Dr Ambedkar first articulated caste
inequality in Indian society. He was of the opinion that nothing can build on
the foundation of caste. On the other hand, he worked for the ‘annihilation of
caste’ because he believed that anything that is built on caste is going to
create inequality within. India cannot progress with its caste system which is
the main source of inequality. As we know, studies on caste hold their own
importance and relevance in Indian academics.
There have been many transitions in
the concept and, historically, it is not exactly the same as it was when
originated. In an erudite analysis of castes, Jodhka argued that the
connotation of caste has changes from the one closeted in culture and tradition
to a more useful contemporary dynamics, and the traditional modes of
discrimination are changing into new modes. Recognising the complexity and
regional peculiarities, he argued for regional sociology of caste (Jodhka,
2012). Andre Beteille believes that the economic, technological and demographic
changes are altering the operations of caste (The Hindu, 20 February
He did not go far off from the
arguments in his earlier work on Caste Class and Power, wherein he
brought in class as also power to buttress the caste hierarchy hypothesis.
Caste characteristics have not remained the same as they were. Need to know the
changes that occurred were acute and that provoked the central argument
(1996) and others in Caste: Its Twentieth
Century Avatar. The running core theme among the essays presented there is
that the connotations of and use of caste have changed. But the question
whether the intrinsic hierarchical character has changed remained in the
debate. The juxtaposition of identity versus the hierarchical image of caste
remained as a central point of the debate. The identity as also the hierarchy
manifests in the context of class, power and regional specificities.
Caste as a word had originated from
the Spanish and Portuguese word called ‘Casta’ which means lineage or
race. It is derived from the Latin word ‘Castus’ which means pure. The
current spelling of the word is based on the French word ‘Caste’ which appeared
in 1740 in the academies and is hardly found before the 18th century.
The word ‘Casta’ was applied
to a mixed breed between European, American and Negroes. But caste was not used
in its Indian sense till the 17th century. The Indian use is the leading one
now, and it has influenced all the other uses. The concept of graded purity was
at the core of such hierarchical divisions. Indian society is based on caste;
individuals belong to the caste. As we understand, there are indigenous or
local categories and concepts associated with caste such as Varna, Jati and Jat.
While referring to caste, most
researchers make reference to Ketkar (1909) and often to Ghurye
(1957) and Srinivas
(1962, 1972). They emphasise the feature as hierarchy,
endogamy, graded occupation, food and social intercourse disconnect in customs
and dressing and civil or religious disabilities. Ambedkar in his first essay
emphasised control on resources, endogamy, immobility in occupation and
operating irrational social institutions as the main issues (Ambedkar, 1916).
He termed the caste system as an
‘enclosed class’ and further in these enclosures ‘some closed the doors and
others found the doors closed’. His description taken further in his writing
emphasises the control on resources and the idea of pollution or purity as the
main drivers of sustaining the system.
A particular view of caste and
Hinduism is central to this notion of Indian tradition and much of it has been
constructed out of the Enological writings on Indian civilisation, colonial
administrator reports and the nationalist imagination during the 19th and 20th
centuries. The history of modern-day theorisation of caste begins with Western
and colonial encounters with the Indian civilisation. The British proved to be
the most important of them.
Not only were they successful
colonisers, but also they wrote a great deal on the social and cultural life of
the Indian people. Such theorisation of Indian social order was not merely an
academic exercise. It helped them make sense of reality. Relations between
castes are governed among other things, by the concepts of pollution and purity
and generally; maximum commensality occurs within the caste. Caste is usually
segmented into several sub-castes and each sub-caste is endogamous.
Traditionally, it was the smallest
group which constituted the unity of endogamy, and the identity of this tiny
group stood out sharply against other similar groups. In the case of lower
caste, which was also rurally oriented than the higher, political factors have
been responsible for the weakening of the barriers between sub-castes. A
distinction has to be made between caste at the political level and caste at
the social and ritual levels (Srinivas,
1962, pp. 3–5).
The term ‘varna’ means a colour
whereas the term ‘jati’ denotes caste, a group the membership of which is
acquired by birth. The term ‘jati’ etymologically means something into which
one is born. It is occasionally used by good ancient authorities as equivalent