UPSC SOCIOLOGY MAINS SYLLABUS
PAPER 2 – Section B – Social structure
(ii) Caste System:
(a) Perspectives on the study of caste systems: GS Ghurye, M N Srinivas, Louis Dumont, Andre Beteille (b) Features of the caste system. (c) Untouchability – forms and perspectives.
Anderson and Parker – “Caste is that extreme form of social class organization in which the position of individuals in the status hierarchy is determined by descent and birth.”
Charles Cooley – “When a class is somewhat strictly hereditary, we may call it a caste.
E. Blunt – “Caste is an endogamous group bearing a common name, membership of which is hereditary, imposing on its members certain restrictions in the matter of social intercourse, either following a common traditional occupation a claiming a common origin & generally regarded as forming a single homogenous community.
CHARACTERISTICS OF CASTE
- Caste as a hierarchal division of society: A sense of highness and lowness or superiority or inferiority is associated with this gradation or ranking.
- Caste as a segmental division of society: Hindu society is divided into many social segments called caste. Castes are divided into sub-castes. Castes are groups with a defined boundary of their own.
- Restrictions on social relations: The practice of pollution separates the touchable and untouchables which also determines the relationship between them.
- Civil and religious privilege or disabilities of certain castes: In many ways, upper caste people, in general, enjoy social, political, legal, and religious privileges and lower castes are discriminated against.
- Restriction on occupational choice: Some occupations are considered superior and sacred e.g. learning priesthood, teaching, etc. while certain occupations are considered degrading and inferior like shoe-making, sweeping, hide tanning, washing clothes, barbering, etc. so each caste has its specific occupation and are expected to continue some occupation.
- A caste is an endogamous group : Endogamy is a rule of marriage according to which an individual has to marry within his or her group i.e. caste.
CASTE AND SOCIAL MOBILITY
Caste has been considered to be a closed system of stratification. However, in reality no system can be absolutely closed. Caste mobility as a process of social and cultural change has been explained
by Srinivas in his concept of Sanskritisation. The widespread social and cultural process called Sanskritisation is a process where a low Hindu caste change its customs, rites, rituals ideology and way of life in the direction of high and frequently twice-born castes. Besides Sanskritisation, another major agent of social change was Westernisation. Westernisation includes the influences, which swept over India during the British rule bringing in the ideologies of secularism, egalitarianism and democracy. The new opportunities in education, economy and polity were in theory caste free and open to all.
CHANGING CASTE STRUCTURE
- The caste system is no longer a clearly demarcated system of hierarchically-ordered caste groups. As a result of certain factors such as occupational diversification, migration to urban areas, mechanisation of agriculture, boundaries between caste groups are tending to blur or break down.
- In the changing social scenario, birth no longer constitutes the basis of social prestige. Criteria such as wealth, ability, education, efficiency etc. have become the determinants of social status.
- Today occupation is not the hereditary monopoly of any caste any more. One is free to take up any occupation he likes according to his ability and interest.
- The members of a caste or sub-caste were forbidden by an inexorable social law to marry outside the group. But at present the Special Marriage Act, 1954 and the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 have removed endogamic restrictions and declared inter-caste marriages as legally valid.
- So far as caste system was concerned, each caste had a caste Panchayat. The caste Panchayat played the role of a judicial body. But today Jati Panchayats are on the decline. Law courts have taken over most of their roles. The notions of democracy and adult franchise have affected the caste system in several ways. The new political system attacks the very roots of hierarchization.
CASTE AND POLITICS
A system of social stratification such as the caste rests upon the unequal distribution of power between status groups having definite positions in the prestige hierarchy. The political system of the pre-British India was characterised by clear territorial changes marking off the territory of one chieftain or Raja from the territories of the other. The British rule set the castes free from the territorial limitations inherent in the pre-British political system. It is widely held that civil and penal codes introduced by the British over the sub-continent of India in 1860 took away the power exercised by caste panchayats.
Many sociologists undertook political analysis in terms of caste and traced the political development of caste through time, and the alliances of certain castes against certain others to gain political power. According to them, the advent of democracy and decentralised politics in the form of the three-tier Panchayati Raj system saw politics carried down to the grassroots level. Caste became a
prominent variable in electoral politics. The demands of organised party system in politics have brought about a coalition of castes. Sub-castes and sub-divisions in sub-castes can find an active field of engagement in village politics. The introduction of democratic decentralisation and universal suffrage protected the interests of the backward classes (which include the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes) in education, employment and political life, against the dominance of the traditionally powerful castes.
The coming of market economy, the decline of the traditional economic systems (a good example is that of the decline of Brahman hegemony in Tanjore), caste-free occupations and mobilisation of caste groups have all resulted in the decline of the traditional political role of castes. This is evident, for example, in the case of the political mobilisation of caste groups in Madhopur, U.P. In this village, the ranks of
Noniyas, the salt-makers and Chamars, the leather-makers joined hands in opposing the locally dominant upper caste Thakurs. Thakurs were the Rajput landlords and the traditional dispensers of justice of erstwhile masters of the lower castes of this village. Thus, caste, which was a dividing factor, reshaped itself in the new circumstances to form a unifying factor. Not only for political gains but for material welfare and social status also, caste alliances came to be established.
Politics has drawn caste into its web for organising support and in articulating the needs of the masses. The organisation of support is done through the same organisation in which the masses are found, namely the caste groups. In making politics their sphere of activity, caste and kin groups attest their identity to strive for positions of power. Different parties and movements mobilise different social status groups as resources for their political objectives. Thus, even today we often hear of candidates being selected for political parties on the basis of caste.
‘Caste’ has often been seen to represent the core of India. It has been viewed both as an institution as well as an ideology.Caste system in India is undergoing changes due to progress in education, technology, modernization and changes in general social outlook. In spite of general improvement in conditions of the lower castes, India has still a long way to go, to root out the evils of the caste system from the society.