The concept of dominant caste has been used for the first item in sociological literature by an eminent Indian Sociologist M.N. Srinivas in his essay social system of a Mysore Village, which was written after his study of village Rampur. The concept occupies a key position in the process of ‘Sanskritisation’ as propounded by the same sociologists in his book, Religion and society among the Coorgs at south India.
It is held by some sociologists like Domont and Peacock that Srinivas transplanted the notion of “dominance” form the African society to the Indian Society. It may be true to some extent. Srinivas himself writes that. I used the term dominant caste for the first time in my essay ‘Social System of a Mysore village’ and it is probable clean and dominant lineage in the contemporary anthropological literature on Africa. But in a sense Coorg book is also about a dominant caste and it was but a step from it a formulation of the idea of the dominant caste.
The term dominant caste is used to refer to a caste which “wields economic or political power and occupies a fairly high position in the hierarchy.” These castes are accorded high status and position in all the fields of social life. The people of other lower castes look at them as their ‘reference group’ and try to imitate their behavior, ritual pattern, custom and ideology.
In this way, the dominant caste of a particular locality plays an important role in the ‘process of cultural transmission’ in that area. The members of a dominant caste have an upper hand in all the affairs of the locality and enjoy many special opportunities as well as privileges.
Factors contributing towards dominance:
There are different factors that make a caste dominant in a particular locality or region. As Srinivas tells “a caste to be dominant, it should own a sizable amount of arable land locally available, have strength or numbers and occupy a high place of local hierarchy. New factors contributing towards dominance are “western education, jobs in administration, and urban source of income.” Let us discuss these factors in brief to have a clear understanding of their role in making a caste dominant.
i) Land Ownership:
Land is the most precious possession in rural area since it is the principal source of income. Uneven distribution of locally available cultivable field is a regular phenomenon of Indian Society. A vast area of land is concentrated in the hands of rich minority generally the big landowners come from higher castes. These land owners employ the people of other castes as their laborers. They also give land on rent to the people. As a result, the entire population of the locality remains obliged to the few land owners of a particular caste.
These few landlords of a caste exercise considerable amount of power over all other castes and become the dominant caste of that locality. Srinivas cites the examples of landowning jots treating Brahmins as their servants in Punjab. Thakur landlords denying accepting cooked food from all Brahmins accept their gurus and religious teacher.
ii) Numerical Strength:
The numerical strength of a caste also contributes towards its dominance. The more the number the greater the power. In many areas, the Kshyatriyas due to their large population are able to exercise their control and power even over the few rich Brahmins of a locality and are able to dominate the socio-political situation.
iii) High place in local hierarchy:
Indian Society has been stratified into various groups on the basis of Caste System organised according to the beliefs and ideas of purity and pollution. In every locality certain caste is accorded high status owing to its ritual purity. They always enjoy social superiority to all other castes in every aspects of social life.
All the factors described above contributed towards the dominance of a caste in traditional society. With the onset of modernisation and change in the attitude and belief of people the new factors have come up overshadowing the old ones, they are:
The caste, member of which are highly educated, is naturally looked up by the members of others castes. Due to their high education, they win the morale of others. The illiterate people have to take their help in many occasions owing to the complexities of modern social life. The educated people, due to their well information and knowledge about various developmental activities, plans and programmes, are also in a better position to utilise them which aids to their prosperity making them dominant in a particular area.
v) Job in administration and urban sources of income:
The caste, the majority members of which is in government bureaucracy or has sound economic strength, always finds itself in an advantageous position. Its members held legal and administrative powers by virtue of their being government officials. They help their other caste fellows to have different sources of urban income like supplying of food grains to urban dwellers, doing various types of business.
In this way they strengthen their economic position and become comparatively rich then, the members of caste who are engaged only in agricultural activities. All these aid to the higher position of that caste in a locality and make it dominant.
vi) Political involvement:
The dominant place of politics in contemporary Indian Society can hardly be undermined. The caste being more involved in political affairs of the state or locality, automatically raises its position and exercises control in all fields of social life. Till now we have been emphasizing on the point that a caste becomes dominant in a locality due to its attributes as discussed above. But dominance is no longer a purely local phenomenon.
The caste may or may not have attributes of dominance in a particular locality or village but till it can contribute to be a dominant caste, if the same caste occupies a dominant position in that wider region. In such a case, the network or relationship and friendship ties of the members of locally unimportant caste with the dominant relatives of that region, makes them dominant.