There is every reason to believe that within a single caste there are some families to whom good fortune or perseverance has brought more dignity, more social influence in the councils, more social esteem, than it has to others. To know a man's caste is to know the group into which his life is highly integrated and the strictness of his religious codes -- but in the absence of other data his social status would be a matter of guess.Next Page
Caste is not identified with occupation. If the idea that hereditary occupation should be designated by the word caste is to prevail, it will have to rest upon a different base from the practices of the people of India. In the following quotation one sees to what a small extent castes limit occupational choices and to what a great extent persons in the same castes have been allowed or forced into employment with a wide range of dignity and esteem. Russell writes: 37
Less than a fifth of the Brahmans of the Central Provinces are performing any priestly or religious functions, and the remaining four-fifths are landholders or engaged in Government service as magistrates, clerks or public officers, constables or orderlies, or in railway service in different grades, or in the professions as barristers and pleaders . . . . The Rajputs and Marathas were originally soldiers, but only an indefinitely small proportion belong to the Indian Army, and the remainder are ruling chiefs, landholders, cultivators, laborers . . . . Of the Telis or oil-pressers only nine per cent are engaged in their traditional occupation, and the remainder are landholders, cultivators, and shopkeepers . . . . The Bahnes or cotton-cleaners have entirely lost their occupation, as cotton is now cleaned in factories; they are cartment or cultivators, but retain their caste name and organization.
Rivers lends his scholarship to this view. He states that "there are hardly any occupations which are not now followed by a Brahmin except those which are not following . . . ." 38 Occidental sociologists who have long associated the notion of caste with that of fixed occupation would be surprised to find that an Indian scholar, Curu Proshad Sen, could "sum up the features of caste and leave out occupation altogether." 39 Ketkar reports that, 40
Today a man can take to any occupation without changing his caste. The only exceptions are that nobody of a good caste would like to take the occupation of a shoemaker or scavenger, and no man who is not born a Brahmin would be accepted as a priest in the community.
Refined definitions of caste. The definitions of caste given at the beginning of this chapter have failed to square with the realities of the Indian system. Other authorities, however, have avoided the pitfalls of superficial usage and reproduced error; they have gone more deeply into the true significance of the word.
Westermarck 41 believes that the essence of the caste system is endogamy; whereas Rivers states that "a fourth aspect of caste, perhaps more important than any other, is its function as a religious grouping." 42 To these might well be added the fact that the caste is an agency of social control, par excellence. Repeatedly, this aspect of caste is emphasized by those most familiar with caste organization. for example: 43
But every caste decides for itself whether certain members who have been guilty of irregular conduct would be allowed to remain in the caste, and also whether another caste is fit for intercourse with them and to what extent it is.
This is the social organizational phase of caste. It leads to the conclusion that a caste is not characterized by the physical or occupational characteristics of the individuals who make it up; it is characterized by its codes, its close-knit unit social controls. These are the essentials of caste formation and these are the phases of caste that precludes the blacks in a small town in the South from being designated as "a caste." The regulations of their lives are too largely dominated by the white caste. A white man, for instance, who refuses to abide by the codes of white men is driven from the town; that is, from the society of local white men. Blacks enjoy no such autonomous social control. In fact, white officers may open blacks' front doors without knocking, an act which would shock Hindus' sense of caste rights, where, for instance, even the lowest groups (the untouchables) throw cow-dung water upon even the Brahmin who tries to pass through their quarter of the village against known regulations. 44
Frequently one read: "The caste is its own ruler."
37. Russell, op. cit., pp. 8-10.
38. Rivers, op. cit., p. 153.
39. Ibid., pp. 153-154.
40. Ketkar, op. cit., p. 19.
41. Edward Westermarck, A Short History of Marriage (New York, 1926) p. 59.
42. Rivers, op. cit., p. 156.
43. Ketkar, op. cit., p. 22.
44. Ghurye, op. cit., p. 11.