Essay on the political dimensions of caste (India)

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The predominant feature of the social structure in India is the caste system. It is pervasive, and all embracing and is knows for controlling and defining all social, economic and political relationship for the individual.

Caste in Historical perspective:

The word caste is derived from the Portuguese word ‘caste’ signifying breed, race or kind human de bo a caste is “a man of good family.” The first use of this word in the restricted sense dates from 1563 when Garcia do orta wrote that “no one changes from his father’s trade and all those of the same caste of shoemakers are the same.”

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Risely defines “it as a collection of families or groups of families bearing a common name claiming a common descent from a mythical ancestor, human or divine, professing to follow the same hereditary calling and are regarded by those who are competent to give an opinion as forming a single homogeneous community.”

The larger groups will be called a caste while the smaller group will be called a sub caste. Caste in India is a well organised, homogeneous and articulate social group and hence forth no explanation of Indian politics is possible nitrous reference to caste.

According to Hindu tradition the caste system owes its origin to the four Varnas, derived from the Brahmin, who sprang from the mouth of the daily, the kshatriya who was created from his arms, the Vaishyas who was farmed from his stomach, and the sudra who was born from his feet.

The Brahmins were declared to be the chief. Kshatriyas were deemed vigorous, Vaishya as were meant to be businessmen, the sudra were deemed to be that transporter of others. From mixed unions between the different Varnas, come the various castes of which 2,378 were actually counted of the Indian census of 1901.

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Earlier European observes of the caste system were content to regard caste as an artificial creation, as a device of a clever priest hood for the permanent division and subjection of the masses, or even as the creation of a single law giver Abbe Dubus speaks of it as the in genius device of Brahmins.

But it is not advisable to accept. Nes field regards occupation as the inclusive basis of caste distinction. Dhalmann tells that caste sprang not from the four Varnas but from the infinite number of corporations and of groups of relatives of relatives into which these four Varnas were divided.

Whatever may be the history of the origin of the caste system, the institution of caste has been one of exclusive characteristics of the Indian society since early ages. In spite of great changes in the history of India, caste has continued to be an important feature of Indian social life

Caste in modern perspective:

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It is particularly interesting to study its implications on politics. Politics is a competitive enterprise, its purpose is the acquisition of power for the realization of certain goods and its process is one of identifying order to mobilize and consolidate position.

Caste as a fundamental aspect of the social structure of India and the economic foundation, upon which it is based, is a major parametric variable of the Indian political system.

In the opinion of many thinkers, castes are assuming new functions like influencing politics and their role in political dynamics is gradually increasing. It is almost playing the role of an effective interest or pressure group at various levels of the discussion making apparatus. The relationship between caste and politics reveals the politicized nature of caste m Indian politics.

(1) Caste provides an extensive basis for organization of democratic polities in a society such as India where caste remains the principal basis of social organization and activity.

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(2) Caste is used more extensively in mobilizing support in rural than urban areas.

(3) Political parties find it easies to mobilize support directly from the members of a caste community by appealing to them.

(4) The present political system itself encourages or inhibits the use of caste as a means of breeding followers.

(5) Caste enables the illiterate and politically ignorant masses of India to participate in the modern democratic process.

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According to Rudolph and Rucloph, the relationship that caste bears to politics can bet be understood in terms of three types of political mobilization, each suggestive of different phases of political development vertical horizontal and differential.

Political Dimensions of caste:

Everyone recognizes that the social system in India is organized around caste structures and caste existing structures in order to mobilize support and consolidate positions.

Politicians mobilize caste groupings and identities in order to organize their power. In the context of interactions between caste and politics, Rajnikothari has pointed out that three aspect of the caste system call for special attention.

The first is what may be called the secular dimensions. In emphasizing caste as a stratification system in which distances are rigidly maintained through endogamy, pollution and the legitimacy of rituals caste as system of conflict and interaction has received separate attention.

Second, there is the integration dimension. The caste system not only determines the individuals social station on the basis of the group to which he is born but also differentials and assigns occupational and economic roles.

It thus gives a place to every individual from the highest to the lowest and makes for the high degree of identification and integration. This aspect is important in understanding the structural impact of democratic nation building. For the competitive style of democratic politics involves group action and cohesion, democratic politics is as much a process of fusion as a fission.

Third, there is the dimension of consciousness, caste enters politics through the consciousness aspect highlighted by its symbolism and value structure.

This is where symbolic gestures for cultural mobility such as sanskritisation, westernization and secularization assume or disguise political overtones in their manifestation.

According to Rajnikothari, “It is not politics that gets caste ridden it is caste that gets politicized.” The operation pi competitive politics has drawn caste out of its a political context and give it a new status and identity.

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