About the Author: Govind SadashivGhurye (1893-1984) is a towering figure in intellectual and academic circlesfor his unique contribution in the field of Indian sociology.
He is consider asthe ‘father of Indian sociology.’ It was the tragedy of G. S. Ghurye to beovershadowed by one of his own students the modest but brilliant M. N.Srinivas.
But the difference was as much in historical moment as inscholarship. Ghurye made his career in preparation British India; subalternstatus forged his bitterness. But Ghurye was a great man, author of tenthousand pages on subjects as diverse as caste and costume, Shakespeare andsadhus.
Head of department and professor of sociology at the University ofBombay, Ghurye trained 40 PhD’s in a 35-year teaching career, then trainedanother 16 PhD’s in retirement. He founded the Indian Sociological Society in1951 and remained its president for 15 years. Their books were as numerous aschilies in Kerala. And Ghurye himself wrote at least one truly great book: themonograph Caste and Race in India for C.
K.Ogden’s History of Civilization series, in which he joined authors such as W.H. R. Rivers, Lucien Febvre, V. Gordon Childe, and Marcel Granet.
Published in1932, the book Ghurye’s first was a resounding success. His birth familybeing in sudden decline, Ghurye was educated with the help of relations and connections.In this process, he quite literally followed his brilliant elder brother. InJunagarh the younger Ghurye took up serious study of Sanskrit, later becoming thetop Sanskrit scholar of his class at the University of Bombay. In 1924 Ghuryewas appointed reader in sociology at Bombay. He finally became professor in1934. Ghurye retired in 1959, becoming even more productive in retirement. Hesupervised students until 1971 (age 78).
About the Methodology: Ghurye’s rigorand discipline are now legendary in Indian sociological circles. He seems tohave believed in practicing and encouraging disciplined eclecticism in theoryand methodology. Ghurye was initially influenced by the reality of diffusionistapproach but subsequently he switched on to the studies of Indian society fromIndological and anthropological perspectives. He emphasized on Indologicalapproach in the study of social and cultural life in India. This helps in theunderstanding of society through literature. Indology is the branch dealingwith interpretation of ancient texts.
Indological approach rested on theassumption that historically, Indian society and culture are unique and thathis ‘contextually’ specificity of Indian social realities could be graspedbetter through the ‘texts’. It is a historical and comparative method which isalso called as “textual view” or “textual perspective” of social phenomena.This method was basically used by Ghurye in writting his book Caste and Race in India. This is the best book of Ghurye, for it was written rather thandictated, and its argument is fresh and passionate in a young scholar’s mind.Had Ghurye written nothing else, but this book alone would have made him animportant figure. Caste andRace in India cognitively combinedhistorical, anthropological and sociological perspectives to understand casteand kinship system in India. Aboutthe Book: Caste andRace in India focuses principally on caste. In the first two chapters he triedto analyze caste system through textual evidences using ancient texts.
Thefirst two chapters identify the basic features of the caste system and analyzethe nature of caste groups. These chapters are largely descriptive and considercaste as it was in the 1920s. They are quite frank about the fluctuating natureof caste and find the principal of caste and subcaste in their constraint ofsocial life and cultural patterns, but above all in their prescription ofendogamy. Ghurye notes the very loose affiliation of caste with occupation,sect, and other forms of difference, but emphasizes the looseness rather thanthe affiliation.
The next twochapters i.e chapter number 3 and 4 follow the concept of textual evidences inwhich he had explained the caste through four periods: the Vedic period withits Vedic and Brahmanic texts; the post-Vedic period dominated by the Laws ofthe Aryas, the great epics, and the Buddhist writings; the period of theDharmasastras, summed up in Manu at the outset and in the Vishnu Purana at theend; and the “modern” period. As this periodisation makes clear, Ghurye wasuniquely positioned to write about caste; few of his sociological successorswould be prize-winning Sanskritists able to read these texts with fluency. Yethis command of Sanskrit inevitably correlated with and perhaps predisposed himto a particular theory of caste; for Ghurye, caste was fundamentally theproduct of underlying ethnic differences that are deployed, scrambled, and re-rationalizedunder conditions of continuing intercultural contact, assimilation, andconflict. By contrast, a pure functionalist might argue that caste in India asof the late 19th century had little historical depth. It could be a simplerationalization of occupational specialization in the then-present, arationalization come somewhat adrift from occupation under the pressures of colonialism.But Ghurye’s mastery of Sanskrit inevitably led him to focus on much deeperhistorical roots. Ghurye arguesthat the classical writers developed the concepts that would later be boundinto the (colonial) concept of caste principally through discussion of the fourvarnas: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Sudra.
Through this complex discussionwas expressed and explored a basic theory of endogamous groups linked in ahierarchy of purity. But as Ghurye insists, the forces of interculturalcontact, geographic mobility, occupational drift, religious change, and aboveall miscegenation continually blurred any endogamous groups that emerged. Thenthe principles of hierarchy, purity, and endogamy had to be redeployed to sharpthe boundaries again. This process eventually strewed the landscape with thecastes (jati) and subcastesthat so confused the British census enumerators in the late 19th century, whenthey decided to freeze-photograph the system and then interpret that snapshotwithin their new “theory of everything” i.e.
evolution. Byreconstructing ancient and historical societies from legal and religious texts,Ghurye followed a great sociological tradition. Ghurye stands with that olderlegal tradition, for he recognizes throughout that the texts he reads areattempts to rationalize and order what has become chaotic and that theserationalizations were often made in support of particular Brahmanicalinterests. Inevitably, the concept was applied by late 20th centuryscholars to the colonial Indian Census, which in their eyes became the inventorand thereby enactor of a rigid caste system that, it was claimed, had neverbefore existed. But Ghurye in 1932 already recognizes that the British wereonly the latest in a long tradition of performative, rationalizing analysts ofcaste. Moreover, he also recognized that rationalization had been grounded in aprinciple of performativity never previously studied. Chapters 5 and 7consider the relation of race and caste. Ghurye here jumps immediately into thepolemic between Herbert Risley, a colonial administrator and census officercommitted to “racial” theories of the origin of caste, and his predecessorsDenzil Ibbetson and J.
C. Nesfield, who inclined to an occupational theory.Using what were then cutting edge methods (nasal indexes and correlationalanalysis), Ghurye shows that a strong race/caste correlation exists only inHindustan, a fact he attributes to its location at the portal where the Aryan /Brahmanic peoples entered the subcontinent. Closeness to “ancestral” Aryanpopulations meant that Brahmanic endogamy could remain stronger in Hindustan, whereasin southern and eastern India, where contact had been longer and the”fissiparous” tendencies of intermarriage hence more dominant, caste no longercorrelated with physical type. Thus was diffusionism coupled with a new viewthat caste endogamy was ideologically important but practically difficult.Intermarriage was perpetually creating new groups, which then had to berationalized and systematized by Brahmanic intellectuals, even while theexigencies of material life occupation, landowning, trades steadily pressedagainst any limited or fixed notion of an occupational rationalization, evenfor Brahmanical writers. Ghurye’s view of caste was thus inevitably dynamic andrejected the deep, almost primeval stability sought by indeed assumed by manyof the racial and occupational theories. Ghurye’s moststriking next chapters concern the current situation of caste.
He is under noillusions about that system; he knows well that the current “reality” of casteis in large part a creation of the British census. In this insight, heanticipated later critical theorists by half a century. Indeed, it turns outthat the British themselves were quite aware of the objectifying power of thecensus. Among the many British critics of caste-counting, Ghurye singles out L.Middleton, the Punjab census officer in 1921 who noted that many were refusingto give their caste, a refusal that Middleton took to show that Indians wereabandoning caste altogether. Ironically, the British insistence on classificationreflected in part a desire for data on which to base early forms of affirmativeaction thereby curing the problem that at least according to Middleton, Ghurye,and others the British were in part themselves creating. Like many lateranalysts, Ghurye noted that one obvious result of the census was aproliferation of caste associations aiming to change their levels in thehierarchy: aboriginals seeking classification as Hindus, Sikhs worried about undercounting, Kolis claiming to be Koli Rajputs, and so on.
Critique: In Caste and Race he nowhere reports for his readers hisown caste, and even his autobiography mentions only that he avoided the new caste-advancementassociations on grounds of principle. But by identifying those associations, heindirectly but surely quite consciously tells us that he was a SaraswatBrahmin, of the Bardeshkar subcaste. So perhaps it is not surprising that herejects the occasional British policy of affirmative action, arguing that theclassic liberal policies of open schools and free competition would break down thewalls of hierarchy faster than would quotas and targets. Ghurye’s visionof India’s past is profoundly historical. Yet underneath this foreground ofchange, Ghurye like all writers of his time sometimes assumes ur-groups whoserelative purity and almost biological unity he takes largely for granted.
Incommon with his peers, he denotes these as “races,” although it is never quiteclear what he means by that term. There is also asubtle temporal issue involved. At the heart of 20th century raceconceptions, as indeed of all things denoted in the West by the word”stratification,” lies the idea that something long-term and unchangeable determinessomething short-term and flexible. In India it was race determining castestatus and hence possibly determining current socioeconomic rewards. In othercases it would be race determining income or gender determining occupationalachievement. This temporal structure explains why age failed when it wasproposed as a “dimension of stratification.
” Age, to be sure, has largedifferential effects on the momentary rewards of life.