On the subject of caste Senart is to this day a recognized authority. He describes a caste 45Next Page
as a closed corporation, in theory at any rate rigorously hereditary; equipped with a certain traditional and independent organization including a chief and a council, meeting on occasion in assemblies of more or less plenary authority and joining together at certain festivals . . . and ruling its members by the exercise of jurisdiction, the extent of which varies, but which succeeds in making the authority of the community more felt by the sanction of certain penalties . . . .
The Oxford History of India, in its definition of caste, does not mention any hierarchy of status and says explicitly that members may or may not be restricted occupationally. The heart of its definition is: 46
A caste may be defined as a group of families internally united by peculiar rules for the observance of ceremonial purity, especially in matters of diet and marriage. The rules serve to fence it off from all other groups, each of which has its own set of rules.
From the foregoing definition it can readily be seen that the historian who specializes is likely to see a situation of this kinds more clearly and accurately than might a sociologist who frequently attempts to cover too much ground. It is a loss to sociology that such a simple and factual definition as the above has not been universally adopted by writers in this field.
The relation of social class to caste. From the foregoing it is clear that a caste is not a social class; yet, if what de Tocqueville is quoted as saying is true, and there is a sense in which it is, then an explanation is called for. He observes: 47
Each caste has its own opinions, feelings, rights, manners, and modes of living. Thus, the men of whom each caste is composed do not resemble the mass of their fellow-citizens; they do not think or feel in the same manner, and they scarcely believe that they belong to the same human race . . . .
Nor does Kroeber make the task of explaining the relationship between social class and caste easier by his statement: 48
The caste and the clan may be roughly described as horizontal and vertical divisions respectively of a population. [This is a direct denial of the Young-Warner-Dollard definition that castes are vertical divisions.] Castes, therefore, are a special form of social classes, which in tendency at least are present in every society. Castes differ from social classes, however, in that they have emerged into social consciousness to the point that custom and law attempt their rigid and permanent separation from one another.
A social class is a homogeneous unit, from the point of view of status and mutual recognition; a caste is a homogeneous unit from the point of view of common ancestry, religious rites and strict organizational control. There are two kinds of homogeneity represented here.
There are instances where a caste happens to distribute work opportunities in gild-like fashion, a caste may stand in relation to the other parts of the community much in the manner of a local social class, with additional powers of social control over its members. But most of the castes, because of internal complexities of status or because of their similarity in status with other groups are not characterized by social status and do not stand in a social status relationship to other groups. Their exclusiveness, nonetheless sharp and severe, is not one of social class; it is to be compared somewhat to the exclusiveness caused by differences in nationality.
The manner in which the caste is closed both in the organizational and biological sense causes it to differ from social class. And its emphasis upon ritual and regulations pertaining to cleanliness and purity differs radically from the secular nature and informality of social class rules.
The nature of social distance. It is obvious that there must necessarily by not one but several kinds of social distance. Races are divided from each other by some feeling of strangeness, based on the differences in their features and the manner in which these have been the objects of attention. Religions stand apart because of feelings of strangeness based on other considerations. Social distance of another kind remains even where friendship and intimacy may enter, as between a man and his valet.
45. Taken from Ketkar, op. cit., pp. 13-14.
46. Vincent A. Smith, The Oxford History of India (Oxford, 1928) p. 34.
47. Taken from Westermarck, op. cit., pp. 63-64.
48. Kroeber, op. cit., p. 254.