categories, i.e.. Brahmin and untouchables.

  1. The Brahmins assigned with the priestly functions, occupied the top rank in the social hierarchy and were considered ‘pure’ as compared to other castes.
  2. The untouchables, being ‘impure’, and segregated outside the village, were not allowed to draw water from the same wells from which the Brahmins did so.
  3. Besides this, they did not have any access to Hindu temples, and suffered from various other disabilities.
  4. Dumont said that this situation was somewhat changed since the Gandhian agitation and when India attained independence. Untouchability was considered illegal; Gandhi renamed untouchables as ‘Harijan’s or ‘Sons of Hari’, that is, creatures of God Untouchables are specialized in ‘impure’ tasks, which lead to the attribution of a massive and permanent impurity to some categories of people.Dumont highlights temporary and permanent impurity.
  5. In larger areas of the world, death, birth and other such seclusion of the affected persons, for instance, the newly delivered mother was actually excluded from the church for forty days at the end of which she would present herself carrying a lighted candle and would be met at the church porch by the priest.
  6. In India, persons affected by this kind of event are treated as impure for a prescribed period and Indians themselves identify this impurity with that of the untouchables. In his work. The History of Dharmashastra, P.V. Kane writes that a man’s nearest relatives and his best friends become untouchable for him for a certain time as a result of these events.

For the body, the main thing is the morning attention to personal hygiene, culminating in the daily bath. Even, the objects are considered as pure and impure; silk is purer than cotton, gold than silver, than bronze, than copper.These objects are not simply polluted by the contact but by the use to which they are put and used by the person. Now-a-days, a new garment or vessel can be received from anybody. It is believed that a person’s own bed garments, wife, child and water pot are pure for his own self and family and for others they are impure.

This notion of purity and pollution is not an individual prescription, rather it is a cultural prescription.

Dumont feels one cannot speak of the castes without mentioning the varna, to which Hindus frequently attribute the castes themselves, India has the traditional hierarchy of varna, ‘colours’ or estates whereby four categories are distinguished :

  1. The higher is or that of the Brahmins or priest, below them are the Kshatriyas or warriors, then the Vaishyas, in modern usage merchants, and finally, the Shudras, the servants or have-nots.
  2. There is one more category, the untouchables, who are outside the classification system.
  3. Dumont maintains that many of the Indologists confuse the Varna with caste, mainly because the classical literature is concerned almost entirely with the varnas.
  4. Caste and Varna are to be understood with relationship of hierarchy and power.

In opinion of demont, ideological framework of Varna and the empirical reality of caste has not much difference he argues that Varna is all India phenomenon, known to all and emergence lies in cultural concept While caste is regional phenomenon, castes rise and fall because they are born not of occupation. Caste is concerned with access to power.

Therefore he argues for study of India from Varna point of view, not hat of caste. Varna has pan India character while caste is regional and has local origin.This dual structures evident in India.Varna forms it’s rigid and static part So he argues for this view point According to him if one study from caste view she/he will end up over glorifying change in society.

By his interpretation, caste was different from other forms of social stratification through the ‘disjunction’ of ritual status and secular ( political and economic) power within the same social system. The subordination of the political and economic criteria of social stratification to that of ritual status in Dumont’s model however, plays down the significance of social change in colonial and contemporary times. Did caste lose its political significance as late in the 18th and 19th centuries? As for what has happening at the 20th century, although Dumont explicitly recognized the emergence of inter-caste competitiveness in place of a structure of independence as a departure from tradition. He regarded this as behavioural change, rather than a radical transformation of the system as a whole, at the level of values or principles.

In the last, Dumont discusses the significant changes in the casts
  1. He views that traditional interdependence of castes has been replaced by “a universe of impenetrable blocks, self-sufficient, essential and identical and in competition in one another.” Dumont calls this the ‘substantialization of castes’.
  2. An inventory of sources of change in the caste system lists judicial and political changes, social religious reforms, westernization, and growth of modern professionals, urbanization, spatial mobility and the growth of market economy. But, despite all these factors making for change; the most ubiquitous and the general form, the change has taken in contemporary times is one of a ‘mixture’, or ‘combination’, of traditional and modern features.

Critical Analysis

  1. Nevertheless Dumont’s magnum opus remains his Homo hierarchicus published in French in 1967 (1970 and 1972 for the English translations). It is an impressive synthetic work with a strong theoretical background in which the author presented his understanding of the Indian caste society as a whole. According to Dumont, people were ascribed an unequal status from birth and ranked from the Untouchables (who did not then call themselves Dalits) at the bottom to the Brahmins at the top according to the degree of purity attached to each caste collectively as well as to each individual.
  2. Dumont wrote ‘Home equal’s for French readers to see and compare Indian society with their own society. He argues that Indian society is pessimistic in its nature while western society is optimistic.There is slavish orientation to Indian culture while European culture is liberal. Indian society is entangled by other worldly values while European society has embraced this worldly values. Therefore Indian society lacks innovation while European society progresses through innovation.
  3. Hierarchy based on cultural notion exists in India as compared stratification based on interest in Europe. Therefore his comparison based on ‘Homo hierarchicus’ and homo equalis’ proposes euro centric view of Indian society.
  4. After this publication, Dumont distanced himself from the sociology of India, feeling that he had achieved what he wanted to say on the caste system. He started a new field of research that dealt with the genesis of the modern individualism grounded on an egalitarian basis, which he contrasted with the inegalitarian caste system. It was the subject of his Homo aequalis (1977), followed by Essays on individualism (1983), and German Ideology: From France to Germany and Back (1991).
  5. Dumont’s oeuvre has been discussed and debated by anthropologists in Europe as well as in India. His sociological interpretation of the caste system is both widely acclaimed and highly criticised Andre Beteille is ardent critic of Dumonts Eurocentric, cultural view of Indian society. In his opinion dumont talks about India from Brahmaric, culture specific hierarchical perspective. Where India producers hierarchy and Europe produces stratification. Rejecting this view Andre Beteille writes that “Ideology of equality and resistance to inequality is universal phenomenon’. In vase of Europe, Renaissance to J.S. Mill all were speaking about ideology of equality. While in case of India, from Buddha to Gandhi all were speaking the same. Further, He writes that “No society is absolutely open and no society is absolutely closed Openers and closeness are matter of degree than kind”. He questions Dumont on the basis that, caste persists in India despite legislation, reform movement In the same way role persists in Europe despite civil rights movement.
  6. Therefore one can’t conclude that caste in India is hierarchicus and that in Europe is stratification. With respect to traditional values, he writes that in economically progressive Europe pope is appointed on the basis of conventional standards instead of Merit Therefore tradition is not replaced by modernity, both in Europe and India. So India cannot be considered as hierarchical as against egalitarian Europe. He rejects dumont’s argument of orthodox Indian writes if India is orthodox then it would have been be accepted Brahmanic supremacy. But movement, Buddhism, Jainism, Backward caste movement Dalit mobilization rejects the ideas of Brahmjanic Supremacy.
  7. He concludes by saying that, in every society there present a dialectical news between idea of equality and pursuit of inequality. The most radical criticism emphasised that Dumont’s brilliant analysis of the caste system is taken from a dominant internal viewpoint, whether from its priests (Brahmins) or its princes (Kshatriya), which is well expressed in and legitimised by the classical Sanskrit texts that Dumont widely used From a sociological point of view, however, scholars need to question, first, the social conditions of the production of these representations that cannot be taken for granted and second their social usages.
  8. The relations of power and domination that structure the Hindu caste system, which are partly denied from a textual viewpoint (and this, of course, cannot be ignored), have to be clearly recognised and analysed Furthermore, the comparative sociology that Dumont developed was quite often reduced to a binary opposition between individualism and holism, or to a radical confrontation between the equalitarian West and the hierarchical traditional pre-modern societies, like India, towards which the anthropologist publicly confessed to having a nostalgic inclination.
  9. Nevertheless, the Indian part of his oeuvre stands for a rare coherent sociological enterprise that cannot be ignored or brushed away if one wants to understand the social making of contemporary India.


  1. Beteille study on caste is reflexive, distinctive, dynamic and analytical, as against Ghurye, Dumont, and Srinivas sociology of caste. Dumont considers caste as a sacred cow driven by the universal superiority of Brahmins, dominating in ritual sphere or in the status hereby.
  2. Srinivas considers that Sanskritic behaviour or way of life is mostly solicited by ethnic group of people in Indian society. So Dumont and Srinivas along with Ghurye, explicitly or implicitly speak that Brahminic superiority and Sanskritic exclusivity Andre Beteille tries to study caste beyond these perspectives.
  3. According to Beteille, caste is an objective reality. Its role and structural character should be studied from empirical perspective. His understanding of caste comes out of the field data, collected from Sripuram village of Tanjore district of Tamil Nadu.
  4. In this village three major caste groups are present Brahmins, Non-Brahmins and Adi-Dravidians. Between Brahmins and Adi-Dravidians a huge cultural, symbolic and relational gap is found Beteille finds out that Dumont’s Theory of hierarchy’ carries relative significance to understand the disharmonic relationship between Brahmins and AdiDravidians.
  5. These two castes are placed in two extreme position of caste hierarchy. He empathises with M.N Srinivas to understand the rise of non-Brahmins in the secular sphere of caste hierarchy. Controlling village land and dominating in village, local and state politics; these groups intensified the emergence and consolidation of dominant caste.
  6. His sociology of caste criticizes Srinivas, Dumont and Ghurye on the ground that Brahminic exclusivity and superiority is not a matter of fact. It is evident from his study of Sripuram. Brahmins of Sripuram are largely divided into two groups : Srivaishnav and Samarthas, distinctively different from each other in terms of the ritual practices, symbols, doctrinal affinity and way of life.
  7. Residential areas of both the castes are also strictly different and both the groups practice endogamy implying that a subcaste should be considered as caste. Samarthas are further divided in 4 major groups, and these groups are further divided into sub-groups.This study of segmentation of caste is largely influenced by the writings of his teacher and old friend Evans Pritchard who in his study of Neurs talk about segmentation of tribe.
  8. According to Beteille, Brahmins never follow a distinctive identity, ritual pattern and way of life. What means sanskritisation to one aspiring caste may not be meaning to other. So Brahmins being so segmented, it is too difficult to believe that the superiority is historic, continuous and undiluted as presumed by homes Dumont. Caste does not determine social commensality amongst people.
  9. It is evident from Samarthas divided on the basis of economic standing into three broad groups such an upper class, middle class and lower class. Beteille finds out that caste is not only a source of social exclusion only rather both caste and poverty are two distinctive dissensions to social inequality in India. Exploring different genesis to social exclusion, he concludes by saying, that social inequality in India has multiple dimensions and caste is one of it. In his book “Caste, class and power” he finds out that non brahmins are mostly artisan and peasant caste.
  10. One these castes experience economic upliftment because of good harvest or trade and commerce. They spend their wealth on renovation of house, sending their children for modern education and ultimately identify themselves as ‘MUDLIIAR’ (Peasant caste) but doesn’t want to become a Brahmin, when given a opportunity. Therefore sanskritization is not an all Indai phenomenon. Under the influence of Dravidian movement in south India, non-brahmin considers that secular mobility is an ‘end-initself’ which is essential to distinguish between Brahmins originating from Aryans and Dravidians, who are “sons of soil”.
Therefore Beteille states that
  1. Caste hierarchy is a competitive hierarchy, within caste system hierarchy and differences mutually coexist.
  2. Class and caste combinedly together determines the social ranking of family. Social commensality and marriage.
  3. Social distance between Brahmins and non-brahmins which was absolutist in past is no longer maintained due to younger generation exposure to modern education and employment.
  4. India should be studied from stratification perspective rather than caste perspective.

Economic transformation, political changes should be taken into consideration to understand the changing nature of intra and inter caste relationship. Caste and class is not the only source to explain all possible sources of inequality as highlighted by structural functionalist on one hand and Marxists on other. Following the footsteps of Max Weber he indicates that structure exists in many forms and in village India source of the structure are:

  1. Unequal of distribution of land and giving rise to class structure.
  2. Unequal access to power.
  3. Unequal access to status on the basis of caste identity.

Based on his study, title of his first book is ‘Class Status and Power: The study of structure in a Tanjaure

Beteille considers that Bhakti movement Backward caste movement, dalit mobilization potentially question to hierarchical gradation of values giving rise to the emergence of plural values competing with each other.

(Existentialism competing with spiritualism, materialism competing with moralism) resulting in competitive values, rising in Indian society, reflecting on social change.

Andre Beteille in his book “Caste old and caste new” has collected empirical data from different sources to conclude that during early part of 20th century, caste becomes class at different level of social strata and it leads to power in different strata. So Europeans who saw the early 20th century scenario concluded that Indian society is closed one characterized by fixed hierarchy. In changing India these structural hierarchies are crumbling.
Dilution of these relationship of values is leading to shift from harmonic to disharmonic position in social structure of Indian society. So caste should not be considered as hierarchical system that stands constant for indefinite period It changes with changing time, therefore Indian society should be studied from three perspectives.

  1. System of hierarchical gradation.
  2. Vertical ties between individuals and families.
  3. Hierarchical gradation of values.

India has not gone for complete modernity as explained by Yogendra Singh and it has not confined to absolute tradition as per Dumont. Therefore Beteille tells that caste old is replaced by caste new than caste being replaced by class in India.

He can absence that the most brahmins whose forefathers were priest and preacher in the villages now are working as teacher is schools and professors in colleges. Descendents of Kashtriyas are largely seen in Army, bureaucracy and political apparatus. Vaishyas are still dominant in trade and commerce. Shudras have gone for peripheral occupation in government sector and industry. And untouchables are in class IV employment in government/Municipal bodies.

Therefore occupational change is not absolutist in India. That is India followed path of selective modernity. Thus Indian modernity is typically Indian in character, exclusive and different from modernization of West, but some of the European suggest fail to understand So they conclude that India provides hierarchy and European society produces structure.

Apart from this Andre Beteille in his book “Backward class and New social order” criticizes the extension of reservation policy to other backward classes. The sociological analysis of Beteille stands on following grounds.

  1. While defining class he dwells upon weberian understanding, that is people holding same income, occupation can be categorized as class. Generally people who lack control over means of production identically can be said to be backward class. But in India. OBC’s have different historically as well as differential access to income and occupation. Therefore caste group combinedly together making a class in India. Which is conceptually wrong and empirically incorrect.
  2. He argues that today’s reservation policy banks on Vote bank politics’ mainly exercised by progressive castes so, politics of reservation is superimposing on sociology of reservation.

Further, He argues that today’s reservation policy is ‘anti-moratorian’. It is bringing forward new forms of and deeper in India. Which is leading to polarization based on caste groups.

He questions the contextual justification of reservation. In his opinion, reservation offeres compensation for historic discrimination. The people who are benefitting from reservation are not exploited by non beneficiaries at present Therefore, giving compensation for mistakes of past in the present time is anti-equalitarian and anti-democratic. Beteille makes distraction between ‘Equality of opportunity’ and ‘Equal distribution of benefits’.

Therefore, he advocates for equality of opportunity in education’. Quality healthcare. Employment to lower castes in India. Thus enjoying equal opportunities, all caste people must compete on merit to get into occupational structure.

He concludes that identity focused polities is taking India into medieval period rather into 21st century. He argues for an equalitarian, meritorian and democracy society where education, job security equality health care to every citizen of country will be provided So citizenship should destroy caste and promote equality.

ANDRE BETEILLE ON CASTE : India’s destiny not caste in stone (HINDU FEB 2012)

  1. Those who try to keep up with discussions on current affairs in the newspapers and on television maybe forgiven if they conclude that caste is India’s destiny. If there is one thing the experts in the media who comment on political matters have in common, it is their preoccupation with caste and the part it plays in electoral politics.
  2. Many are now coming to believe that, despite the undeniable demographic, technological and economic changes taking place in the country, the division into castes and communities remains the ineluctable and ineradicable feature of Indian society.
  3. They also believe that to ignore those divisions or to draw attention to other divisions such as those of income, education and occupation is to turn our backs on the ground reality. The more radical among them add that ignoring those realities amounts to an evasion of the political responsibility of redistributing the benefits and burdens of society in a more just and equitable manner.
  4. Does nothing changed in India? A great many things have in fact changed in the last 60 years both in our political perceptions and in the social reality. The leaders of the nationalist movement who successfully fought for India’s freedom from colonial rule believed that India may have been a society of castes and communities in the past but would become a nation of citizens with the adoption of a new republican constitution.
  5. They were too optimistic. The Constitution did create rights for the citizen, but it did not eradicate caste from the hearts and minds of the citizens it created For many Indians, and perhaps the majority, the habits of the heart are still the habits of a hierarchical society.

Inter-dining rules

  1. Universal adult franchise opened up new possibilities for mobilising electoral support on the basis of caste and thus prevented the consciousness of caste from dying down. Democracy was expected to efface the distinctions of caste, but its consequences have been very different from what was expected Politics is no doubt an important part of a nation’s life in a democracy, but it is not the only part of it There are other areas of life in which the consciousness of caste has been dying down, though not very rapidly or dramatically. The trends of change which I will now examine do not catch the attention of the media because they happen over long stretches of time, in slow motion as it were. They are not noticeable from month to month or even year to year but across two or more generations.
  2. Let us start with the ritual opposition of purity and pollution which was a cornerstone of the hierarchical structure of caste. The rules of purity and pollution served to mark the distinctions and gradations among castes and sub-castes. Characteristic among them were those relating to commensality or inter-dining. They determined who could sit together at a meal with whom, and who could accept food and water from whom. Only castes of equivalent rank could inter-dine with each other. In general people accepted cooked food and water from the hands of their superiors, but not their inferiors.
  3. The ritual rules governing food transactions were rigid and elaborate until a hundred years ago. Nobody can deny that there has been a steady erosion of those rules. Modern conditions of life and work have rendered many of them obsolete. The excesses of the rules of purity and pollution have now come to be treated with ridicule and mockery among educated people in metropolitan cities like Kolkata and Delhi. It is impossible to maintain such rules in a college canteen or an office lunch room. To insist on seating people according to their caste on a public occasion would cause a scandal today.
  4. In the past, restrictions on inter-dining were closely related to restrictions on marriage according to the rules of caste. The restrictions on marriage have not disappeared but they have eased to some extent Among Hindus, the law imposed restrictions on inter-caste marriage.The law has changed but the custom of marrying within the caste is still widely observed However, what is happening is that other considerations such as those of education and income are also kept in mind in arranging a match. At any rate, it will be difficult to argue that caste consciousness in matrimonial matters has been on the rise in recent decades.

In politics, the media

  1. There continues to be a general association between caste and occupation to the extent that the lowest castes are largely concentrated in the menial and low-paying jobs whereas the higher castes tend to be in the best-paid and most esteemed ones. But the association between caste and occupation is now more flexible than it was in the traditional economy of land and grain. Rapid economic growth and the expansion of the middle class are accompanied by new opportunities for individual mobility which further loosens the association between caste and occupation.
  2. If, in spite of all this, caste is maintaining or even strengthening its hold over the public consciousness, there has to be a reason for it That reason is to be found in the domain of organised politics. Caste had entered the political arena even before independence, particularly in peninsular India. But the adoption of universal adult franchise after independence altered the character and scope of the involvement of caste in the political process.
  3. The consciousness of caste is brought to the fore at the time of elections. Elections to the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabhas are now held all the year round For logistical and other reasons, elections to even the Vidhan Sabhas may be stretched out over several weeks. There are by-elections in addition to the general elections. Election campaigns have become increasingly spectacular and increasingly costly, and they often create the atmosphere of a carnival. The mobilisation of electoral support on the basis of caste is a complex phenomenon whose outcome gives scope for endless speculation.
  4. Even though for the country as a whole the election season never really comes to an end the individual voter participates in the electoral process only occasionally and sporadically. The average villager devotes far more thought and time to home, work and worship than to electoral matters. It is well known that the voter turnout among urban professional Indians is low. But even when they do not participate in the elections to the extent of visiting their local polling booths, they participate in them vicariously by following on television what happens in the outside world Television provides a large dose of entertainment along with a modicum of political education.
  5. Private television channels have created a whole world in which their anchors and the experts who are regularly at their disposal vie with each other to bring out the significance of the “caste factor,” meaning the rivalries and alliances among castes, sub-castes and groups of castes by commentators who, for the most part, have little understanding of, or interest in, long-term trends of change in the country. These discussions create the illusion that caste is an unalterable feature of Indian society. It will be a pity if we allow what goes on in the media to reinforce the consciousness of caste and to persuade us that caste is India’s destiny.

Response to Andre Beitelle on this by Joseph Tharamangalam

  1. Why is caste such a dominant feature of Indian social life? According to Andre Beteille, in his article published in The Hindu (“India’a destiny not caste in stone,”) it is because of electoral politics and the media which keep caste alive. India’s constitution may also have played a role.
  2. While creating a nation of citizens and citizenship rights it also kept caste alive. Outside of politics many changes, slow but steady, have transformed caste practices and caste consciousness in such areas as inter-dining, inter-caste marriages and caste-based occupations.
  3. That the forces of modernization are associated with what sociologists call a move from particularistic to universalistic forms of social relations is a generally accepted view and should come as no surprise. We saw this happen in India with the coming of the railways which simply could not provide separate coaches for different castes. So let us grant that the changes Beteille notes are taking place with the caveat that he may be over-stating the case.
  4. The fact that the more than three lakh manual scavengers of India are almost exclusively drawn from Dalit communities must provoke some serious thinking about the issue. It would also be interesting to know much inter-dining and how many inter-caste marriages have taken place in the Tamil Nadu village where Beteille did his PhD research some six decades ago.
  1. The problem with Beteille’s argument is that it ignores some critical dimensions of caste that doggedly persist and perhaps underpin some India-specific features of the country’s development path.These dimensions are sustained by a material base defined by vastly different control over resources and the means of coercion.
  2. These are now deployed not so much to enforce rules of purity/pollution, but to restrict access to vast numbers of Dalits and Other Backward Classses (OBC) to resources and opportunities old and new. The politics of caste cannot be understood if seen outside this context and delinked from these realities.
  1. A widely noted paradox about India’s development can shed some light on the endemic deprivations suffered by the lower castes. Despite its high growth India fares very poorly in almost all measures of social indicators provided by major international and Indian organisations (e.g., the Human Development Index or HDI, the Multiple Poverty Index or MPI, the Global Hunger Index or GHI) in comparison with developing countries at the same or even lower levels of economic growth and per capita GDP.
  2. Its low HDI ranking (119 in a list of 169 in 2010 — compared with China’s 89) is attributable to its exceptionally low indicators of basic education and health. It ranks particularly low in such measures as Infant Mortality Rates, malnutrition, underweight and stunted children and pregnant women who are underweight and anaemic.
  3. Even more scandalous is India’s ranking in the GHI with a ranking of 66 out of, below even its south Asian neighbours except Bangladesh; the country is home to the single largest pool of hungry people in the world, 255 million who make up 21 per cent of its population. The MPI provides a similar scenario; 455 million making up 55 per cent of the population, are MPI poor and eight Indian states contain more MPI poor people than 26 of the poorest African countries combined.
  4. Behind these figures are two significant facts about Indian society: first the country has an unusually large underclass, and second prominently figured in this class are the lower castes (especially the Dalits) and the Scheduled tribes. In all the relevant social indictors the figures are considerably worse (difference of 10 per cent or more) for these groups. For example, while 55 per cent of Indians are MPI poor the figures for SCs and STs are 65.8 and 81.4 respectively. Note also that the worst performing states are generally the ones with high proportions of SCs and STs.
  1. The abysmal socio-economic condition of the lower castes is not a random occurrence but is embedded in historically inherited structures that have resisted radical change. India’s historical failures — aborted land redistribution, neglected agriculture (except during the Green Revolution period of thel960s-70s) and a soft approach in attacking caste iniquities — have helped to maintain these structures.
  2. In this context it is interesting to look at another enigma in India’s trajectory, its very poor record in primary education (e.g. in contrast to East Asia) during the same period when it made great strides in scientific, technical and other forms of higher education spawning the now famous Indian middle class. One explanation for this massive failure is that early planners pursued a misguided view that it was the latter forms of education that India needed for rapid economic development.
  3. But there is another explanation in which caste figures as a factor.A benign version of this view is that upper caste Indians, following their habits of the hearts, simply did not see the merit of educating the lower castes.
  4. A less benign version argues that the project of educating the low castes may have met with resistance from the upper castes who feared that such a project and consequent upward mobility of the lower castes would jeopardise the control and management of their low caste workers, dependents and servants. Having done fieldwork in rural Bihar and observed such dynamics at work, I see some merit in this last argument.
  5. Finally, it is important to note that this structure is maintained not just by ideology and pollution rules but also by considerable violence. It is indeed a system of structural violence manifested by constant threats and periodic outbursts of physical violence employed by land owing upper castes threatened by changes in established relationships and also by the lower castes who dare to resist or retaliate.
  6. ‘Atrocities against Dalits” — ranging from murder, rape and arson to such humiliating practices as parading Dalit women naked in the village and making the victims consume human excreta, are reasonably well documented India’s parliamentarians regarded these as serious enough to enact the “Atrocities against Dalit Act” in 1989. While the effectiveness of the act is disputed Dalit activists insist that the act cannot be implemented without political pressure from below.
  7. In the wake of recent patterns of economic growth that are further marginalising rural dwellers and agricultural labourers, concerned activists and scholars such as Amartya Sen (whose famous studies on Indian famines have noted the disproportionately high numbers of Dalits victims in Indian famines) have called for the building of “countervailing power” through better political organization of underprivileged groups.
  8. What, then can we make of Beteille’s suggestion that caste would simply have disappeared if only it had been kept out of the domains of politics and the media? To be sure, he has an important case about the misuse of caste by self-serving politicians and media persons. But the prescription for depoliticisation of caste is surely a non-starter.
  9. Perhaps a better route would be the one traversed by Kerala where the political mobilisation of the lower castes was integrated into broader rational-legal and universalistic forms of organisations across caste, community and religion into modern forms of trade unions and parties.
  10. Yes, we have abolished untouchability, the need today is to abolish the material base of the system that sustained untouchability, now spawning newer forms of discrimination and violence.

Another reaction on Andre Beitelle’s article

An internal code, culture and values make a caste special to its members.

  1. What explains the persistence of caste consciousness in our politics? Andre Beteille explores this in his piece in The Hindu [India’s destiny not caste in stone,February 21, 2012). Beteille’s argument is structured thus:
  2. Media experts are preoccupied with caste and its role in politics. Divisions of income, education and occupation are ignored and caste alone is stressed
  3. Beteille says in 60 years a great many things have changed. These are things that change over generations, and so don’t interest the media. People dine with one another now. To insist on these rules of ritual purity in the age of the college canteen, he says, would cause a scandal. The “custom of marrying within the caste is still widely observed’ he accepts, but adds “it will be difficult to argue that caste consciousness in matrimonial matters has been on the rise in recent decades.”
  4. To him such things indicate the steady dying out of caste consciousness in matters outside politics. So then what explains the persistence of caste in politics? Beteille says: “The consciousness of caste is brought forward to the fore at the time of elections.” How? “Private television channels have created a whole world in which their anchors and the experts who are regularly at their disposal vie with each other to bring out the significance of the ‘caste factor’.”
  5. Let us agree with Beteille that caste is not India’s destiny. But let us also examine why it persists in our politics if it’s dying out elsewhere as he claims it is. The Constitution created rights, Beteille says, but could not eradicate caste from the hearts of its citizens: “For many Indians, and perhaps the majority, the habits of the heart are still the habits of a hierarchical society.”Adult franchise opened up the possibility of mobilising electoral support on the basis of caste, but outside politics “the consciousness of caste has been dying down, though not very rapidly or dramatically.”
  6. In showing changes in society, Beteille refers to such things as pollution and inter-dining. That is to say, in interactions members of caste A have with members of caste B. This is the prescriptive aspect of caste. The Constitution skewers it through Articles15, 16 and 17, but it was dying even a century ago. The Sanatani Gandhi does only perfunctory penance for sailing to England (and so losing his caste),and promptly sails off again, to South Africa.
  7. The prescriptive aspect is eroded easily by modernity because it is prejudice and superstition. Adherence brings little benefit It erodes also because, as Beteille says, urban life brings proximity, in the college canteen and the city bus, where such rules are not easy to follow.
  8. Is this aspect of caste, the one that is dying out, what produces caste division in politics? Is it why people cleave to their caste when they vote?
  9. No. The reason for the persistence of caste in politics is something entirely different
  10. It has to do with the internal code of the caste, its positive aspects, its culture. What makes it special, according to its members, and distinguishes it from the other castes.This aspect erodes more slowly, if it erodes at all because it is felt
  11. Two quick examples will illustrate what is meant Let us look at the castes of the 10 richest people in India, according to Forbes magazine: Lakshmi Mittal (Baniya), Mukesh Ambani (Baniya), Azim Premji (Lohana), Ruia brothers (Baniya), Savitri Jindal (Baniya), Gautam Adani (Baniya), K.M. Birla (Baniya), Anil Ambani (Baniya), Sunil Mittal (Baniya), Adi Godrej (Parsi).
  12. Nine of the 10 are from mercantile castes, including the only Muslim. The break up as we go further down the list is diluted somewhat in favour of the other castes, but not by much. Even first generation billionaires, for instance Adani, the Ruias and Sunil Mittal or Uday Kotak (Lohana), tend to come from mercantile castes. Wealthy Muslims like Premji or Khorakiwala (Lohana) also tend to follow this pattern. It is not easy to find many Indians of non-mercantile castes who run businesses of scale.
  13. The Baniya is convinced that his ability to raise and manage capital is demonstrably superior to that of the rest. He sees this as a result of his caste’s culture, which stresses the ability to set aside honour, to compromise.


  1. Now let us look at honour killing. Murdering their daughters for honour is almost exclusively done by the peasant castes of north India, especially the Jats of Haryana and Punjab. What is honour killing? Honour is bestowed on us by others. We cannot honour ourselves. Honour killing is successful only when his caste accepts that the Jat has redeemed his honour by murdering his disobedient daughter.
  2. The Jat receives from his caste’s values the ability to be rigid about honour, to not compromise. This distinguishes his caste, and he takes pride in it Baniyas don’t do honour killing because their community gives them no honour for killing their daughters. The division will not be papered over by modernity.
  3. This explains Beteille’s marriage problem. Castes inter-dine but don’t inter-marry much.Why not? Not for fear of pollution, but because of a positive attraction towards people with the same values, which emanate from caste.
  4. This is also the aspect of caste that drives people to vote for their own kind Whether or not the media emphasise this is unimportant The fact is that the Indian votes confessionally. For him or her, merit comes from caste values. This condition may not be forever unalterable, as Beteille points out But it is also evident that modernity by itself has thus far not dented it as it has the prescriptive aspect of caste, the one Beteille focuses on to make his argument.
  5. “The average villager devotes far more thought and time to home, work and worship than to electoral matters,” says Beteille. If he means to say that this takes him or her away from caste, he’s wrong. Home, work and worship are precisely where caste is embedded most powerfully, and the reason why caste consciousness persists in 2012.Voting is only an extension of this consciousness that has, in fact, not changed that much.
  6. Perhaps it will change in 100 years. But even if it does it won’t be because news channels have stopped talking about it during elections.

Andre Beitelle’s Reponse

  1. “It is not my argument that the consciousness of caste is dying out and will cease to exist in the next 50 or even the next 100 years. But the growth and expansion of a new middle class, attendant on demographic, technological and economic changes is altering the operation of caste.
  2. “Life chances are very unequally distributed in India.The reproduction of inequality is afact But individual mobility is also a fact. The two tendencies operate simultaneously. When we see how well people who start with certain advantages at birth preserve those advantages, we tend to ignore examples of downward mobility.
  3. But downward mobility does take place in a rapidly changing society as well as upward mobility. There are people from various castes moving into superior non-manual occupations. There are also people from peasant and artisan castes moving into business, and occasionally succeeding in it As an example of this kind of movement, I may refer to Harish Damodaran’s book India’s New Capitalists (New Delhi: Permanent Black 2008).”

Ambedkar on Caste

  1. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar drew attention to the rigidity of the caste system and its essential features. The principle of graded inequality as a fundamental principal is beyond controversy. He said the four classes are not only different but also unequal in status, one stand above the other or equal ability as the basis of reward for labour. It favours the distribution of the good things of life among those who are reckoned as the highest in the social hierarchy.
  2. The second principle on which the Hindu social order is founded is that of prescribed graded occupations that are inherited from father to son for each class.The third feature of the Hindu social order according to Ambedkar is the confinement of interaction of people to their respective classes. In the Hindu social order there is restriction on inter-dining and inter-marriages between people of different classes.
  3. Moreover he says that there is nothing strange that Hindu social order is based on classes. There are classes everywhere. No society exists without them even a free social order will not be able to get rid of the classes completely. A free social order, However, aims to present isolation and exclusiveness because both make the members of the class inimical towards one another.
Genesis of Caste System in India
  1. After review of definitions of castes given by different social scientist,Ambedkar emphasizes that most scholars have defined caste as an isolated unit Ambedkar analyses only those elements from the definitions of castes which he regards peculiar and of universal occurrence. For senart, the “idea of pollution” was characteristic of caste. Ambedkar refutes this by arguing that by no means it is peculiar to caste.
  2. It usually originates in priestly ceremonialism and in the general belief in purity. It connection with caste as an essential element may be ruled out because even without is caste system operates. He concludes idea of pollution is associated and it is the priestly caste, which enjoys the highest rank in the caste hierarchy.
  3. Ambedkar identified the absence of dining with those outside one’s own caste as one of the characteristics in Nesfield’s definition of caste. He points out that nesfield had mistaken the effect for the cause. Absence of inter-dining is effect of caste system and not its cause.
  4. Further, Ketkar defines a caste in its relation to a system of castes, ketkar identified two characteristics of caste, (a) Prohibition of inter-marriage and (b) membership by outogeny (by birth). Ambedkar argues that these two aspects are not different because if marriage is prohibited, the result is that membership is limited to those born within the group.
  5. After Critical evaluation of the various characteristics of caste, Ambedkar infers that prohibition or rather absence of inter-marriage between people of different castes is the only element that can be considered as the critical element of caste. Among the Hindus, castes are endogamous while gotras within a particular caste are exogamous. There are strict rules and rigorous penalties for this. It is understandable that exogamy cannot be prescribed at the level of caste, for then caste, as a definite, identifiable until would cease to exist.
  6. Further, Ambedkar says that, preventing marriages out of the group creates a problem from with the group. Which is not easy to solve. The problem is that the number of individuals of either sex is more or less evenly distributed in a normal group and they are of similar age.
  7. if a group desires to consolidate its identity as a caste then it has to maintain a strict balance in the number of persons belonging to either sex. Ambedkar concludes that the problem of caste, then, ultimately resolves itself into one of repairing disparity between the marriageable units of the two sexes within it.
  8. What naturally happens is that there is a ‘surplus’ and if a woman dies her husband is surplus. If group does not take care of this surplus ‘population, it can easily break the law of endogamy. Ambedkar argues that there are two ways in which the problem ‘surplus woman’ is resolved in society. ‘Surplus’ women may either be burnt on the funeral pyre of their husbands or strict rules of endogamy may be imposed on them. Since burning of women cannot be encouraged in society, widowhood bringing with it prohibition of re-marriage is imposed on them.
  9. As far as problem of ‘Surplus men’ is concerned Ambedkar says that men have dominated the society since centuries and have enjoyed greater prestige than women. The same treatment therefore, cannot be accorded to them.
  10. Given the sexual desire that is natural he is a threat to the morals of the group particularly if he leads an active social life and not as a recluse. He has to be therefore, allowed to marry second time with a woman who is not previously married. This is, however, a difficult preposition. If a widower is provided a second woman, then an inbalance in the number of women of marriageable age is created A ‘surplus man can therefore, be provided wife who has not yet reached marriageable age i.e. a minor girl.
  11. Ambedkar identifies four means by which numerical disparity between two sexes can be dealt with, burning of widow with her deceased husband; compulsory widowhood; imposition of celibacy on the widower; and wedding of the widower to a girl who has not yet attained marriageable age.
  12. In Hindu society, the customs of sati, prohibition of widow remarriage and marriage of minor girls are practiced A widower may also observe ‘sanyasa’. These practices take care of the maintenance of numerical balance between both sexes, born out of endogamy.
  13. For Ambedkar question of origin and spread of case are not separated Ambedkar refutes the notion that the law of caste was given by some law giver. Manu is considered to be the law-giver of Hindus; but at the out set there is doubt whether he ever existed Even if existed the caste system predates Manu.
  14. No doubt Manu upheld it and philosophized about it, but he certainly did not and could not ordain the present order of Hindu society. Ambedkar also rejects the argument that the Brahmin created caste. He maintains that still there is strong belief in the minds of orthodox Hindus that caste society is consciously created in the shastras.It may be noted that the teaching and preaching of shastras or the sacred texts is the prerogative of the Brahmins. So their hand in creation of such belief is the reason for Ambedkar’s rejection of Shastras as originator.
  15. Instead he agrees with argument that some law of social growth peculiar to Indian people about the spread of caste system. According to western scholars, the bases of origin of various caste in India are occupation, survival of tribal organizations, the rise of new belief system, crossbreeding and migration.
  16. But according to Ambedkar, problem was in such generalization. He argues that the aforesaid nucfeai also exist in other societies and are not peculiar to India. Why then they did not form caste in other parts of planet? At some stage priestly class detached itself from rest of the body of people and emerged as caste by itself. The other classes that were subject to the law of social division of labour under went differentiation.
  17. According to Amedkar, “This sub-division of society is quite natural. But the unnatural thing about these sub-divisions is that they have lost the open-door character of the class system and have become self enclosed units called castes.
  18. The question is : were they compelled to close their doors and become endogamous, or did they close them of their accord? Here Ambedkar submit that there is a double line of answer: some closed their door; others found it closed against them. The one is psychological and other is mechanistic, but they are complementary’.
  19. Explaining the psychological interpretation of endogamy. Ambedkar opined that endogamy was popular in the Hindu society.
  20. Since it has originated from the Brahmin caste it was whole-heartedly initiated by all the non brahmin class who in turn became endogamous castes, for that he quote Gabrit tarde’s law of initiation, According to trade,”initiation flows from higher to lower”.Secondly”the intensity of imitation varies inversely in proportion to the distance. Distance is understood here is its sociological meaning.
  21. Ambedkar argues that crucial conditions for the imitation existed in Hindu society. He feels that, (i) The source of imitation must enjoy prestige in the group, (ii) that there must be numerous and daily relations among members of group. Ambedkar opined that Brahmin is treated as next to God in Indian society. He is idolized by scripture.
  22. So such a worthy creature is obvious choice for initiation by others. He argues that the imitation of non-brahmin of those customs which supported the structure of caste in its nascent days until it become embedded in the Hindu mind and persists even today.
  23. The custom of sati, enforced widowhood and girl marriage are followed in one or the other way by different castes, he opines that those caste that are nearest to the Brahmin have imitated all the three customs. And those that are less near have imitated enforced widowhood and girl marriage; others little further off, have only girl marriage and those furthest of have imitated only the belief in the case principle.
Caste and division of labour
  1. Ambedkar syas that the caste system assigns task to individual on the basis of the social status of the parents. From another perspective, this stratification of occupations that is the result of the caste system is positively pernicious.
  2. Industry is never static.It undergoes rapid and abrupt change. With sich changes an individual must be free to change his occupation. Without such freedom, it would be impossible to earn livelihood in changing circumstances. Therefore, caste becomes cause of mush of the unemployment in the country. Furthermore, the caste system is based on dogma of predestination.
  3. Consideration of social efficiency would compel us to recognize that the greatest evil in the industrial system is not so much poverty and suffering that it involves as the fact that so many people have calling that hold no appeal to them. Such calling constantly evoke aversion for those who are engaged in them. Given the want to give them up, what efficiency can here be in system under which neither people’s heart nor their minds are in their work?
Socialists and Caste System
  1. Ambedkar further analyses the step taken by the socialists to annihilate caste system through economic development and reform. He questions the socialistic view point that economic power is the only kind of power that one can exercise effectively over others. He argues that religion, social status and property are all sources of power and authority that come in to play in different situation. He feels that without bringing refer in social order on cannot bring about economic change.
  2. He cautioned socialists that proletariat or the poor do not constitute a homogenous category. They are divided not only on the basis of other economic situation but also on the basis of caste and creed. That is why he calls it not only division of labour and division of labourers.
  3. He says that men will not join in a revolution for the equalization of property unless they know that after the revolution is achieved they will be treated equally and that there will be no discrimination of caste and creed. The assurance must be proceeding from much deeper foundation, namely the mental attitude of compatriots towards one another in their spirit of personal equality and fraternity. The elimination of caste through economic reform is not tenable hence socialists would have to deal with hierarchy in a caste first before effecting economic change.
Annihilation of Caste
  1. Ambedkar explains that caste is notion; it is a state of the mind If someone has to break the caste system, he/she has to attack the sacredness and divinity of the caste. So real way to annihilate the caste system is to destroy belief in sanctity of shastras. He feels that reformer working for the removed of untouchability including Mahatma Gandhi, do not seen to realize that the acts of the people are merely the results of their beliefs inculcated upon their minds by the shastras and that people will not change their conduct until they cease to believe in the sanctity of the shastras on which their conduct is founded.
  2. Caste system has two aspects, it divides men in to separate communities; and it places he communities in a grated order are above the other. This gradation makes it impossible to organize a common front against the caste system. It is therefore, not possible to organize a mobalization of the Hindus.
  3. Appeal to reason to annihilate caste is fruitless as Ambedkar quotes Manu “so far as caste and Varna are concerned not only the shastras do not permit the Hindu to use his reason in the decision of the question, but they have taken care to see that no occasion is left to examine in a rational way the foundation of his belief in caste and Varna”. Ambedkar argues that if one wanted to dismantle the castes system then one would have to implement laws to change the caste system. Following reforms within the Hindu religion has to be implemented.
    • There should be one and only one standard book of Hindu religion, acceptable to all Hindus and recognized by all Hindus.
    • It would be appropriate if priesthood among Hindus was abolished failing which the priesthood should at least cease to be hereditary. Every person who professes to be Hindu must be eligible for the position of a priest Law should ensure that no Hindu performs rituals as priest unless he has passed an examination prescribed by the state and holds a permission from the state to practice.
    • No ceremony performed by a priest who does not permission would be deemed to be valid in law.
    • A priest should be servant of the state and should be subject to the disciplinary action by the state in the matter of his morals, beliefs.
    • Number of priest should be limited by law according to requirements of the state. These according to Ambedkar, would provide the basis for establishment of a new social order based on liberty, equality and fraternity, in short, with democracy. He looked forward to a society based on liberty, equality and fraternity. Fraternity creates more channels for association and sharing experiences. This helps in established on attitude of respect and reverence among individual towards fellowmen.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments