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About the Author: Govind Sadashiv
Ghurye (1893-1984) is a towering figure in intellectual and academic circles
for his unique contribution in the field of Indian sociology. He is consider as
the ‘father of Indian sociology.’ It was the tragedy of G. S. Ghurye to be
overshadowed by one of his own students the modest but brilliant M. N.
Srinivas. But the difference was as much in historical moment as in
scholarship. Ghurye made his career in preparation British India; subaltern
status forged his bitterness. But Ghurye was a great man, author of ten
thousand pages on subjects as diverse as caste and costume, Shakespeare and
sadhus. Head of department and professor of sociology at the University of
Bombay, Ghurye trained 40 PhD’s in a 35-year teaching career, then trained
another 16 PhD’s in retirement. He founded the Indian Sociological Society in
1951 and remained its president for 15 years. Their books were as numerous as
chilies in Kerala. And Ghurye himself wrote at least one truly great book: the
monograph 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 in
1932, the book Ghurye’s first was a resounding success.


His birth family
being in sudden decline, Ghurye was educated with the help of relations and connections.
In this process, he quite literally followed his brilliant elder brother. In
Junagarh the younger Ghurye took up serious study of Sanskrit, later becoming the
top Sanskrit scholar of his class at the University of Bombay. In 1924 Ghurye
was appointed reader in sociology at Bombay. He finally became professor in
1934. Ghurye retired in 1959, becoming even more productive in retirement. He
supervised students until 1971 (age 78).

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About the Methodology: Ghurye’s rigor
and discipline are now legendary in Indian sociological circles. He seems to
have believed in practicing and encouraging disciplined eclecticism in theory
and methodology. Ghurye was initially influenced by the reality of diffusionist
approach but subsequently he switched on to the studies of Indian society from
Indological and anthropological perspectives. He emphasized on Indological
approach in the study of social and cultural life in India. This helps in the
understanding of society through literature. Indology is the branch dealing
with interpretation of ancient texts. Indological approach rested on the
assumption that historically, Indian society and culture are unique and that
his ‘contextually’ specificity of Indian social realities could be grasped
better through the ‘texts’. It is a historical and comparative method which is
also 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 than
dictated, 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 an
important figure. Caste and
Race in India cognitively combined
historical, anthropological and sociological perspectives to understand caste
and kinship system in India.


the Book: Caste and
Race in India focuses principally on caste. In the first two chapters he tried
to analyze caste system through textual evidences using ancient texts. The
first two chapters identify the basic features of the caste system and analyze
the nature of caste groups. These chapters are largely descriptive and consider
caste as it was in the 1920s. They are quite frank about the fluctuating nature
of caste and find the principal of caste and subcaste in their constraint of
social life and cultural patterns, but above all in their prescription of
endogamy. Ghurye notes the very loose affiliation of caste with occupation,
sect, and other forms of difference, but emphasizes the looseness rather than
the affiliation.


The next two
chapters i.e chapter number 3 and 4 follow the concept of textual evidences in
which he had explained the caste through four periods: the Vedic period with
its Vedic and Brahmanic texts; the post-Vedic period dominated by the Laws of
the Aryas, the great epics, and the Buddhist writings; the period of the
Dharmasastras, summed up in Manu at the outset and in the Vishnu Purana at the
end; and the “modern” period. As this periodisation makes clear, Ghurye was
uniquely positioned to write about caste; few of his sociological successors
would be prize-winning Sanskritists able to read these texts with fluency. Yet
his command of Sanskrit inevitably correlated with and perhaps predisposed him
to a particular theory of caste; for Ghurye, caste was fundamentally the
product of underlying ethnic differences that are deployed, scrambled, and re-rationalized
under conditions of continuing intercultural contact, assimilation, and
conflict. By contrast, a pure functionalist might argue that caste in India as
of the late 19th century had little historical depth. It could be a simple
rationalization of occupational specialization in the then-present, a
rationalization come somewhat adrift from occupation under the pressures of colonialism.
But Ghurye’s mastery of Sanskrit inevitably led him to focus on much deeper
historical roots.


Ghurye argues
that the classical writers developed the concepts that would later be bound
into the (colonial) concept of caste principally through discussion of the four
varnas: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Sudra. Through this complex discussion
was expressed and explored a basic theory of endogamous groups linked in a
hierarchy of purity. But as Ghurye insists, the forces of intercultural
contact, geographic mobility, occupational drift, religious change, and above
all miscegenation continually blurred any endogamous groups that emerged. Then
the principles of hierarchy, purity, and endogamy had to be redeployed to sharp
the boundaries again. This process eventually strewed the landscape with the
castes (jati) and subcastes
that so confused the British census enumerators in the late 19th century, when
they decided to freeze-photograph the system and then interpret that snapshot
within their new “theory of everything” i.e. evolution.


reconstructing ancient and historical societies from legal and religious texts,
Ghurye followed a great sociological tradition. Ghurye stands with that older
legal tradition, for he recognizes throughout that the texts he reads are
attempts to rationalize and order what has become chaotic and that these
rationalizations were often made in support of particular Brahmanical
interests. Inevitably, the concept was applied by late 20th century
scholars to the colonial Indian Census, which in their eyes became the inventor
and thereby enactor of a rigid caste system that, it was claimed, had never
before existed. But Ghurye in 1932 already recognizes that the British were
only the latest in a long tradition of performative, rationalizing analysts of
caste. Moreover, he also recognized that rationalization had been grounded in a
principle of performativity never previously studied.


Chapters 5 and 7
consider the relation of race and caste. Ghurye here jumps immediately into the
polemic between Herbert Risley, a colonial administrator and census officer
committed to “racial” theories of the origin of caste, and his predecessors
Denzil Ibbetson and J. C. Nesfield, who inclined to an occupational theory.
Using what were then cutting edge methods (nasal indexes and correlational
analysis), Ghurye shows that a strong race/caste correlation exists only in
Hindustan, a fact he attributes to its location at the portal where the Aryan /
Brahmanic peoples entered the subcontinent. Closeness to “ancestral” Aryan
populations meant that Brahmanic endogamy could remain stronger in Hindustan, whereas
in southern and eastern India, where contact had been longer and the
“fissiparous” tendencies of intermarriage hence more dominant, caste no longer
correlated with physical type. Thus was diffusionism coupled with a new view
that caste endogamy was ideologically important but practically difficult.
Intermarriage was perpetually creating new groups, which then had to be
rationalized and systematized by Brahmanic intellectuals, even while the
exigencies of material life occupation, landowning, trades steadily pressed
against any limited or fixed notion of an occupational rationalization, even
for Brahmanical writers. Ghurye’s view of caste was thus inevitably dynamic and
rejected the deep, almost primeval stability sought by indeed assumed by many
of the racial and occupational theories.


Ghurye’s most
striking next chapters concern the current situation of caste. He is under no
illusions about that system; he knows well that the current “reality” of caste
is in large part a creation of the British census. In this insight, he
anticipated later critical theorists by half a century. Indeed, it turns out
that the British themselves were quite aware of the objectifying power of the
census. Among the many British critics of caste-counting, Ghurye singles out L.
Middleton, the Punjab census officer in 1921 who noted that many were refusing
to give their caste, a refusal that Middleton took to show that Indians were
abandoning caste altogether. Ironically, the British insistence on classification
reflected in part a desire for data on which to base early forms of affirmative
action thereby curing the problem that at least according to Middleton, Ghurye,
and others the British were in part themselves creating. Like many later
analysts, Ghurye noted that one obvious result of the census was a
proliferation of caste associations aiming to change their levels in the
hierarchy: aboriginals seeking classification as Hindus, Sikhs worried about under
counting, Kolis claiming to be Koli Rajputs, and so on.


Critique: In Caste and Race he nowhere reports for his readers his
own caste, and even his autobiography mentions only that he avoided the new caste-advancement
associations on grounds of principle. But by identifying those associations, he
indirectly but surely quite consciously tells us that he was a Saraswat
Brahmin, of the Bardeshkar subcaste. So perhaps it is not surprising that he
rejects the occasional British policy of affirmative action, arguing that the
classic liberal policies of open schools and free competition would break down the
walls of hierarchy faster than would quotas and targets.


Ghurye’s vision
of India’s past is profoundly historical. Yet underneath this foreground of
change, Ghurye like all writers of his time sometimes assumes ur-groups whose
relative purity and almost biological unity he takes largely for granted. In
common with his peers, he denotes these as “races,” although it is never quite
clear what he means by that term.


There is also a
subtle temporal issue involved. At the heart of 20th century race
conceptions, as indeed of all things denoted in the West by the word
“stratification,” lies the idea that something long-term and unchangeable determines
something short-term and flexible. In India it was race determining caste
status and hence possibly determining current socioeconomic rewards. In other
cases it would be race determining income or gender determining occupational
achievement. This temporal structure explains why age failed when it was
proposed as a “dimension of stratification.” Age, to be sure, has large
differential effects on the momentary rewards of life.


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