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CASTES IN INDIA

THEIR MECHANISM, GENESIS

AND DEVELOPMENT

This paper was read by Dr. B.R.

AMBEDKAR

before

the Anthropology Seminar of Dr. A. A. Goidenweiser,

Columbia University,

New York

(America)

on 9th May 1916

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marked below.

need hardly remind you of the complexity of the

i intend to handle. Subtler minds and abler pens than mine have been brought to the task of unravelling the

Subject

mysteries of Castes
the

but unfortunately

it

still

remains in

domain of
I

the

understood/'

am

''unexplained/' not to say of the "unquite alive to the complex intricacies of

a hoary institution like Caste, but I am not so pessimistic as to relegate it to the region of the unknowable, for I
believe
it

can bo known.

The

caste

problem

is

vast
it

one,
is

both theoretically and


institution
j

practically.

Practically,

an
a
for

that portends tremendous consequences.

It is

local problem, but o ie capable of


in

much wider

mischief,
will

India does exist, Hindus "as long as caste hardly or have with outsiders social intercourse any intermarry and if Hindus world migrate to other regions on earth, Indian
;

caste

would become
a great

world problem.
scholars

Theoretically,

it

has

defied

many

who have

taken upon them-

selves, as a

the case,

labour of love, to dig into its origion. Such being cannot treat the problem in its entirety. Time,

space ard acumen, 1 am afraid, would ail fail me, if I to do otherwise than limit myself to phase of and spread of the caste it, namely the genesis, mechanism

attcmpi

will strictly observe this rule, and will dwell on system. extraneous matters only when it is necessary to clarify or
I

support a point in

my

thesis.

To proceed with

the subject.

Ethnologists, the population of India

According to well-known is a mixture of Aryans,

Dravidians, Mongolians and Scythians. All these stocks of people came into India from various directions and with
various cultures, centuries ago,

when they were

in

a tribal

turn elbowed their entry into the country by fighting with their predecessors, and after a stomachful of it settled dovvn as peaceful neighbours. Through constant contact and mutual intercourse they evolved a common
state.

They

all in

culture

that superseded

their

distinctive

cultures.

Jk

may

be granted that there has not been a thorough amalgamation of the various stocks that make up the people of India,

and
in

to

a traveller from within

the

boundaries of India

marked contrast in physique and even colour to the West, as does the South to the North. But amalgamation can never be the sole criterion of
the East presents a

homogeneity as predicated of any people.


peoples arc heterogeneous. It is the basis of homogeneity.
is

Ethnically

all

the

unity

of culture that

Taking this for granted, I venture to say that there is no country that can rival the Indian Peninsula with respect to the unity of its culture. It has not only a geographic unity, but it has over and
above
all

a deeper and a

much more fundamental

unity-thc
10

indubitable cultural unity that covers the


end.

land from end

But it is because of this homogeneity that Caste becomes a problem so difficult to be explained. If ihc Hindu Society were a mere federation of mutually exclude units
the

would be simple enough. But Ca^te is a an of already homogeneous unit, and the explanaparcelling tion of the genesis of Caste is the explanation of this proees of parcelling.
matter
Before launching into our field of enquiry, it is better I will ourselves regarding the nature of a caste. of a the of few students best ca^te for therefore draw upon
it
:

to advise

their definition of
1.

Mr. Seaart, a French

authority, defi.ies

a caste

as

"a

close

corporation,

in

theory

at

any rate

rigorously hereditary : equipped with a certain traditional and independent organisation, including

a chief and a council, meeting on occasion in assemblies of more or less plenary authority and
joining together at certain festivals
:

bound together

by common

more relate occupations, which food and to particularly to marriage and to of and ceremonial questions pollution, ruling its members by the exercise of jurisdiction, the extent of which varies, but which succeds in making the
the authority of the community more felt by sanction of certain penalties and, above all, by final
irrevocable exclusion from the group."

2.

Mr. Nesfield

defines

a caste as

"a

class

of the

community which disowns any connection with any other class and can neither intermarry nor
eat nor drink

with any but persons of their

own

community.**
3.

According to Sir. H. Risley, "a caste may be defined as a collection of families or groups of families bearing a common name which usually
denotes or
claiming
is

associated with specific occupation,


descent

ancestor, divine, professing the same professional, callings and are regarded by those who are competent to give an opinion
4.

common human or

from

mythical
to follow

as forming a single homogeneous community." Dr. Ketkar defines caste as "a social group having

two

characteristics

(*")

membership

is

confined to

those who are born of members and includes all persons so born () the members are forbidden by an inexorable social law to marry outside the

group."

To

review these definitions


It will

is

of great

importance for
individually the

our purpose.
definitions
little:

be noticed that taken

of three of the writers include too


is

much
and

or too

none
the

complete or correct by
point in the
lies

itself

all

have

missed
system.

central

mechanism of

the Caste

an and not as a group within, and with Yet definite relations to, the system of caste as a whole. collectively all of them are complementary to one another,
Their mistake
itself,

in trying to define

caste as

isolated unit by

emphasising what has been obscured in the other. By way of criticism, therefore, I will take only those points common to all Castes in each of the above
each

one

definitions

which are regarded as peculiarities of Caste and

evaluate them as such.

To

start

with Mr. S^riart.

He draws

attention to the

"Idea of pollution" as a characteristic of Caste. With regard


to this point

be safely said that it is by no means a peculiarity of Caste as sifch. It usually originates in priestly ceremonialism and is a particular case of th^ general
it

may

Consequently its necessary connection with Caste may be completely denied without damaging the working of Caste. The "idea of pollution" has been attached to the institution of Caste, only because the Caste that enjoys the highest rank is the priestly Caste While
belief
in

purity.

we know
therefore

that

priest

and purity are old associates.


that

We may
is

conclude

the

"idea of

pollution"

characteristic of Caste

flavour.

Mr. Nesfield

only in so far as Caste has a religious in his way dwells on the absence of

teristics.

messing with those outside the Caste as one of its characIn spite of the newness of the point we must
Nesfield has mistaken the effect for the cause.

say that Mr.

Caste, being a self-enclosed


intercourse,

unit

naturally limits social

including messing etc. to

Members

within

it.

is not Consequently this absence of messing with outsiders due to positive prohibition, but is a natural result of Caste,
i. e.

exclusiveness.

No

doubt

this

absence of messing origi-

acquired the prohibitory character of a religious injunction, but it may be regarded as


nally

due

to

exclusiveness,

a later growth. Sir H. Risley, makes no new point deserving of special attention. We now pass on to the definition of Dr. Ketkar who has done much for the elucidation of the subject. Not

only

is

he a native, but he has also

brought a

critical

acuman and an open mind to bear on his study of Caste* His definition merits consideration, for he has defined Caste
to a system of Castes, and has concentrated his attention only on those characteristics which
in
its

relation

are
in

absolutely necessary for the existence of a Caste which

system, rightly excluding

all

others as being secondary

or derivative in character.

must, however, be of thought, lucid and clear as otherwise it is. He speaks of Prohibition of Intermarriage and Membership by Autogeny as the two characteristics of Caste. I submit
that these are

respect to his definition it said that in it there is a slight confusion

With

but two aspects of one and the same thing,

and not two different things as Dr. Ketker supposes them to be. If you prohibit inter-marriage the result is that you

limit

the

membership to those born within the group. Thus two are the obverse and the reverse sides of the same
This
evaluation of the various characteristics of

medal.
critical

Caste leave no doubt that prohibition, or rather tlu absence of intermarriage-endogamy, to be concise is the only one
that

can

be

called

the

essence

of Caste when
this

rightly

undertsood.

But

some

may

deny

on

abstract

anthropological grounds for there exist endoganiou> groups without giving rise to problem of Caste. In a general way this may be true, as endogamous societies, culturally

making their abode in localities nv^re or less removed, and having little to do with each other are a The negroes and ths whites and the physical reality. that go various tribal groups by name of American Indians in the United States may be cited as more or less
different,

view. support of this But we must not confuse matters, for in India the situation

appropriate

illustarations

in

is

different.

As pointed

out

before,

form a homogeneous whole.


definite
territories

The

peoples of India various races of India


the

less fused into occupying one another and do possess cultural unity, which is the only criterion of a homogeneous population. Given this

have more or

homogcnity as a basis Caste becomes a problem altogether new in character and wholly absent in the situation constituted by the mere propinquity of endogamous, social
Caste in India means an artificial chopping population into fixed and definite units, each one prevented from fusing into another through the custom of endogamy. Tiius the conclusion is in evitable that
or tribal groups.
off the

Endogamy

is

the

only

characteristic

that

is

peculiar

to

8
caste,

and

if

we succeed

in

tained,

we

shall practically

showing how endogamy is mainhave proved the genesis and also

the

mechanism of Caste.
It

not be quite easy for you to anticipate why I regard endogamy as a key to the mystery of the Caste system. Not to strain your imagination too much, I will

may

proceed to give you my reasons for it. It may not also be out of place to emphasize at this moment that no civilized society of to-day presents more
survivals
its

of primitive time than does the Indian society,

is and its tribal code, essentially primitive of the advance of time and civilization, inspite operates in all its pristine vigour even to-day, one of these primitive

religion

survivals,

to
is

v/hich

wish

particularly

attention

the

CUSTOM OF EXOGAMY.

of exogamy in the pimitive words is a fact to need any explanation. With the growth of history, however, exogamy has lost its efficacy, and excepting the nearest blood-kins, there is usually no social bar restricting
the field

to draw your The prevalence too well known

of marriage. But regarding the peoples of India the law of exogamy is a positive injunction even to-day.

Indian

society
there

still

savours
;

of

the clan
this

system, even

though from the


principle

are

no clans

and

can be easily seen


centres

law
of

of

matrimony which
for
it is

round

the

(blood-kins)
.S

exogamy, cannot marry, but


(of
the

not that

SAPINDAS

A GOT R AS

same

a marriage even between is class) regarded as

sacrilege.

Nothing is therefore more important for you to remember than the fact that endogamy is foreign to the The various GOT R AS of India are and people of India.

have

been exogomous, so are the other groups with totemic


is

organization. It people of India

no exaggeration to say that with the exogamy is a creed and none dare infringe so so much that, inspite of the endogamy of the Castes it, within them exogamy is strictly observed and that there are more rigorous penalties for violating exogamy than are
for violating

endogamy.
the rule

You

see that will, therefore, readily

with exogamy

there could be no Caste, for exogamy

consequently in final analysis creation of castes, so for as India is concerned, means the superposition of endogamy on exogamy. However, out in an originally exogamous population an easy working Caste) of of endogamy (which is equivalent to the creation consideration of the in the is is a grave problem, audit of means utilized for the preservation endogamy against

means

fusion.

But we have castes

the

exogamy
problem.

that

we may hope

to

find

the

solution

of our

Thus the Superposition of endogamy on exogamy

means
affair.

the creation of caste.


Let us take an

But

this

is

not

an easy
to
\\ill
it

make
desires

itself

group into a Caste and analyse what means


imaginary
self
it

that

desires

have to adopt to make


to

endogamous.
groups

If a

group

make

itself

endogamous

against
avail,

intermarriage
especially
if

with outside

a formal injunction will be of no

exogamy had

tendency Again, there is contact with one another to assimilate and

of endogamy, prior to the introduction been the rule in all matrimonial relations. in all groups lying in close a

amalgamate,

and thus consolidate


tendency
is

into

to be strongly
it

a homogenous society. If this, counteracted in the interest of

Caste formation,

a absolutely necessary to circumscribe

10
le

outside which people should not contract marriages.

to prevent marriages Nevertheless, this encircling 11 without creates problems from within which are not

Roughly speaking, in a normal up the two sexes are more or le^s evenly distributed, generally speaking there is an equality between those the same age. The quality is, however, never quite At the same time to the group lized in actual societies. into a caste the manitenance itself is desirous of making equality between the sexes becomes the ultimate goal, without it endogamy can no longer subsist. In other rds, if endogamy is to be preserved conjugal rights from
y

easy of

solution.

.t

have to be provided for, otherwise members of the driven out of the circle to take care of nip will be But in order that the rmselves in any way they can. for be from within, it is to ijugal rights provided numerical a to maintain equality solutely necessary
thin

tween the marriageable units of the two sexes within the nip desirous of making itself into a Caste. It is only rough the maintenance of such an equality that the cessary endogamy of the group can be kept intact, and a
ry large disparity is sure to

break

it.

The problem of caste,


to
>le

then, ultimately resolves itself

one of repairing the disparity between the marriageunits of the two sexes within it. Left to nature, the

uch needed parity between the units can be realized only len a couple dies simultaneously. But this is a rare con tin-

The husband may die before the wife and create a who must be disposed of, else through interwoman, rplus in like arriage she will violate the endogamy of the group,
ncy.

11

whom

survive his wife and be surplus man, the group, while it may sympathise with him for the said beravement, has to dispose of, else he will marry outside the

manner the husband may

Caste and will break the endogamy.

surplus

man and
if

the

Thus both the surplus woman constitute a menace to


of, for

not finding suitable partners nside their prescribed circle (and left to themselves they canlot find any, for if the matter be not regulated there can only
>e just

he caste

not taken care

;ress
s

enough parts to go round) very likely they will transthe boundary, marry outside and import offspring that
is

foreign to the caste.

Let us see what our imaginary group


his

likely to

do with

SURPLUS
up

MAN AND SURPLUS WOMAN.


WOMAN.

We

will

irsttake
>e

She can the case of the SURPLUS of to in so as two different preserve the disposed ways ndogamy of the caste.
First
:

burn her on the

funeral

pyre

of her deceased

usband and get rid of her.


i

This, however, is a rather an the of npracticable way solving problem of sex disparity,
it may not. Consequenthus be disposed of, cannot y every SURPLUS And icause it is an easy solution but a hard realization. the SURPLUS (widow), if not disposed of,

some

cases

it

may

work,

in

others

WOMAN

WOMAN
:

mains
nger.

group but in her very existence lies a double She may marry outside the Caste and violate endomy, or she may marry within the Caste and through comtition encroach upon the chances of marriage that must be
ierved for the potential
re
r

in the

brides in the Caste.

a menace

in

any

case,

She is thereand something must be done to

if

she cannot be burned along with her deceased husband.

12

jest of her

The second remedy is to enforce widowhood on her Tor the life. So far as the objective results are concerned,
is

burning

a better solution than

enforcing widowhood.

Burning the

widow

eliminates

all

the three evils that a

SURinside

PLUS
creates

WOMAN
no

is

fraught with.

Being dead and gone she


either
is

problem
it is

of

remarriage

or outside the Caste.


to burning because
paratively

But compulsory widowhood

superior

humane

it

practicable. Besides being comalso guards against the morals of re-

more

marriage as does burning ; but No doubt under the group.

it fails

to guard the morals of

compulsory
is

widowhood

the

woman

remains, and just because she

deprived of her being

natural right of being a legitimate wife in future, the incentive


to immoral conduct
is

increased.

But

this is

able
she

difficulty.

is

She can be degraded to a condition no longer a source of allurement.

by no insuperin which

The problem of SURPLUS more important and much more

MAN

(widower)

is

much
of the
itself

difficult

than

that

SURPLUS WOMEN
into a Caste.

in a

group that

desires to

make

From

time immemorial

with
figure

woman

has had the

man He hand. upper


two
superiority

as
is

compared
a dominant
greater

in every

group and of the


this

sexes has

prestige.

With

traditional

of

woman

his wishes have

always been consulted.


social

man ovei Woman,


kinds of

on the other hand, has been an easy prey to


iniquitous injuctions, religious, man as a maker of injunctions is
all.

all

or

economic.

Bat

Such being the case,


in Caste.

most often above them you cannot accord the same kind

of treatment to a

surplus

man

as

you can to a surplus

woman

13

The project of burning him with his deceased wife is hazardous in two ways first of all it cannot be done he is a because man. simple Secondly, if done, a sturdy
:

soul

is

lost

to

the Caste.

There remain then only two


I

solutions which can conveniently dispose of him. conveniently, because he is an asset to the group.

say

is to the group, endogamy is still more and must assure both these ends. the solution important, Under these circumstances she may be forced or 1 should say induced, after the manner of the widow, to remain a widower

Important as he

for the

rest

of his

life.

This solution

is

not altogether

difficult, for

without any compulsion

as to enjoy self-imposed celibacy, step of their

are so disposed or even to take a further


the world
is,

some

own

accord and renounce

and

its

joys

SURPLUS remains group as an active participator in group activities, he is a danger to the morals of the group. Looked at from different point of view celibacy, though easy in cases where it succeeds, is not so advantageous even then to the
in the

But, given hardly be expected to be realized. very likely to be the case, if the

human nature

as

it

this solution

can

On

the other hand

as is

MAN

material prospects of the Caste. If he observes genuine celibacy and renounces the world, he would not be a menace
to the preservation of Caste endogamy or caste morals as he undoubtedly would be if he remained a secular person. But as an ascetic celibate he is as good as burned, so far

as the material well-being of his Caste is concerned. Caste, in order that it may be large enough to afford a

vigorous

communal

numerical strength.

life, must be maintained at a certain But to hope for this and to proclaim

14
celibacy
bleeding.
is

the

same as trying

to

cure

atrophy

by

Imposing celibacy on the surplus man in the group, It is in the therefore, fails both theoretically and practically. interest of the Caste to keep him as a grahastha (one who
raises a family), to use a Sanskrit
is

technical

term.

But the

to provide him with a wife from within the Caste. problem At the outset this is not possible, for the ruling ratio in a
caste has to be one

man to one woman and none can have two chances of marriage, for in a Caste thoroughly self-

enclosed there are always just enough marriageable women to go round for the marriageable men. Under these circumstances the surplus man can be provided with a wife only by recruiting a bride from the ranks of those not yet marriageable in order to
tie

him down

to tin group. This

is

certainly

the best of the possible solutions in the case of the surplus man. By this, he is kept within the caste. By this means

numerical depletion through constant outflow is guarded against, and by this endogamy and morals are preserved.
It will

now be

seen that the four

means by which numis

erical

disparity between the

two sexes

conveniently main;

tained (1)
(2)
(3)

Burning the widow with her deceased husband Compulsory widowhood a milder form of burning

Imposing celibacy
girl

on the widower

(4)

Wedding him

Though, as I said above, and widow imposing celibacy on the widower are burning the of doubtful service to the group in its endeavour to preserve But means, as its endogamy, all of them operate as Means. What forces, when liberated or set in motion create an end.
to a

not yet marriageable.

then

is

the

end that these means create

15

They

create

and perpetuate endogamy, while caste and

endogamy, according to our analysis of the various definitions of caste, are one and the same thing. Thus the existence of these means
these means.
is

identical with caste

and caste involves

This, in
in

my

opinion,

is

the general

a system of castes.

Let us

generalities
their

to the castes in
I

mechanism of a caste turn from these high Hindu Society and inquire into

now

mechanism.
pitfalls

need hardly promise that there are a great


the path

many
tion.

in
in

of those
is

who

try to unfold

the

past, and caste

India to be sure
true

a very ancient instituexist

This

is

especially

where there

no authentic
for the

or written record or where the people, like the Hindus, are


so constituted that to them writing history
is

a folly

world

is

an

illusion.

long time they

may
true,

live, though for a remain unrecorded and as often as not

But institutions do

customs and morals are


tory.

like

fossils

that

their

own

hisif

If this is

our task will be amply rewarded


the

we

scrutinize

Hindus arrived at to meet the problems of the surplus man and surplus woman.
the solution

Complex though
lar uxrial

it

be in

its

general working the

Hindu

Society, even to a superficial

observer, presents three singu-

customs, namely

(0

Sati or the burning of the

widow on

the funeral pyre

of her deceased husband.


(ii)

Enforced widowhood by which a widow

is

not allow-

ed to remarry.
(in)

Girl marriage.

In addition, one also notes a great

hankering after

16

Sannyasa (renunciation) on the part of the widower, but may in some cases be due purely to psychic disposition.

this-

So

far

of these customs

as I know, no scientific explanation of the origin is forth-coming even to day. We have


tell

plenty of philosophy to oured, but nothing to


existence.

us

why

these customs were hon-

tell

us the causes o ftheir origin and

Sati has been honoured (Of

A.K. Coomaraswamy,
in the British

Sati

a Defence of the Eastern

Woman

Socio-

Review, Vol. VI, 1913) because it is a "proof of the perfect unity of body and soul" between husband and wife and of "devotion beyond the grave;" because it embodied
logical

the ideal of wifehood, which

is

well
is

expressed by

Umawhen
it is

she said "Devotion to her Lord


eternal heaven
:

woman's honour,

her

and

Maheshvara," she adds with a most

touching human cry, "I desire not paradise itself if thou are not satisfied with me !" Why compulsory widowhood is

honoured
sang
here to

know

not, nor have I yet

met with any one who

of it, though there are a great many who adin honour of girl marriage is reported Dr. Ketkar be "A really faithful man or to as follows by woman ought not to feel affection for a woman or a man
in praise
it.

The eology

other than
purity
is

the

one with
for that

whom he
the

or she

is

united.

Such

compulsory not only after marriage but even beis

fore marriage,

only correct ideal of chastity.

maiden could be considered pure if she feels love for a man other than one to whom she might be married. As she
does not
not

No

known
it is

to

whom
So
it

she

is

going to be married she must


all

feel affection for

any man at
is

before marriage.

If she

does so,

a sin

better for a girl to

know whom
been

she has to love before any sexual consciousness has

awakened

in in her.

*Hence

girl

marriage.

This high flown and ingenious sophistry indicates these institutions were honoured, but does not teil us
they were practised.

why why

My

own

interpretation

is

that they

Jslightwere honoured because they were practised. Any in the 18th century of individualism rise with ly acquainted will appreciate

one

my

remark. At
;

all

times,

it

is

the

movement
it

that

is

most important

and

the philosophies

grow around

long afterwards to justify it and give it a moral support. In like manner I urge that the very fact that these customs were so highly eulogized proves that they needed eulogy for
their prevalence.
T

Regarding the question as to why they that submit arose, they were needed to create the structure of caste and the philosophies in honour of them were
intended to popularize them, or to gild the
say, for they
pill,

as

we might

must have been so abominable and shocking to

sense of the unsophisticated that they needed a of sweetening. These customs are essentialy of deal great the nature of means though they are represented as ideals.
the moral

But

not blind us from understanding the results that flow from them. One might safely say that idealization
this should

of means

is

necessary and in

this particular case

was

per-

haps motivated to endow them with greater efficacy. Calling a means an end does no harm, except that it disguises its
real

character

but

it

that of a
just as

means

You may
call

does not deprive it of its real nature, pass a law that ail cats are dogs

But you can no more the nature of means than change you can turn cats thereby into dogs consequently I am justified in holding that whethere regarded as ends or as means, Sati, enforced widowhood

you can

a means an end.

~"~

"History of Caste in India, 1900, pp. 32-33.

18

and girl marriage are customs that were primarily intended to solve the problem of the surplus man and surlus woman in a caste and to maintain its endogamy. Strict

endogamy

could not be preserved without these customs, while caste without endogamy is a fake.

Having
preservation

explained the mechanism of the creation and

of Caste

in

India,

the further quesion as to

The question of origin is always an annoying question and in the study of Caste it is sadly neglected some have connived at it, while others have dodits genesis naturally arises.
;

are puzzled as to whether there could be such ged a thing as the origin of caste and suggest that "if we cannot control our fondness for the word 'origin,' we should better
it.

Some

use the plural form,

viz. 'origins

of caste."

As

for myself I

do not
I

feel

puzzled by the Origin of Caste in India for, as

have established before, endogamy is the only characteristic of Caste and when I say ORIGIN OF CASTE I mean

THE ORIGIN OF THE MECHANISM FOR ENDOGAMY.


The atomistic conception of individuals
I

in a Society

so

was about to say vulgarized in poligreatly popularised tical orations is the greatest humbug. To say that individuals make up society is trivial ; society is always composed of It may be an exaggeration to assert the theory of classes. class-conflict, but the existence of definite classes in a society
is

fact.

Their basis

may

differ.

They may be economic or

intellectual or social, but

a member of a

class.

This

an individual in a society is always is a universal fact and early Hindu

to this rule, and, society could not have been an exception If it not. we bear this was know we of fact, as a matter

our study of the genesis of caste generalization in mind,

19

would be very much facilitated, for we have only to determine what was the class that first made into caste, for class

and

caste, so to say, are next

door neighbours, and

it

only a

span that separates the two.

A CASTE

IS

AN ENCLOSED

CLASS.
The study of
the origin of caste

must furnish us with an

answer to the question what is the class that raised this 'enclosure' around itself ? The question may seem too inquisitorial, but it is pertinent, and an answer to this will serve us to elucidate the mystry of the growth and development of castes all over India. Unfortunately a direct answer to
this question
indirectly.
I
is

not within

my power.

can answer

it

only

said just

above that the customs

in question
it

were current in the Hindu Society.

To be
it

true to facts

is

necessary to qualify the statement, as

connotes universality
all

of

their prevalence.

These customs in

their

strictness

are obtainable only in one caste, namely the Brahmans, who occupy the highest place in the social hierarchy of the

Hindu
castes

society
is

and as

their prevalence

in
is

Non-Brahman
neither strict nor

derivative of their observance

complete.

This important fact can serve as a basis of an important observation. If the prevalence of these customs in the non-Brahman Castes is derivative, as can be shown
very easily, when it needs no argument to prove what class the father of the institution of caste. Why the Brahman

is

itself into a caste is a different which be left as an employment for another may question, occassion. But the strict observance of these customs and the
-.social

class

should have enclosed

ent

civilizations

superiority arrogated by the priestly class in all anciare sufficient to prove that they were the

20
originators of this

"unnatural institution"

founded

and

maintained through these unnatural means.


I

now come

to the third part of

my

paper regarding the

question of the growth and spread of the caste system all How did the over India. The question 1 have to answer is institution of caste spread among the rest of the Non-Brah:

man

population of the country


all

The question of

the spread

of the castes

over India has suffered a worse fate than

me,

the question of genesis. And the main cause, as it seems to is that the two questions of spread and of origin are not

separated. This is because of the common belief among scholars that the caste system has either been imposed upon the

law-giver as a divine dispenhas grown according to some law nf social growth peculiar to the Indian people.
sation, or that
it

docile population of India by a

I first

country
(avatar)

propose to handle the law-giver of India. Every has its law-giver, who arises as an incarnation
in

humanity and give

Manu,

times of emergency to set right a sinning it the laws of justice and morality. the law-giver of India, if he did exist, was certainly

an audacious person. If the story that he gave the law of caste be created, then Manu must have been a dare-devil
fellow

and the humanity


humanity quite
It
is

that

accepted

his

dispensation

must be a

different

from

ths one

we

are

acquainted with.

was Given.

It

is

unimaginable that the law of caste hardly an exaggeration to s.iy that Manu

could not have outlived his law, for what is that class status of submit to be that can degraded to the
brutes by the pen of a man, and suffer him to raise another class to the pinnacle ? Unless he was a tyrant who

21

the all in it cannot population subjection be imagined that he could have been allowed to dispense his patronage in this grossly unjust manner, as may be easily seen by a mere glance at his "Institutes". I may seem hard for Mann, but I am sure my force is not strong

held

enough to spirit and


long.

kill
is

his

ghost.
to,

He
and

lives,
I

like

a disembodied
yet live

appealed

am

afraid will

One

thing I

did not Give the

want to impress upon you is that Manu law of Caste and that he could not do so.
about
upholder of it but it, certainly he did the present order of Hindu

Caste existed long before Manu.

He was an

and

therefore philosphised

not ordain work His ended with the codification of existig caste Society. rules and the preaching of Caste dhanna. The spread and growth of the Caste system is too gigantic, a task to be achieved by the power or cunning of an individual or of

not and could

a
I
it

class. Similar in

created the Caste.

argument is the theory that the Brahmans After what I have said regarding Manu,

need hardly say anything more, except to point out that

thought and malicious in intent. The been guilty of many things, and I dare say they were, but the imposing of the caste system on the non-Brah;nan p3pulation was beyond their mettle.
incorrect
in

Brahmans may have

They may have helped


beyond
their
!

the process by their glib philosophy,

but they certainly could

own

confines.

not have pushed their scheme To fashion society after one's


!

own
it

pattern

How

glorious
its

How

hard

One can

take

pleasure and eulogize

furtherance, but cannot further

very

far.
;

The vehemence of attack may


but
I

seem to be

unnecessary
for.

There

is

can assure you that it is not uncalled a strong belief in the mind of orthodox Hindus

22

Hindu Society was somehow moulded into the frame work of the Caste System and that it is an organizathat
the tion consciously created
this belief exist, but
it

it

by the Shastras. Not only does being justified on the ground that
it is

cannot but be good, because

ordained by the Shastras

and the Shastras cannot be wrong. I have urged so much on the adverse side of this attitude, not because the religious sanctity is grounded on scientific basis, nor to help those
reformers

who

are preaching against

it.

Preaching did not


it.

make
is

the caste system neither will

it

unmake

My aim

to

show the

falsity

of the attitude that has exalted

religious sanction to the position of a scientific explanation.

Thus

the great man's theory does not help us very far

in solving the

probably not

spread of Castes in India. Western scholars, much given to hero worship, have attempted

other explanations. The nuclei, round which have "formed'* the various castes in India, are according to them:
(1) occupation
(3)
;

(2)

survivals of tribal organizations, etc.


belief
;

the rise of

new

(4)

cross-breeding and

(5)

migration.

The question may be asked whether


exist

these nuclei

do not

in

other societies and

whether they are

peculair to

India. If they are not peculair to India, but are common to the world, why is it that that did not "form" caste on other

parts of this planet? Is it because those parts are holier than the land of the Vedas, or that the professors are

mistaken ?

am afraid

that the latter

is

the truth.

Inspite of the

high

theoretic value claimed

by the

several authors for their respective theories

based on one

or other of the above nuclei, one regrets to say that on

23
close

they are nothing more than filling what Matthew Arnold means by 4t the grand name without the grand thing in it." Such are the various theories of caste advanced by Sir Denzil Ibbetson, Mr. To criticise them in Nesfield, Mr. Senart and Sir H. Risley.
illustrations

examination

the Petitio Principii


Nesfield says that

a lump would be to say that they are a disguised form of of formal logic. To illustrate Mr.
:

was the "function and function only foundation upon which the whole system of Caste in Irdia was built up." But he may rightly be reminded that he does not very much advance our thought by making the

above statement, which


castes in India

practically

amounts

to saying

that

very poor

are functional or occupational, which is a We have yet to know from Mr. discovery
!

Nesfield why is it that an occupational group turned into an occupational caste ? I would cheerfully have undertaken the task of dwelling on the theories of other ethnologists,

had

it

not been for

the

fact

that

Mr. Nesfield's

is

typical one.

Without
explain
the
in

stopping
caste

to

criticize

those
natural

theories

that

occuring

system obedience to the law of

as

phenomenon
as

disintegration,

explained by Herbert Spencer in his formula of evolution, or as natural as "the structural differentiation within an

organism" to employ the phraseology of orthodox apologists, or as early attempt to test the laws of eugenics-as all belonging to the same class of fallacy which regards the
caste system as inevitable,

or as being consciously imposed

in anticipation of these laws on a helpless and humble population, I will now lay before you ray own vievv on the

24
subject.

We
the

shall

be well advised to

recall at

the outset that

Hindu

society, in

common
and
the

with

other societies,

was

composed (1) Brahmans or the


the military class
:

of classes

earliest
(2)

known

are the

priestly class:

the Kshatriya, or
:

(3)

the Vaisya,

or the merchant class

and

(4) the

Sudra,

or

the

artisan

and

menial

class.

Particular attention has


essentialy

to be paid to
in

the fact that this


individuals,

class

system,

which

was when

qualified, could change their class, and therefore classes did change their personnel. At some time in the history of the

Hindus, the priestly class socially detatched


rest

itself

from the

of the body of people and through a closed-door policy became a caste by itself. The other classes being
subject

to the law of social

division of labour underwent

differentiation,

some

into large,

others into very

minute

groups. The Vaishya ?nd Sudra classes were the original inchoate plasm, which formed the sources of the numerous
castes

of to day.
could

As

easily lend
class

itself to very

the military occupation does not minute sub-division, the Kshatriya


into
soldiers

have

differentiated

and

administrators.

This sub-division of a society is quite natural. But unnatural thing about these sub-divisions is that they the

have lost the open door character of the class system and have become self-enclosed units called castes. The question
were they compelled to close their doors and become endogamous or did they close them of their own accord ?
is
:

submit that there

is

a double line of answer


:

SOME

CLOSED THE DOOR

OTHER FOUND

IT

CLOSED

25

AGAINST THEM.

a psychological interpretation and the other is mechanistic, but they are complementary and both are necessary to explain the phenomena of casteis

The one

formation in
I

its entirety.

will

first

take

up

the psychological
in

interpretation.
is
:

The question we have


religious, or otherwise,

to answer

this

connection
please,

Why

did these sub-divisions or

classes, if

you

industrial

become self-enclosed or endogumous ? My answer is because the Brahmans were so. Endogamy or the closed-door system, was a fashion in the Hindu
.Society,

had originated from the Brahman caste it was whole heartedly imitated by all the non Baahman in their turn, became endogasub-divisions or classes, who,

and as

it

"the infection of imitation' that caught all these sub-divisions on their onward march of differentia-

mous

castes.

It is

tion

and has turned them into

castes.

The propensity to

need imitate is a deep-seated one in the human mind and formation the for not be deemed an inadequate explanation of the various castes in India. It'isj so deep seated that of Walter Bagehot argues that we must not think
imitation as voluntary, or even conscious.
it

On

the contrary

has

its

seat

mainly
far

in

very obscure parts of the mind,

whose notions, so
are hardly
felt

to exist, so far

hand, are not even felt imitative part of our nature

from being consciously produced, from being conceived, before The main seat of the at the time.
is

our

belief,

and the causes pre-

us to believe that disposing us to believe this or disinclining nature. But as to the are among the obscurest parts of our

can be imitative nature of credulity there


*

no doubt." *

This

1915 p. 60 Physics and Politics

26
propensity to imitate hasjbeen

study by Gabriel
imitation.

Tarde,

made the subject of a who lays down three


is

scientific

laws of

One of his

three laws

that imitation flows

from

the higher to the lower or, to quote his own words, "Given the opportunity, a nobility will always and everywhere imitate its leaders, its kings or sovereigns, and the people likewise, given the opportunity, its nobility."** Another of Trade's laws of imitation is that the extent or intensity of
:

imitation varies inversely in proportion to distance, or in his own words "the thing that is most imitated is the most
superior one of those that are nearest. In fact, the influence of
the model's example as well as directly to
is

efficacious inversely to its

DISTANCE
understood

its

superiority.

Distance

is

here in its However distant in space sociological meaning. a stranger may be, he is close by, from this point of view, if
daily relations with him and if we have every facility to This satisfy our desire to imitate him. law of the imitation of the nearest, of the least distant, explains the gradual and consecutive character of the spread of an example that has been set the social

we have numerous and

by

higher

ranks."* In order to prove my thesis-which really needs no proofthat some castes were formed by imitation, the best way, it seems to me, is to find out whether or not the vital condition
for the formation
Society.

of castes by imitation exist in the Hindu


for

The conditions

imitation,

according to this

standard authority are:

must enjoy prestige in 'Numerous and daily


**Laws
*

That the source of imitation the group and (2) that there must be
(1)

relations'

among members of
ed. p. 21

group.

of Imitation, Tr.

by E.G. Parsons, 2nd

ibid. p.

234

27

That these conditions were present


reason to doubt. The

in

India there

is

little

a demi-god.
prestige
is

Brahman is a semi-god and very nearly He sets up a mode and moulds the rest. His
is

unquestionable and

the fountain head of bliss

and good.

Can such

being,

idolised

by Scriptures and
fall to project his

venerated by the priest ridden multitude,

personality on the suppliant humanity ? Why, if the story be true, he is believed to bs the very end of creation. Such

but at worthy of more than mere imitation, enclosure, least of imitation; and if he lives in an endogamous Be should not the rest follow his example ? Frail humanity
a creature
is
!

it
it

embodied
succumbs.

in a grave philosopher or a frivolous


Jt

house-maid,
is

cannot be otherwise.

Imitation

easy and

invention

is difficult.

Yet another way of demonstrating the play of imitation in the formation of castes is to understand the attitude of non-Brahman classes towards those customs which supported
the structure of caste in

of history,

it

became

nascent days until, in the course embedded in the Hindu mind and
its

hangs there to thi$

day without any support for now it needs In but no prop belief-like a weed on the surface of a pond. in the Hindu a caste a way, but only in a way, the status of of Society varies directly with the extent of the observance

the customs of SATI, enforced widowhood, and girl marriage. But observance of these customs varies directly with the DISTANCE (I am using the word in the Tardian sense) that

Those castes that are nearest to the Brahmans have imitated all the three customs and insist on the strict observance thereof. Those that are less near have imitated enforced widowhood and girl marriage ; others, a
separates the caste.
little

further off, have only girl marriage

and those

furthest

,28
off have imitated only the belief in the caste principle.

This

imperfects imitation. I dare say, is due partly to what Tarde calls 'distance' and partly to the barbarous character of
these customs.

This phenomenon

is

a complete illustration
that
is

process

of Tarde's law and leaves of caste formation

no
in

doubt
India

the whole

process of

imitation
I

will

turn

of the higher by the lower. At this juncture back to support a former conclusion of

mine, which might have appeared to you as too sudden or unsupported. I said that the Brahman class first raised the structure of caste by the help of those three customs in
question.

My

reason for that conclusion was that their

existence in other classes

was derivative.

After what

have

said regarding the role of imitation in the spread of these

customs among the non-Brahman castes, as means or as ideals, though the imitaters have not been aware of it, they
exist

amsng th^m

as derivatives

and,

there

must have been prevalent one

they are derived, original caste that was


if

high enough to have served as a pattern for the rest. But in theocratic society, who could be the pattern but the servant

of

God

to close their doors.

This completes the story of those that were weak enough Let us now see how others were closed

in as a result of being closed out.

This
It

I call the

mechanistic

process of the formation of caste.


it is

is

mechanistic because

of approach, as well as the of the subject has psychological one, to the explanation escaped my predecessors is entirely due to the fact that they have conceived Caste as a unit by itself and not as one within
inevitable.

That

this line

System of Caste.

The

result of this

oversight or lack of

29
sight has been very detrimental to the proper understanding of the subject matter and therefore its correct explanation. I will proceed to offer my own explanation by making one

remark which
It is this
:

urge you to bear constantly in mind. that caste in the singular number is an unI will

Castes exist only in the plural number. no such thing as A caste there are always castes. illustrate while To my meaning making themselves into a caste, the Brahmans, by virtue of this, created Non-Brahman caste or, to express it in my own way, while closing themreality.

There

is

T will clear in they closed others out. my point by taking another illustration. Take India as a whole with its various communities designated by the various creeds to

selves

which they owe allegiance, to madans. Jews, Christians and

wit,

the

Hindus,

Muham-

Parsis.

Now,

barring the

Hindus, the rest within themselves are


ties.

non-caste communi-

But with respect to each other they are castes.


first

Again,
if

if

the

four enclose

themselves,

the Parsis are directly


in.

closed out,

but are indirectly closed

Symbolically

group A

wants to be endogamous, group B has to be so by

sheer force of circumstances.

Now apply the same logic to the Hindu Society and you have another explanation of the 'fissiparious' character of caste, as a consequence of the virtue of self-duplication that
is

inherent

it.

Any

the ethical,

religious

and

innovation that seriously antagonises social code of the Caste is not

likely to ba tolerated by ths Caste, and the recalcitrant members of a Caste are in danger of being thrown out of the Caste, and left to their own fate without having the alternative of bdng admitted into or absorbed by other castes. Caste rales are inexorable and they do not wait to make

30
nice distinctions between kinds of offence.

Innovation

may

be of any kind, but

kinds will suffer the same penalty. novel way of thinking will create a new Caste for the old ones will not tolerate it. The noxious thinker respectfully
all

called

Guru (Prophet) suffers the same fate as the sinners in The former creates a caste of the nature illegitimate love.

of a religious set and the latter a type of mixed caste. Castes have no mercy for a sinner who has the courage to violate
the code.

The penalty
It
is

is

excommunication and the result

is

a new
far

caste.

not peculiar Hindu psychology

that
;

induces the excommunicated to form themselves into a caste

very quite willing to be humble members of some caste (higher by But preference) if they could be admitted within its fold.

from

it.

On

the contrary,

often they have been

castes are enclosed units

and

it

is

their conspiracy with

clear conscience that compels the

excommunicated to make
logic
in

themselves into a caste.

The
it

of this obdurate
its

cir-

cumstance
that

is

merciless,

and

is

obedience to

force

some unfortunate groups

find

themselves enclosed, be-

cause others in enclosing, themselves have closed them out, with the result that new groups (formed on any basis

obnoxious to

the

caste

rules)

by a mechanical law are


to
in

constantly being converted into castes This is told the second tale multiplicity.

a bewildering the process of

Caste formation in India.

summarise the main points of my thesis. In my opinion there have been several mistakes committed by the Students of Caste, which have misled them in their investigations. European Students of Caste have unduly emphasised the role of colour in the caste system. Themselves impregnated by colour prejudices, they very readily imagined
it

Now to

to

31

be the chief factor


farther

in the

Caste problem.

But nothing can be


is

correct when he whether they belonged to (he socalled Aryan race, or the so-called Dravidian race, were Aryas." Whether a"tribe or a family was racially Aryan or
truth,
insists that "all the princes

from the

and Dr. Ketkar

Dravidian was ^question which never troubled the people of India, until foreign scholars came in and began to draw the line. The colour of the skin had long ceased to be a matter of importance.
Again, they have mistaken mere descriptions
for explanation and fought over
theories of origin.

them as though they were There are occupational, religious, etc., castes it is true, but it is no means an explanation of the We have yet to find out why occupational origin of Caste.
this question has never even been ; but Lastly they have taken Caste very lightly as though a breath had made it, On the contrary, Caste, as I have explained it, is almost impossible to be sustained : for the

groups are castes


raised.

difficulties that it involves

are tremendous.

It

is

true that

Caste

relies

on

belief,

but before belief comes to be the founitself

dation of an institution, the institution

needs to be

perpetuated and fortified. My study of the Caste problem involves four main points (1) That inspite of the composite make up of the Hindu population there is a deep cultural unity (2) That caste is a parcelling into bits of a larger cultural unit (3) That there was one caste to start with (4) That
:

classes

have become Castes through imitation and excom-

munication.
Peculiar interest attaches to the problem of Caste in India today ; as persistent attempts are being made to do away with this unnatural institution. Such attempts at reform,

32

however, have aroused a great deal of controversy regarding its origin, as to whether it is due to the conscious command
of a Supreme Authority, or
life

of a

who
its

is an unconscious growth in the under society peculiar circumstances. Those hold the latter view will, I hope, find some food for

human
in the

thought

standpoint adopted in this Pa^er.


is

Apart fiom
all

practical importance the subject of Caste

an

absorbits

ing

problem

and

interest

aroused

in

me

regarding

theoretic foundations has

moved me

to put before

you some
not,

of the conclusions, which seem to n:e well founded, and the

grounds upon which they


ever, so

may be

supported.
in

am

how-

any way final, or presumptuous as to think them to a discussion of the contribution a more than anything
subject.
It

seems to

me

that the car has been shunted

on

wrong lines, and the primary object of the paper is to indicate what I regard to be the right path of investigation, with
a view to arrive at a serviceable truth.

We

must, however,

guard against approaching the subject with a bias. Sentiment must be outlawed from the domain of science and things
shovld be judged from an objective standpoint. For myself I shall find as much pleasure in a positive destruction of my

own

idealogy,

as

in

a rational disagreement on a topic,

which, notwithstanding

many

learned disquisitions

is

likely
I

to remain controversial forever.

To

conclude, while

am

ambitious to advance a Theory of Casie, if it to be untenable I shall be equally willing to give

can be shown
it

up.

English
Annihilation of Cast

L
]

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