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 caste system.
(c) Untouchability – forms and perspectives
The word is derived from the Latin word ‘Castus’, which means ‘pure’. The Portuguese word ‘Casta’ which means race, lineage or pure stock. But ‘Caste’ was not used in its Indian sense till the seventeenth century. According to Risley, “a caste may be defined as a collection of families or groups of families bearing a common name; claiming common descent from a mythical ancestor; human or divine, professing to follow the same hereditary calling; and regarded by those who are competent to give opinions as forming a singly homogenous community. The name generally denotes or is associated
with a specific occupation. Béteille has defined caste, ‘as a small and named group of persons characterised by endogamy, hereditary membership and a specific style of life which sometimes includes the pursuit by tradition of a particular occupation and is usually associated with a more or less distinct ritual status in a hierarchical system’.
THEORIES ON ORIGIN OF CASTE
THE DIVINE ORIGIN OF CASTE
As per the ‘Purusha Sukta’ in Rig Veda, the people belong to four main castes (varnas) constituting the four body parts of the purush (the creator). The Brahmin was his (pursha’s) mouth, the Rajanya (kshatriya) was his arms, the Vaisya was this thigh; and the shudra sprang from his feet. This view has also been expressed in most of Dharma-Shastras, smirities and Puranas. Manu, whose pronouncement is vited as an authority, also supported this view. In the Bhagwad Gita it is stated that the four fold division of castes was created by god according to appointment of qualities and duties.
KARMA AND TRANSMIGRATION THEORY
The various conditions of men, the highest, the middling, and the lowest are caused by karma. One’s status in life is determined by ones action (karma) in past incarnations. Whatever a man enjoys or suffers is a result of his own actions. His bad actions would bear bitter fruit, whether they were done overtly or covertly. In consequence of many sinful acts committed by one’s body, voice or mind, that individual in the next birth would become a bird, or a beast, or be born as a low caste person respectively.
According to the Racial theory propounded by Herbert Risley in his book ‘The People of India’ racial differences and endogamous marriages lead to the origin of the caste system. According to him, caste system developed after emigration of IndoAryans from Persia where the society was divided into four classes—priests, warriors, cultivators and artisans and this they maintained even after coming here. They differed from the non-Aryans in culture and racial tracts. So in order to maintain their superior status they started practicing hyper gamy and imposed restriction on ‘Pratiloma’ marriages.
Occupational theory propounded by Nesfield advocates occupation as the lone factor for the development of this system. According to him, before this system priesthood was not the exclusive monopoly of Brahmins. But later on when hymns and rituals became more complex, a section of people got themselves specialized and became the Brahmins. Due to importance of sacrifices such people came to be more respected. Later they made this occupation hereditary. Chappel and Coon trace the origin of castes to the absorption of aboriginal types, and they also explain the formation of new castes with reference to
the emergence of new occupations.
According to this theory, the Brahmins wanted to have a full control over the society in order to curb and rule them. So, their political interest created a caste system in India. Nibey Dubais, a French scholar, originally put forward this theory that was also supported by Indian thinkers such as Dr. Ghurey.
According to exponents of this theory, it is wrong to believe that castes came into being all of a sudden. It is the result of a long process of social evolution. They also argue that gradually and slowly many factors contributed to it. Some such factors which contributed in it included desire for purity of blood, devotion to a particular profession, theory of Karma and system of ancestral worship, colour prejudices, economics systems, conquest of one army by the other and geographical location and isolation. Their role differed from time to time but all these factors combined together helped in the emergence and strengthening of the caste system.
The caste system has survived in a perfect form in India than elsewhere, but Hocart shows that the Indian caste system is not an isolated phenomenon as it is thought to be. Comparable forms, still exist is Polynesia and Melanesia and that clear traces of them can be seen in ancient Greece, Rome and Modern Egypt. Hutton finds analogous institutions, which resemble caste in one or other of its aspects in various parts of the world like Ceylon, Fiji, Egypt, Somali, Rnada and Urundi in modern Africa and Burma. Ghurye traces elements of caste outside India like Egypt, Western Asia, China, Japan, America, Rome and Tribal Europe.