G S Ghurye on Caste in India

Sociology for RAS Mains GS Paper 1

G S Ghurye ‘s understanding of Caste in India can be considered as historical, indological as well as comparative. In his book “Caste and race in India” he agrees with Sir Herbert Risley that “Caste is a product of race that came to India with along with aryans“. According to him caste originated from race and occupation stabilised it.

Ghurye explains caste in India based on six distinctive characteristics:

  1. Segmental division of society
  2. Hierarchy
  3. Civil & religious disabilities and privileges
  4. Lack of unrestricted choice of occupation
  5. Restriction on food, drinks & social intercourse
  6. Endogamy

According to GS Gurye caste is product of various historical processes, adapting to demand of time and therefore a dynamic institution.

Segmental division of society

Under Caste System society is divided into several small social groups called castes. Additionally, there are multiple divisions and subdivisions of caste system.The membership is ascribed in character, i.e. it is based on birth and flows from generation to generation. The members of every division have fixed status, roles and tasks. There are also a set of moral ethics, obligations and justification value behind these roles. Hence, each caste has its own traditional social status, occupations, customs rules and regulations.

Hierarchy

According to Ghurye, Caste is hierarchical.  Theoretically, brahmins occupy the top position and Shudras occupy the bottom. The castes can be graded and arranged into a hierarchy on the basis of their social precedence. The Hierarchy determines caste norms. The hierarchy present in caste system is reflected through the division of labor in society.

Civil & religious disabilities and privileges

Civil and religious disabilities reflect the rigidity of the caste system. In a caste society, there is an un-equal distribution of  disabilities and privileges among its members. While the higher caste people enjoy all the privilege, the lower caste people suffer from various types of disabilities. The untouchables are not allowed to take water from public wells. They are not allowed to enter temples etc.

Lack of unrestricted choice of occupation

The occupations in caste system are fixed by heredity and generally members are not allowed to change their traditional occupations. The higher caste members maintain their supremacy  in their jobs and do not allow the other caste group to join in the same occupation.

Restriction on food, drinks & social intercourse

Some rules have been imposed upon all caste people.  Restriction on feeding and social intercourse are still prevalent in Indian society. There are two types of  food i.e. Kachha (cooked) food and Pakka (raw) food upon which certain restrictions are imposed with  regard to sharing, for example:
  • Caste groups from whom twice born caste people can accept Kachha food;
  • Caste group from whom twice born caste people can accept Pakka food;
  • Caste groups from whom twice born caste people can accept water but no food;
  • Caste groups from whom twice born caste people do not accept water or food and maintain distance.

Endogamy

Endogamy is the essence of Caste System. Every caste insists that its members should marry within the group.  Disobeying the caste endogamy rule is not only treated as a crime but is also condemned as a sin.