Practice Question – Write a note on Ghurye’s conception of caste in India. [UPSC 2019]

Approach – Introduction, Definition of Caste, Ghurye’s Conception, Context, Characteristics of caste, Critic, Conclusion. 



  1. Govind Sadashiv Ghurye is often called the “father of Indian sociology.”
  2. Though his approach is often labeled Indological, Ghurye’s interest was not just in reconstructing Indian civilizational history but in understanding continuity and change in social institutions.
  3. Ghurye’s approach to the sociology of India was already evident in Caste and Race, where he traced the origins of the caste system to the Indo-Aryan civilization of the
    Gangetic plain, using historical, archaeological, and anthropometric sources. He argued that Indian civilization was formed through the slow assimilation of non-Aryan groups
    to Hinduism, and that the caste system spread through the same process of cultural diffusion.
  4. Ghurye was perhaps the first scholar to highlight the political consequences of the enumeration of caste in the Census of India, a procedure he condemned for leading to the emergence of caste associations, a “livening up of the caste-spirit” , and hence to competition and conflict.
  5. Ghurye’s sociological perspective was reflected in his political concern with “national integration”. His view of Indian cultural history as an ongoing process of “cultural assimilation” led him to criticize Verrier Elwin and the British administrators for wanting to preserve tribal cultures through state-enforced isolation from mainstream society.
  6. It was said that “Ghurye insisted on fieldwork, though he himself was an armchair scholar”. This was not intended as a pejorative comment, but it reflected the tremendous premium placed on single-handed ‘anthro­pological fieldwork’.
  7. Ghurye studied caste system from a historical, comparative and integrative perspective. Later on he did comparative study of kinship in Indo-European cultures.
  8.  Ghurye laid particular stress on endogamy as the most important feature of the caste system.
  9. Ghurye’s works on the tribes were general as well as specific. He wrote a general book on Scheduled Tribes in which he dealt with the historical, administrative and social dimensions of Indian tribes. He also wrote on specific tribes such as the Kolis in Maharashtra. Ghurye presented his thesis on tribes at a time when a majority of the established anthropologists and administrators were of the opinion that the separate identity of the tribes is to be maintained at any cost. Ghurye, on the other hand, believes that most of the tribes have been Hinduized after a long period of contact with Hindus. He holds that it is futile to search for the separate identity of the tribes. They are nothing but the ‘backward caste Hindus’.
  10. Ghurye remained occupied all through his life with the idea of Rurbanization securing the advantages of urban life simulta­neously with nature’s greenery. Therefore, he discusses the process of rural-urbanization in India. He views that the urbanization in India was not a simple function of industrial growth.
  11. Ghurye thinks that religion is at the centre of the total cultural heritage of man. In Religious Consciousness, Ghurye analyses the three oldest human civilizations, viz., the Mesopotamian, the Egyptian and the Hindu, in their various aspects of mythological beliefs, speculation, cosmology, life after death, view of Godhead, temple architecture, etc. And, in the Indian Sadhus, Ghurye considers the genesis, devel­opment and organization of asceticism in Hindu religion and the role ascetics have played in the maintenance of Hindu society.
  12. Ghurye had interest in contemporary Indian situations. As a sociol­ogist, he had been extremely concerned with the concept of integration, the process of national unity in India, and the contem­porary challenges to the situation. 



  1. He is mostly known for his work on caste and caste systems, social stratification and Sanskritisation in southern India.
  2. Srinivas has initiated the tradition of macro-sociological generaliza­tions on micro-anthropological insights and of giving a sociological sweep and perspective to anthropological investigations of small-scale communities.
  3. As part of his methodological practice, Srinivas strongly advocated ethnographic research based on fieldwork, but his concept of fieldwork was tied to the notion of locally bounded sites.
  4. Srinivas studies of caste and religion (1952, 1959, 1962, and 1966) highlighted not only their structural-functional aspects, but also the dynamics of the caste system in rural setting. He proposed conceptual tools like ‘dominant caste’, ‘sanskritization- westernization’ and ‘secularization’ to understand the realities of inter-caste relations and also to explain their dynamics. The concept of ‘dominant caste’ has been used in the study of power relations at the village level.
  5. Srinivas, in his most of studies and especially in village studies tried to find the importance of values and norms in defining social relationship. According to him, “while values and norms varied from group to group, the locally dominant caste or other ethnic group provided a mode for emulation for the non-dominants.
  6. Besides religion and caste, the third tradition component of Srinivas’ study is village. Srinivas got the seed idea of studying India’s villages from his mentor Radcliffe-Brown in 1945-46. When settled in India after his return from Oxford, he conducted the study of Rampur – a Mysore village – which gave him the concept of ‘dominant caste’.
  7. In his study of a Mysore village, Srinivas finds that at some time or the other, every caste tries to change its rank in the hierarchy by giving up its attributes and trying to adopt those of castes above them. This process of attempting to change one’s rank by giving up attributes that define a caste as low and adopting attributes that are indicative of higher status is called ‘sanskritization’.



  1. Among Indian sociologists one who has consistently advocated and applied dialectical-historical model in his sociological studies is A.R. Desai. 
  2. He may be regarded as one of the pioneers in introducing the modern Marxist approach to empirical investigations involving bibliographical and field research.
  3. He rejects any interpretations of tradition with reference to religion, rituals and festivities. It is essentially a secular phenomenon.
  4. He also does not find the origin of tradition in western culture. His studies mainly of nationalism and its social configuration, his exami­nation of community development programmes for economic development in villages, his diagnosis of the interface between state and society in India or the relationship between polity and social structure , his treatment of urban slums and their demographic problems , and finally his study of peasant movements  are all based on a Marxist method of histori­cal-dialectical materialism.
  5. Desai also developed the field of political sociology in 1960s. In an anthology, Desai included the studies on peasant struggles, which have also been carried out by historians and social scientists of diverse orientations.
  6. Closely related to the new trend in agrarian sociology has been the trend of studying social movements, particularly among the peasantry. Desai’s study of the Indian National Movement – its class character and inherent contradictions – was of course a noteworthy and pioneering contribution of the pre-1950 era.
  7. Desai applies the Marxist approach to the study of ‘nationalism’ in India during the British rule. He spells out historical-dialectical materialism and applies it to the study of various types of movements – rural and urban, caste and class structure, social mobility, education and other aspects of Indian society.
  8. Desai’s definition of tradition is a watershed. He does not trace it from caste, religion or ritual. The dialectical history of India that he presents very clearly shows that traditions have their roots in India’s economy and production relations. 
  9. The theme of the relation between the state and the capitalist class was explored in his writings. To him, the administrative level apparatus of the state performed the twin functions of protecting the propertied classes and suppressing the struggles of the exploited classes.
  10. Desai’s works include a number of edited volumes on rural sociology, urbanization, labour movements, peasant struggles, modernization, religion, and democratic rights. They are a rich source of reference material for students, researchers and activists.




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