Andre Beteille on Caste

Sociology for RAS Mains GS Paper 1

Beteille study on caste is reflexive, distinctive, dynamic and analytical, as against Ghurye, Dumont, and Srinivas sociology of caste. Dumont considers caste as a sacred cow driven by the universal superiority of Brahmins, dominating in ritual sphere or in the status hereby. Srinivas considers that Sanskritic behaviour or way of life is mostly solicited by ethnic group of people in Indian society. So Dumont and Srinivas along with Ghurye, explicitly or implicitly speak that Brahminic superiority and Sanskritic exclusivity. Andre Beteille tries to study caste beyond these perspectives.

According to Beteille, caste is an objective reality. Its role and structural character should be studied from empirical perspective. His understanding of caste comes out of the field data, collected from Sripuram village of Tanjore district of Tamil Nadu. In this village three major caste groups are present – Brahmins, Non-Brahmins and Adi-Dravidians. Between Brahmins andAdiDravidians a huge cultural. symbolic and relational gap is found. Beteille finds out that Dumont’s ‘theory of hierarchy’ carries relative significance to understand the dis-harmonic relationship between Brahmins and Adi-Dravidians. These two castes are placed in two extreme position of caste hierarchy. He empathises with M.N. Srinivas to understand the rise of non-Brahmins in the secular sphere of caste hierarchy. Contra/Jing village land and dominating in village, local and state politics, these groups intensified the emergence and consolidation of dominant caste

His sociology of caste criticizes Srinivas, Dumont and Ghurye on the ground that Brahminic exclusivity and superiority is not a matter of fact. It is evident from his study of Sripuram. Brahmins of Sripuram are largely divided into two groups. Srivaishnav and Samarthas, distinctively different from each other in terms of the ritual practices, symbols, doctrinal affinity and way of life. Residential areas of both the castes are also strictly different and both the groups practice endogamy implying that a sub-caste should be considered as caste. Samarthas are further divided in 4 major groups, and these groups are further divided into sub-groups. This study of segmentation of caste is largely influenced by the writings of his teacher and old friend Evans Pritchard, who in his study of Neurs talk about segmentation of tribe.

According to Beteille, Brahmins never follow a distinctive identity, ritual pattern and way of life. What means sanskritisation to one aspiring caste may not be meaning to other. So Brahmins being so segmented, it is too difficult to believe that the superiority is historic, continuous and undiluted as presumed by homes Dumont. Caste does not determine social commensality amongst people. It is evident from Samarthas divided on the basis of economic standing into three broad groups such an upper class, middle class and lower class. Beteille finds out that caste is not only a source of social exclusion only rather both caste and poverty are two distinctive dissensions to social inequality in India. Exploring different genesis to social exclusion, he concludes by saying, that social inequality in India has multiple dimensions and caste is one of it. Caste and class is not the only source to explain all possible sources of inequality as highlighted by structural functionalist on one hand and Marxists on other. Following the footsteps of Max Weber he indicates that structure exists in many forms and in village India source of the structure are

  • Unequal of distribution of land and giving rise to class structure.
  • Unequal access to power.
  • Unequal access to status on the basis of caste identity.

Based on his study, title of his first book is ‘Class Status and Power: The study of structure in a Tagore village·. Beteille considers that Bhakti movement Backward caste movement, dalit mobilization potentially question to hierarchical gradation of values giving rise to the emergence of plural values competing with each other. (Existentialism competing with spiritualism, materialism competing with moralism) resulting in competitive values, rising in Indian society, reflecting on social change.

According to Beteille, Caste old is replaced by caste new than caste in Indian being replaced by class in India. Thus Indian modernity is typically Indian in character, exclusive and different. from modernization of West, but some of the European suggest fail to understand. So they conclude that India provides hierarchy and European society produces structure

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