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M.N. SRINIVAS’ VIEW ON CASTE

Updated on November 5, 2016

M.N. Srinivas is the representative sociologist of India who belongs to Structural Functionalist perspective. He applied A.R. Radcliffe Brown’s Structural Functionalist perspective and W.H. Rivers Diffusionist perspective in study of Caste System.

In his book “Caste and other Essays” he presented his perspective regarding caste. He came to adopt structural functional approach. Structural-functional approach is also one of the approaches within positivism. He wanted to study Caste system in India through ‘field work’. He rejected the Varna scheme about caste as mere ‘textual view’ and said that it no longer describes contemporary reality of caste. Utmost, it served only as a comparative frame of reference. He suggests field work/contextual view as the method for acquiring knowledge about caste system.

At the empirical level, caste existed as Jati. In every village or locality there existed number of mutually exclusive castes, each of these castes being hereditary endogamous groups. These castes constitute a local hierarchy and that this hierarchy had two dimensions: (a) Ritual (b) Secular. The ritual dimension of Caste is based on mutual opposition of purity and pollution, while secular hierarchy is based on ownership of land, access to political power, numerical strength and education.

On the basis of his study of Rampura village in Mysore, he found that secular hierarchy may not always overlap with ritual hierarchy, so he introduced the concept of ‘dominant caste’. Dominant Caste is the one which is placed high in secular hierarchy though it may be low in ritual hierarchy. He referred to Vokkaliga castes of Karnataka. It was a middle rung caste based on ritual hierarchy, but at top of secular hierarchy. So, Vokkaligas constituted the dominant caste in that area.

Each caste existed with an occupational stability and that gave rise to interdependence of castes. It is this interdependence of castes, which was basis for solidarity in village communities.

He says that, there are two main dimensions to solidarity or unity in caste system:

(a) Vertical solidarity (b) Horizontal Solidarity

Vertical solidarity is due to interdependence of castes. Horizontal solidarity results because of common culture, ways of life, occupation and cooperation in day to day matters.

Although Hinduism, as per its ideology discouraged mobility in caste, aspirations for mobility always existed. This process of social mobility in caste follows along two lines:

(a) Sanskritization (b) Westernization.

Sanskritization followed when a caste improves its secular status either by gaining land/wealth/political power. This in turn was followed by adoption of culture and rituals of locally dominant castes. Sanskritic lifestyle was adopted to claim a high social success. The sanskritization, depended on group acceptance which would be the village communities including Brahmins.

On other hand, Westernization was mobility outside the Caste System. It was an attempt to gain high secular status and not high ritual status, by adopting modern education, western lifestyle. Westernization was more common to Dwija Castes—Sanskritization was more common in middle rung castes.

Various policies followed by British and Independent India, which are justified on humanitarian grounds, have given a new lease of life to Caste. They have strengthened caste identities.

In pre British India, political system was characterized by clear territorial cleavages. This put a limit on horizontal extensions of caste relations because political frontiers determined the effective social space for each caste living within them.

But, starting with British rule, political barriers broke down. And horizontal ties have expanded because of expansion of political boundaries. And, because of increase in transport and communication, media etc. there is expansion of vertical to horizontal relations. Over the time, caste has expanded its vast area. Regional ties also came to existence.

In post-independent India, caste has found new fields of activity while its traditional roles have declined, it has acquired new functions. For example: political function as a basis of political mobilization. Power activities of caste have increased in proportion, as political power passed to people with coming of democracy. Also, caste has become a basis of reform. So, we see emergence of many movement under influence of west.

Criticism

- M.N. Srinivas rejected cultural perspective of caste, especially propounded by Louis Dumont but many sociologists believe that caste is a cultural particularistic phenomena but M.N. Srinivas did not accept this

- M.N. Srinivas presents only the harmonious and interdependent aspect of the caste system whereas caste is a competitive and phenomena of dominance over each other (William Rowe, Owen Lynch, R.E. Schermerhorn, F.G. Bailey etc.)

- His caste perspective present caste system as a very static and functional system and some way he tries to justify this phenomena.

- M.N. Srinivas neglects the political factor behind the dominance of one caste over the other.

- His theory/perspective cannot be applied on other parts of India because of its inherent diversity.

Conclusion

M.N. Srinivas is a pioneer sociologist in Indian sociology. His perspective is popularly known as Structural Functional perspective of caste system in which he tried to explain caste system as a harmonious and interdependent institution. Though he has ignored the competitive and conflictist aspect of the caste system but his perspective has benefitted Indian sociology in two ways. First, he initiated field studies, second, he tried to explain Caste System as one of the institutions of Indian Society and not as society in itself.

M.N. Srinivas also tried to explain that Caste System is not a unique system rather the basic nature of it is social stratification which is universally found. For example, Jajmani system is a form of barter system but in his perspective he tried to ignore the uniqueness of Caste System which is still criticized. Overall, his perspective is the most important and representative perspective of Caste System through Structural Functionalist view in Indian Sociology.

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