Not much attention has been paid by sociologists and anthropologists to the study of caste relationships in an urban setting. Most of the field studies about caste relationships have been confined to rural areas, the village being the unit of careful observation and study. No doubt, there are some urban studies of the problem, e.g., by Kuppuswamy, and by P. N. Prabhu. But such studies have more often been concerned with eliciting attitudes and opinions than with directly observing and theoretically interpreting the processes of caste mobility. we propose to study some cases from urban areas with which we are personally familiar, although one limitation is that the material does not permit us to discuss consensus or consistency in caste ranking. Changes of rank position, both by castes as units and by some individual members of castes, have been reported to take place. This chapter discusses the phenomenon of mobility in the caste system in the light of reference group theory, examining its utility as an operational theory in a caste society.
Reference group theory may be particularly useful in conceptualizing and understanding caste mobility. The theory concerns itself with analyzing the frames of reference for an individual's behavior and may therefore be looked to in explaining social dynamics.
The reference group acts as a frame of reference for self-evaluation and attitude formation, whether the group is one in which ego has membership (a membership group) or one of which he himself is not a member (a non membership group). The impact of one's own group upon behavior has long been noted and accompanies the concept that reward from conformity. Furthermore, the selection of a reference individual — attempting to identify with another person — has also long been' established; even the fact that the selected individual often belongs to another group.
However, the impact of groups other than one's own, involving a more complicated process of identification, was neglected by the earlier sociologists in their concern to conceptually dichotomize “in-group” and “out-group”: “Reference Group Theory, which systematically takes' account of positive orientations towards non-membership groups can serve as a corrective of this prematurely restricted conclusion”; In “groups and out-groups are often sub-groups within a larger social organization, and are always potentially so, since a new social integration can encompass previously separated groups”.[i]
Selection of reference groups from groups other than ego's is largely governed by the institutional structure of the society. A group has less chance of being selected as a reference group, the smaller the extent of its internal cohesion the smaller its influence vis-a-vis other groups, and the less prestige it confers relative to other groups. The greater the structural strength of one's own group, the slighter are the chances that an outside group will be selected as a reference group.
Isolates in a group are regarded as particularly prone to adopt the values of other (non membership) groups. This can apply to non mobile persons who are relatively isolated and even to disenchanted members of the elite. In this context, attention may be called to the renunciation of higher-class status by certain persons in favor of the status of “leader of the masses” — the top dogs who prefer to cast their lot with the underdogs.
A group may also be selected as a negative reference group, where the attempt is to avoid all identification with it. Indeed, selection of one group as a frame of reference may entail just such rejection of another. Thus, where a person voluntarily discontinues being a member of a group, he may proceed to shun its values and norms.
In this sense, reference group behavior may involve nonconformity to the norms of a negative reference group - often, but not necessarily, ego's original membership group — and conformity to the norms of - a positive reference group usually a non membership group for ego. Thus, reference group behavior depends to a large extent on the social visibility of the norms prevailing in one's own and in other groups and on the extent to which the members of groups live up to their norms: “There must be patterned ways in which people become acquainted with the norms and activities in the groups which they select as evaluative and comparative frames of reference”.[ii]
Reference group theory elucidates change in group membership, where this is possible, through the process of anticipatory socialization, Given the possibility of ultimate inclusion or absorption into another group's membership, such anticipatory socialization would be functional for the individual, although, no doubt, the very same process would be a dysfunctional, defection for ego's original membership group# But there may be significant differences in the eligibility, as well as in the motivations and aspirations, of persons to become members of groups other than their own. A person who cannot become a member of another group, despite his intense motivation and aspiration to do so, may develop vehement hostility towards that group. Thus, positive orientation towards non membership groups and their selection as reference groups has been regarded as correlated with a high rate of social mobility and the openness of groups.[iii]
To summarize: the internal structure of groups and their relationship to the external structure and organization of society, including the social visibility of their norms, will determine their selection or rejection as reference groups. The social organization may promote the visibility of alternative norms and values by providing channels or social mechanisms of communication between groups. By blocking such communication it may withhold visibility. Finally, reference group behavior is significantly related to whether the groups which characterize a. society are open or closed.
Various points of view, not to use the word ‘theories’, have been presented by different students of caste regarding mobility in the caste system. These range from the extreme view that the caste system precludes any mobility, to a realistic appraisal of the situation, that the caste system allows a small rate of mobility.
The caste system is characterized as a closed system and inclusion into a caste (jati) other than one's own (by birth) is not normally possible. But reference group theory sets forth the prerequisites for positive orientation in an open system, where ultimate inclusion in the non member ship group is possible and is often anticipated. If ultimate inclusion in another caste (jati) is not normally possible by the very nature of the caste system, would positive orientation to a caste other than ego's be dysfunctional for the person concerned'? The paradox of caste lies in the fact that, although lower-caste persons cannot expect to be included in a higher caste (jati), and also because higher-caste persons need not fear their inclusion, positive orientation for reference and imitation is permitted and even encouraged. Anticipatory socialization can thus occur and it has the effect of reducing distance and repulsion between castes even if it does not ensure ultimate absorption or inclusion. In another sense, too, anticipatory socialization can be functional for the persons concerned — where a higher Varna is used as a reference, model.[iv] The movement of a caste or of some members of a caste into a Varna complex that is higher than the original one constitutes mobility, even though there is no absorption into a higher caste (jati). Mobility has been reported in such a way as, to suggest the prevalence of four models of conduct and behavior in India: (1) the Brahmanic model, (2) the Kingly (Kshatriya) model, (3) the Vaishya model, and (4) the Western model.[v]
Mobility in the middle ranges of the caste hierarchy has been widely recognized. It has been possible for an outsider to be absorbed in the caste complexes represented by the Kingly and Vaishya models. These models have provided for mobility in caste through achievement. Thus, mention is made of non-Kshatriyas becoming Kings 'and of non-Vaishyas resorting to occupations proper for the Vaishyas. It is well-known that agricultural pursuits have been open to everyone, irrespective of caste membership, and one may suppose that in their relative success as cultivators, castes have risen and fallen in rank. Pocock has reported how the Patidars in Gujarat, having acquired through trading, have been able to raise their caste rank by mass marriages. They have laid claim to Kshatriyahood, thus is the Kingly model. It is a case of an entire caste having been register to a change.[vi]
The concept of the ‘dominant caste’ has been stressed, of late, as clearly to such mobility in the middle ranges of caste. The importance of secular rank, as exemplified by factors such numerical strength of a caste and its economic and political and help raise the ritual rank of such a caste. It is suggested that in such circumstances, even the higher ritual rank of a Brahman avail unless it is accompanied by high secular rank. Srinivas has such a state of affairs but this too is clearly a case of a model being an effective reference group. The illustrations may be added that of some families in Bombay either semi tribals (outside the caste system) or very low down the hierarchy and who have been able to gain a considerably ilk in the caste hierarchy through industry, trade, and business seeks illustrate emulation of the Vaishya model.
The process of mobility is also pinpointed through the concepts of Sanskritization and Westernization. Although caste membership is based both processes clearly indicate how the rank of an entire caste is amenable to change. In the case of Sanskritization, the reference obviously been the Brahmans, while in the case of Westernization, the reference group has been that of the Western rulers, administrators and thinkers. In Maharashtra there is a caste called Parpckaki, originally non-Brahmanic. Recently, by resorting to strict vegetarianism, putting a strict ban on widow remarriage, and, of course, by Western education, the caste has been able to raise its rank that Brahmans now enter into marital relations with its members.[vii]
As for the Western model, the high castes — having experienced an earlier and longer-term impact, partly through higher education — have been much more exposed to Western influence. The lower castes, however, have not been barred from it. It is not surprising that members of the higher castes have shown a tendency to abjure caste restrictions and taboos. Some Brahmans, by virtue of Westernization have actually' tended to de-Brahmanize their way of life with respect to food taboos, ritual purity, dress, etc., and even sometimes in the matter of marital restrictions. Indeed, a guess may be hazarded that marriages across caste lines have preponderantly involved Brahmans (mainly males): The entire reformist movement can be properly subsumed under the label “Westernization”. Dissociation from their caste bodies by members of the higher castes is again a similar phenomenon.[viii] The process of voluntary downward reference, exemplified by the predominantly upper-caste leadership of the labor classes, is a consequence of the process of Westernization.
Westernization (or secularization) has made very little impact, except at a verbal level, on rural society. However, with the help and, encouragement of the state, the untouchables have been attempting to raise their rank by changing their names. In Maharashtra it is tradition to call members of lower castes by their caste names. The caste name is treated as a family name: e.g., Ganpat Mahar, Shiva Chamar, Namdeo etc. thus revealing the caste identity of the person concerned In order to obliterate caste distinctions, the Government of Bombay facilitated the changing of names so that caste identity could not be so easily established. We understand that, in a village in Kolhapur District (in what is now Maharashtra State), six members of untouchable castes all changed their names in order to promote a change in their rank position — to obtain touchable status. Although it is reported that these persons did enjoy a higher rank as a result, no actual investigation has been done to study the processes or to confirm the results.[ix]
These examples suggest how reference group behavior is frequently expressed through changes in names and in caste labels. Some castes have attempted to symbolize, or even to achieve, a change in their, rank by adopting a new label, or by prefixing or suffixing labels of other castes, in census returns. The Nais (Barbers) made an unsuccessful effort to identify themselves, in this way, as “Nyayi” (Just) Brahmans. On the other hand, some members of the Kunbi, Mali and Tell castes: (all lower than the Marathas) returned themselves as Kshatriyas. This case would illustrate an attempted change in rank position by some members of a caste rather than by an entire caste, and they probably succeeded.
Reference group behavior, as noted earlier, is facilitated by the visibility of each group's norms. In India, this involves such items as food, dress, housing, education, employment, etc. — relevant to the model in question — and they become readily visible through discussion, judgments, and other actions of social control by the organized caste panchayats. Those who already belong to a group, as well as those who do not belong, can fashion their lives in accordance with the norms the relative prestige of the models in the minds of men makes for their choice as reference groups
The four models discussed constitute the major reference groups in India. The Brahmanic model imposes the maximum amount of ritualistic restriction on an aspirant. The Kingly model imposes fewer restrictions and the Vaishya model imposes even fewer restrictions. The Western model almost does away with caste restrictions. It is regarded as a liberalizing force and as such is amenable to use by anyone. As previously stated, however, members of high castes have been the most influenced by the Western model. These models have provided both positive and negative reference groups. Thus, those who are under the impact of Western cultures are sometimes at great pains to dissociate themselves from their caste organizations.
R E F E R E N C E S
[i] James Silverberg, Social Mobility in the Caste System in India, The Hague, Mouton, 1968, p. 92. Also see C.J. Baker and D.A. Washbrook (ed.), South India Political Institutions and Political Change 1880-1940, Delhi, Macmillan, 1975, pp.152-59.
[ii] James Silverberg, Op.Cit., pp. 90-96.
[iii] L.I. and S.H. Rudolph, Modernity of Tradition, Chicago, UCP., 1976, pp. 65-75.
[iv] Rosalind O’Hanlon, Caste, Conflict and Ideology, Cambridge, CUP., 1985, p. 38.
[v] See Karen Leonard, Social History of an Indian Caste, New Delhi, OUP, 1978, p.55.
[vi] R.L. Hardgrave, The Nadars of Tamilnad, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1969, pp.3-10.
[vii] M. N. Srinivas, Social Change in Modern India, Bombay, Orient Longman, (Reprint), 1991, pp. 1-46.
[viii] Gail Omvedt, Cultural Revolt in Colonial Society: The Non-Brahmin Movements in Western India, 1873-1930, Bombay, 1976, pp. 45-75.
[ix] See Karen Leonard, Op.Cit., pp. 55-60. Also see Gail Omvedt, Op.Cit., pp. 75-90.