Dominant Caste

Sociology for RAS Mains GS Paper 1

Besides caste, Srinivas looks for yet another source or manifestation of tradition. He found it in the notion of ‘dominant caste’ He first proposed it in his early papers on the village of Rampura. The concept has been discussed and applied to a great deal in work on social and political organization in India. He had defined dominant caste in terms of six attributes placed in conjunction:

  • Sizeable amount of arable land;
  • Strength of numbers;
  • High place in the local hierarchy;
  • Western education;
  • Jobs in the administration; and
  • Urban sources of income.

Of the above attributes of the dominant caste, the following three are important:

  • Numerical strength,
  • Economic power through ownership of land, and
  • Political power.

Accordingly, a dominant caste is any caste that has all three of the above attributes in a village community. The interesting aspect of this concept is that the ritual ranking of caste no longer remains the major basis of its position in the social hierarchy. Even if a caste stands low in the social hierarchy because of being ranked low, it can become the dominant ruling caste or group in a village if it is numerically large, owns land and has political influence over village matters. There is no doubt that a caste with relatively higher in ritual rank would probably find 1t easier to become dominant. But this is not the case always.

In his study of Rampur village, there are a number of castes including Brahmins, peasants and untouchables. The peasants are ritually ranked below the Brahmins, but they own lands and numerically preponderant and have political influence over village affairs. Consequently, despite their low ritual rank. the peasants are the dominantcaste in the village. All the other castes of the village stand in a relationship of service to the dominantcaste, i.e , they are at the back of the dominantcaste.

Srinivas was criticized for this concept with the charge that it was smuggled from the notion of dominance, which emerged from African sociology. Repudiating the critique, Srinivas asserted that the idea of dominant caste given by him had its origin in the field work of Coorgs of South India. His field work had impressed upon him that communities, such as the Coorgs and the Okkaligas, wielded considerable power at the local level and shared such social attributes as numerical preponderance. economic strength and clean ritual status. He further noted that the dominantcaste could be a local source of sanskritisation. Sanskritisation and dominantcaste are therefore representation of Indian tradition And, in this conceptual framework, the traditions of the lower castes and Dalits have no place. nowhere in village India; the subaltern groups occupy the status of dominant caste.

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