Dominance and State Power in Modern India: Decline of a Social Order [1] 0195620984

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Dominance and State Power in Modern India: Decline of a Social Order [1]

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Oxford University Press, Walton Street, Oxford 0X2 6DP New York Toronto Delhi Bombay Calcutta Madras Karachi PetalingJaya Singapore Hong Kong Tokyo Nairobi Dar es Salaam Melbourne Auckland and associates in Berlin Ibadan

© Oxford University Press 1989

SBN 0 19 562098 4

Typeset at Taj Services Ltd., Noida Printed at Rekha Printers Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi 110020 and published by S. K. Mookerjee, Oxford University Press YMCA Library Building, Jai Singh Road, New Delhi 110001

Contents List of Maps, Tables and Appendices




A Remembrance of M. S. A. Rao


Notes on Contributors




Some Conceptual Issues in the Study of Caste, Class, and Dominance M. S. A. RAO


Caste, Land and Dominance in Bihar: Breakdown of the Brahmanical Social Order FRANCINE R. FRANKEL


Power and Mobilization: Patterns of Resilience and Change in Uttar Pradesh Politics ZOYA HASAN


Caste, Class and Dominance in Modern Tamil Nadu: Non-Brahmanism, Dravidianism and Tamil Nationalism D. A. WASHBROOK


The Politics of Accommodation: Caste, Class and Dominance in Andhra Pradesh G. RAM REDDY


Karnataka: Caste, Class, Dominance and Politics in a Cohesive Society JAMES MANOR


Caste Mobilization and Class Consciousness: The Emergence of Agrarian Movements in Kerala and Tamil Nadu K. C. ALEXANDER


Appendix 1

Membership of the Constituent Assembly (August 1947) and the Eighth Lok Sabha by Community and Caste


Caste and Community of MPs Elected to the Eighth Lok Sabha in Selected States


Appendix II

Social Background of Officers in the Indian Administrative Service SANTOSH GOYAL


425 435

List of Maps, Tables and Appendices CASTE, LAND AND DOMINANCE IN BIHAR

Map I. Linguistic Regions of Bihar II. Bihar: District Divisions before 1973

50 52

III. Bihar: District Divisions, 1973


Table 1. Major Caste Groups of Bihar 2, 3. Number and Size Distribution of Operational Holdings 4. Caste Composition of Major Cabinet Ministries, 1962-85 Appendix. The Death of a Brahmin’s Son

54 92-3 118 125

PATTERNS OF RESILIENCE AND CHANGE IN UTTAR PRADESH Map I. United Provinces (Uttar Pradesh): The Expansion of British Power II. Uttar Pradesh Districts and Divisions Table 1. Patterns of Holdings under Different Categories of Tenants in Agra and Awadh, 1889-1900 to 1935-1936

135 136


2. Distribution of Caste and Communities in U.P., 1931


3. Percentage of Sir and Khudkhasht by Size of Holdings


4. Area Held by the Ex-zamindars and the New Landowners


5. Comparison of Pattern of Land Ownership in the Period prior to and after Zamindari Abolition


6. Number and Size Distribution of Operational Holdings in Uttar Pradesh


7. Percentage Distribution of Households and Area Owned by Size Class of Ownership and Caste Groups


8. Caste Composition of MLAs in the U.P. Legislative Assembly, 1952-80


9. Caste Composition of MLAs in the U.P. Legislative Assembly by Party


Appendix Table A. 1. Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly Election Results, 1952-80


A.2. Share of Castes in Land and Political Power in Uttar Pradesh


A.3. Composition of U.P. Council of Ministers by Caste


CASTE, CLASS AND DOMINANCE IN MODERN TAMIL NADU Map I. Regional Divisions of Tamil Nadu Map II. Distribution of Major Caste Groups in Tamil Nadu

206 222

Table 1. Percentage Number of Operational Holdings and Area Operated by Size Class of Operational Holdings, 1970-71 and 1980-81 2. Caste Types as Percentage of the Population of Each District, 1891

218 224

List of Maps, Tables and Appendices


CASTE, CLASS AND DOMINANCE IN ANDHRA PRADESH Map I. Andhra Pradesh: District Divisions Showing Area of Existing Ayacut Table 1. Dimensions of Rural Poverty, 1977-78

272 266

2. Dimensions of Urban Poverty, 1977-78


3. A Comparative View of Ownership Holdings, 1954-55 and 1970-71


4. Percentage of Different Castes to Total Population of Districts Merged into Andhra Pradesh


5. Distribution of Castes in the Andhra Districts of the Madras Presidency, 1921


6. Distribution by District of Areas under Different Tenures, 1940-41


7. Distribution of Holdings according to Marginal, Small, SemiMedium, Medium and Large Holdings 1976-77 and 1980-81


8. Ownership of Select Major and Medium Industries by Caste


9. Distribution of the Samithi Presidents in Telengana Region by Caste


10. State Employees in Various Categories by Caste


11. Distribution of Backward Class Employees in State Government and Allied Sectors according to Category of Post and Backward Classes as on 30 July 1981


12. Caste Background of MLAs of Andhra Pradesh, 1957-85


13. Caste Composition of Andhra Pradesh Cabinets, 1956-85


14. Caste Composition of Lok Sabha Members from Andhra Pradesh


15. Distribution of Panchayat Samithi Presidents in Andhra Pradesh by Caste, 1981-86 16. Caste Distribution of Old and New Members at the Panchayat Level

308 309

KARNATAKA: CASTE, CLASS, DOMINANCE AND POLITICS Map I. Administrative Divisions of Karnataka during British Rule Table 1. Karnataka’s Agricultural Population in 1951

324 329

2. Percentage of Plots Held by Owner-Cultivators


3. Percentage Variation in Various Sizes of Landholdings


CASTE MOBILIZATION AND CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS IN KERALA AND TAMIL NADU Map I. Administrative Divisions of South India during British Rule Map II. District Divisions of Kerala and Tamil Nadu

374 374

Table 1. Select Characteristics of the Population of Tamil Nadu, 1961


2. Select Characteristics of the Population of Kerala, 1961


3. Number of Agricultural Labourers in 1971 and Membership of Kerala State Agricultural Labour Union 4. Select Characteristics of Respondents

385 393


List of Maps, Tables and Appendices 5. Statements Used for Understanding Ideological Orientation and the Percentage of Respondents Indicating Changed Ideas


6. Statements Used for Understanding Relational Norms and Percentage of Respondents with Belief in Egalitarian Relational Norms


7. Percentage of Land under Tenancy in Kerala and Tamil Nadu


Appendix 1. Means of Ideological Orientation Scores, Standard Deviation and Number of Respondents


2. Correlations between Ideological Orientation Scores and SocioPersonal Characteristics of Respondents


3. Means of Relational Norms Scores, Standard Deviation and Number of Respondents


4. Correlations between Relational Norm Scores and Socio-Personal Characteristics of Respondents



Table LI. Membership of the Constituent Assembly (August 1947) by Community


1.2. Membership of the Constituent Assembly (August 1947) from British India by Caste


1.3. Membership of the Eighth Lok Sabha by Community


1.4. Membership of the Eighth Lok Sabha by Caste


1.5. Caste and Community of MPs Elected to the Eighth Lok Sabha in Selected States



Table II.l. Distribution of IAS Officers According to their Age at the Time of Allotment to the IAS


11.2. Distribution of IAS Officers by Method of Recruitment


11.3. Distribution of IAS Officers by Sex


11.4. Distribution of IAS Officers in States by Sex


11.5. Distribution of IAS Officers by Religion


11.6. Distribution of IAS Officers by Sex and Religion


11.7. Year of Allotment by Sex and Distribution of IAS Officers


11.8. Distribution of Hindu Officers by Sex and Caste


11.9. Distribution of Shudra Officers by State


II. 10. Caste Background of Hindu Officers by State





Forty years after Independence it is becoming apparent just how much society in modern India has undergone, and continues to undergo, profound change. Social groups which for centuries became accustomed to command, within decades found their moral authority challenged and their political power undermined. One symptom of this upheaval in recent years is the spread of violence between caste groups and religious communities, often along lines that coincide with economic cleavages. Yet, the dynamic of social change has been difficult to put into historical and comparative perspective. Analytical categories abstracted from developmentalist and Marxist social science fail to capture the complexities of the Indian social setting. Regional diversities of language, social structure and level of economic development all conspire to obscure underlying patterns, which are common. These volumes are ambitious in conception. They present an integrated approach to the analysis of changing relations between dominance and state power across diverse cultural regions and in an elongated time horizon. The common analytical thread is provided by concepts appropri¬ ate to Indian conditions. Caste, class, and ethnicity are viewed both as structures and as processes undergoing transformation, interacting with each other, and the state, to rearrange the old patterns of the social order. It is customary to acknowledge the support of all those institutions and individuals who have contributed in making a scholarly enterprise successful. The obligation to do so is particularly heavy in this case. It may seem somewhat unusual therefore to begin by thanking the participants themselves, but I would like to do so. The shared feeling of commitment to a pioneering project made it possible to overcome the many difficulties of collaboration with fifteen scholars based in four countries and rooted in three disciplines—political science, sociology and history. The first phase of our work involved the preparation of draft papers for a workshop held in New Delhi in August 1983. The discussions led to a refined statement of basic concepts, and agreement on the scope of the questions each contributor should address. A set of revised papers was presented at the conference held in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania in May 1984. Subsequently, detailed critiques of each paper were prepared by the co-editors as a guide to a third revision aimed at ensuring the comparability of each regional/state study. There could have been no more profound test of the cooperative spirit which animated the group than the shattering blow of the unexpected death in December 1985 of my co-editor, M.S.A. Rao. The fact that these volumes have been completed as planned is testimony to his inspiration.



I want to express my appreciation above all to the Smithsonian Institution which financed the project with a grant to the University of Pennsylvania, 1983-6, and to Francine Berkowitz who provided en¬ couragement throughout this period. I am grateful as well to Pradeep Mehendiratta, Director of the American Institute of Indian Studies in New Delhi, who agreed to administer the grant, and made arrangements for the international conferences with his customary courtesy and efficiency. The Ford Foundation in New Delhi provided an essential dollar grant for expenses in the United States related to the Philadelphia conference, and I wish to thank both Carolyn Elliott and Lincoln Chen for making this possible. The Research Foundation of the University of Pennsylvania provided two awards, in 1987 and 1988, for preparation of these volumes for publication. The American Philosophical Society supplied a grant for preparing the second volume for publication. I have throughout been able to rely on the help of institutions and individuals, both in the United States and India, whose support was essential to the completion of this work. The University of Pennsylvania generously approved an eighteen month research leave, so that I could work in India between January 1984 and June 1985. Tina Mattson, while Secretary to the Graduate Program, offered critical assistance with arrangements during the early stages of the project. Kay Gadsby expedited my work all along in various administrative ways, and Marla Chazin was the soul of cooperation in organizing the typing of parts of this manuscript against pressing deadlines. My work in India was facilitated by the Department of Sociology of the Delhi School of Economics where I was affiliated during my stay. Kishlai Ghosh and Bishnu Mohapatra, both research assistants to the project, toiled many hours to extract social and economic data from census materials to help construct the context for the state studies. Praveen Chaudhury, since 1984, has been my mainstay as a research assistant even while completing his M. Phil degree. He tackled assignments related to all aspects of the project with outstanding intelligence and tenacity. Since the spring of 1985, when the project focused more directly on allIndia trends, access to the computerized data and facilities of the Corporate Studies Group of the Indian Institute of Public Administration proved invaluable. I am greatly indebted to the Director, Surinder Goyal, for extending his cooperation, and to Santosh Goyal for taking on the major work of preparing appendices on the social background of senior corporate executives and IAS officers. The preparation of the edited manuscripts for publication was com¬ pleted under extremely tight schedules during my visits to India in the summers of 1986, 1987 and 1988. K. R. Raghunathan did a superb job of typing: he not only met the schedules but made it difficult for me to keep up with him. I must acknowledge the special role played by Githa Hariharan. During



1985-6, she made detailed editorial changes in each chapter, along with suggestions for clarification that sometimes required further revisions. Beyond this, she took the initiative in acting as a coordinator in the complex long distance dialogue between me and my colleagues that saw this enterprise through to completion. Finally, I am indebted to Marni MacLeod whose judicious reading of the manuscript in page proof, and intelligent first draft of the Index materially contributed to the quality of the production style. I do not know how I can adequately thank my husband Douglas Verney for bearing with the dislocation in our lives exacted by this project. He lived for eighteen months in New Delhi where he pursued his own research on India and Canada under Fellowships from the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute and the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. He has borne with the disruption of our summers together in Toronto—otherwise ‘sacred’ in our commuting marriage. I do not think he wants an expression of gratitude, only a promise never to do this again. New Delhi 20 July 1988

A Remembrance of M. S. A. Rao

M. S. A. Rao completed the final revisions on his chapter while he was already suffering considerable pain. But it was not the last work he finished before his death. Once he entered the hospital in Bombay, in October 1985, he turned his room into an improvized study, often writing from his bed. During the period when he was undergoing daily radiation treat¬ ments, he completed the second edition of Social Movements and Social Transformation, and edited a volume on migration. He maintained the discipline of his daily routine, working in the morning, undergoing treatment in the late afternoon, taking an evening walk with his wife—in the streets he had roamed as a student—and returning to his work at night. Those close to him did not see any disturbance in his emotions as he approached death. His detachment from his own body was the final achievement of a life dedicated to understanding the reality of the world through knowledge enriched by Brahma-vidya. Madhugiri Shyama Rao Anantha Padmanabha Rao was born in 1926 into an orthodox brahman family at Molakalmoor taluk in Karnataka where his father was in government service with the state forest department. His early education was in an English medium school in Mysore. When he was sixteen, he attended a philosophical conference in Mysore, and found his guru, Professor H. N. Raghavendrachar at Mysore University. His studies, in Sanskrit, of the Vedas, the Upanishads and the major Bharathiya thathwa sastras provided the foundation for his way of life. He was perhaps most greatly influenced by the Dwaite Sidhante dating from the eleventh century B.C. These commentaries emphasized the reality of the world at the same time as they attributed all causation to Brahma. According to these teachings, the individual who understood he was an instrument and not a cause, became actively involved in overcoming egotism by methods of correct study which alone could lead to correct knowledge. This early immersion in the ancient texts, disciplined the mind of the young scholar in the logic of dialectical reasoning, a style of argument apparent in his written work. It also left him prepared to accept the well argued views of friends and colleagues even when the substance of their position contradicted his own. M. S. A. Rao was often described as an unassuming personality with a gentle manner. Yet, while he was soft-spoken, he was definite in presenting those views which rested on systematic inquiry within his discipline. His detachment from praise and criticism as he continuously struggled for ‘Right Knowledge’ was the underlying reason why some thought of him as Ajata Satru born with no enemies. After completing his M. A. degree in philosophy at Mysore University, —

A Remembrance of M. S. A. Rao


M. S. A. Rao carried on his doctoral studies at Bombay University under the guidance of Professor G. S.Ghurye. He was by that time married, and often separated from his young wife. When they did begin their lives together, it was with hardly any possessions, in a house where a tin trunk covered with a cloth served as a study table. Even after their household grew and the family began to prosper, the central room of the house continued to be the study. As a professor, he tried to give equal attention to all his postgraduate students, and some of them lived in his home during the final stages of their research. M. S. A. Rao did not encourage only his students to pursue knowledge: he virtually educated his wife Saroja who was just fifteen when they married. During 1966-7, when they were staying in London, he borrowed money from their landlord to enroll her in a course on Montessori training in child education. Later on, this bore fruit in Rachna, a Montessori nursery school established by Saroja Rao, at their home in Delhi. Before Saroja Rao returned to Delhi from Bombay after the death of her husband, she stayed at the family home in Mysore at his request. During that time, over 11 days of mourning, purohits conducted Vedic rituals invoking the highest God of Narayana or Brahman to hold his soul in peace and release it from the bondage of another rebirth. M. S. A. Rao believed that the capacity of a person for knowledge was ingrained in the soul. He also believed that his knowledge remained attached to the soul after death. It was a thought which once led Saroja to say that publication of these volumes would make his soul happy. Such a notion may make it easier to accept the loss of his physical presence among us.

Notes on Contributors

K. C. Alexander is Director of Sociology at the National Institute of Rural Development, Hyderabad. He has been a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for International Studies, Cornell, and a recipient of the Research Associate Award of the International Development Research Centre of Canada. He is the author of Social Mobility in Kerala and Peasant Organizations in South India. He is currently working on the socio-cultural dimensions of rural development. R. Frankel is Professor of Political Science and South Asia Regional Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She has held visiting research appointments at the University of Delhi, The Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and the Centre for International Studies, Princeton University. Her publications include India’s Green Revolution: Economic Gains and Political Costs, and India’s Political Economy 1947-77: The Gradual Revolution. She is currently at work on two projects: cognitive and organizational processes in influences in U.S. foreign policymaking toward India; and the comparative political economy of Indian and Chinese development. Francine

is Associate Professor at the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She has recently completed a book on Agrarian Structure and Politics in the Upper Ganges Region: Aligarh, 1930-1987 and is at work on a book about the emergence of modern politics in Uttar Pradesh. ZOYA Hasan

is Professorial Fellow of the Institute of Development Studies of the University of Sussex. He has taught at Yale, Harvard and at the Universities of London and Leicester; and edited the Journal of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics from 1980-8. His publications on India include Political Change in an Indian State: Mysore, 1917-1955. He is currently at work on a book, Interpretation of Indian Politics,

James Manor

Awakening and Decay.

S. A. Rao was Professor of Sociology and Chairman of the Depart¬ ment of Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi. He taught at the Universities of London, Syracuse, Pennsylvania, Duke and Virginia and was an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Chicago. He received the Professor G. S. Ghurye Award in 1979 and the University Grants Commission’s National Fellowship, 1977-1980. His writings include several co-authored and edited volumes as well as a number of books: Social Change in Malabar, Urbanization and Social M.

Change, Tradition, Rationality and Change: Essays on Sociology of Economic Development and Social Change, and Social Movements and

Notes on Contributors


Social Transformation: A Study of Two Backward Classes Movements in India. G. Ram REDDY is Vice Chancellor of the Indira Gandhi National Open University, and has held the posts of Vice Chancellor, Andhra Pradesh Open University, and Vice Chancellor, Osmania University, Hyderabad. 1 He is a member of the governing body of the Indian Council of Social Science Research, and has served on the executive boards of numerous universities, research centres and government working groups on higher education. He is the author of Panchayati Raj and Rural Development in Andhra Pradesh, and Andhra Pradesh: Government and Politics. His co-authored publications include Regionalism in India: The Case of Telangana and Public Policy and Rural Poor in India: A Study of Small Farmers Development Agency in Andhra Pradesh. D. A. Washbrook is Senior Lecturer in the Department of History. University of Warwick. He has taught at the University of Pennsylvania, Trinity College, Cambridge, and Harvard University. He is the author of The Emergence of Provincial Politics: The Madras Presidency 1870-1920; and the co-editor of South India: Political Changes. His current work is on eighteenth-century Andhra Pradesh.




Only since 1950 has India existed as a single political system with strong central powers over constituent states that encompass distinctive regional identities. The large-scale state system established in the subcontinent during the period of colonial rule functioned in many regions as a ‘Limited Raj’. Neither the Moslem and Mughal imperia nor the great Hindu empires of ancient and medieval India exercised centralized bureaucratic control through ownership of land and revenue extraction, or wielded a monopoly of force within the territory defined as their dominion. By contrast, it is common to speak of India’s ancient civilization based on an underlying cultural unity identified with the Brahmanical tradition. This assumption of a common set of ideas, beliefs and values understood by Hindus in all parts of India has been strengthened by modern anthropological studies in diverse linguistic areas. Viewed in the context of marriage, commensality and occupational patterns, localized caste (jati) hierarchies are seen as homologous structures representing an internal rationality common to the social order as a whole. Village studies show that caste organization ranked corporate groups along the ritual dimension of pure and impure, placing brahmans at the apex and untouchables at the base. This was complemented by the jajmani system which organized the division of labour, or class structure, on lines roughly parallel to the inequality of caste rank. Not all families enjoying high ritual status controlled large areas of land but those who did tended to come from among their ranks. By contrast, most householders of low standing owned fragments, or were landless and engaged in menial work. At the same time, asymmetrical obligations among unequals were oriented toward ensuring subsistence for all members according to their ceremonial and productive functions. Religious symbolism became attached to the notion of a ‘hierarchical collectivity’ in which the use of concentrated politico-economic power was circumscribed by moral obligation, (Du¬ mont, 1970). As a result, it is arguable that commands by the dominant castes were perceived as legitimate and evoked a high level of predictable compliance from the lower castes toward whom they were directed. Over the last several years, a spate of rich scholarship, drawing upon primary sources ranging the gamut of ancient texts, medieval temple inscriptions and imperial decrees, has shed more light on the linkages between local stratification systems, legitimate authority and state elites. These materials suggest that the failure of centralized states to emerge in



the subcontinent was directly linked to the strength of Brahmanical ideology in providing sacral legitimation for localized dominance relations. These religious beliefs made the state unnecessary for the preservation of social harmony; and led to notions of sovereignty that stressed ritual incorporation over territorial control. Similarly, the consolidation of nation-states on the European pattern in distinctive linguistic-cultural areas may have floundered against obstacles in the social organization. Religious ideas sanctifying secular dominance were adapted through ‘stratified linkages’ to a variety of regional settings. As a result, high status and low status groups were precipitated out within common cultural areas to impede horizontal integration. Such insights are suggestive of a new logic of reasoning about historical processes of social change under Indian conditions. The approach, as adopted in these volumes, starts from an analytical distinction between the concepts of dominance and power. The term ‘dominance’ is used to refer to the exercise of authority in society by groups who achieved politico-economic superiority, and claimed legitimacy for their commands in terms of superior ritual status, or through alliances with those who controlled status distribution. By contrast, the term ‘power’ is used to refer to the exertion of secular authority by individuals appointed or elected to offices of the state, who claimed legitimacy, under law, to make and implement decisions binding on the population within their territorial jurisdiction. This distinction departs from the Weberian formulation of domination, which is often used interchangeably with authority. It also moves away from the correlate notion that one form of domination, that of traditional authority, is typically superceded by another, that of legal bureaucratic authority. No such linear development is assumed in these studies of the relationship between dominance and state power in modern India. Rather, the focus is on the historical interaction between dominant social groups and of appointed and/or elected state elites, in order to explain variations in the relative strength of societal and political authorities across distinctive regional cultures. As the chapters in the first volume demonstrate, there have been significant regional differences in the ability of dominant castes and intermediary classes to protect their dominance against inroads by increasingly powerful state institutions from the late nineteenth century. Conversely, the capability of the colonial state and its independent successor, the Government of India, to challenge locally dominant groups has differed widely across states and regions. Dominance and State Power Before Colonial Rule The Brahmanical tradition, though it is said to have preserved the cultural unity of India, constructed formidable obstacles to the creation of a powerful centralized state. It did so through religious concepts of legitimation which embedded authority in the dominant clans, lineages and castes of localized society rather than in the bureaucratic and military



offices of the centralized state. Romila Thapar’s study of the emergence of ancient kingship in the Ganga valley—the heartland of Aryan civilization—argues that ritual stratification occurred’ within lineage society very early—by about 500 BC. These distinctions at tfie level of varna overlapped with and enforced economic and political inequalities to embed sacral legitimation of secular dominance in the localized social order itself. By the later Vedic period, the dvija or twice-born varna were in place. The Kshatriya raja exercised temporal power in his immediate territory (usually named for his lineage), but shared a substantial amount of wealth with the Brahmans, through prestations. The Brahmans, in return, performed rituals that not only ensured the success of the Kshatriya chief in battle, but invested him with sacral qualities, attributed to the deities, for fulfilling his universal dharma of upholding the varna order. Associated with these upper two varnas, but excluded from sacrificial and redistributive rituals that -made them interdependent, was the Vaishya. This third varna derived wealth from land, cattle and trade, and was obligated to make prestations to the Kshatriyas, who offered protection or provided new lands for them to settle through conquest. Outside the lineage system, two other groups, that of Shudras and Dasas are identified, each of which was subjected to ritual and social exclusion. Ritual distance was already associated with pollution: and while the origins of the large population of Shudras is unclear, they were inhibited from acquiring wealth by being assigned to service occupations or to labour on the land. The Dasas, whose origins are even more obscure, are described as domestic slaves. Neither they, nor those engaged in polluting occupations, referred to in later texts as asprisya, untouchable, tvere incorporated in the varna system. The varna structure itself supplied the means to maintain the stratifica¬ tion system which ‘did not require the machinery of the state’, (Thapar, 1984: 34). The ritual hierarchy coincided with the hierarchy of wealth and occupation, especially at the lower levels, and thereby provided the principle of legitimation for the unequal social order. The force needed to uphold this dual varna-class stratification system was exercised by the Kshatriya raja whose sacral power was legitimated either by consecration rituals performed by Brahmans, or by claims of direct links with deities through descent from Solar and Lunar lineages that elevated the position of king to protector of the entire social order, including Brahmans. Several other studies show that linkages between locally dominant landholding-warrior clans and their supra-local chieftains with rulers of states in ancient and medieval India, were more ritual and symbolic than political and temporal. Indian rulers from the great Mauryas of antiquity (313-226 BC.) to the last Hindu emperor of the southern Vijayanagar state (1343-1565), failed to wield direct political power outside their core areas surrounding the royal capital. The result was that land-controlling clans or supra-local warrior-chiefs maintained their own coercive power as a



potential threat to that of the state. Moreover, the ruler could not even claim exclusive possession of symbolic or ritual sovereignty. The moral basis of political authority, both of the kings and of locality chieftains, flowed from an equivalent source—that is, ritual association with brahmans expressed through gifts to individual brahmans, brahman institutions and temples. The parallel systems of political authority were distinguished mainly by domain. The king, asserting sovereignty at the state level, controlled larger revenues from core areas and/or booty, and cemented alliances with local chiefs through exchange of gifts and redistributive endowments to temples—transactions that paradoxically added to the power of locally dominant leaders in their territories. It is difficult to argue that even the ‘Great Mughals’ (1556-1707) succeeded in the task of political unification over the territories under their rule. At the height of their glory, during the reign of Akbar, the Mughal hegemony depended on military conquests that brought control over the whole of northern and central India. Their system of administration based on provinces, districts and parganas, and their dual form of military and revenue administration at the districts worked well as long as the Delhi durbar could demonstrate its overwhelming power (and Akbar’s successors followed his syncretic cultural style). None of this, however, changed the way in which power was constituted at the local level. Political groupings continued to be based on kin, caste and clan, and to owe allegiance to their chieftains. These chieftains provided the key link with central authority in carrying out such essential functions as the collection of land revenue. Great territorial chiefs or rajas were autonomous heads of large clans and paid tribute directly to the state. In other cases, provincial governors appointed intermediary zamindars, magnates who enjoyed hereditary rights of land revenue collection from primary (cultivating) zamindars, in return for passing on an agreed amount to the state. The rajas and zamindars maintained their own armed retainers and forts, and were the most important source of power at local levels. Intermediary zamindars could aspire to, and many were successful in becoming ‘little Rajas’. Often, they belonged to the same castes and clans as the dominant men in the village communities. Once they were recognized as revenue collectors or other assignees by the state, they could use their resources from the land-revenue allowance, grants of rent-free land and other perquisites to build up their followings and seize additional lands. If they became strong enough to collude with other zamindars and the military commanders of the imperial state, they could destroy the underpinnings of central control. The construction of such an alliance system between the Maratha zamindars and Mughal mansabdars helps to explain the contraction of Mughal power before advancing Maratha armies in the eighteenth century prior to British rule (Wink, 1986). The militaristic basis of state power, its dependence on political alliances with local chiefs and zamindars, and its collapse when challenged



by rival armies whose leaders made their own deals with aspiring intermediaries, was characteristic of the rise and decline of kingdoms in the subcontinent until the time of British rule. Yet, the decline of small kingdoms and even empires did not destroy the stability of political authority at the local level. When the Mughal Empire failed, state power was destroyed. But patterns of dominance in the localities survived. Despite almost continuous warfare in north India during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the relationships between politico-economic dominance, sacral legitimacy and state power persisted. ‘Successor states’ to the Mughals in Bengal, Awadh and Hyderabad were established by warrior landholders led by local Muslim lords. New kingdoms were carved out in Rohilkhand and Farrukhabad by Afghan mercenaries; in Banaras, Gorakhpur and parts of Bihar by populous Hindu warrior-cultivator clans of bhumihar brahmans, and in the talukas of Oudh and in areas of central India by rajputs. Amidst all this turmoil, Hindu kings gave donations, including assignments of revenue from village lands to brahmans, and constructed temples in small market towns to assert the legitimacy of their rule. Muslim nawabs tried to win the support of Hindu warrior and administrative groups by adopting an ‘eclectic, even Hindu’ culture, patronizing Hindu festivals, pilgrimage centres and temples (Bayly, 1983). Regional Patterns of Dominance Notions of an underlying cultural unity should not obscure the substantial regional variations which existed in patterns of social stratification. Outside the Aryan heartland, there was often a disjunction between the configuration of actual local or jati hierarchies, and the abstract general varna categories of Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra used across regions to order proliferous subcastes. This can be inferred from the 1931 census which shows the small number of the upper three varnas and their uneven geographical distribution. Brahmans constituted 6.4 per cent of the Hindu population and Rajputs (identified as the main group within the Kshatriya varna), only 3.7 per cent. The brahmans, moreover, were concentrated in northern and central India, and had almost no representa¬ tion in the South. Vaishyas, the smallest group, at 2.7 per cent of the Hindu population, were spread thinly throughout the major regions (Swartzberg, 1978). These thin and uneven concentrations of twice-born castes, evokes the genius of Brahmanical ideology as its resilience in adapting notions of purity and pollution to a wide variety of social organizations which did not conform to the Sanskritic varna hierachy. The closest approximation to the stratified social system of the varna order survived in the Ganga valley of its origin—a region which today accounts for 25 per cent of India’s population. The changing relationships between dominance and state power in the areas which became Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are examined by Frankel and Hasan in two later art¬ icles of this volume. Within this area the twice-born castes are fully



articulated and represented by area-wide sub-castes of Brahman, Kshatriya and Vaishya rank. According to the 1931 census for the United Provinces—the contemporary state of Uttar Pradesh—brahmans consti¬ tuted almost nine per cent of the population and 40 per cent of the entire Brahman varna category in India. Brahmans and rajputs accounted for over 16 per cent of the population, with Vaishyas (banias) adding another 2.5 per cent. A similar varna order prevailed in adjacent Bihar, where twice-born castes constituted more than 12 per cent of the population, and kayasthas, accorded elite status as a literati caste, added a little more than one per cent. The varna divide between the twice-born castes and the Shudras in the Hindi heartland areas has historically demarcated a rigid social hierarchy, one in which lower castes were deprived of education, denied social dignity, and confined to manual work of cultivation or to other low status artisan and service occupations. Untouchables, by definition, performed polluting tasks, and, in addition, worked in the fields, commonly under conditions of bonded labour. Although rajputs rather than brahmans exercised the greatest power as land-controllers, Brahmanical ideology played the most important role in legitimizing the status and occupational hierarchy, and in establishing the model for social emulation. High status groups (including ashraf Muslims) did not personally engage in cultivating the land, or in any sort of manual work which was left to jatis of the Shudra varna and to the untouchables. In south India, the other main region with which this volume is con¬ cerned, the varna structure by itself could not legitimize the secular stra¬ tification of wealth and power. The Brahmans constituted no more than about three to four per cent of the population. While they remained at the apex of the ritual hierarchy, they were unevenly distributed, and controlled extensive land only in some localities. The Kshatriyas, if present at all, were settled in extremely low concentrations. Vaishyas of indigenous origin were frequently outnumbered by immigrant marwaris, Jains or other mercantile castes. In most of south India, land-controlling groups came from origins which marked them as Shudra by Brahmanical criteria, and they were so designated by brahmans. The south Indian social hierarchy, in one basic respect, shared an important similarity with the varna system of north India. The ritual (and physical) distance between brahmans and untouchables was rigidly enforced, and the distinction of purity and pollution dividing caste Hindus from untouchables was universally recognized. Within the most prosperous irrigated areas of the Tamil valley, brahmans and non-cultivating vellalas imposed extreme forms of domination over untouchable pallas and pariahs, who worked the land under conditions of agrestic slavery. Yet the differences between the two regions were equally marked. In the Tamil, Telugu and Kannada-speaking areas of south India brahmans accommodated the practical reality of politico-economic dominance built



upon force, territory and control over land. In effect, they gave a place to power ‘without saying so’. They closed their eyes to doubtful claims of warrior-groups to Kshatriya rank and in performing rituals for them legitimized their power. Conversely, warrior-groups of questionable social origin, who claimed the right to command, accepted at least symbolic ritual subordination by making generous gifts of income from land to brahman dominated brahmadeya villages and maths, and for the construction and maintenance of temples associated with the devotional bhakti cults. As Stein and others have shown, the most distinctive feature of the social order in south India from the medieval period was alliances between brahmans in the localities and ‘respectable’ cultivating groups. The Tamil vellalas, the Telugu reddis and kapus and the Kannadiga vokkaligas, benefited from their special relationship with brahmans by raising their ritual status to that of satvic or sat-sudra, that is ‘clean’ Shudra. Evidence of this elevated status was the coveted privilege of participating in temple administration and in some ritual posts of honour denied to other Shudras. Beyond this, status relationships among the Shudras in Tamil Nadu were much more fluid than-in the north. This seems to have been the consequence of large-scale migrations and conquests which produced ethnically and occupationally mixed populations in constant competition for rank. Amid such uncertainty, the south Indian temple took on special significance as a symbolic system involving exchange of material resources, and honours between locality chieftains, brahman sectarian leaders and temple deities. The entire system for the redistribution of temple honours among worshippers included in the ritual process, which expanded beyond the old satvik families to rising mercantile and other social groups, was considered to be constitutive of social precedence. The warrior-kings who established power over localities and regions sought legitimacy for their rule by gifts of agrarian resources to the temples controlled by sectarian leaders. They, in return, sanctioned the new political power by according warrior-kings their privileged place in the distribution of temple honours. Even after the defeat of the Vijayanagar kingdom in the mid-sixteenth century, and the open warfare of rival chieftains from the mid-seventeenth century, the local alliances between land controllers and brahmans through the temple system remained largely undisturbed until the advent of the British (Baker, 1984; Ludden, 1985). Emergence of the Modern State Under the conditions described above, a centralized state could emerge only when governmental institutions were established whose authoritative basis was normatively independent of Brahmanical legitimation, and whose regulatory and coercive capabilities penetrated down to the localities. Such conditions appeared in India only from the colonial period, and even then, with great variations of degree across regions. Nevertheless, the links created between the colonial state and locally



dominant groups had considerable potential for prising apart relations between secular power and sacral legitimacy. Clearly, the British Raj had the weakest impact on such relationships in areas where it exercised indirect rule, in particular, over one-third of the subcontinent in which they negotiated subsidiary alliances with over 600 autonomous princely states. The impact of imperial power on dominance relations sanctified by the varna order was only somewhat more solid within the Aryan heartland of the Gangetic plain. In Bihar, where several great Rajas had held their estates rent-free from the time of Akbar, the British could not effectively implement the Permanent Settlement of 1793 for over fifty years. They faced armed resistance in almost all districts, and in the end imposed very light revenue demands, conceding rent-free tenures over about 10 per cent of the area. In the United Provinces, the British were somewhat more successful in establishing centralized administration. In the western Doab region, where village zamindars and peasant proprietors held a large share of the land, they made land revenue settlements with primary zamindars. Moreover, the ability of Company forces to inflict military defeats on Sikh, Jat, Maratha and Muslim chieftains in the central districts meant that small zamindars were recognized as the superior rights-holders under the Temporary Settlements (of twenty to thirty years) made in the 1830s and 1840s. But this still left almost half the area of U.P. under the control of zamindars and talukdars, with great estates. While small zamindars lacked the power to resist British law (e.g., legislation giving occupancy rights to tenants), the great landlords easily bypassed any restrictions on their rights. The very fact, however, that the great zamindars derived their dominance from the legal rights conferred by a secular state, that they gained prestige from such Government honours as titles (e.g., Maharaja Bahadur, Raja Bahadur and Rai Bahadur), and appointments to local bodies (as honorary magistrates and members of municipal committees and of District Boards); that they resorted to British courts in evicting tenants for arrears of rents, and relied on British armed force to put down rebellions, meant that their secular power became visibly divorced from their ritual position. The double-edged impact of the British state, which simultaneously strengthened locally dominant land-controllers while undermining their legitimacy, can also be seen in the Tamil majority districts of the Madras Presidency where a ‘powerful and purposive’ state had developed by the end of the colonial period (Baker, 1984). Once the Company’s troops had disarmed the poligar warrior-chiefs in the plains, by the early nineteenth century, a Permanent Settlement was made with them over about 25 per cent of the Tamil country. In other parts of the plains, the Company entered into a ryotwari settlement with village headmen who remained in place, as they had previously, on holdings of revenue-free inam land.



Similarly, in the valleys, the British settled with a head mirasidar or group of elite mirasidars who then took up the internal management of the entire village. Even though British bureaucratic, judicial and military presence was minimal at the districts until the turn of the century, the legal basis of ownership rights directly linked elite status with the state—rather than with the honours system of the south Indian temple. Beyond this, the Company’s Board of Revenue, between 1817 and 1843, took on responsibility for the collection and distribution of temple revenues, including the audit of the use of these funds by temple managers. Under this arrangement, sectarian leaders received resources for their temples not from local donors, but from the British revenue administra¬ tion. Even after the Company restored autonomous management of religious institutions, British law, including Acts governing religious institutions and Civil Procedure Codes, allowed persons having the right to attend a temple to bring conflicts over mismanagement to the courts; it. also empowered the Advocate General to institute a suit in district or High Court whenever conflicts arose that impaired the management of a public ‘charitable trust’. Thus, the courts, rather than sectarian leaders, decided on the claims of competing groups to participate in temple management. Not only did English law transform a ritual status into a political one but it allowed the colonial state to appropriate Brahmanical prerogatives of validating social precedence, and thereby devalued the Brahmanical function of legitimation. There were at least two other ways in which caste and lineage could be diminished as the basis of authority in society. One involved the accumulation of wealth and the other, access to English education. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, British invest¬ ments in improving and extending irrigation works of the Kaveri river in the Tamil region, and construction of the Krishna-Godavari anicut in Andhra, gave rise to an agrarian middle class among the cultivating peasantry of the Madras Presidency. The most enterprising increased their income from a number of sources, including cash crops, money-lending, processing industries and commerce. In the most economically advanced areas, the alteration in the stratification system was symbolized by the declining economic and social position of upper caste village headmen, whose government stipend was too small to maintain their gentry style of life. Many brahmans and other non-cultivating landowners preferred the attractions of the towns, and sold their lands in the Tamil valley districts, and coastal districts of Andhra. The ritual pyramid was therefore cut off at its apex, leaving the social hierarchy to be supported by the dominant landed castes. Wealth, rather than caste or community, also became a growing source of status and power for the new commercial magnates and industrial entrepreneurs who sprang from the merchant and trading communities. By the turn of the century, the leaders of modern manufacturing industry,



dominated by Parsis, Hindu marwaris and banias, and Jains, raised their social status to one of effective equality with the upper two varnas. Most important, in towns and cities all over British India, a new arena emerged in which individuals who gained access to English education could achieve social prestige and political power outside the Brahmanical order through employment in government service and the professions. Initially, the educated middle classes who dominated these positions were drawn almost entirely from among brahmans, and a few other upper castes having a literate tradition. Nevertheless, the type of instruction required to enter the modern social and political elite was no longer the monopoly of brahmans. It could be acquired in government schools, missionary schools or schools funded by the more prosperous sections of the lower castes themselves. From the second half of the nineteenth century, particularly in south India, and in the Bombay Presidency, the sons of rich peasants among the dominant landowning castes, and of local traders and moneylenders who expanded into commerce, started to acquire English education. A small fraction of this newly educated class came from lower Shudra cultivating, artisan and trading castes, and even from among untouchables. Shudra aspirants to English education and government employment were confronted in the Presidencies by the virtual monopoly of brahmans and other literati castes over the new sources of prestige and power created in colonial educational, administrative and judicial institutions. By the 1880s, in the Bombay Presidency, social reform movements, led by English educated Shudras, adopted an anti-Brahman polemic. Brahmanism was denounced as a set of religious beliefs advanced by brahmans in their own interest to cause the educational backwardness and occupational disadvan¬ tages of the low castes and untouchables. Such social protest ideologies easily became politicized. Seen from the perspective of the Shudra elite, British rule represented an historic opportunity to break out of the disabilities imposed by the Brahmanical ideology of varna and karma. Social mobility was to be pursued not by achieving higher ritual status through Sanskritization of a whole caste, but by individuals rising in the modern professions—with help from the British Government in providing scholarships to high schools and reserved seats in government services for non-Brahman and other backward communities. The British Raj had its own interest in meeting such demands as a means of reducing the hold of brahmans over the governmental adminis¬ trative machinery. British administrators had long believed that the brahmans, even as they benefited from control over the modern professions, could prove to be the most formidable adversaries of colonial rule. Before the nineteenth century was out, the brahmans had spearheaded the nationalist movement. The British, who had sought to win over educated Muslims with communal electorates in 1909, apparently calculated that their natural



allies in the fluid societies of south India and of Bombay, were among the dominant landed castes. Through a series of political and administrative actions, they constructed new sets of categories for low ranking castes, which made them eligible for educational, occupational and political privileges that implicitly challenged the legitimacy of the Brahmanical hierarchical order. Demands for preferential recruitment in the name of all nonBrahmans raised by sat-sudra leaders of the loyalist Justice Party, formed in 1916 in Madras, were swiftly conceded. Under Communal Orders, promulgated by the Government of Madras in 1921 and 1922, collectors and other officials were instructed to give priority in appointment to all government posts to non-Brahman and other backward communities. By the mid-1930s, in Madras, the Backward non-Brahmans emerged as another increasingly self-conscious social grouping. The formation, in 1934, of the Madras Provincial Backward Classes League made the first political distinction between Forward non-Brahman communities who had received the lion’s share of benefits from government policies of preferential recruitment, and the Backward castes who needed to secure separate preferment for social advantage. Ten years later, the Backward Classes League presented a list to the Madras Government identifying more than 50 per cent of the Presidency as members of the non-Brahman category of Backward Classes. The response of the Madras Government, in 1947, was to provide separate reservations for the ‘Backward Hindus’. While the non-Brahman movement had its maximum political impact in the Tamil region, the Depressed Classes Associations led by educated individuals from untouchable communities ultimately succeeded in gaining reserved seats in provincial legislatures and the central Legislature on a pan-Indian scale. The foremost spokesman of the untouchables, Dr B. R. Ambedkar, who rejected Gandhi’s claim to personally represent all of India’s untouchables, was invited by the British to act as the delegate of the Depressed Classes at the Round Table Conferences of 1930-2. The Communal Award of 17 August 1932 granted Ambedkar’s demand for a double vote for the Depressed Classes, one in a separate constituency, and one in a general constituency—an arrangement which appeared to recognize untouchables as a minority group outside of Hinduism. Only Gandhi’s desperate ‘fast unto death’ against separate electorates avoided the creation of a new social category of Depressed Classes. However, the 1932 Poona Pact recognized untouchables as a political category across British India by providing reservations of seats for the Depressed Classes in the central Legislature and in provincial legislatures almost in proportion to their population. Admittedly, all of these changes had hardly any effect on the economic conditions and social standing of the overwhelming majority of the low castes and untouchables. Nevertheless, they did set in motion an important process of transformation at the level of ideology among the tiny



educated classes. The demeaning vocabulary of varna, which labelled the Shudras and untouchables as ritually base was gradually discarded. In Bombay and Madras, Backward was substituted for Shudra, and Forward for the brahmans. The new categories of Backward and Forward no longer carried any Brahmanical implications that low castes were unfit by nature to learn or that the high castes had a superior capacity for education. On the contrary, these categories indicated that the competitive success of the brahmans stemmed from the opportunities for education they had historically monopolized. Conversely, the inability of the Shudras to compete in open recruitment was the result of educational backwardness imposed on them by the false Brahmanical ideology. Similarly, Ambedkar had begun the process of an ideological awakening among the untouchables, and especially the members of his own Mahar community. His success in gaining reserved seats for the Depressed Classes provided a new political category with which they could identify. The Mahars were the first to reject Gandhi’s designation of untouchables as Harijans (children of God), and to adopt the alternative identity of the Scheduled Castes identified in the 1935 Constitution as the beneficiaries of the government’s reservation policy. In doing so, they followed the example of the Backward communities, in effect declaring that the deficiencies they showed had been imposed upon them by servitude under the traditional social order and could be removed by the compensatory policies of the modern state. By the end of British rule, dominant groups would have been shortsighted to rely on preserving their privileges through Brahmanical legitimation for the unequal social order. In many parts of British India, dominance in society could be seen to be directly related to success in forging linkages with those who wielded state power. As Brahmanical legitimacy weakened, the potentialities for conflict within society greatly expanded. Simultaneously, the forms which these conflicts assumed became more varied according to the situational context and the regional pattern of social organization. This was apparent as early as the 1920s and 1930s at the height of the nationalist struggle. In various parts of south India, as the chapters by Washbrook, Ram Reddy, Manor and Alexander show, conflicts between brahmans and non-Brahmans, ‘Dravidians’ and ‘Aryans’, caste Hindus and untouchables, and between zamindars and peasants threatened to paralyse the effectiveness of the Indian National Congress as the representative of the entire nation. Even in the Hindi heartland, which provided the fulcrum of the nationalist movement, escalating class struggles between peasants and zamindars led by socialists and communists active in provincial kisan sabhas nearly caused a split in the national Congress organization.



The Analysis of Changing Relations between Dominance and State Power: Limitations of Developmentalist and Marxist ‘Modernization’ Models

Until now, there has not been a large-scale examination across regions of changing relationships between dominance and state power despite an evident need to understand the impact of the whole spectrum of changes, subsumed under ‘modernization’, introduced in society at first in¬ crementally by the colonial state, and then all at once, by the postIndependence regime. Obvious difficulties stand in the way of such an enterprise. The sheer complexity of carrying out an empirical study in several regions comparatively is beyond the capacity of an individual scholar. The subject matter, moreover, requires interdisciplinary catego¬ ries of analysis that cut across the boundaries of history, sociology, economics and political science. Many of the rich materials available from district and village studies cannot be added together in making generaliza¬ tions applicable to different regional settings. Conversely, the few macro-level studies which use aggregate data to make general statements are unable to account for regional differences (Sheth, 1979). Above and beyond all these practical difficulties is the virtual absence of empiricist categories that can accommodate the importance of both the religiousideological and the politico-economic dimensions of dominance. Students of political change in Indian society have been virtually forced into embracing one of two rival models of modernization. The first was rooted in Weber’s sociology which emphasized the importance of ideas and ideals in shaping social relations. The second was embedded in Marxist notions of historical materialism based on objective social conditions and class conflict. But neither of these analytic paradigms proved adequate in advancing understanding of the processes of historical development in the Indian context. So much criticism has already been levelled at the Weberian dichotomy between tradition and modernity that it seems unnecessary to add to it here. Yet, the latest spirited defence of the ‘political development series’ based on this distinction (Almond, 1987) suggests it is not misplaced to review its shortcomings as an empirical framework for understanding social change not only in India, but in the ‘third world’. The ambitious framework of the The Politics of Developing Areas (Almond and Coleman, 1960) used functional categories to facilitate scientific comparative analysis of ‘modern’ political systems and the ‘traditional’ societies of newly independent states. These functions, which were abstracted from structures characteristic of modern polities, in particular the Anglo-American democracies, led to an inevitable ideologic¬ al bias that implied all traditional societies would ultimately approximate the western pattern of political democracy. Subsequent formulations by Almond and his co-authors, as well as other ‘mainstream’ work, purged this ethnocentric bias by delinking political development from democracy.



Yet, there was no reconsideration of the underlying conceptualization of political development as a transition from tradition to modernity. The developmentalists, moreover, typically used Parsons’ ‘pattern variables’ (ascription-achievement, particularism-universalism, diffuseness-specificity, collectivity orientation-self-orientation, and affectivity-affective neut¬ rality) to differentiate between traditionalism and modernity. But as has been shown (Verney, 1986: ch. 3), Parsons had himself identified the universalistic-achievement pattern with the ‘dominant American ethos’. Not only did the developmentalists in the end fail to escape their own ethnocentrism, but by defining modernity as the penetration of ‘tradition¬ al’ styles and values by others identified as ‘rational’ (by Parsons), they prescribed a future in which caste as well as other ‘primordial’ collectivities would be superceded by individualistic modern associations. According to a widely shared perspective on India in the 1960s, a breakdown in caste solidarity could be expected from growing economic differentiation within the community. The political culture, in turn, would become increasingly secular, so the political identity of the individual will reflect cross-cutting vertical and horizontal ties and a plurality of commitments, associations and interests . . . The differentiated political culture represents, perhaps most accurately, simply a decline in the former homogeneity of the community, but it provides the foundation for the emergence of a political culture reflecting identities based on economic interests and growing political awareness (Hardgrave, 1970: 104-5).

The reality, so far, despite growing economic differentiation within castes and other communities, is that rising political awareness has not seen the emergence of a political culture based on individual calculations of economic interest. On the contrary, sociologists have suggested certain mechanisms through which caste identities may have been strengthened. According to Beteille, the pace of Sanskritization among lower castes may be facilitated by the spread of literacy, improvements in transportation and communication (making pilgrimage centres accessible to the poor), and the reach of radio programmes and movies into rural localities which spread Sanskritic ideas and values (Beteille, 1969). Milton Singer, in his 1972 study of modernization in Madras, argued similarly that the spread of urbanization, literacy, education and expansion of the mass media represented a technical modernization that was exploited for making more accessible or ‘democratizing’ the teachings of the Great Tradition. The ‘unexpected’ emergence of ethnicity and religion as the basis for political participation—and political conflict—in several less developed nations with diverse political systems and ideologies (Nelson, 1987) suggests how illusory were the links between ‘social change’ and ‘modernization’ anticipated by liberal development theorists. The neo-Marxian framework encountered related and equally intract¬ able problems for an analysis of social change under Indian conditions.



Like the structural-functionalists, Marxist theorists assumed a process of world historical development and identified modernization as the central dynamic of the current period. Yet, their dependency paradigm, like that of the liberal model of development, could not persuasively claim to offer a universal pattern. In particular, its conceptual framework abstracted from the historically specific Latin American experience. Indeed, the authors of the seminal explication of structural dependency, which linked exploitative locally dominant groups and classes to an external system of capitalist domination, initially under colonialism, and subsequently under the aegis of multinationals and world capitalist financial institutions, did not intend their framework to apply to India. They excluded it because the Indian economy had ‘historical patterns of formation that cannot be explained by the unfolding of European or American capitalistic expansion’ (Cardoso and Faletto, 1979: xxiv). Since then, Baker’s work has shown how from the late medieval period, state authorities in south India extended financial and transportation networks for overseas trade as a means of exacting revenues for increasing costs of defence, and that foreigners (such as north Indians, Arabs and European trading companies) were preferred over indigenous groups for conducting this trade. Bayly’s parallel study of north India on the eve of British rule shows the development of a similar link between revenue and trade. The more stable eighteenth century kingdoms financed expenditures on warfare and the kingly ‘life-style’ expected of legitimate rulers by establishing small market centres, settling specialist cultivators in agricultural colonies nearby, and protecting the local traders who carried on long distance trade within the interior. Nevertheless, Marxist theorists of India’s ‘underdevelopment’ substi¬ tuted the discourse of ‘exploitation’ for that of ‘modernization’. They emphasized the external drain of capital from India under colonial rule which was facilitated by the construction of railways, irrigation works and ports. They focused on the exploitation of low paid Indian labour in plantations, mines and modern manufacturing enterprises, European control of industry, banking and insurance, and the generation of large surpluses through international trade which balanced British accounts with other countries before World War I. Beyond this, they condemned the British patterns of land revenue settlements, especially those with large landlords under zamindari tenure, for leading to a ‘semi-feudal’ structure of society (Bagchi, 1982). The difficulty of using Marxist theory as a framework for the analysis of structural changes in ‘caste’, such as the formation of regional caste associations among cognate castes, needs no elaboration. Less clear are reasons for the virtual failure of this framework to explain phenomena like the relationship between economic differentiation and class consciousness in its own terms. Forty years after the departure of the British, and almost as long since successor governments enacted legislation for Zamindari Abolition, the ongoing debate among Indian and foreign Marxist scholars



on classes and modes of production in Indian agriculture remains unresolved. Differences exist on such fundamental questions as: is the mode of production in post-Independence India predominately capitalist, pre-capitalist, colonial or semi-feudal; can more than one mode of production exist within the same social formation; and should the middle peasantry or agricultural labourers and the poor peasantry be viewed as the most promising social base of the revolution. Some light is shed on the reasons for such confusion by a study of ideology and agrarian structure in a village of North Arcot district in the contemporary southern state of Tamil Nadu (Harriss, 1982). This study, while suffering all the limitations of micro-level data, still serves as an extended illustration of how Marxist class categories can fail to capture production relations in rural India under conditions of capitalist trans¬ formation within a caste society. As Harriss shows, at the time green revolution technology was introduced, economic differentiation between a small class of big landown¬ ers and a majority of marginal, small-scale household producers had existed for well over a century. Increasing commoditization of production did not lead, therefore, to a new pattern of class differentiation, but to increasing dependence of these marginalized producers upon the dominant class for loans, employment and intermediary links to markets and external village authorities. Intensified capitalist farming was inserted into a set of social relations still structured by caste identity and hierarchical principles. The small class of capitalist landowners belonged to the dominant caste, and indeed, they continued to relate to client labourers among the low castes through paternalistic structures of patronage reminiscent of the jajmani system. These patronage ties diffused expressions of class antagonism voiced by some landless householders and reinforced the idea of village community held by others. Moreover, the big farmers also acted as moneylenders and merchants for small producers, thereby preventing them from being pushed off their holdings and down into the ranks of landless labour. Although Harriss perceived that the ‘large landowners/merchantusurers’ were engaged in appropriation of surplus value at rates that might be higher than those available from further investment in capitalist farming, he also reported that the lower castes experienced loans and the extension of other facilities as evidence of the moral commitment by the dominant castes to their subsistence. The dual caste-class structure of social hierarchy interacted therefore in two ways to prevent the emergence of class consciousness. The decision of the dominant castes to give loans and other facilities to their low caste dependents reinforced the religious beliefs which buttressed the legitimacy of the village politico-economic hierarchy. Lending and trading activities by the big landowners streng¬ thened merchant-usurer capital at the expense of industrial capital and had the material effect of slowing down economic differentiation.



Modernization theory, both in its developmentalist and Marxist forms, provides incomplete conceptual frameworks for analysing historical processes of change in modern India. Each advances a global model of development which abstracts from different strands in European, and more recently, Latin American experience. They thereby exclude the complexity of Indian social organization. Neither of them incorporates the most important feature of the Indian social setting: the interpenetration of religious-ideological and politico-economic structures. Structural-func¬ tionalists overlook the material base of caste structures that permit them to evolve as social formations in response to changes associated with modernization. Marxists underestimate the force of caste ideology and sentiments—or the ability of dominant castes to manipulate such sentiments—which mediate the impact of economic differentiation on traditional caste and ethnic identities. Ideology, Dominance and Power: Social Interaction in the Indian Context

Our approach in these volumes can be distinguished from that of ‘developmentalists’ and neo-Marxists in basic ways. First, it does not assign primary importance to understanding modernization as a process which is either historically determined or universally pursued. Such an assumption glides over the rise of religious fundamentalism and the politicization of linguistic, ethnic and caste identities. It is liable to distort our understand¬ ing of the inner mechanism of contemporary change by reducing ‘traditionalism’ to a statical society which receives, but is incapable of causing movement. The alternative notion, embraced in these volumes, is that traditional caste, ethnic and religious identities can be dynamically understood as a process of social formation. Associated with the departure in these volumes from modernization models is the absence of a theory of history, whether linear and evolutionary, or dialectical and revolutionary. Individual contributors may hold to one or the other of these world-views, but they have agreed on the tactical and strategic utility of excluding them from the common approach. In the first case, this omission avoids sterile polemical debates that frequently stand in the way of fruitful intellectual collaboration on other major issues of substantive importance. Beyond this benefit, desirable in itself, is the broader gain for the shared objective of moving towards an empirical theory of the relationship between the introduction of social change in society and the transformation of that society. Experience suggests that the two processes are not the same. The modernization models cannot provide the analytical categories necessary to an understanding of why this hiatus occurs. The model proposed by the developmentalists depends on categories that assume caste must become economically differentiated and break down, or undergo transformation in the direction of ethnicity. In either case, caste is expected to persist as one of a plurality of commitments



expressed in interest groups operating within a bargaining political culture. Marxist theory, by contrast, is based on categories that presume caste will be superceded by the formation of economic classes associated with the capitalist mode of production. The major task of analysis in the Marxist framework is to identify those classes which are most likely under Indian conditions to become the social base of'revolutionary struggles. The analytical perspective adopted in these volumes avoids the assumption that either of these outcomes should be anticipated as a general pattern. Rather it sets but an interactional framework which treats caste, class and ethnicity as process and social formation and examines their linkages with state level power to explain changing patterns of dominance. Such an analytical strategy emphasizes the importance of the situational context in determining which one of multiple identities will emerge as primary in the competition for social, economic and political advantages. These categories as heuristic concepts are developed by M. S. A. Rao in chapter one. Finally, in contrast to the modernization theories which conceptualized change as an internal dynamic of society in response to technological innovation (either through processes of structural differentiation and cultural secularization, or as class formation attendant upon the transition to a pew mode of production), the framework used in these volumes concentrates on changes introduced into society by the modern state. The dynamic interaction of dominance and state power across regions, and sub-regions, marked by differences of language, social organization, and levels of commercial/industrial development is delineated in Volume I for Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in north India and the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and, in part, for Kerala in south India. This same approach is applied in Volume II to regions where Brahmanism as an ideology legitimating politico-economic dominance had been challenged before the British period and/or never been completely articulated as the basis of social organization. Within this category are Maharashtra, Gujarat (a state which arguably could fit in either grouping), Rajasthan, Orissa, Punjab, West Bengal and the tribal belt of middle India. The concluding chapter of Volume II examines the particular configurations of change in each region/state to see which local patterns reflect distinctive adaptations to historically specific experience; and conversely, which patterns are best understood as local variations of all-India trends.

REFERENCES Almond, Gabriel A. 1987. ‘The Development of Political Development’ in Myron Weiner and Samuel P. Huntington (eds.), Understanding Political Develop¬ ment (Boston: Little Brown). Almond, Gabriel A. and Coleman, James, 1960. The Politics of Developing Areas (Princeton: Princeton University Press).



Appadorai, Arjun. 1981. Worship and Conflict under Colonial Rule, A South Indian Case (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Bagchi, Amiya Kumar. 1982. The Political Economy of Underdevelopment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Baker, C. J. 1984. An Indian Rural Economy, 1880-1955: The Tamilnad Countryside (Delhi: Oxford University Press). Bayly, C. A. 1983. Rulers, Townsmen and Bazaars, North Indian Society in the Age of British Expansion, 1770-1870 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Beteille, Andre. 1969. Castes Old and New, Essays in Social Structure and Social Stratification (Bombay: Asia Publishing House). Cardoso, Fernando Henrique and Faletto, Enzo. 1979. Dependency and Develop¬ ment in Latin America (Berkeley: University of California Press). Desai, A. R. (ed.). 1979. Peasant Struggles in India (Bombay: Oxford University Press). Dhanagare, D. N. 1983. Peasant Movements in India, 1920-1950 (Delhi: Oxford University Press). Dumont, Louis. 1970. Homo Hierarchicus, English translation (Chicago: Universi¬ ty of Chicago Press). Embree, Ainslie T. 1985. ‘Indian Civilization and Regional Cultures: The Two Realities’ in Paul Wallace (ed.), Region and Nation in India (Delhi: Oxford and 1BH). Habib, Irfan. 1984. ‘Peasant and Artisan Resistance in Mughal India’, The McGill Studies in International Development, No. 4, Centre for Developing Area Studies (McGill University). Hardgrave, Jr., Robert L. 1970. ‘Political Participation and Primordial Solidarity: The Nadars of Tamilnad’ in Rajni Kothari (ed.), Caste in Indian Politics (Delhi: Orient Longman). Harriss, John. 1982. Capitalism and Peasant Farming, Agrarian Structure and Ideology in Northern Tamil Nadu (Delhi: Oxford University Press). Ludden, David. 1985. Peasant History in South India (Princeton: Princeton University Press). Marriot, McKim and Inden, Ronald B. 1976. ‘Caste Systems’, The New Encyclopedia Britannica, Macropaedia, Volume 3, 15th Edition, 1973-74 982-91. Neale, Walter C. 1969. ‘Land is to Rule’ in Robert Eric Frykenberg (ed.), Land Control and Social Structure in Indian Society (Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press). Nelson, Joan M. 1987. ‘Political Participation’ in Myron Weiner and Samuel P. Huntington (eds.), Understanding Political Development (Boston: Little Brown). Sheth, D. L. 1979. ‘Caste and Politics: A Survey of Literature’ in Contributions to South Asian Studies I (Delhi: Oxford University Press). Singer, Milton. 1972. When a Great Tradition Modernizes (Praeger). Srinivas, M. N. 1966. Social Change in Modern India (Berkeley: University of California Press). Stein, Burton. 1980. Peasant State and Society in Medieval South India (Delhi: Oxford University Press). Thapar, Romila. 1984. From Lineage to State: Social Formations in the Mid-First Millennium B.C. in the Ganga Valley (Bombay: Oxford University Press).



Verney, Douglas V. 1986. Three Civilizations, Two Cultures, One State, Canada’s Political Traditions (Durham: Duke University Press). Weber, Max. 1968. Economy and Society edited by Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich (New York: Bedminster Press). Wink, Andre. 1986. Land and Sovereignty in India: Agrarian Society and Politics under the Eighteenth Century Maratha Svarajya (Delhi: Orient Longman).


There can be no disagreement with the statement that modern India has undergone profound politico-economic changes from the time of colonial rule. However, there is no consensus with regard to the nature of these changes, and the analytical framework in which they can be studied. Categories adapted from the works of Marx, Lenin and Mao by a number of contemporary scholars suggest that the most appropriate concepts for understanding social change are those that illuminate transformations in the mode of production along with the development of capitalist social relations, especially in Indian agriculture (Patnaik, 1971; Chattopadhyay, 1972; Alavi, 1975; Lin, 1980; Dhanagare, 1983). A second approach to the study of continuity and change places greater emphasis on the adaptations of jati-groups and dominant castes seeking social mobility through processes identified with Sanskritization (Hardgrave, 1969; Mandelbaum, 1970; Singer, 1972; Srinivas, 1979). A third, more recent, perspective, explores the peasants’ subaltern mentality shaped by religious, caste, tribal and communal identities as these were reinterpreted in numerous rural revolts to produce an ‘elementary’ rebel consciousness, (Guha, 1983; Guha, ed., Vols. I, II, III, 1982, 1983, 1984). If at all these approaches are reconciled, it is usually through asserting the coexistence in India of a form of the capitalist mode of production, with predominantly traditional types of social and economic relations, sustained by shared caste sentiments, or subaltern religious consciousness. The approach used in this volume can be distinguished from those described above in two ways. Caste, class, ethnicity and dominance are seen as heuristically distinct domains. They are examined in an interaction¬ al framework to explain the regional variations in social relations and the conditions of political economy that are the distinctive features of change in modern India. My purpose is not to review the literature on these concepts. Rather, it is to understand each of them dynamically, as social formation and process in the context of historical development; and to analyse the interaction among these social formations.


M. S. A. RAO

Caste It is necessary, in any empirical investigation, to define the spatio-temporal context in which a caste group or category is located, and the specific meaning or sense in which it is used. Unfortunately, a single term, ‘caste’ is employed to connote different structural orders such as the smallest endogamous sub-sub-caste for which local words like jati, quom, dudh (milk) and biradari are used, (the badaganadu madhva brahman of Mysore for example); a higher order consisting of several sub-castes (the madhva brahman of Karnataka) and a still higher level of vama order (the Brahman of India). The term ‘caste’ is also used to refer to a category of cognate subcastes as a unit of association across different regions of India (e.g. kurmi). It is used to refer to a category of different named sub-caste groups at the pan-India level (the untouchable castes). Finally it is used to refer to ideology as in caste ideology. In order to avoid confusion, I suggest that we reserve the general term ‘caste’ only when we want to refer to it as a phenomenon, ideology, identity or a situation. But we shall use the term with qualifications in a given empirical context, such as the ones indicated above, to designate respective territorial levels, structural orders and units of operation. These specifica¬ tions help us to understand caste as a process of social formation and the nature of the new formations as distinguished from the traditional structures. One example is the category of cognate Upper Shudra sub-caste groups in different regions known as the yadavs. The yadav category is a new social formation which resulted from politicization based on an ideology of challenging the legitimacy of hereditary privileges of twiceborn varna categories. Hence reference to the yadav just by the term caste is misleading because it does not capture the process by which a caste formation emerged with a shared identity across regional, sect and sub-caste lines. It is useful to look at the notion of different levels, orders and units of caste, as part of the processes of social formation, in the context of influential theoretical frameworks regarding the nature of caste and the caste system. Here I shall confine myself to two theories of caste—that of status group (Max Weber) and of hierarchy (Dumont). Max Weber (1978), who considered caste as a status group, was one of the first who brought status, class, and party together in the broader framework of comparative sociology. He contrasted status groups with classes by observing that unlike the latter, the former were normally communities. Similarly, while class situation was determined by lifestyles characterized by positive or negative social estimation of honour, Weber considered caste a specific form of status group. Where the criterion of social esteem had been applied to its fullest extent, the status group evolved into a closed caste in which status distinctions were guaranteed not merely by conventions and laws but also by rituals and ritualistic purity.

Caste, Class, Ethnicity and Dominance


Weber differentiated both class and status from party which was in the realm of power, as party was oriented towards the acquisition of social power. Although Weber analytically distinguished status, class and party he showed that one inter-penetrated the other and that all three operated within a comprehensive political framework of communal action. Following Weber’s formulation of these concepts many sociologists and social scientists working on caste in India have equated it with status group. This has led to a serious misconception of the nature of caste and the caste system. To say the least, caste is not identical with status group. There are two notions in the concept of status group, namely, status and group. Status is not collapsible with caste as status obtains also in class and ethnic groups. Conversely, occupation (i.e. class position) is a part of the caste system. Moreover, caste as a group applies only to the sub-sub-caste level. Caste at higher levels of structural order is a category which admits status differentiation (and conflict) within it. Although it has the potentiality of group formation under defined political, religious, social and economic conditions, it cannot be asserted that caste at higher structural levels is always a group. This is similar to the idea that obtains in the class situation. Class, as class in itself, is a category, but as class for itself, it becomes a group. Identification of caste with status group is also misleading in another way. As alluded to above, it implies that status is not significant in class and ethnicity. This is a very narrow and arbitrary way of defining status. Status as relative position is ubiquitous; it is present in caste, in class and ethnicity. Individuals’ roles are linked with their statuses. Even if we define status as social status with elements of esteem, honour, standing and rank, it obtains in situations of class and ethnicity (for example, the ownership or non-ownership of property as the basis of status in class, and race as the basis of social status in ethnicity). If we accept the proposition that status (or social status) is ubiquitous and obtains generally in all situations of caste, class and ethnicity, it follows that we will have to formulate our questions in a different manner. The question is not how is caste as a status group different from class? But given that social status is a common component of caste and class, how are the determinants of status in a caste situation different from those of status in a class situation? If there are differences, what are these? Before I consider the differences in the determinants of status in caste and class, it will be appropriate to review those distinctions that have achieved the standing of conventional wisdom on the subject. It is argued that a crucial feature of caste is that its membership is hereditary, with descent and succession of subcaste status being passed on either patrilinealy or matrilinealy. This generalization ignores several ways in which a lowborn person could achieve higher ritual status, for example, by acquiring spiritual power equal to that of the Brahmans through devotion (as did, for example, Namdev, Kabir, and Kanakadas). Indeed,


M. S. A. RAO

since the middle ages, sectarian and devotional movements have attacked the principle of birth in gaining higher ritual goods and services which were monopolized by Brahmans. Even earlier (from 500 BC), Buddhism challenged the ritual superiority of the Brahmans over the Kshatriyas and attempted, with some measure of success, to change the position of the Kshatriyas from second to first in the hierarchy of the caste system under the political patronage of Buddhist monarchs. Political power then acted as a crucial determinant in gaining honour, worth and esteem as it controlled and distributed these in favour of the politically dominant varna categories and sects. It is also pointed out that castes are enduring groups the membership of which is determined by birth, whereas class is a category the membership of which is determined by ownership or non-ownership of property or means of production. By implication, class status is achieved whereas caste status is ascribed. However, this proposition is true only in a limited sense. In India, a person was until modern times born into both a caste position and a class position; he inherited the ritual rank of the parents as well as the occupation of the jati. Even in contemporary society, an individual born into a class owning property, inherits property according to the laws of inheritance and stays in that class. The chances of his losing all his property during his lifetime and moving down in his class status are low. On the contrary, it is likely that he will add more property to the family stock and bequeath it to his sons, in which case his sons also will stay in that class. Similarly, a person who is bom to parents who do not own property will in most cases stay in that class. The possibility of his acquiring property and thus moving up from his original class position is rare. Assuming the class position remains the same for only two generations, is this not relatively enduring? Is not class position determined by birth? A third point of contrast that is pointed out between caste and class, is that the former is a community and the latter is a category. This is again not a structural distinction. A sub-caste in a particular locality may, but not necessarily, constitute a group with commensal and other affinal ties. But several sub-castes of similar caste status constitute only a category and not a group. Similarly, a class based on property status may become a community in the context of an effort to exclude others from entering lucrative professions. Thus many of the attributes—social status, social honour, style of life, birth, relatively enduring nature, community group character and conflict—are common to both caste and class. But the difference lies in the determinants of status and sources of legitimacy in each situation. What are (rather were) the sources of status and legitimacy underlying the caste system? What are the agencies of social control regulating access to them in the caste system? It is obvious that the source of legitimacy of the caste system in Hinduism is religious. At the ideological level, it consists of such beliefs as the four varnas emanating from the body of the

Caste, Class, Ethnicity and Dominance


Supreme man, the four stages of life (ashrama), and the four goals of life (purusharthas), the doctrine of karma, transmigration and rebirth, the three qualities (guna) and the attainment of liberation. This ideology also incorporates a material basis of status manifested in the differential allocation of occupations, and other sources of wealth according to varna category. In turn, the material inequalities among the different varnas is sustained by the religious belief system. These religious and material components of status and legitimacy were traditionally maintained by sanctions imposed by the priest and king. According to dandaniti (the science of politics) it is the duty of the ruler to maintain varnashrama dharma and to protect it and the people (palana). The origin of the state is associated with restoring the dharma, for in the Kartayuga (the first of the four eras in cyclical time) there was no state, i.e., neither danda (force) nor dandika (ruler who wielded force). The people were self-disciplined. Men by nature were good and social; only with the degradation of public morality did the necessity for the state arise (Altekar, 1984). Although ideally the Kshatriya as ruler was expected to uphold the Brahmanical ideology, there have been instances when the former revolted against the latter (Buddha and Mahavira were both Kshatriyas). But at an abstract level, whether the religious ideology is Brahmanical Hinduism, Buddhism, or Jainism, the ruler (king and emperor) was expected to maintain that dharma and protect it and the people by appropriate sanctions, controls and punishment. Hence the source of legitimacy was a collaboration of the ‘priest’ and the ‘king’. The sources of legitimacy of the caste system among the Muslims and Christians in India, however, are different from the religious beliefs of the Hindus. In some cases the sources of legitimacy are secular. Although Islam is an egalitarian religion, the caste system does exist among Indian Muslims, because Hindu converts to Islam carried their caste situation with them, and certain sections among the Muslims grew more exclusive in a bid to achieve or maintain purity of blood (Ahmad, 1973). However, it would be wrong to assume that because the caste system exists among the Indian Muslims (or among the Indian Christians) the sources of legitimacy and the sanctions are the same as those among the Hindus. Among Muslim beradari groups, the most important criteria of ranking are descent (whether from conquering Afghan-Turko-Persian armies and converted Rajput warriors, or converted low caste Hindus); and occupation (those that are considered ‘clean’ and respectable or ‘unclean and lowly’), (Ali, 1978: 29-38). However, in mosque congregations no distinction is practised between high-status and low-status groups. Thus there are varied ideological and material bases of the caste system. Similar interactional and attributional aspects of caste can be sustained by a variety of beliefs and rituals. A lack of appreciation of this variation has made scholars identify the caste system only with Hinduism, while making the latter represent the whole of Indian society. Further, Indian society has


M. S. A. RAO

been characterized as ‘homo-hierarchicus’, ignoring the historical and dialectical process inherent in the caste-sect interaction. Caste and Sect According to Dumont (1980) the central ideological principle of Indian society, or to be more correct, Hindu society, is hierarchy. It is the principle by which the elements of a whole are ranked in relation to the whole. Hierarchy is a matter of religious values, which asserts the superiority of the pure over the impure. It conceptualizes the collectivity as the relationship between that which encompasses and that which is encompassed. But the hierarchy principle does not explain the whole of Hindu social structure. I have argued elsewhere (1984) that the ideology of egalitarianism or equality (which is the opposite of hierarchy) and individualism, has historically been the basis of sect formation. No doubt, Dumont considers sect as representing individualism but his treatment is narrow and misleading. For him, Indian religious groupings which are readily characterized in terms of renunciation are called sects. Dumont treats sect in the context of renunciation and the opposition between man-in-the-world and the individual-outside-the-world. Further, he thinks of sect as complementing the caste system by ultimately revitalizing caste values. Sect, according to Dumont, degenerates into caste. Dumont’s treatment of sect is confined to the institution of renuncia¬ tion. It does not take into account the social, economic and political base of sect formation, that is, those structural contradictions and conflicts that produce an ideology of protest. In this context Weber has done better than Dumont. Weber made an important distinction between church and sect. Sect is an association of religious virtuosos or of especially qualified religious persons, recruited through individual admission after establishment of qualification. By contrast, the church claims that every one, at least each child of a member, belongs to it by birth (1958: 6). Weber examined the emergence of sects and their gurus in reform Hinduism (1958: 318-28), and came to the conclusion that ‘while these sectarian organizations gave an opportunity mainly to the middle strata advised by intellectuals to achieve salvation through the power of contemplation in the same manner as the intellectual strata, they created irrational chances of accumulation of property for the magicians and mystagogues and ritualistically oriented intellectual strata.’ Weber’s choice of source materials and their limitations did not permit him to appreciate the part played by protest ideology in the emergence of sects and their formations and movements, especially among the relatively deprived sections of society. It should be noted, however, that ‘sect’ in the context of Hinduism has varied connotations. The words commonly used to designate ‘sect’ are

Caste, Class, Ethnicity and Dominance


sampradaya, mata, pantha, marga, matha. Eschmann (1974), in analysing the role of sects in Hinduism, has shown how ‘sects’ have a different function and position than they have in Christianity. One of the chief differences is that a sect in the context of Hinduism does not connote the meaning of being rejected by a central authoritative institution, because unlike Christianity, Hinduism does not have a centralized universal church. Thus the main source of dynamism in Hinduism is sect, conceived in opposition to caste, which represents the organizational principle of hierarchy based on ascription. Sect abrogates the principle of birth and upholds qualification of the individual for admission into it. In other words sect and caste are opposed in Hinduism as church and sect are opposed in Christianity. Broadly, one may distinguish four categories of sect formations in Hinduism on the basis of the social contexts in which they emerge: one which marks a variation from other established sects in terms of differences in styles of ritual observances (for the example of Pravara distinctions, see Ghurye, 1972); or the differences in ritual observations among brahmans, based on affiliation to diverse mutts. (To make it more understandable, this resembles the different gharana styles in Hindustani music). The second kind of sectarian movements arise in the context of rivalry and conflict between sects over beliefs and rituals. One example is the rise of tantric cults in opposition to the puritan Hindu sects. Similarly, the rivalry between Shaivism and Vaishnavism has been the basis of political struggle and persecution in south Indian history. The third kind of sect formation is associated with reformist movements intended to purge degenerated beliefs and rituals. One of the aims of the Arya Samaj movements was to return to Vedic Hinduism before there was idol worship. Similarly, the Tabligh movement among the Muslims in Mewat was intended to get rid of non-Islamic practices and beliefs (Marwah, 1979). The fourth kind of sect formation is marked by protest and dissent, whether manifest or latent, in the teachings of spiritual leaders against the established order of their times, providing an ideology for organized movements. These have resulted in varying forms of sectarian movements to bring about reform and social transformation. In understanding sect formations of different kinds we have to analyse the social, economic and political situations in which they emerge. I believe it is here that Weber’s formulation regarding the social situation of the stratum influencing religious ideas becomes highly relevant. While Weberian scholars have largely concentrated on the influence of religious ideas on economic development, they have not emphasized the impact of the social situation of a stratum on religious and sectarian ideas. For instance, Weber showed that in the medieval city of the West puritanism was influenced by the emergence of trade and of a socially cohesive urban middle class. Weber concluded: ‘the origin of a rational and


M. S. A. RAO

inner worldly ethic is associated with the appearance of thinkers and prophets who developed in a social context, alien to the Asiatic cultures, of the bourgeois status-group of the city’ (1958: 337-8). Examples of such causal relationships emphasizing historical specificity from his studies of Christianity, Jainism, Confucianism and Judaism can be multiplied. But for our purpose here, it is enough to underscore Weber’s treatment that religious and sectarian ideas are influenced by the social situation of a stratum. Further, Weber did not merely isolate the material basis of the strata alone but looked at the total social situation in which the economic, political and social forces interacted. Turning to the Indian situation we have to locate sect formations in their wider social and cultural contexts. Many sects have arisen among those sections of society whose structural conditions of existence are character¬ ized by relative deprivation. Fuchs (1965) describes varied forms of messianic and other types of sects in the framework of rebellious prophets. Under such circumstances religious ideas and beliefs including the millenarian ideologies of tribal movements become the vehicles of protest asserting the self-respect of the people concerned. During colonial rule several socio-religious movements emerged which differed in respect of aims, scale of organization, and consequences. While at the all-India level there arose the Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj and Ramakrishna Mission, at the regional level there were such movements as the Singh Sabha in Punjab and the Sri Narayan Dharma Paripalana movement in Kerala. All these were characterized by a spirit of reform, dissent and protest. It may be asked whether there are any differences between these movements and those that emerged in ancient and medieval India, such as Buddhism, Jainism, Veerasaivism and several bhakti or devotional movements. Buddhism made a frontal attack on the supremacy of the Brahmans. It repudiated the Vedas as the source of spiritual knowledge on the metaphysical plane and placed the Kshatriyas at the top of the caste hierarchy, instead of the Brahmans, on the empirical plane. Medieval saints such as Ramananda and Kabir who also attacked Brahmanical supremacy, created a movement in favour of devotion as the basis of salvation, and replaced the Sanskritic texts with vernacular ones. This enabled the literate non-Brahmans among the masses who did not know Sanskrit, to take part in the worship, rituals and practices which were once the preserve of the Brahmans. Veerasaivism which emerged in twelfth century Karnatak provides a singular example of a militant attack against Brahmanical dominance and the caste system. Led by Basaveswara, the Veerasaiva movement acquired a militant spirit and created a set of religious institutions parallel to that of the Brahmans. All these movements in pre-British India had important social conse¬ quences. They revolted against the ritual supremacy of the Brahmans and the basic principle of birth underlying the caste system. The devotional path

Caste, Class, Ethnicity and Dominance


was exphasized as the means of attaining salvation, and this could be achieved by anyone without consideration of caste.' Bhakti movements helped undermine, to a great extent, the monopoly of the Brahmans in their access to scriptures and their emphasis on the path of knowledge and ritual as the only means to salvation. They overlooked the principle of birth to a great extent in the recruitment of individuals to the sect, thereby overcoming the limitations of the caste system. It is argued that these sects ultimately ended as castes, hence they have little value. However, their value lies in the period between the ‘beginning’ (admission to sect on the basis of qualifications), and the ‘end’ (mem¬ bership being routinized on the basis of birth). Further, sectarian movements within the ‘routinized sect’ frequently emerged to protest against its growing rigidities. Caste and sect (or routinization and deroutinization) form part of the dialectical process in the historical development of change. It is also necessary to understand the forces behind routinization in pre-British India. The economy was mostly agricultural and production relations were organized on the basis of differential positions of ownership, control and cultivation of land. Reciprocity and exchange under the jajmani system formed the basic principles of distribution of the agricultu¬ ral produce within the village. Outside linkages to the political system operated mainly through extraction of surplus foodgrain as revenue. In some cases, kings built irrigation systems to increase agricultural produc¬ tion. In this situation, the caste system provided the social framework for the operation of the traditional political economy, but allocating resources differentially according to the status values of the caste system. The legitimizing principles—the king (political authority), the priest (ritual authority), and the caste councils and village panchayats were effective in upholding the values behind the caste system. During British rule, however, significant structural changes occurred in the wider political economy. Sectarian movements that emerged acquired a new dimension by drawing upon a secular egalitarian ideology. The traditional agencies of control—kings, priests, caste and village councils— became weak. The elements of revolt, protest, individualism and egalitar¬ ianism received reinforcement from new sources of legitimacy, namely meritocratic and secular institutions. Thus sectarian movements contributed to modification and change in traditional patterns of dominance. Sect ideology released forces of contradiction and conflict with a view to countering the caste ideology. It emphasized values of egalitarianism and individualism in its dialectical relationship with the caste ideology. Any fuller understanding and interpretation of Indian social reality will have to take into account the two ideologies of caste and sect—hierarchy and collective man on the one hand, and egalitarianism and individualism, on the other, in their dialectical relationship.


M. S. A. RAO

Economic and Political Dimensions of Caste Just as the caste system without reference to the sect has resulted in a partial understanding of Indian society, consideration of the caste system wholly in the context of religious ideology without reference to its economic and political dimensions has created problems in understanding its true import. The caste system in the context of relations of production and the exercise of power, incorporates economic and political dimensions, and here the system of inter-caste relations rather than caste category gains primary importance (Omvedt, 1982). Economic aspects are manifest at two interrelated levels (varna and jati) of the caste system. At the varna level broad categories of calling or work are associated with each of the four varnas, in the post-Vedic period (from about 600 BC to AD 300). Priesthood and learned callings were associated with Brahmans, military prowess and kingship with Kshatriyas, trade, banking and mercantile occupations with Vaishyas and cultivation of land with Shudras. Over the years, flexibility developed in the calling or occupation that the varnas followed. Except for the first category of occupations which remained more or less closed, the other three categories were relatively open. For instance, those who were not born as Kshatriyas, but were endowed with military prowess, could acquire a piece of territory, expand and graduate into Kshatriyahood, through a process of legitimation by brahman priests. G. S. Ghurye (1969: 106) notes that the Chera, Chola and Pandya kings belonged to the vellalas. The Nayak kings of Madura and Tanjore were balijas (traders). At the jati level, specific jobs and occupations were associated with sub-castes or sub-subcastes. Specializations in occupations lead to the split and formation of other sub-castes. For instance, among weavers, those who worked with silk thread became a separate sub-caste considering themselves superior to those who worked with cotton thread. The value behind the caste system invested callings and occupations with notions of purity and pollution determining not only ritual hierarchy but also differential allocation of material resources. Since land grants were the most common means of rewarding military and other services, rajputs (equated with Kshatriyas) and brahmans came to own land in rural areas. Some banias also owned land which they acquired from foreclosing mortgages on overdue loans they advanced to landowners. However, these twice-born large landowners (with some exceptions) did not cultivate the laijd themselves. In colonial India, they hired out land in zamindari areas to caste-fellows (who only hired low-caste ploughmen) or to cultivating castes (such as jats, ahirs, kurmis, sainis, and gujars). In ryotwari areas, the cultivating castes tilled the land themselves. The artisan castes provided essential services and the agricultural labourers were drawn mainly from untouchables castes.

Caste, Class, Ethnicity and Dominance


Thus the economic basis of division of labour combined with the ritual status of purity and pollution was responsible for differential access to material resources of production and differential allocation of rights and responsibilities. The production organization which centred around land at the village level was strengthened by the jajmani system and patron-client relations of service. The political system buttressed the caste-class hierarchies at differ¬ ent levels and maintained the traditional patterns of dominance. M. N. Srinivas (1959) who developed the concept of dominant caste defined dominance in terms of relatively higher position in the caste hierarchy, superior economic status, political superordination and numer¬ ical preponderance. It should be noted that there are variations. In the zamindari areas numerical preponderance of a caste was not an essential element of dominance. For instance, although there were only a few households of thakur or rajput zamindars in a village, they exercised political dominance. Conversely, although the number of households of tenant castes such as jats, ahirs and kurmis, was higher, they were in a position of subordination. Moreover, higher ritual status, on its own, did not confer political power. For instance, in Punjab and Haryana villages, the brahmans, although ritually superior to other castes, were small owner-cultivators or tenant cultivators. They were politically subservient to the jat, ahir or rajput castes. However, in Tanjore villages, where brahmans were mirasidars, they were politically dominant over other castes in the village or region. Kingship also played an important part in the exercise of dominance by a caste in a region. A dominant caste category consisted of a number of subcastes, each of which was divided into clans and lineages. In parts of northern India, dominant caste councils cut across village boundaries. For instance, Pradhan (1966) gives an account of the traditional political system of the jats with reference to a clan area (khap) comprising 54 villages spread over approximately 288 square miles in Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh. One of the functions of the clan council was to defend and maintain political stability of the villages under its jurisdiction, with the help of its own militia. Such a pattern of kin-based dominance was common to ahirs, gujars, and rajputs. A similar but varying pattern of kin-based dominance was also found in Tamil Nadu and other parts of Uttar Pradesh (Fox, 1971). It should be noted that kin-based caste dominance was not a monolithic entity against other castes. There were factions within the dominant caste which promoted vertical ties across different castes in a village and thus weakened the dominance of the caste as a whole within a region. The dominance of the owner cultivators at the local level coexisted with frequent changes in political power relations at the higher territorial levels of princely states, and even the imperial centres which emerged from time


M. S. A. RAO

to time. It is important to understand the nature of the state before colonial rule in order to analyse the pattern of dominance based on caste-class hierarchies. It is generally assumed that the state has fixed territorial boundaries, a monopoly of coercive force, an administrative apparatus, and centralized authority (Bendix, 1968). Since the pre-colonial states in India did not conform to the image of a modern state, it is held by many that it was segmentary (stateless) or feudal or tribal. This dichotomous view of state and stateless is misleading as it does not take into account the processual view of state formation, allowing different degrees of autonomy at the local level, within a common binding force at higher levels such as regions, principalities and empires. The characterization of the Indian polity before colonial rule as a segmentary state has been challenged by Stern (1977) and Rao (1977). Stern has argued that the segmentary state model based on lineage structure distorts the interplay of the kingly power and ritual power, of links between affinity and territoriality which characterized traditional South Asia. Trautman (1981: 357-9), stresses the importance of marital alliance in forging political alliances by the holder of political power. He views the political system as a system of exchanges and alliances in which political expediency overruled the prevailing code of marriage. In a case study of the Ahir Kingdom, I have shown (1977) that the process of state formation does not fit the segmentary political system model established through a hierarchy of ever more inclusive political segments. Rather, it approximates a federal model where the polity is based on an everchanging combination of political leaders and groups, variously constituted, and cohering through multi-stranded, criss-crossed ties of affinity, rather than patronage and military forces linearly arranged. The advantage of looking at the process of state formation in the federal autonomy framework is that it enables us to comprehend pluralistic patterns of dominance based on caste, kinship, ethnicity, and factions at local levels, along with the emergence of new configurations of military power as the nuclei of state formation. Military prowess was to some extent an independent source of political power, which in turn built up a large economic base through conquest and grants of land, and then was legitimized by religious sources. The same processes also explain the waxing and waning of dominant political groups and the emergence of rival political powers, some of them attaining the level of empire formations in pre-colonial India. This points to the possibility of pluralistic interests based on castes, class and ethnicity being reflected at different levels of political processes. I will come back to a consideration of the relationship between society and state in a different context. It suffices to indicate here the significance of the economic and political dimensions of caste in the territorial context.

Caste, Class, Ethnicity and Dominance


Caste and Power Dumont holds that status and power are two separate phenomena and that the former encompasses the latter. In other words, for ‘the pure hierarchy to develop without hindrance it was also necessary that power should be absolutely inferior to status’ (1980: 74). Dumont defines power as the attribute associated with kingship, and even more specifically, the Indian raj. This is indeed a very narrow definition, which leads to confusion by arbitrarily equating status with the spiritual status of Brahmans. Instead of equating Brahmans with status and Kshatriyas with power, and considering status superior to power, it is more accurate to say that spiritual (or ritual) power obtained by rigorous penance with the grace of God, i.e., the source of Brahmanical status, is superior to political or military power, i.e., the source of Kshatriya status. G. S. Ghurye (1969: 67-8) has conclusively shown that there was a tacit assumption regarding the superiority of spiritual power over martial force, and some Kshatriyas strove to acquire spiritual power. Hence the real points of reference are Brahmanical status and Kshatriya status, and spiritual (or ritual) power and political power. Thus status and power are not separate and dichotomous; but the form of power associated with the status position of Brahmans is different from that associated with the status position of the Kshatriyas. Similarly, the source of economic power (mercantile capital and landed property) associated with Vaishya and Shudra status positions is different. To summarize, status and power as conceptual categories are present in caste, class and ethnic situations. It is wrong to equate caste with status group. Class The conceptions of class are as complex as those of caste. Broadly, two different conceptions of class are identified; one that was developed by Marx which focused on the conflicting relations between classes based on relations of production, and the other which focused merely on social stratification. Historically, according to Marx, society is dominated by the propertied classes which control the means of production and exploit others belonging to the non-possessing classes. Under the capitalist mode of production, in the early stages, the class structure becomes simplified into three great classes, the wage labourers, capitalists and landowners. What constitutes a class is not its economic share through wages, profit and rent respectively. Neither is the distinction based on divergent interest which the division of labour creates. Rather the elements which constitute the classes have to be seen in the context of property relations and the power relations determined by it. The chief constituent element of power is private ownership of the means of production and the control of the minority over the wealth of the whole nation. Thus a person’s material and social


M. S. A. RAO

conditions of existence are determined by his relationship to the means of production. The economic conditions of existence only create objective classes-inthemselves; they do not produce a real antagonism. It is only when the mass of workers who constitute a class-in-itself achieve subjective consciousness, and unite to take on a political character, that they become a ctass-for-itself. The interests which they defend become class interests. The struggle between the contending classes is a political struggle. Hence the force that effects class formation is self-conscious class interest in the context of class struggle (Dahrendorf, 1959). Class consciousness is the awareness on the individual’s part of the interests of his class generally. In so far as conflicting relations between classes is the distinguishing feature of class formation in Marx’s view, classes are not simply dichotomous, internally differentiated social groups on the basis of occupation, income, education and lifestyle. The latter view of classes as a hierarchical system of social stratification has been formulated by many others. It may be called the stratification view, with varying degrees of approximation to, and deviation from, the Marxian ‘class conflict’ and ‘class struggle’ model of the later stages of capitalism. The social-stratification view of class was developed in varying contexts. The wider theoretical anchorage for this view was provided by the notions of status inequality, and social mobility. The writings of de Tocqueville (1956) had great influence on the development of these concepts in the context of the industrial mode of production and political democracy. In the framework of social-stratification, status, prestige, honour, esteem, worth and legitimacy all assume important dimensions. Each stratum is characterized by a set of features expressed in consumption behaviour and style of life marking it off from another in a hierarchical system. Max Weber’s treatment of class as a category of persons whose situation is determined by the market, provided one of the bases for the stratification view of class. Persons share common economic interests in the possession of goods and opportunities for earning income. The class situation is determined by the commodity or labour markets which create specific life chances. Thus, Weber shifted the emphasis from relations of production to the market situation affecting income distribution and consumption. The generic connotation of the concept of class was the kind of chance accessible to the individual in the market. For Weber, classes as such are not groups (a point which was also recognized by Marx on a different count) and the social action that brings forth class situations is not basically action among members of the identical class; but an interaction among members of different classes. Social actions that directly determine the class situation of the workers and the entrepreneur are the labour market, the commodities market, and capitalistic enterprise. This attempt of Weber to diffuse Marx’s position that identical class

Caste, Class, Ethnicity and Dominance


interests could lead to antagonistic class formations (class-for-itself) was not successful, although he succeeded in complicating the class situation by differentiating three classes—a propertied class, a commercial class and a social class. He also pointed out that unity of social classes (or polarization of classes and class formation) was highly variable. He maintained that, although a uniform class situation prevails only when completely unskilled and propertyless persons are dependent on regular employment, it gets blurred because of mobility of class positions, and because of specificity of conflict in each class situation. In terms of the mode of stratification, Weber spoke of status society or class society. While the commercial classes arose specifically in a market-oriented economy the two other classes, namely, the social classes and the propertied classes, were related to the status group. He maintained that the status group was most closely associated with social class, but status groups were often created by propertied classes (1978: 307). Weber’s differentiation of classes indicates that status group which is elsewhere equated with caste group can also occur in a class situation. This position of Weber comes closer to the view which I stated initially; namely, status is found in caste, class and ethnic situations but the distinguishing features of class have to be seen in the determinants of status in the class situation. In the Indian context, caste is unique in the sense that both economic and status situations coexist. Status in the caste situation is determined by economic criteria, (occupation and property or its absence) as well as by ritual, social and^educational considerations. However, Weber moved in an entirely different direction contrasting status situation with class situation (Weber, 1978: 932), and did not pursue the question of finding the determinants of status in class. Broadly, the determinants of status in class are control over means of production and other productive resources , property, occupation, income, education and style of life. Using these determinants of stratification three classes are distinguished: the upper class, the middle class and the lower class. With the spread of egalitarian values in regard to different areas of behaviour and equality of opportunities, the idea of upward social mobility gained in significance. As the traditional sanctions and agencies of social control which supported the caste system became weaker, new sources of legitimacy made upward social mobility possible on the axes of occupation, income, education and a different style of life. All these new status markings made inroads into the caste system. As a result each caste category became heterogenous in terms of class status. It is necessary to look at the formation and development of the middle classes (Misra, 1961) which mainly consists of the professionals, semi¬ professionals, and white collar workers, and the channels of social mobility in the context of changing economic and political conditions. The middle class provides the basis for the emergence of different types of elite— professional, intellectual, bureaucratic and technocratic—as opposed to the


M. S. A. RAO

industrial and business elite, and the military and political. Although elite theory, as developed by Mosca and Pareto in the concepts of the ruling class and governing elite, was put forward as an alternative to the Marxian theory of class conflict, later developments (Mills, 1956; Bottomore, 1966) have shown the linkages between elites and classes. Nevertheless, it is important to analyse both the contradiction and complementarity of elitism and egalitarianism in different social formations and their impact on new structures of political power in the state apparatus. The industrial working class is a major social formation accompanying the capitalist mode of production. But it has to be analysed in the context of industrial relations and trade union movements as part of party politics. The trade union movements, moreover, are further complicated by inter- and intra-trade union rivalries which affect power politics in different ways. It is important, therefore, to study the impact of such a class formation on the balance of political power. For our purposes class formation and conflict in agrarian relations is also important. The problems of definition and classification of the peasantry have to be considered keeping in mind specific historical conditions (Mencher 1978). The agrarian hierarchy is complicated by a combination of different tenurial positions and activities, by the size of land that one owns and/or cultivates, by the degree of control one exercises over other productive resources, and by the distinction between family labour, hired wage labour and attached labour. These features are important in understanding the basis of class formation and class conflict in agrarian relations. Historically, there have been three major conflict situations. First, the conflict between the big landowners or non-cultivating zamindars and the cultivating tenants; second, the conflict between owner-cultivators and money-lenders who came to own land which had been mortgaged with them in return for cash loans; and third, the conflict between landowners and owner-cultivators on the one hand and landless agricultural labourers On the other. In fact, the process of development of these three conflict situations reflects the changes in the political economy under colonial and independent India. While peasant movements centring around the first and second conflict situations were predominant in the pre-independence era, the third became significant in the post-independence phase especially with the growth of the Naxalite movement. Several factors have contributed to the changes in the agrarian structure. They are Zamindari Abolition, community development pro¬ grammes, the green revolution (Frankel, 1971), democratic decentraliza¬ tion, co-operatives (Baviskar, 1980), and different types of peasant movements, struggles and unrest (Rao, 1979a, 1979b; Desai, 1979; Dhanagare, 1983). However, in any attempt to analyse the changes in agrarian relations, the interplay of economic differentiation with caste and communal factors cannot be ignored.

Caste, Class, Ethnicity and Dominance


A useful starting point in the context of changing agrarian relations is the mode of production debate which has been ably summarized by Alice Thorner (1982). Since the capitalist mode of production has acquired a pattern or set of attributes at an abstract level, it may be distinguished from non-capitalist modes of production. Using the capitalist mode of produc¬ tion as a heuristic device one may investigate the nature and limits of objective class differentiation and the manner in which caste and ethnicity intersect with class situations. For instance, Bhowmik (1981) has examined the nature of class formation in the plantation system. He shows that the growth of class consciousness through trade union movements is compli¬ cated by the distinction of tribe, clan and caste and inter-trade union rivalries. Changing agrarian relations have attracted, in recent years, the attention of historians, political scientists, sociologists and anthropologists (see for example, Frykenberg (ed.), 1969; Breman, 1974; Djurfeldt and Lindberg, 1976; Guha, 1982; Stokes, 1978; Gough, 1981; Harriss, 1982). These studies reveal diverse patterns of changes in dominance at the regional level, and different configurations of caste, class and ethnicity which need to be considered in historical perspective. Class formation is also related to the debate centring around the distortions in development created by imposition of capitalism on Indian society under British colonialism. Such formulations (Patnaik, 1971; Alavi, 1975), need to be examined wherever they are relevant instead of either ignoring them or blindly adopting them. In this context, the part played by the state both in creating distorted development as well as in rectifying this pattern, needs to be examined. Finally, it is necessary to study the consequences of the capitalist mode of production in terms of different degrees of relative deprivation for certain sections of population. The Marxian view considers class to be the ‘real’ structural order and class consciousness the highest form of consciousness. It holds ethnicity and caste to be epiphenomena, remnants of pre-capitalist modes of production, and views the consciousness produced by them as false, masking class interests. This consciousness is seen as a mystification by the ruling classes to prevent the growth of class consciousness. Such questions as which is basic and which is psuedo, which is real and which is an illusion are philosophical and can be debated endlessly. For purposes of empirical investigation it is possible to identify class, caste, and ethnic situations, as well as prevailing ideologies, and to inquire whether people in any given situation in time and space act on the basis of their class, caste or ethnic identities. It is also necessary to recognize that if people in a given situation call their class identity into operation, as in the case of a trade union, the same people in another situation may act on the basis of their ethnic affiliations. This happens because a person is simultaneously a member of class, caste and ethnic categories. Class, caste and ethnicity, which provide


M. S. A. RAO

the basis for group formation and politicization, are situational, which makes possible the coexistence of multiple strands of consciousness. Ethnicity There are two views of ethnicity. Some scholars consider ethnicity as innate a priori categories with an existence of their own. This is the primordialist view which perceives ethnicity as ineluctable and immutable. By contrast, the instrumentalist or circumstantialist view holds that ethnicity is something which can be manipulated, is situationally expressed and subjectively defined (Barth, 1969). Van den Berghe (1981) aimed at synthesizing the two views by asserting that ethnicity is an extension of kinship sentiments. He considered ethnocentrism and racism extended forms of nepotism, and hypothesized that the closer the kinship rela¬ tionship, the stronger the preferential behaviour. However, Van den Berghe’s position is still narrower than the primordialist’s view, in circumscribing situationally expressed ethnicity by the degree of kinship. The view adopted here is that ethnicity may have a structural basis in any one, or an overlap of, several primordial ties (e.g. caste, kinship, religion, sect, language, tribe and race). However, ethnicity as a social formation is not immutable. It can be ‘created’ or called into existence by a variety of situations that cause ethnic identity to become politicized. The primordialist view limits ethnicity to actual primordial ties. But some of these ties can be changed or acquired. For instance, sectarian and even linguistic affiliations can be changed during the lifetime of an individual. But they can form the basis of ethnic identity. Secondly, even the ‘ascriptive’ identity of caste can also be acquired through appropriate mythologies, if it is founded on military power, and legitimized by priests. Thirdly, it is incorrect to argue that ethnic identities and boundaries remain fixed. On the contrary, they wax and wane according to situational contexts. Further, the mere presence of ethnic ties does not necessarily mean that they are ethnic formations. The latter are the result of political action. Hence, it is essential to analyse the situational contexts of ethnicity and ethnic formations. Under what conditions do ethnic ties develop into groups? In this context Cohen’s (1974) characterization of ethnicity is instructive. He shows that ethnic group is a collectivity of people who share patterns of normative behaviour and who form part of a larger population interacting with other people in the framework of a social system. In addition, territoriality is an important criterion of ethnicity, and major ethnic movements have aspired for territorial identity or exclusiveness. In my view, collective mobilization centred around some shared interests arising out of an ideology of common identity, real or putative, vis-a-vis other groups, is an essential feature of ethnic formation. Ethnic groups often act as informal interest groups using various cultural elements as symbols of communication, identity and exclusiveness. In the context of

Caste, Class, Ethnicity and Dominance


competition for political power, they tend to establish alliances with cognate groups against rival groups. In the context of democratic structures of power for interest articula¬ tion, ethnic formation in India has become a significant social formation. For instance, caste associations have become a part of the modern political process (Rudolphs, 1967; Shah, 1975). In some cases, they form part of broader caste movements with a defined ideology engaged in collective mobilization. Under such circumstances, caste clusters (including cognate jatis and sub-jatis) tend to develop into large ethnic blocs competing for ritual, economic and educational advantages and struggling against a position of subordination in a bid to gain positions of dominance. Ethnic conflict has also come into prominence in non-caste situations: the Hindu-Muslim conflict is based on religious identity. The Shiv Sena Movement in Bombay expresses the antagonism between south Indian migrants on the one hand and native Maharashtrians on the other. The Assamese movement reflects both linguistic and religious conflicts. Ethnic conflict also characterizes the relationship between non-tribal migrants and the tribals (Rao, 1983). Thus, the sons of the soil movements (Weiner, 1978), linguistic movements, tribal movements (Rao, 1979; Singh, 1983) and some movements for separate territorial identity such as those by extremist Sikhs for Khalistan in Punjab, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) (before 1962) for Dravidistan, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha for Jharkhand in Chotanagpur, and other militant tribal movements in the northeast hills region, can be better understood in the framework of ethnic formation and ethnic conflict than in the framework of either caste or class. Political Power, Dominance (Domination) and Authority Theoretical issues and controversies relating to political power, dominance and authority are too wide-ranging to be covered in this chapter. Hence the discussion here is limited to the controversial views of Marx and Weber which still dominate the debate. Although Marx did not systematically develop the concepts of power and dominance, he located them in the field of class relations or class struggle, that is, the struggle between classes-forthemselves. Interpreting Marx, Poulantzas (1973: 104) defines power as the capacity of a social class to realize its specific objective interests. He considers that relationships of domination-subordination are implied in the relations of power. The Marxian concept of power in the context of class struggle introduces the dynamic aspect of changing existing relations of power. While Marx considered power and dominance as arising from the structural conditions of existence, Weber defined power as the opportunity existing within a social relationship to carry out one’s own will against the resistance of others, regardless of the basis on which this opportunity rests. He considered classes, status groups and parties as phenomena in the distribution of power within a community. Accordingly, he distinguished


M. S. A. RAO

three kinds of power—economic power, social power, and political power, all of which are interdependent. In Weber’s view, it is the legal order which enhances the chance to hold power or honour although it cannot always secure them. For Weber, domination is the opportunity to have a command of specified content obeyed by a given group of persons. This opportunity can emerge in the most diverse forms and situations such as in relationships of creditor-debtor, plaintiff-judge, buyer-seller, ruler-ruled. Thus domi¬ nation is a situation in which the manifested will (command) of the superordinate is meant to and does influence the conduct of one or more, others i.e., the subordinates (1978: 946). Domination means the possibility that a command will be obeyed by discipline. Discipline, for Weber, is the opportunity to obtain prompt and automatic obedience in a predictable form. Domination and discipline can be exercised by an individual or by a corporate group. Authority is legitimized power. Weber identified three sources of legitimacy of power of command—rational legal authority, personal or traditional authority and charismatic authority. The rationally regulated structure of power finds its typical expression in bureaucracy. The traditional power of command is generally represented by patriarchalism. The charismatic source of power rests upon the extraordinary quality of an individual, regardless of whether this quality is actual, alleged or presumed. These formulations of political power, domination and author¬ ity by Weber are useful in understanding the changes in the structure and organization of dominance in a variety of social contexts, since dominance can be located in social structures, and linkages can be established between society and state, or dominance and political power. Another conceptualization of power of command with implications for dominance has been worked out by Nagel (1962: 115). He uses two command criteria: (1) differential command over another’s actions, and (2) differential command over the distribution of existing benefits and resources to establish the positional structure of groups in society. The two command criteria yield such descriptive criteria as dominance, submission, equality, superordination , subordination, superiority, inferiority, degrees of access and entitlement, inclusion and exclusion. The argument that power is distributed and the opportunity to exercise it obtains potentially in diverse social situations, and that if one wishes one can use this opportunity, establishes linkages between the society and state. It implies that power (in the general sense) is not confined to the latter, although special forms of structures of power are associated with the state. At the same time, there are distinctive forms of power associated with caste, class and ethnic situations which are in the realm of society. A useful analytical distinction can be made between dominance in the domain of society and political power in the arena of the state. The distinction between dominance and political power overlaps with that

Caste, Class, Ethnicity and Dominance


between society and state to a considerable extent. While dominance is characterized by power of command (ideally perceived as legitimate authority), political power is characterized by the state’s monopoly over the legitimate use of force. In pre-Independence India, dominance in local society tended to be multi-stranded, that is, social, economic and political dimensions of command overlapped in one group so as to produce decisive dominance. In many parts of India, dominance was legitimized by Brahmanical authority, which gave it more the character of hegemony. In situations where dominance was challenged, e.g., by peasant revolts, the state stepped in to reinforce the social order through the application of sanctions by force. Under less serious conditions of social protest, the dominant castes and classes used physical force just as the state did, to maintain their position and have their commands obeyed. Occasionally, they even led revolts against the ruling power. Under such circumstances, superior military force decided the overarching political order of super- and sub-ordination. In post-Independence India, by contrast, legitimized use of physical force rests only with the state and its democratically elected governments. If dominant castes in society use physical force to have their commands obeyed, the result is to pose a conflict between social dominance and political power, thereby raising questions about the legitimacy of the social order. The traditional pattern of superordinate and subordinate relations in society underwent significant changes in colonial India, a process which was accelerated after Independence. The articulation of changing rela¬ tionships between social dominance and political power, as new social formations seek to capture control of the state, and seize for themselves the power of those who dominate them form the main themes of these volumes. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I am highly indebted to the participants of the project for their valuable criticism of the earlier drafts of the paper. I am grateful to Professors Francine Frankel, Baviskar and Murray Miller for their extensive and critical comments. REFERENCES Ahmad, Imtiaz (ed.). 1973. Caste and Social Stratification among the Muslims (Delhi: Manohar Publications). Alavi, H. 1975. ‘India and the Colonial Mode of Production’, Economic and Political Weekly, Special Number, August. Ali, Hasan. 1978. ‘Elements of Caste among the Muslims in a District of Southern Bihar’ in Imtiaz Ahmed (ed.), Caste and Social Stratification among Muslims in India (New Delhi: Manohar Publications). Altekar, A. S. 1984. State and Government in Ancient India (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas).


M. S. A. RAO

Barth, Fredrik (ed.). 1969. Ethnic Groups and Boundaries (Boston: Little Brown). Baviskar, B. S. 1980. The Politics of Development: Sugar Co-operatives in Rural Maharashtra (Delhi: Oxford University Press). Bendix, R. 1968. ‘Introduction’ in R. Bendix (ed.), State and Society: A Reader in Comparative Political Sociology (Boston: Little Brown). Bhowmik, Sharit. 1981. Class Formation in the Plantation System (New Delhi: People’s Publishing House). Bottomore, T. B. 1966. Elites and Society (Harmondsworth: Penguin). Breman, Jan. 1974. Patronage and Exploitation: Changing Agrarian Relations in South Gujarat, India (Berkeley: University of California Press). Chattopadhyay, P. 1972. ‘Mode of Production in Indian Agriculture; an antikritik’, Economic and Political Weekly, December, A185-A192. Cohen, Abner (ed.). 1974. Urban Ethnicity (London: Tavistock Publications). Dahrendorf, Ralf. 1959. Class and Class Conflict in Industrial Society (Stanford: Stanford University Press). Desai, A. R. (ed.). 1979. Peasant Struggles in India (Bombay: Oxford University Press). Dhanagare, D. N. 1983. Peasant Movements in India 1920-1950 (Delhi: Oxford University Press). Djurfeldt, Goran and Lindberg, Staftan. 1976. Behind Poverty: The Social Formation in a Tamil Village (Delhi: Oxford and IBH). Dumont, Louis. 1974. Homo Hierarchicus: The Caste System and Its Implications (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press). Eschmann, Anncharlott. 1974. ‘Religion, Reaction and Change: The Role of Sects in Hinduism’ in Religion and Development in Asian Societies (Sri Lanka: Marga Publications). Fox, Richard G. 1971. Kin, Clan, Raja and Rule, State-Hinterland Relations in Pre-industrial India (Berkeley: University of California Press). Frank, Andre Gunder. 1967. Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America (New York: Monthly Review Press). Frankel, Francine R. 1971. India’s Green Revolution: Economic Gains and Political Costs (Princeton: Princeton University Press). Frykenberg, Robert Eric (ed.). 1969. Land Control and Social Structure in Indian History (London: University of Wisconsin Press). Fuchs, Stephen. 1965. Rebellious Prophets: A Study of Messianic Movements in Indian Religions (Bombay: Asia Publishing House). Geertz, Clifford. 1963. ‘The Integrative Revolution: Primordial Sentiments and Civil Politics in the New States’ in Clifford Geertz (ed.). Old Societies and New States (Glencoe: The Free Press). Ghurye, G. S. 1969. Caste and Race in India (Bombay: Popular Prakashan). -. 1972. Two Brahmanical Institutions: Gotra and Charana (Bombay: Popular Prakashan). Gough, Kathleen. 1981. Rural Society: South-East India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Guha, Ranajit. 1983. Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India (Delhi: Oxford University Press). Guha, Ranajit, (ed.). 1982. Subaltern Studies Vol. I. (Delhi: Oxford University Press). - (ed.). 1983. Subaltern Studies Vol. II. (Delhi: Oxford University Press). - (ed.). 1984. Subaltern Studies Vol. III. (Delhi: Oxford University Press).

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The Nadars of Tamilnad (Berkeley: University of

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-. 1966. The Sociology of Religion (London: Social Science Paperbacks). -. 1978. Economy and Society, 2 vols., edited by Guenther Roth and Clam Wittich. (Berkeley: University of California Press). Weiner, Myron. 1978. Sons of the Soil: Migration and Ethnic Conflict in India (Delhi: Oxford University Press). Yalman, Nur. 1960. ‘The Flexibility of Caste Principles in a Kandyan Community’ in E. R. Leach (ed.). Aspects of Caste in South India, Ceylon and North-West Pakistan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Yalman, Nur. 1971. Under the Bo-Tree (Berkeley: University of California Press).

CASTE, LAND AND DOMINANCE IN BIHAR Breakdown of the Brahmanical Social Order FRANCINE R. FRANKEL

Bihar, the ‘Hindi heartland’ state of 70,000,000 persons and 10 per cent of India’s population, represents at once the ideal-type and the extreme case of multi-stranded dominance by upper castes. As a consequence of the convergence of twice-born ritual status, relatively large numbers, concen¬ tration of land rights, and legitimation of the social hierarchy by Brahmanical ideology, brahmans, bhumihars and rajputs held sway over society for at least one thousand years. The kayasthas, a small caste group, whose origins are debated, were also accorded elite status primarily because of their occupation as ‘writers’ or court scribes. They did not, however, exercise power at the villages in the same degree as upper castes. Their employment as accountants, and later on, schoolteachers, provided modest emoluments (not counting bribes), which prevented all but a few from acquiring large landholdings. This chapter analyses the structural configurations and historical circumstances in which the upper castes established an enduring domi¬ nance. It also examines the primary role of electoral politics since Independence in generating pressures from below which confronted the upper castes with challenges to their privileges on several fronts simul¬ taneously. Those caste groups best positioned, in the first instance, to make these challenges belonged to the Upper Shudras, especially the yadavs, kurmis and koeris.1 Analytically, three distinct aspects of the transformation of Bihar’s politics can be separated. During the period of colonial rule, state power was used to rigidify and reinforce the local dominance of upper caste landlords or zamindars, and to suppress peasant revolts against them which erupted from the mid-nineteenth century. Until Independence, in addi¬ tion, the Indian National Congress played a complementary political role 1 Upper Shudras, with a rank order in social precedence of yadavs, kurmis and koeris occupied a higher position than other Shudra caste groups in Bihar. Although traditionally debarred as menials from education, and limited to occupations such as cowherds, cultivators, labourers and household servants, they enjoyed the status of ‘clean’ castes. They were thereby entitled to engage brahmans to officiate at life cycle events.

Caste, Land and Dominance in Bihar


in difusing caste and class polarization over economic and social issues. Socialists who challenged the conservative leadership of the Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee to become activists in the Bihar Pradesh Kisan Sabha yielded to the national leadership in the late 1930s and cut all ties with the kisan movement. After Independence, under the impact of universal suffrage, the Bihar Congress was itself constrained to pursue a reformist policy on several issues, including Zamindari Abolition. These policies had the unintended consequences of weakening the social prestige, econo¬ mic position and political strength of the upper castes relative to that of the Upper Shudras. By the 1960s, two new caste formations began to change the contours of Bihar’s political life. One was that of the Forward Castes, representing an alignment of twice-born caste groups, whose leaders, although divided by faction, nevertheless co-operated within the Congress party on issues affecting the dominance of the upper castes as a whole. The other was the Backward Classes; whose leadership claimed to represent the interests of all of the ‘downtrodden’, but in practice articulated the demands of the advanced Upper Shudras, and consulted across party lines. The emergence of these caste-based political categories led the state, by the late 1970s, towards a politics of polarization. The new alignments were more than simply the latest variation of the age-old ‘casteism’ in Bihar’s society. On the contrary, they were the expression of a direct defence of, and challenge to the hierarchical social order arising from recognition on both sides of declining belief in Brahmanical ideology. The conflict between the contending upper caste and Upper Shudra groups was about nothing less than which political formation would become dominant in Bihar. In this contest, the state itself became the prize over which the rival caste groups were fighting. Each side came to believe that its control over senior ministerial and administrative offices was essential for it aims. Political power could be used to protect either the entrenched social and economic power of the Forward Castes or to substitute for it the dominance of the Backward Classes. Even temporary control of government offices was perceived as providing important opportunities for advancing family and group interests. Under these circumstances, ‘casteism’ among politicians was converted into ‘crimina¬ lization’ of politics, as each side sought to corrupt the administration and police, and make use of armed hoodlums for capturing polling booths at election time. The besiged government had lost its capacity for acting on allBihar issues. After 1967, when the Congress party first failed to win a majority of seats, the fractious State Legislature rarely sat for longer than six weeks during each of the two annual sessions mandated by the Constitution. As tenuous majorities disappeared through defections, and short-lived coalitions gave way to President’s rule, Government by



Ordinance supplanted legislative action. Between 1971 and 1981 Bihar was governed each year by an average of 178 Ordinances compared to 15 Acts of the Legislative Assembly (Wadhwa, 1983: ix) From about the same time, Bihar’s slow, but steady, growth in per capita income ground practically to a halt. Endowed with abundant natural resources both for major agricultural growth and rapid industrialization, the state experienced a compound growth rate, between 1966-7 and 1977-8 of 2.5 per cent, only minimally higher than population growth. In Bihar north of the Ganges, where the rural population density (at 469 persons per square mile) was among the highest in India, and 95 per cent of the population lived in the rural areas, the region was one of ‘endemic poverty, backwardness and unemployment’ (Bihar Draft Sixth Five Year Plan, 1980: i). The south Bihar plains, with somewhat better developed infrastructure, and relatively stronger agricultural and industrial growth, showed little dynamism in the direction of industrial diversification. Even in the Chotanagpur plateau, which accounts for over 40 per cent of the mineral wealth of the country, the rise of mineral and metal based industries through sizeable investments by the central government, and the private sector, had very little impact on the rest of the economy. In 1981, only three per cent of the total work force was engaged in manufacturing and other household and service industries. (Census of Bihar, 1981, Supplement, Provisional Population Totals: 79-80). After 34 years of planning, Bihar was ‘at the bottom judged from all accepted indicators of development’ including per capita income. (Bihar Draft Seventh Five Year Plan, 1985, i). The gap between state and national per capita income widened from 32.7 per cent in 1972-3 to 46 per cent in 1982-3. Small increases in the urban population, from 10 per cent in 1971 to 12.4 per cent in 1981, poor development of infrastructure, modest gains in mineral production and a stagnant manufacturing sector produced an increase in the percentage of workers engaged in agriculture, from 77.1 per cent in 1971 to 82.3 per cent in 1981. In 1977-8, according to NSS data, more than 57 per cent of the population were living below the poverty line (Bihar Draft Sixth Five-Year Plan, iii; Bihar Draft Seventh Five-Year Plan, ii). The steep increase in unemployment and underemployment from the early 1970s sharpened the edge of political competition between the Forward Castes and the Backward Classes as they entered upon a shrill confrontation over reservations policy. Minorities like the Muslims and Scheduled Tribes reassessed their political allegiances as the economic situation worsened. Sometimes these groups expressed their discontent through political parties that emphasized religious or ethnic solidiarity; at other times, they responded to party appeals addressed to the interests of all the underprivileged castes .and classes. At the same time, clear-cut class polarization emerged between agricultural labourers and rich landholders in pockets of Bhojpur and

Caste, Land and Dominance in Bihar


south Bihar where Marxist organizers had worked for long periods. As in other areas, such as Thanjavur, (Tamil Nadu) and Alleppey (Kerala), the Marxists scored their greatest successes in localities where the percentage of landless households had sharply increased, and agricultural labourers were drawn from predominantly Harijan castes. However, in Bihar, a new phenomenon emerged. Starting in 1981, when the Mazdoor Kisan Sangram Samiti (MKSS) was organized, a number of activists were also drawn from among landless and poor peasants belonging to the Backward Classes. Such a kaleidoscopic pattern of caste, ethnic and class conflict revealed the critical weakening in the moral authority of the upper castes. The inability of Brahmanism to continue to justify hereditary inequalities of caste, ethnicity, class and power heralded the breakdown of the traditional social order. The Setting The land called Bihar by Muslim invaders2 was never governed as a single political entity until the advent of the British, and then only from 1936. The east-west flow of the Ganges, which bifurcates the plains districts of north and south Bihar, posed difficulties for travel, communications and trade. This geographical division reinforced regional differences which impeded the emergence of an overarching Bihari identity. Even today, many villagers express their identity in only two dimensions: that of samaj (society) by which they mean jati (sub-caste): and of desh, connoting country, but referring to the linguistic area in which they live. The problem of Bihari identity is further complicated by the fact that north Bihar and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh shared a unique symbolic importance as the heartland of the Indo-Aryan civilization. Desh, in this sense, can also refer to the ancient Aryavarta stretching beyond the state, a notion that obliterates the need to distinguish Bihar from the rest of Bharat (India). Historically, the centre of the old Brahmanical culture and learning was the Maithili-speaking region3 (Map I). A great alluvial plain, bounded by the Himalayas in the north, the Ganges on the south, and the rivers Gandak and Kosi in the west and east, the area was assured of a considerable amount of protection against conquest. Although north Bihar was nominally incorporated into several larger kingdoms, even great 2

This name is believed to have derived from the large number of Buddhist monasteries in

south Bihar known as viharas. 3 The ancient kingdom of Videha, which covered most of north Bihar had its capital at Mithala. It was immortalized in the Ramayana as the land where the philosopher-king Janaka ruled and where Sita, born of the goddess Earth, was married to Ram, the incarnation of Vishnu, and the son of King Dasaratha of Ayodhya, the capital of Kosala. Popular Hindu ideals of the path of Dharma, and of the perfect government (Ram Raj) are still passed down to each generation by retelling the story of Ram and Sita.



empires failed to impose more than political suzerainty on local rulers until the early sixteenth century. This produced ‘an almost unbroken continuity in life and pattern of culture since times immemorial’ (Bihar District Gazetteers, Darbhanga, 1964: 24). This pattern of life was linked to a succession of independent kingdoms centred around Darbhanga in the Maithili speaking region, and the domination, under a series of brahman dynasties, of maithil brahmans. Modern census data (1932), shows that brahmans accounted for less than five per cent of the total population of Bihar, but their numbers were concentrated in the central Gangetic plain. Indeed, 20 per cent of brahmans in Bihar were enumerated from what had become Darbhanga district by the 1930s. (Sengupta, 1984: 15). Historically, maithil brahmans owned the largest proportion of land in

Caste, Land and Dominance in Bihar


the Darbhanga region, although they did not take up personal cultivation. On the contrary, many followed traditional occupations as priests, or Sanskrit scholars, relying on the patronage provided by pious brahman kings. Scholarship and genealogical purity constituted the standards of value for the maithil brahmans who preserved the Maithil script as their private monopoly until modern times. (Paul Brass, 1974: 57, 67). Darbhanga finally lost its independence after 1572, when rival Rajput and Muslim chiefs encroached on its territory both in the north and the south. The entire region was permanently integrated into the Mughal Empire in 1575-6 as part of the province of Bihar. Somewhat earlier, however, in 1556, the Emperor Akbar gifted 2400 square miles, or about 11 per cent of the total area of north Bihar, to Mahesh Thakur, a pre-eminent maithil brahman scholar who founded a new (Khandela) dynasty. The portion of Bihar lying south of the Ganges, by contrast, had not been considered a ‘Brahmanistic land’ down to the time of Manu. Corres¬ ponding to the Magahi-speaking area of pre-1973 Patna and Gaya districts, shown in Map II, the region was subjugated by Rajput conquerors. These Kshatriya rulers apparently were reluctant to accept Brahmanical notions of deference to Brahman priests in matters of worship and knowledge. Both Mahavira and Gautama Buddha freely preached and taught in Magadha around 500 bc; and once the great Mauryan Empire was established in 321 bc, the court at Pataliputra became the world centre of Buddhist teachings. This ‘golden period’ of Indian history, however, was short-lived. Although Asoka (272-231 bc) embraced Buddhism, the Mauryan Empire which he extended from the Hindu Kush to Andhra, disintegrated less than fifty years after his death. The imperial Gupta dynasty restored Magadhan supremacy and splendour between the fourth and seventh centuries ad, but the Guptas began to shift court patronage from Buddhist monks to powerful spokesmen of neo-Brahmanism. After Pataliputra was destroyed by repeated invasions at the end of the sixth century, ‘Hinduism got the upper hand and since then the place had the association of the old Hindu religion (i.e. Brahmanism) and its various ideologies expressed in the Puranas and Smritis’ (Bihar District Gazetteers, Gaya, 1957: 14). The complete defeat of Buddhism after the Muhammadan invasion of Bakhtiyar Khilji (in 1197) was decisive for the development of society in Bihar up to modern times. The Brahmanical ideology became the unifying set of values, ideas and practices across regions (with the exception of the tribal areas). According to O’Malley, who wrote at the turn of the century, the brahmans, even when they did not constitute the dominant economic class, were ‘by far the most important caste owing to their hereditary priestly influence’ (O’Malley, Muzaffarpur, 1907: 40). • Indeed, in south Bihar, the major landowners were babhans or bhumihars, a community whose greatest numbers were concentrated in the






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f possession (nadus) extensive. By the eighteenth century, such corporate unities in the river valleys were reduced in scope to single villages. Nonetheless, the principle remained intact and villages were possessed by joint groups, sharing the privileges of dominance over them. The second notion was that rights to these privileges, which made it legitimate to hold them exclusive of outsiders, were given by ancestry and history—by right of original settlement. Even when, as in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, these rights were sold, what was bought was a privilege given by ancestry and ‘new’ kaniachikarars acquired the corporate identity of those they replaced. Indeed, the ideology was detachable from empirical circumstances considerably further than this. All resources—mercantile wealth, artisanal skills, labour power—were conceptually possessed by corporate groups all of whom justified their possession, in part, by reference to history. The second institution underwriting social order was that of the king, or rather of the kings, for kingship in Tamil Nadu was a system of shared sovereignty stretching down from the Vijayanagar Emperor to the humblest local chief (palaiyagar) who looked to him for legitimacy. The significance of kingship has been most strongly emphasized in the work of Nicholas Dirks (1979, forthcoming). Tamil kingship in the late medieval period was perhaps most heavily influenced by developments from the fourteenth century when the river valleys were ‘invaded’, or brought under the control, of warrior groupings from Andhra and the forested uplands. These warrior kings rarely settled in the valleys, preferring instead the uplands whose forest-clearance they promoted and whose ‘mixed’ econo¬ mics they helped to develop. But their power was certainly felt even in the deltaic lowlands. In the kingly ideology, resources were held by reason of grant or gift from the king (such grants being subsequently known as inam). There is a strong, although arguable case that much that Tamil kings ‘gave’ to local communities and groups, they already possessed by right of kaniachi: the relationship was more symbolic than immediately economic; representing the ritual incorporation of kaniachikarar communities into the domain of a king. This side of the matter was probably truest in the river valleys. In the developing uplands and with regard to the growth of brahman inams in the Vijayanagar era, kingly power, instrumentalized through military force and lineage organization, may have played a more direct and active role in constituting the social distribution of power over resources. What seems clearer, however, is that this species of Tamil royal authority never



developed much in the way of a bureaucratic system capable of extracting resources or enforcing its power on a regular basis. Its dominance over society was demonstrated, partially, by savage displays of coercive violence; but mostly, through systems of ritual incorporation. Arjun Appadurai has argued that, with regard to its adjudicative functions, Tamil kingship at this time was ‘administrative’ rather than ‘executive’ ratifying the resolutions which local corporate institutions had reached about their internal disputes and the new social arrangements which they had decided to make rather than enforcing its own general rules and decrees (Appadurai, 1981). Equally, the king’s ‘donative’ function meant that he principally gave resources to such institutions rather than taking them away. By these means, royal authority conjoined with much more than it confronted, the corporate authority of kaniachikarars whose ritual acts were always performed in the name both of the king and of them¬ selves. The third institutional source of order and privilege was religion. The main tradition of Hinduism in Tamil Nadu was that of a bhaktiism institutionalized and partially Brahmanized through temple worship. Its implications were that ‘honour’ and ‘status’—and thus the right to possess privileges—were derived from services performed for the gods (Appadur¬ ai, 1981). Part of these services consisted of donating lands, money and products to the temples for the maintenance of regular worship and occasional major festival celebrations. The temples thus became huge economic institutions, playing a vital role in complex processes of resource redistribution and helping to develop the exchange economy (Stein, 1980). The rewards for making donations consisted of rights to participate in certain ceremonies in certain ways and to receive gifts and honours from the gods. These, in turn, established the position of the recipient families and jati groups in the local social hierarchy and underwrote their relative positions of privilege. Tamil kings were major donors of resources to the temples which became a further, and crucial, means by which they ritually incorporated the social order of their domains and succeeded in estab¬ lishing their authority. The social structure of late medieval Tamil Nadu may best be understood in relation to the ideological triad represented by kaniachi, kingly and divine authority. Dominance lay with an alliance of kaniachi¬ karars and kings, whose joint hegemony was validated by brahmans and expressed most clearly in temple rituals. Stein has argued that brahmans were first brought into, or supported in, the rich river valleys by powerful groups of vellala kaniachikarars, eager to be associated with brahman ritual supremacy in order to distinguish themselves from the lesser and poorer social groups coming to surround them. Patronage of brahmans brought prestige and hence helped to validate claims to a superior share of nadu rights. Beginning even in the Chola period but becoming much stronger with the new form of kingship brought to Tamil Nadu under

Caste, Class and Dominance in Modern Tamil Nadu


Vijayanagar by immigrant Telugu warriors, kings started to intervene more actively in the relationship between vellalas and brahmans and to mediate it in novel ways. The most obvious of these concerned expanding royal endowments for temples, particularly for Vaishnavite temples which gave brahmans a more elevated status in ritual. In a sense, kings were attempting to prise apart the axial nexus between vellalas and brahmans in order to establish a position for themselves in between. In certain cases, this weakened the nexus but, in most cases, it merely added another component to it. Brahman-vellala relationships started to become prob¬ lematic in the Vaishnavism of the vadagalai (northern) school. But in the majority traditions of thengalai (southern) Vaishnavism and of Saivism the alliance between brahmans and vellala donors and devotees remained fundamental to the end of this period (Appadurai, 1976; Stein, 1980). The hegemonic alliance of kaniachikarars, kings and brahmans can be seen to have maintained its dominance over society through a complex process of ideological ‘management’. The most important aspect of this management was the conferring of honours and gifts by the dominant alliance onto specific and discrete groups among the ‘inferior’ majority of the population. Such gifts and honours flowed from kings (as inams), from kaniachikarar communities (as manyams given to artisan and immigrant groups in the nadu) and, perhaps most importantly, from ‘the gods’ (as share rights to sacred substances, precedence in public rituals and entitlement to carry banners at festivals). They associated select members of the inferior population with the power and status of the elite, giving the former a share of the latter’s privilege (Appadurai and Breckenridge, 1976). They also, and crucially, created a context of rivalry and division within the ‘inferior’ population, whereby intense competition took place for the right to receive gifts and honours. This competition simultaneously turned the inferior population against itself and emphasized the dominant position of the elite who arbitrated its outcomes. The clearest expression of the competition was the celebrated division, common through most of south India, between the castes of the Left and Right Hand. Stein may well be correct in suggesting that, by origin in the eleventh century, the division arose not out of elite attempts to create social competitiveness but, conversely, out of the need to incorporate new social groups into expanding and increasingly complex nadu settlements. The Right Hand caste alliance tended to represent groups with long-standing connections in the ‘old’ agricultural community; the Left were associated with trade, artisanal production and the money economy—elements of increasing importance in the late medieval period (Stein, 1980). However, by the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, especially in the larger towns and metropolises, the primary function of the division was to generate social competition: a social competition which the hegemonic elite, who stood outside and above it, fostered, manipulated and, via the conferral of



honours, used to reinforce and ratify their position of dominance (Appadurai, 1974). Most of the ‘peculiarities’ of the Tamil caste system, which we have discussed at length above, can be understood when related to this system of triadic hegemony. Thus far, we have described Tamil ‘tradition’, or Tamil Nadu at the point of tradition, without reference to the varna hierarchy and the ‘encompassing’ theory of purity and pollution. Of course, the theory was present but it was very much less than ‘encompassing’ of society in this context and, rather, was just a single component of the complex ideology of dominance which we have tried to elucidate. The chief relevance of the purity/pollution theory was at the very top and very bottom of the social order. Ritual purity was part of the brahmans mystique, a reason for the specialness of his religious skills, and groups seeking to associate themselves most directly with this mystique tended to emulate him and become purity conscious. In practice, this meant the wealthiest vellala land controlling families of the river valleys developed brahman-like qualities of vegetarianism, scholarship and conspicuous piety (S. Barnett, 1975). Interestingly, it included much less the other element in the hegemonic triad—kings and their warrior clans in the uplands. Although venerating brahmans, they paid little attention to the culture of purity and rested their claims to privilege on ‘kingly’ attributes of power and martial tradition (Beck, 1972). Among the majority of the Tamil population, in the intermediate castes of the Left and Right Hand, social relations appear to have been mediated much more by the logic of ‘honours’, a logic which emphasized the immediate services performed by the recipient for king, kaniachi and gods and to which purity criteria were neutral, except perhaps in one regard. The receipt of gifts and honours meant establishing a privileged association with the dominant alliance whose own ideology contained a component of purity. Thus all who sought and approached this association had to be to some degree ‘pure’ themselves. This requirement immediately distin¬ guished them from untouchables who were not pure and hence could not be permitted to seek direct association with the dominant elite. Untouchables were, specifically and exceptionally, excluded from access to the institu¬ tions within which competition for honours, status and power took place. While, for example, kaniachikarar status and rights by the eighteenth century were open to members of all clean castes (and even Muslims and Christians), they were generally denied as a possibility to untouchables. Equally, untouchables could not compete against clean castes (although they might among themselves) for temple and royal honours. It was not, it should be added, that untouchables had no place in and existed ‘outside’ the legitimate social order. Untouchable labourers had recognized rights (to subsistence and protection) under kaniachikarar communities and recognized places and roles in temple and royal ceremonials. They were very much ‘incorporated’. The real issue—and their real disability—was

Caste, Class and Dominance in Modern Tamil Nadu


that, uniquely in Tamil society, they could not compete for an improve¬ ment in their social position, could not approach the dominant alliance for the type of gifts and honours which, both ideologically and materially, could elevate and transform the nature of their social existence. Put this way, a crucial, and almost the defining, characteristic of ‘clean’ caste society was its competitiveness. Indeed, it would scarcely be an exaggeration to describe Tamil society, especially in the plural contexts of large towns and the ‘mixed’ agricultural zones, as inherently riotous; major festivals in Madras city, for example, were banned for long stretches of the eighteenth century because, everytime attempts were made to hold them, the castes of the Left Hand came to blows over precedence and honours. This intense competitiveness carries several implications for the nature of the caste system. As we noted above, Stephen Barnett, following Dumont, assumed the traditional caste system to have been non-competitive and hierarchic and made the appearance of competitive relations the function of modernization. He also linked the rise of this competition to the substantialization of caste ideology and the transformation of castes into ethnic or race-like entities. In our view of history, substantialization and competition were ‘traditional’ elements of the system. But, to complicate matters, so was hierarchy. In their relations with both the hegemonic elites and untouchables, the majority of intermediate castes were involved in relations of hierarchy. By accepting honours from the elites, they validated the latter’s superiority; and by denying untouchables the right to compete for the same honours, they affirmed their own superiority and privilege. However, in their competitive relations with each other, there is much to suggest that they generated an ideology of ethnic or racial distinction and conflict. Stein has remarked on the ethnic-like character of the Right-Left division (Stein, 1980). Moreover, the closed-ness and localization of jati relations and marriage circles suggest an emphasis on the significance of shared blood. This localization itself, however, may be seen as a further function of the honours system. There were many kings, temples and kaniachikarar communities. The honours which they conveyed were differentially distributed; thus jatis of what the nineteenth century was to term the same caste enjoyed widely differing statuses in different places in relation to different kings, gods and kaniachikarars. Furthermore, these honours were achieved as the result of performing services, the most important of which was endowment, and they could be lost as a result of failing to achieve, since they were redistributed and contested every time royal and temple rituals were performed. The pressure towards continuous achievement, especially in the material terms necessary to making endowments, can be seen to lie behind the strong tendencies which we have noted towards spatial and occupational mobility, in pursuit of the main chance.



The British Raj and the Rise of Radical Dravidianism Virtually all of the components of twentieth-century Dravidian ideology, of collective individualism, appear to be present in the late medieval Tamil past. There was the same concern with group or corporate identitiy, for access to resources was determined by membership of corporate group¬ ings; there was the same concern with the culture and historical quality of group identity, for this quality legitimized the privileged access of the group; there was the same concern that privilege should be ‘shared’, for it was principally by appearing to share their privileges that elites had their superior status recognized and validated; there was the same fierce competitiveness and combativeness in ‘inferior’ society over the relative privileges enjoyed by its constituent groups. Tamil social ideology would not seem to have undergone much change between the eighteenth and the twentieth centuries and many of the paradoxes of Dravidian politics cease to be so paradoxical in the light of southern history. The orientation of the early non-Brahman movement towards emulat¬ ing the brahman—and joining with elite Sanskrit culture, for example— can be seen to reflect the long-standing tradition of temple worship in the river valleys, whence most of the Tamil leaders of the movement came. They were principally wealthy vellalas used to a close association with brahman culture. Equally, the sudden about-face of the DMK in the 1960s, from the denunciation of brahmans to a reconciliation with them, can be seen to have followed the same logic. Once the concept of the Dravidian (racial) community had given way to that of the Tamil (cultural) community, in response to the Hindi Resolution and the appearance of a different, a Hindi cultural ‘other’ against which to organize, the position of Tamil brahmans changed. Whatever else, they were ‘Tamil’ and certainly not ‘Hindi’ in character, and hence became once again members of the ‘community’. Their great scholarship and learning could then be appreci¬ ated and re-appropriated by the Tamil community to enhance the status of its own cultural qualities. Similarly, a large part of EVR’s ‘radical’ Dravidian ideology, rather than representing a ‘modern’ secularism and atheism, as it is usually understood, may be better seen as a throwback to the past. In spite of his commitment to abolishing religion and smashing the gods, it is hard to detect in his writings the bases of an alternative rationalist and secular social theory. To replace the false Aryan gods, and the evil society which they had created, he turned his attention towards a distant Dravidian ‘golden age’ and proposed to reconstitute contemporary society in the light of its values. These values, and the means by which the reconstitution was to be achieved, look remarkably like temple religion but with a different set of gods. Dravidian civilization was celebrated through its historical heroes, who were venerated for the blessings they had bestowed on the community, and in whose name honours, in the form of medals and titles, were

Caste, Class and Dominance in Modern Tamil Nadu


distributed to the faithful. EVR’s economic philosophy also looked backwards. As we have noted, he was inclined to oscillate widely between communism and feudalism but, in one thing, he remained consistent. He repeatedly urged a return to the ‘share’ economy and ran his own large merchant wholesaling business on share principles which recalled the kaniachi village communities of yore, and ‘shared’ the surplus of their communally organized production systems (Diehl, 1977). The past may also provide clues to EVR’s ambiguities towards the problem of untouchability. By ‘modern’ Dravidian racial or Tamil nationalist criteria, Adi-Dravidas must be at least as Dravidian and Tamil as other members of these ‘communities’. But by historic Tamil community principles they were not and, logically, could never be. If ‘communities’ are defined in Tamil ideology by their privileges, then it is essential that there be some members of society who have no privileges and, hence, against whom ‘the community’ can take its identity. Untouchability has always supplied the ultimate defining line of both ‘unprivilege’ and identity in historical Tamil society. Even the paradoxical behaviour of the DMK in office becomes comprehensible when related back to the past. Why is it that Tamil nationalism having, since the 1960s, abandoned its separatist platform and adopted the political status of a client under New Delhi, continues ever more loudly to proclaim ‘the glories’ of Tamil culture and history and to insist on their superiority to the culture and history of the rest of India, especially that of ‘the North’? As Marguerite Barnett has argued, Tamil nationalism has accepted integration into the Indian Union and presents no threat to it (M. Barnett, 1976). But it wallows in a self-glorification which denigrates the rest of the Indian nation. The conundrum may be resolved by looking back at the role played by the status of culture and history in establishing the claims to privilege of one ‘community’, or corporate grouping in relation to others. What the DMK does, in the classic Tamil idiom, is to assert Tamil Nadu’s claims to a special and superior share of Indian ‘national’ resources on the basis of the special and superior quality of its culture and history. The contradictions of DMK economic ‘radicalism’ can also be resolved by reference to the historical past. As we noted above, the DMK, while making loud noises about the virtues of equality, has done nothing to redistribute ownership of the means of production or to increase the taxation of wealth. Marguerite Barnett has described its economic measures as ‘vapid’ (M. Barnett, 1976: 323). However, we need to remember that it is no function of the Tamil king to extract resources from local corporate groups. The king ‘endows’ and ‘donates : he does not tax or interfere in the relations of distribution established by custom. And the DMK’s economic radicalism lies in the fact that it does ‘donate —on a huge and open-handed scale to almost all groups in society. If, since 1967, Tamil Nadu has been among the most ‘backward’ of states in reforming its



structure of economic relations, it has been the most forward in developing ameliorative and welfare policies to offset the effects of this structure. Annadurai sought to push the ‘cheap’ food policies of the Congress to levels never before reached and, most spectacularly since 1980, MGR’s celebrated ‘Midday Meals Scheme’ offered one free meal a day to all children. Moreover, government employment, subsidy and development enterprise have all been turned over to welfarist ends. Over 70 per cent of appointments in the government bureaucracy are made on the basis of community quotas for Backward Classes and Scheduled Tribes rather than on a basis of strict competitive merit. The same is true of the distribution of scholarships for education and places at universities and colleges. The government subvents most areas of the economy: in 1981, it wrote off crores of rupees owed in unpaid electricity bills by tens of thousands of farmers; it employs upwards of a million handloom weavers in otherwise uneconomic work. Whenever the vagaries of capitalism strike, the DMK state is always there to pick up the pieces: in 1981, it took over the bankrupt Buckingham and Carnatic Mills in Madras city in order to keep upwards of half-a-million workers and their dependents from destitution. Tamil Nadu has never had a more generous king than the DMK (now the AIADMK) especially after the brilliant ‘MGR’ ascended the throne. It also never had a king better able than this immensely popular ex-film star at organizing the public display and celebration of ‘royal’ generosity. But if the cultural principles and majoritarian political tradition of contemporary Tamil Nadu hark back so directly to the medieval past, we are left with an obvious historical and sociological problem. Whatever happened to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and to the forces of modernization? And, moreover, why, if this is indeed the traditional and majoritarian political culture of Tamil Nadu, have its manifestations in the twentieth century so often been taken as marking ‘radical’ and ‘new’ departures? The answers to these questions lie in the character of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the processes of ‘colonial’ modernization which they witnessed. These processes can be seen to have fabricated a Tamil ‘tradition’, which bore little resemblance to the historical reality, and to have functioned in the interests of a narrowly constituted elite which became distanced from, and no longer appeared to share its privileges with, the bulk of society. The radicalism of the Dravidian ideology lies in the extent to which it represents a protest against these dominant trends of colonial modernization and the privileged ‘others’ which they tended to create. The Dravidian ideology reflects attempts to return Tamil society to its real historical roots and to break the ‘false’ power of the colonial elites—elites who were also implicated in the Indian national movement and came to take over the early independent state in Tamil Nadu. It was not until 1967 that political conditions were ripe for ideological control over their own culture and history to be restored to

Caste, Class and Dominance in Modern Tamil Nadu


the majority of the Tamil people and for the era of colonialism to be finally buried. The two key ways in which colonial modernization undermined the historical structures of Tamil society were by laying the institutional foundations of ‘private’ capitalism and by inventing a wholly false sense of Tamil ‘Tradition’. The institutional foundations were laid by the develop¬ ment of a bureaucratic state and of ‘private’ rights of property. These broke up the complexes of corporate right, through which access to resources had been determined earlier, and vested absolute rights of ownership in individuals. The false sense of Tradition was supplied by two forces. First, the law courts and the administration sought to fix community organization in permanent, unchanging forms. Communities of caste, religion, family and, for a time, even mirasi right were defined by ascription and their memberships taken to be changeless since time immemorial and incapable of ‘legitimate’ change (Washbrook, 1981). The reasons for this can be seen as several. ‘Modern’ states need to ‘fix’ status and class categories in order to develop their principles of administration. Equally, the fixing of community forms also defines social responsibilities and obligations, which are of prime concern to any ‘colonial’ state since it denies responsibility for the reproduction of the colonized society and must needs offload this responsibility on to institutions in the society itself. The formal obligations of ‘family’, ‘caste’ and ‘religion’ for the discipline and conduct of their ‘members’ increased greatly under the Anglo-Indian law. Further, it is a function of modern law and state to claim a monopoly of all legitimate power in society. Previously, the dispersal of this power had been manifested in the constantly changing nature of ‘customary’ rights and community identities. The new concentration of power achieved by colonialism ended this dispersal and gave the right to define and change customary and community norms exclusively to the courts of law. As these courts were under statutory orders to protect religious and social tradition, lest forces of ‘fanaticism’ be disturbed and unleashed against the Raj, what this amounted to was the insistence that the courts freeze existing community norms into the structure of society and prevent them from changing. It was not until the 1920s, and the beginnings of representative government, that the British state would permit ‘interference’ in religious and social customs and allow change as a legitimate possibility in the cultural relations of Tamil society. Given a past of continuous change and development, the distortions created by this freezing of tradition would have been serious enough. But in Tamil Nadu, the British compounded the problem by freezing the wrong Tradition. The Anglo-Indian law in Madras was heavily influenced by centrist notions that Hindu culture was uniform and by Brahmanic notions, obtained from Brahman texts and Sastraic texts, that this culture was Brahman. The Anglo-Indian courts thus imposed the classic Aryan caste



system on to Tamil society as if it were its Tradition and then proceeded to maintain it there with the full force of the law and the modern state. Not only was the nature of customary and community regulation altered but the customs and communities defined by the courts and regulated by them in the name of the Tamil past had nothing to do with that past in the first place. The attempted ‘Brahmanization’ of the law threatened a real revolution in Tamil society (Rudolphs, 1967; Washbrook, 1981). The general social consequences of these ‘revolutionary’ changes can be seen in the breaking up of structures of shared privilege and community responsibility and in the increasing pretensions and privileges of elite groups of various kinds. With regard to property rights, the establishment of private ownership enabled the wealthier and more powerful elements in the old corporations to break free of the constraints imposed upon them by inferior elements and to abrogate many of the rights which subordinate groups had enjoyed and shared with them. The law was principally concerned with recognizing only ‘real’ property rights (in land and houses) and thus tended to de-recognize and destroy less tangible rights, such as those possessed by tenants to custom—rather than market—determined tenures and rents and those possessed by landless labourers to subsistence and shares in the crop. ‘Privatization’ also undermined notions of collective responsibility for the economic production and social reproduction of the community, which had been part and parcel of the old kaniachi ideology. Kaniachi right had implied not only entitlement to share of the corporate group’s production but also obligation to produce it, according to the size of the share, and to maintain the infrastructure of the production system. In the river valleys, this last was crucially important since irrigation channels were constructed and maintained by the corporate group itself. By the end of the nineteenth century, little seems to have been left of these community mores—with serious consequences for the irrigation systems of several areas (Shivakumar, 1978). Elite groups made use of the new opportunities under the law to accumulate wealth and entrench an institutionalized privilege to degrees not seen before. The links between them and other members of the community, forged through ties of mutual obligation and shared group identity, were progressively severed. This severance was even more noticeable and acute in matters of ‘religion’ which, the modern law decreed, must needs be separated from the ‘secular’ affairs of the material world. It manifested itself in two principal ways. First, ‘society’ lost control of the gods and their brahman priests. A quintessential part of the temple system had been that, via the processes of endowment, worshippers had kept the god responsible to them. Endowments once given could be un-given, albeit only theoretically to be re-given to another god, and most temple endowments remained under the direct control of the donor (and his family or jati). A general form of endowment was to pledge a share of the produce of some land to a temple but to maintain management and cultivation rights over the land

Caste, Class and Dominance in Modern Tamil Nadu


itself. By these means, the gods were kept pliant and generous in their distribution of honours since a recalcitrance on their part could bring about loss of income. The Anglo-Indian law destroyed this pliancy. It deemed temples to be public trusts with absolute rights of ownership and management over the resources with which they were ‘endowed’. At a stroke, donors lost their means of exercising a continuous influence over temple worship ^and the gods became ‘free’—and very rich indeed (Appadurai, 1981). With this freedom and wealth, they also started to become exceedingly arrogant and parsimonious in their distribution of honours. As we have seen, honours had been distributed in a way which was very flexible and reflected the achievement of wealth and power in society. The rigidities of the Anglo-Indian law, however, meant that honours, once given, now were permanent and could not be changed. Moreover, the creeping Aryanization of the caste system meant that many who aspired to honours, and some who had long established their right to them, were denied on the grounds of their low purity ranking and dubious social origins (Hardgrave, 1969). The initial effect of this recalcitrance on the part of the gods was to exacerbate jati conflicts in society and to begin to transform the ideology of caste. As Appadurai has argued, jatis started to contest each other’s rights to honours through the Anglo-Indian law and thus, necessarily, to internalize the ideology of that law. Tamil litigants began to argue as if the distribution of honours were permanent, and the only question was who had historic rights to what. Their relations which, though always competitive, had been mediated by linking the moral and material universes together—became more bitterly hostile as the processes were frozen and the universes were divorced (Appadurai, 1981). If jati rivalry had previously taken the form of a regular ‘team’ competition to contest and redistribute honours and privileges in society, it now took more the form of a race war to establish permanent privileges whose exclusivity represented a new type of dominance. A second effect of the gods’ recalcitrance, however, was to raise the possibility, especially for sub-elite groups, that they no longer possessed virtue and were dispensable or replaceable. If they stood over and above mankind and, instead of serving its aspirations, frustrated them, perhaps it was time to get rid of the gods or find better gods to put in their place. Dravidian politics are perhaps best understood as a series of reactions to the implications of the ‘modernization’ of Tamil society and represent, in essence, a protest against the twentieth century. In cultural terms, for example, the non-Brahman movement of the 1910s can be seen as an attempt, especially by the vellalas of the river valleys, to restore their special relationship with brahmans, which developments in the nineteenth century had undermined. Changes in the laws of property had given brahmans an independent material base and broken their dependence upon the patronage of politically dominant non-Brahman groups. The



Anglo-Indian law had also provided them with a vehicle for expressing the norms of varnashramadharma and for imposing them upon society. The cultural bases of vellala privilege in relation to inferior non-Brahman castes were undermined once they too became classified and treated as ‘mere’ Shudras (M. Barnett, 1976). In the 1930s and 1940s, the critique exploded beyond these narrow elite confines and began to acquire a sharper materialist edge. The context for the growth of radical Dravidianism was provided by the Great Depression which revealed more clearly than ever before what colonial modernization had done to the structure of material relations. From the middle of the nineteenth century, community and inferior group rights had progressively been lost, or rather absorbed by dominant elites enjoying growing con¬ centrations of wealth and privilege. But the implications of this had been concealed by a context of near-continuous economic expansion. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the initial impact of British rule may have been highly destructive of the commercial and artisanal economy which, when India had possessed upwards of a quarter of the world’s manufacturing capacity, had made Tamil Nadu one of her most developed regions. British rule turned Tamil Nadu into an agricultural colony but, in the short term, a very successful agricultural colony marked by an expanding productive base, increasing levels of profitability and steady population growth. Moreover, an outlet for some, at least, of Tamil society’s entrepreneurial and manufacturing talents was provided by the ‘opening up’ (or really re-opening) of Southeast Asia by imperialism. Annually, between the 1890s and 1920s, upwards of one and a half million Tamils earned their living there, most as labourers but some as bankers and financiers, developing the Irrawady delta, and many as traders. This buoyant context hid the structural changes of the colonial period— enabling groups who had lost traditional rights to acquire the appearance of ‘modern’ ones by becoming petty landowners on the margin of expanding cultivation or by seeking opportunities overseas (Baker, 1984). The tide, however, started to turn in the twentieth century and became a flood by the 1930s, with the collapse of agricultural profitability and the contraction of Tamil Southeast Asia. EVR’s radical Dravidianism very much spoke to the dross carried by these waves, especially in the plains and around the new centres of urbanization expanding very rapidly there. His audience was largely urban and consisted of artisanal groups, whose trades were depressed, and immigrants from the ‘intermediate’ caste groups of the countryside, whose positions in the agrarian economy were being squeezed out by the Depression (Baker, 1976). His economic message harked back to the past: a restoration of the ‘share’ economy and a re-establishment of co-operative or community systems of production. The rich must once again share their riches and the privileged their privileges. These notions he carried forward into the new and increasingly critical arena of education and government employment, the fastest expanding

Caste, Class and Dominance in Modern Tamil Nadu


sectors of the new towns where many of the migrants hoped to find their fortune. Although formally an opponent of all caste distinctions, EVR became a champion of the cause of the backward castes, urging that the privilege of access to government employment and education, seen to be held as the exclusive right or possession of brahman and vellala ‘forward castes’ be more widely distributed on the basis of social need rather than merit (M. Barnett, 1976). On the cultural side, EVR’s attack on the gods and their brahmans in many ways reflected the shock felt by plainsmen, especially rural plainsmen, when they encountered the religion and society of the towns. As noted above, the religion of the plains was also less Brahmanic or Sanskritized than that of the river valleys and metropolitan centres and was focused at least as much on local deities—representing clans, territories, historical heroes and animist demons—as on the Sanskrit pantheon. Its social relations also remained much more under the control of local dominant groups, not least because its major temples were smaller and less well endowed. Yet it was the religious culture of the valleys, as transmogrified by the Anglo-Indian law, which was becoming that of the upland towns as modernization deepened the integration of Tamil society. This culture was brought by the elite vellalas and brahmans who were the first to occupy the modern institutions of bureaucracy and the professions. The plainsmen’s alienation from this culture, as they increasingly encoun¬ tered it, was profound and bitter. Its arrogant gods mocked the customs and pretensions of local society and accorded them no status. The first reaction was to destroy them; and, as we have suggested, the second was to bring back other gods who would symbolize the community’s aspirations more satisfactorily. These gods were the heroes of the Dravidian past who were celebrated in much the same way that the religion of the plains celebrated the heroes and gods of clan and local territory. The past too was re-called by radical Dravidianism to do battle with what was to become its principal enemy from the 1930s to the 1960s, the Indian National Congress. The battle eventually and inevitably changed it: supplying a different kind of ‘other’ for its impulses to confront, emulate and absorb as Tamil nationalism. But why, at least before Independence, should there have been a battle at all and why should Dravidian politics from the non-Brahman movement to Annadurai have been so hostile to Indian nationalism? After all, the structural condition which lay behind Tamil society’s problems in the first half of the twentieth century undoubtedly derived from the modernization introduced by the British; and Indian nationalism was pledged to establishing the institutions of representative democracy which could help to overcome those problems. The answers perhaps lie in the extent to which Indian nationalism was too ‘modern’; both in the sense that it was committed to development through the social system of private capitalism and the modern state and that its understanding of ‘Tradition’ matched that of the Anglo-Indian.



The Congress in Tamil Nadu was always led by, and to a considerable degree reflected the interests of, the elites produced by colonial modernization—brahmans, educated professionals, wealthy mirasidars and businessmen. Its policies were out to fit those interests: reductions in taxation, greater scope for Indian industry and business, a widening of opportunity for educated Indians in government and the professions. There was little here to stir minds or resolve the problems of the majorities of Tamil society. Moreover, there were certain policies which were designed to irritate them. In the 1910s and 1920s, for example, leading Congress brahmans were concerned with bringing the affairs of the temples under better legal and state control. As it was, this control had already taken the gods and their brahman guardians beyond the influence of local community groups, and sustained their arrogance. Proposals for still further state intervention were bound to provoke opposition and to be seen as yet another means by which brahmans hoped to dominate society. From the late 1930s, Congress modernization ideals provided an even more dangerous hostage to fortune. Already the Congress had gained a notorious reputation in the south by apparently insisting that jobs in government ought to be distributed principally on the basis of competitive merit rather than social patronage to Backward castes. The threat to aspirations which this represented was further compounded when, from 1938, the Congress became committed to the ideal of national cultural integration and passed the Hindi Resolution. To Tamil society, besides representing an insult in the implication that, if there was to be a national culture, it should be derived from the ‘inferior’ Hindi rather than the ‘superior’ Tamil, this Resolution was threatening in even more direct ways. As we have seen, expanding government employment had become the most dynamic element in the urban economy and the focus of petit bourgeois aspirations. Much of this employment involved the use of the vernacular rather than English. The Hindi Resolution seemed to suggest that the vernacular was to be displaced by what amounted to a ‘foreign’ language and that government jobs in Tamil Nadu would be taken over by migrants from ‘the North’ whose mother tongue was Hindi. The effect of the Resolution on the urban petit bourgeoisie was galvanic and won legions of vehement supporters for the Dravidian and Dravidastan causes (Baker, 1976). The final straw in Congress commitment to the ‘modern’ society was provided, perhaps, by its flirtations with socialism. These manifested themselves in the first constitution which proclaimed the abolition of all forms of caste discrimination and the pursuit of absolute social equality. Once more, the Dravidian ideology was aghast at these ideals. On the one hand, large numbers of the new professional petit bourgeoisie owed their education and employment to the reverse discrimination practised by the Backward classes codes which, in Tamil Nadu, had a long history even before 1950. Did the new constitution mean that reverse discrimination on

Caste, Class and Dominance in Modern Tamil Nadu


the grounds of caste ‘underprivilege’ was also to be abolished? On the other hand, the notion of absolute and total social equality was virtually incomprehensible within the Tamil ideological universe: what could a society look like which had no privilege at all? Dravidian ideologues were not to be appeased either by the alternative concept of social amelioration implicit in the constitution that help and welfare aid should be given on the basis of economic or class, rather than caste, need. The proto-petit bourgeoisie families who filled the Backward caste quotas were by no means the poorest in society, certainly in comparison to families of the propertyless poor. Class amelioration was very much not a policy they favoured and, once again, they rallied to the Dravidian flag (Spratt, 1969). Yet Congress ideology did not only represent principles of Western or ‘pure’ modernity; it also reflected a nostalgic attachment to the Indian past, especially on its Gandhian side, However, no bridge was possible here either, for Gandhi’s past was Aryan in inspiration and, to a considerable degree, may have been informed by a Modern understanding of the changeless nature of Tradition. Gandhi’s emphases on the virtue of the caste system and his attempts to develop welfare policies which kept castes in their hereditary occupations, seemed to many Tamils little different from varnashramadharma. The policies had no appeal in a culture used to high degrees of occupational mobility and pursuit of the main chance; and raised the possibility that, if they were implemented, many existing channels of social mobility would become obstructed. Equally, Gandhi’s village community development programmes cut no ice in an economy where agricultural profitability was declining and the wealth of the expanding towns beckoned the road to prosperity. There was a cultural gap, centuries wide, between Indian nationalism and the Dravidian ideology. The latter had no means of comprehending policies and arguments geared to the development of a modern bourgeois nation state. It simply did not think in these terms. Indeed when, from the early 1940s, it was forced to confront the issue of ‘the state’, its proposals were largely vacuous. The ‘Dravidastan’ which EVR began to advocate seems never to have been conceptualized in relation to the needs of ‘modern’ administrative structure, economic and class interests and social policies. The propaganda of the period merely stressed the extent to which it would represent a society without brahmans and Aryan cultural influence, dedicated to the glories of a primeval Dravidian community. Even the taking of office in 1967 was not to do much to overcome the Dravidian ideology’s incomprehension of the modern state. The DMK’s principal contributions to the development of government in Tamil Nadu have been to hand the civil service over to the backward castes and to re-name the districts after heroes of the Tamil past. Of course, in principle, the Dravidian ideology’s aversion to modernity should have turned it as much against its colonial masters as against those in the emergent Indian nation state. The ‘modernizing’ policies of



colonialism were the root cause of many of the social tensions to which it was reacting. However, two factors may be seen to have obscured the position. First, the modernizing ambitions of colonialism were extremely limited, far more limited than those of twentieth century Indian national¬ ism. While centring on the ‘freeing’ of the economy from the restraints of ‘tradition’, they very much did not include, for obvious reasons, the ‘freeing’ of society. In social terms, the British Raj was happiest dealing with what it conceived to be a feudal social order. The Justice Party, which it created out of Maharajas and traditionalistic comprador merchants, represented its ideal collaborator. Against the insistent demands of the Congress for policies designed to extend the principles of modernization into broader areas of society, the British tended to resist by appealing to the prerogatives of history and, particularly, of inherited social hierarchy (Washbrook, 1981). While the Dravidian ideology was antipathetic to certain parts of the supposedly traditional social hierarchy, namely those concerning the religious privileges of brahmans and Aryanism, it was highly sympathetic to others, especially those which highlighted the position of ‘generous’ landed magnates, merchants and ‘little kings’ who would share their privileges with the rest of society. The separation by the British of religious from secular affairs made it all the easier for Dravidianism to venerate one aspect of the putative past, while denigrating and castigating the other. The second factor which also helped the British to conceal the nature of their regime, consisted of a wonderful system of ideological mirrors by which they refracted responsibility for the problems of Tamil society away from themselves and on to a variety of other things—the Hindu past, the greed of the rich and, increasingly, the Indian National Congress. In a political culture such as that of Tamil Nadu, where privilege becomes objectionable when it is ‘seen’, control over the processes by which certain privileges are ‘seen’ and others remain ‘hidden’, is a major element in political success. Politics turn on the manipulation of illusions and colonial ideology produced several stunning illusions which held Tamil society spell-bound for decades. The first of these was that the Anglo-Indian law had not invented the Hindu Tradition, which disrupted temple relations and hardened the caste system, but had merely ‘discovered’ it. The courts claimed to be doing no more than ratifying the social customs and conventions by which society was thought already to live. What this meant was that blame for the social frustrations felt as a result of legal decisions fell not on the courts themselves, and the apparatus of colonial authority lying behind them, but on the supposed nature of the Hindu social past which they were obliged, regrettably, to support. Disappointed aspirants were pointed towards brahmans and the Aryan caste system as the reasons for their disappointment. Moreover, to make sure that these ‘targets’ were clearly seen, and were promoted to the status of the ‘others’ against whom political mobilization should take place, the British also extended special

Caste, Class and Dominance in Modern Tamil Nadu


patronage to the Backward castes in education and government employ¬ ment beginning in the 1870s. These policies developed apace; in the twentieth century its principles were extended to the administration of almost everything from places on local self-government bodies to famine relief (Washbrook, 1975). It was these material incentives which, perhaps most of all, engaged Tamil aspirations and brought ‘casteism’ into almost every sphere of social life.. A second illusion was provided by the refractory mirrors of ‘laissez-faire’ economic theory. During the later nineteenth century, the colonial state had progressively withdrawn from a central role in the organization of the economy, had steadily reduced levels of taxation on the land and had set itself up as the mere guardian of a free market economy. When economic disasters struck, through famine or depression, it blamed them on the vagaries of nature or of the market, or, and increasingly, on the depradations of the Indian rich themselves. Especially after the First World War, the ‘middleman’ (money-lender/market trader) was singled out in colonial ideology as the principal cause of poverty and underde¬ velopment in the economy. During the Depression, this creature was vilified across the land and various plans drawn up to eliminate him from many areas of the economy so that producers could obtain their ‘just’ rewards. The attack on the middleman was readily appreciated in Tamil society where every small producer had experience of being bilked by merchants and money-lenders. The colonial state’s campaign against the middleman helped sustain its popularity, which grew even greater wherever it undertook beneficent intervention in the economy—writing off tax arrears, subventing artisanal production, conciliating debts—which it did increasingly after the Great Depression. The British too could masquerade as generous ‘kings’. A third set of mirrors not only made colonial responsibility for the evils in Tamil society vanish but also made an image of the Indian National Congress appear. The British were tireless in their efforts to associate the Congress with Brahmanism and Aryanism, on the one side, and the greed of the wealthy on the other. Backward caste patronage was used explicitly for this end; as I have argued elsewhere, the non-Brahman Justice Party arose in response to the offer of support and patronage made to leading public figures by British officials during the Home Rule League movement (Washbrook, 1976). And the role of wealthy businessmen in, for example, the nationalist swadeshi movement, was emphasized with continuing regularity. The mirrors worked well, at least until the Second World War, and the British were able to direct the anti-modern protests of the Dravidian ideology away from themselves and on to the Indian National Congress. The very limited ‘modernizing’ ambitions of colonialism accommodated themselves easily to the support of a political movement and ideology, which wished principally to turn the clock back and restore Tamil society to



the heritage of its medieval values. The result was disaster for the prospects of Indian nationalism at the popular level and its appeal never extended much beyond the ‘modern’ elites. Tamil society produced a politics of ‘subalternity’ which was considerably more anti-nationalist than it was anti-colonial (Guha, 1982). The DMK(s) in Power In the light of these remarks, however, the eventual ‘victory’ of the Dravidian ideology in the election of 1967 takes a great deal of explaining. How, twenty years after Independence and the creation of the modern Indian state, could a movement predicated on these medieval values come to throw back the tide of modernization. Moreover, given its aversion to and virtual incomprehension of the principles of the modern state, what would it do with the powers of government once it had them? Answers to the first question lie, perhaps, in the implications of universal suffrage and of changing politico-economic conditions during the 1960s. Those to the second may be sought in a series of transformations affecting the nature of elite politics. During the late 1930s, the Congress began to capture the imagination of most of the elite groups in Tamil Nadu, as elsewhere in India. The Congress was now seen clearly to represent the future and to offer programmes of national economic development which went beyond those pursued by the colonial state during the interwar period. The Tamil elites buried the hatchet of Brahman/non-Brahman controversy, which had split them earlier, and went over en masse to the Congress cause. Although Tamil Nadu had little tradition of the freedom struggle, the Madras elec¬ torates of 1937 and 1946, which consisted of the wealthiest 10-15 per cent of society and were predominantly non-Brahman, gave Congress its largest majorities anywhere in India (Baker, 1976). After 1947 and through the 1950s, Congress continued to rule, principally it would seem, by resting itself on the clientage networks of the elites and by controlling the distribution of the very considerable patronage made available to its ‘machine’ under the first three five-year plans (M. Barnett, 1976: ch. V; Spratt, 1969). In spite of universal suffrage, voting participation rates remained extremely low: only 49.3 per cent turned out for the general election of 1957. The problem for the Congress, however, was that it was never able to capture a broad base of popular support nor to extend its appeal beyond the elites. Indeed, its control of the electoral system never gave it control of the streets. Encouraged by EVR, the petit bourgeoisie of the towns regularly raised riots and launched popular agitations against those measures of Congress policy (concerning especially Hindi and backward castes legislation) of which they disapproved. Although EVR, like Gandhi, eschewed constitutional politics, he lent support to Congress opponents, such as the Communists, who profited considerably (Hardgrave, 1965).

Caste, Class and Dominance in Modern Tamil Nadu


Also, in the countryside, the hegemony of the Congress was starting to be challenged, particularly by small caste-based parties, such as the Tamil Nad Toilers (which represented the pallis of Chingleput) and the Forward Bloc (which represented the maravars of Ramnad-Tinnevelly). In the case of the pallis, the assertion of autonomy from the Congress may have had much to do with the extent to which the Congress in this region, which represented the hinterland of Madras city, was dominated by brahmans and vellalas. In the case of the maravars, the estrangement had more to do with the pressures which these erstwhile warrior clans felt themselves to be under from rising mercantile groups (especially nadars) and to which they responded by developing a more explicit ‘dominant caste’ ideology (Hardgrave, 1969; Baker, 1984). This new caste ideology confronted Congress’ secular policies and commitments to protecting lower status caste groups. The Congress base in Tamil Nadu was, then, very thin and rendered even more fragile by the cultural gap between nationalist policies and Tamil aspirations and needs. To overcome this last problem, the Tamil Nadu Congress attempted to d.emoticize its image by holding its meetings in Tamil and replacing the brahman Rajagopalachari with the nadar Kamaraj in the leadership. But this was little more than cosmetic and made the problem of conveying national policies to an uncomprehending and instinctively hostile Tamil audience all the more palpable. There was political material in plenty, in the dissatisfied petit bourgeoisie of the towns and the inward focusing ‘dominant’ castes of the countryside, as well as, and perhaps most of all, in the majority of voters who as yet remained apathetic, to build an opposition capable of displacing the Congress hegemony. It was very much the work of C. Annadurai, the founder of the DMK which had broken away from EVR in 1949, to weld this incoherent opposition into a force capable of taking power. The immediate causes of Annadurai’s break with EVR were probably personal but he came to give Dravidianism a notably different slant. He began to react against the sheer negativity of EVR’s position, which simply denied Indian nationalism in all its forms and manifestations, and to seek solutions to some of the problems of Tamil society through the Dravidian ideology. He was, for example, considerably more concerned with eco¬ nomic questions than was EVR, whose vagueness and impracticality on such issues we have noted above. EVR seemed to argue as if eliminating brahmans from the south would, of itself, bring about greater equality and refused to be drawn very much further. His lack of interest in materialistic details is hard to dissociate from his personal background, as the member of a wealthy merchant family, and the backgrounds of several of his closest patrons and supporters in the 1930s, who were prominent businessmen and industrialists. Indeed, there is perhaps something to the case that, during the hungry 1930s, EVR’s emphasis on the cultural, at the expense of the material, causes of inequality did much to distract attention away from the



materially-dominant position of the non-Brahman majority of the Tamil elite (Baker, 1976). Annadurai, from a background in the distressed small-town artisanates, had no such blind spots or interests and turned the DMK towards the issues raised by poverty. Equally, in view of its sheer impracticality, he began to modify the Dravidian stance on separatism and, by so doing, helped to shift its emphasis away from a racial and towards a cultural conception of nationalism. For good or ill, Tamils were Indians: the questions were what kind of Indians, with what special historical and cultural attributes; what could they do for India; and, perhaps most paramount, what could India do for them? (M. Barnett, 1976). Annadurai set about building a Dravidian political party and, from the late 1950s, began to enjoy growing success. The success came first, and most obviously, in municipal elections and urban constituencies where the petit bourgeoisie backbone of radical Dravidianism was firmest. But they spread steadily to the countryside, picking up a very large slice of what was a newly mobilized vote. The rise of the DMK and increased electoral participation rates went hand in hand. In 1957, when the participation rate was just 49.3 per cent, the DMK won 13 seats; in 1962, when the rate was 70.6 per cent, the DMK won 50 seats; and in 1967, when it was 76.6 per cent, the DMK won 136 seats. The demise of the Congress owed much less to any substantial sections of the population being converted away from it. Its own share of votes held up remarkably well, falling only from 45.3 per cent to 41.4 per cent between 1957 and 1967. But it was overwhelmed from below by the weight of new numbers and by the unity that the DMK was able to impose on opposition to it (M. Barnett; 1976: ch. VI). Behind the victory of 1967, there were perhaps three major factors. One, of course, was the turmoil in the Congress itself after Nehru’s death. This had much to do, no doubt, with the struggle for succession but it can also be associated with changing economic equations which upset the old politics. The Congress machine had rested upon the dispensing of an enormous development patronage, much of it to industries and to building the infrastructure of a ‘modern’ economy. As much as a quarter of India’s gross capital formation in these years may have been provided by ‘free’ foreign aid. By the mid-1960s, however, development budgets were beginning to tighten or to look towards new and rather different sectors of the economy, such as agriculture and the green revolution, which carried rather different political implications. The economic bases of the Congress were becoming unstable just as, in Tamil Nadu, the political bases had to encounter a new challenge. The second factor aiding the DMK was its economic policy, or rather its economic promise. On the argument that (in spite of its record growth rates) Tamil Nadu was being cheated by New Delhi and on the offer of a bonanza of cheap or free food, the DMK promised a new age of plenty for all. And the third factor was its brilliant manipulation of values, culture and history to convey simple messages which identified villains and promoted

Caste, Class and Dominance in Modern Tamil Nadu


unity against them across many of the ‘artificial’ lines of caste and class. On the one hand, DMK propaganda pilloried the arrogance of ‘the North’ and the mean-mindedness and greed of the rich; on the other, it appealed to historic sentiments of communality and honour—in the virtues of landowning and farming, which harked back to the tradition of kaniachi, and in the glorious culture and history of the Tamils. The key to the success of its propaganda lay in its use of the cinema which visually recreated the glorious past and impressed it upon the consciousness of the millions of even rural Tamils who went regularly to the cinema (Forrester, 1976). Annadurai was a leading film script-writer and brought many stars into propaganda work for the DMK which, in most areas, was organized out of film fan clubs. If modern Indian politics, as indeed ‘modern’ politics everywhere, are exercises in the art'of illusion, it may be no surprise that those who master the art for a living, and who control its principal means of dissemination, should come to have mastery over politics. Several anthropologists have reported how, in 1967, masses of small farmers and even labourers, who had never voted before or, certainly, never considered voting against the interests of their Congress ‘bosses’, took to the polls in answer to Anna’s call and ‘overturned’ the political structure (Djurfeldt and Lindberg, 1975; Harriss, 1982). But it is perhaps no great thing to perform an illusion once. The real genius of the DMK has been to go on performing it for twenty years, with growing and deepening success, and even while the theatre itself is falling apart. Over the last decade at least, Tamil Nadu’s economic problems have reached serious proportions with 63 per cent of the population most recently listed below the poverty line. Moreover, in spite of the pledge to equality, there can be little doubt that economic differentiation has grown rapidly under the DMK: the rewards both of the green revolution and of industrialization having stayed firmly with the rich (Harriss, 1983). Yet the DMK has marched on to become not merely a party (or, as now, several) but Tamil Nadu’s dominant political tradition, unrivalled by the Congres¬ ses and Communists. A central reason for this success is that the elites have more or less abandoned alternative platforms to the DMK(s) and have thrown their own support behind it. Harriss noted how the ousted village ‘bosses’ of the Congress in 1967, re-appeared in the colours of the DMK in 1971 (Harriss, 1982). Indeed, in many ways, this development was incipient in DMK politics even before 1967. Marguerite Barnett has noted how one part of Annadurai’s strategy was to ‘de-radicalize’ Dravidianism and make it acceptable to the interests of as much of the electorate as possible. Besides dropping the contentious separatist issue, Annadurai also dampened the anti-religious rhetoric and, by offering Tamil cultural nationality to brahmans, opened the way for the reconciliation with the majority community (M. Barnett, 1976: ch. VI). Moreover, while maintaining an egalitarian critique of the evils of the rich, DMK propaganda was inclined



to attribute the evils to personal qualities of greed, which could be overcome by generosity, and not to suggest that wealth itself should be penalized. How far Annadurai came back from the road of radicalism may be judged by the close relationship he developed with the conservative Swatantra Party of Rajagopalachari who is often credited with having tutored him in the ways of public and constitutional politics (Spratt, 1969). The final and most amazing of all the transformations which the Dravidian ideology was to undergo was that which turned it from a vehicle of anti-elitist protest into one which accommodated elite privilege in Tamil society. But why should the elites move behind a political movement which, ostensibly, is opposed to everything they stand for? The answer here may lie in the extent to which the illusions of the DMK provides them with better social protection for their privileges than did those of the Congress and which, thus far, have cost them very little. There can be no doubt that the possession of privilege, in all its many forms, was becoming increasingly uncomfortable in Tamil Nadu from the 1930s to the 1960s. The religious and educational privileges, not merely of brahmans but also of the Forward non-Brahman castes (especially river valley vellalas) who shared their cultural distinctions, were under open ridicule on the streets from atheistic Dravidians looking to the Backward classes code for their salvation. With Annadurai’s new invective against the greed of the rich, even the secular privileges of wealth could be made to seem anomalous. Being the ‘other’ to radical Dravidian ideology promised few easy nights at rest. However, in its de-radicalized form, the Dravidian ideology could not only hide these self-same privileges but even provide a validation for them. As we have seen, ‘community’ in this ideology is constituted in opposition to an ‘other’: if, therefore, the ‘other’ can himself become a member of the ‘community’, his other-ness disappears. Moreover, privilege in the Dravidian ideology is legitimized by appearing to be ‘shared’: If, therefore, privilege could appear to be shared again, its possession would be validated once more. Indian nationalist ideology, with its ‘foreign’ cultural associations and emphasis on the values of modem elitism, could never hide and validate privilege in Tamil Nadu. But a Tamil nationalist ideology, in which ‘the community’ was redefined to include all Tamils, could. Wealth, then, would be re-legitimized by appearing to be held and used for the benefit of other members of the Tamil ‘community’— providing employment and distributing largesse. Cultural distinctions, whether of religion or education, would be accepted as long as they distinguished the culture of the ‘community’. Even Forward caste status might be acceptable so long as members of the Tamil Forward castes agreed to the right of members of the Tamil Backward castes to a share in the privilege of education and government employment. Annadurai’s offer to de-radicalize Dravidianism, to bring together the elites and the masses in a single Tamil community, had an obvious appeal to the

Caste, Class and Dominance in Modern Tamil Nadu


former. Simply by agreeing to convert their primary loyalty from ‘Indian’ to ‘Tamil’, they could carry on just as before and sleep soundly in their beds. Moreover, the costs of this conversion were not very high. With the DMK abandoning the separatist issue, there was no question that by becoming ‘Tamil’ one was giving up being Indian. Indeed, as Tamil history was presently being re-written to venerate the freedom struggle against colonialism, there was no break between the values of the two nations. In matters of religion, the DMK now promised to protect the temples and shrines of the ‘Tamil’gods—a promise which it has not broken. In matters of education and government employment, it was necessary to concede a large share of patronage to the Tamil language and the Backward castes. But this too was, by the 1960s, of less significance than it might have been thirty years earlier. Most of this patronage was concentrated in lower level government employment and non-specialized (especially vocationally non-specialized) education. Large sections of the elite were no longer concerned with these areas. The prodigious growth of urbanization and industrialization had sponsored an expanding ‘modern’ business and commercial sector, which now provided the main focus of their aspirations (Singer, 1974; Bak,er, 1984). Educationally, they looked to specialist colleges, many of them outside Tamil Nadu, and, if they pursued government careers at all, it was most likely to be in the higher (including all-India) levels of the modern Indian state. Certainly, some less wealthy members of the old status elites were put in jeopardy and have continued to complain loudly. Certainly, too, the DMK, under relentless pressure from the avaricious proto-middle cfass backward caste lobby, has tried to push communal quotas into specialist and vocational areas which touch broader elite interests. The backward caste issue remains sensitive. But the expansion of backward caste patronage, even to present levels where upwards of 70 per cent of college places and government employment are involved, has scarcely altered the distribution of wealth and significant opportunity in Tamil society, which still strongly favours the narrow elites constituted in the later colonial period. Nor has the DMK’s lavish policy of handouts to the poor and subvention of uneconomic industries cost the rich very much in visible and immediate terms. Of course, who pays for ‘socialism’ in Tamil Nadu, as indeed in India, is a somewhat difficult question. The DMK’s largesse has not been raised by any reform in the structure of the inherited and regressive local tax system. Partially, therefore, it is paid for by the poor themselves, through sales taxes and through policies of food requisitioning at sub-market prices, which frequently seem to fall heaviest on the poorer farmers. A large part, however, comes from the coffers of the Government of India and various development agencies. MGR’s Midday Meals scheme was financed under the most recent five-year plan and his 1981 takeover of the ailing Buckingham and Carnatic textile mills was funded by



the Reserve Bank of India. For these again, the rich of Tamil Nadu do not ‘appear’ to pay—except perhaps by way of federal income-tax which the rich are said not to pay anyway. Needless to say, there may be other hidden costs. The suspicion is growing that the development of economic infrastructure to sustain and expand production has suffered by the diversion of so much ‘aid’ to the consumption of the poor. Equally, it is clear that the policies of development patronage which supported the Congress government and persisted through the green revolution years, passing a large part of economic resources to the wealthy, no longer apply. However, these changes may now affect elite interests much less than they would have done twenty years ago. A major function of the first three five-year plans was to establish the bases of a ‘modern’ market economy in India. In Tamil Nadu, this was particularly accomplished through the growth of industry and the provision of infrastructure (of electrification and pump sets,) for a small and wealthier section of entrepreneurs to become commercially viable in the marketplace. Obviously, during this process, which was deepening the foundations of private capitalism and making it self-sustaining, it was essential for the elite to maintain direct contact with the state institutions in order to dominate their distribution of patronage. The foundations having been laid, however, there is a case that this contact and domination are no longer so necessary. The real profit opportunities in the economy now centre on using the apparently ‘independent’ forces of the market itself, forces which are rendered the more profitable because they are ‘interfered with’ by the state to create shortages, rationing and black markets. How large the ‘black’ economy is in India today, nobody really knows. Estimates have put it at upwards of 50 per cent of the total GNP. It is, however, an economy which favours elite groups, who hold under private possession a disproportionately large share of resources, and which places a high value on keeping a distance from state and public institutions. Of course, ‘keeping a distance’ in itself implies influence over the state and over the political process. But it is a different kind of influence to that needed earlier and does not require the diversion of resources from the state to elite pockets. Rather, its purpose is simply to stop the state taking resources out of elite pockets. Whatever else might be said about the DMK, it has shown little inclination to turn pickpocket and its non-modern style has made many of its administrative personnel susceptible to the private influence of the rith. There is ample evidence that, when Karunanidhi was Chief Minister, this influence reached even the highest offices in the state (M. Barnett, 1976: ch. X) In essence, then, the elites may be seen to have penetrated and cooperated with the DMK because it has become in their interests to ‘disappear’ from the public scene and because Tamil nationalist ideology, by re-incorporating them into the Tamil community, helps them to

Caste, Class and Dominance in Modern Tamil Nadu


‘disappear’. Their increasing presence in, or rather behind, the DMK, however, can be seen to have affected its social character in several ways, particularly pushing it in the direction of conservatism. Whatever ambiguities there may have been in Dravidian attitudes towards brahmans, religion, Adi-Dravidas and organized labour, there were ‘radical’ strands in the movement. Latterly, these seem to have been cut, at least by ruling party groups, and the anti-elitism of the past has largely been disowned. Of course, there remain elements, especially among the old guard of party activists from the 1950s and early 1960s who have never been reconciled to the de-radicalizing transformation and to the paradox of an ideology which, while formally championing goals of equality, permits inequality to grow. De-radicalization has brought tensions, which used to exist between the Dravidian movement and its ‘others’ into the organizations of the DMK themselves. These tensions can be seen to lie behind the internecine strife of the last decade. Although (and as with the split between EVR and Annadurai) there is much to suggest the forces of personality and faction at work, the mid-1970s split between Karunanidhi and MGR reflected this problem. Karunanidhi, who had inherited the DMK leadership from Annadurai, presided over the re-absorption of the Congress elites into the party for the 1971 election. This brought triumph and the consolidation of DMK hegemony: the party won 184 out of 234 seats. However, it also brought problems as the DMK was seen to be associated with many of its erstwhile enemies and to represent nothing but Congress elitism m disguise. EVR took to the streets again, after years in virtual eclipse, and found a renewed popularity among erstwhile but now disenchanted DMK supporters. Karunanidhi tried to encounter the development with corruption and coercion, which merely made matters worse and helped spread raucous anti-elitism and ‘communal’ chauvinism. Annadurai’s delicate pattern of alliance was put at risk. MGR then stood forward to claim Anna’s mantle, calling his breakaway party the Anna-DMK and seeking simultaneously to rekindle the original spirit of egalitarianism and to heal the cultural wounds in Tamil society. His election victory was greeted by many as a return to genuine radicalism (EPW, 30 June, 1979). But, as we have seen ‘radicalism’ is a multi-vocal term in the Tamil lexicon. In fact, MGR’s regime seemed to have drifted as far ‘rightwards’ under elite influence as any before it. The strikes and protests of labour unions were frequently proscribed; armed police were used against Thanjavur ‘Naxalite’ Adi-Dravida labour¬ ers; a neo-Hindu invective was turned on Ramnad lower castes who converted to Islam and, therefore and thereby, became ‘Pakistani’ agents. The mixture seemed much as under Karunanidhi with two exceptions which explain, perhaps, MGR’s continued popularity and ability to maintain the rhetoric of egalitarianism. The first of these exceptions concerns the lengths to which MGR went to fulfil ‘radical’ economic promises. He did not, of course, attempt



seriously to increase taxation on the rich. But he tried to feed the poor and to protect the weak on a scale never seen before—regularly battling with the agencies of the Central Government to obtain funds for his Midday Meals Scheme and for bailing out a variety of indigent groups. MGR’s generosity did much to keep lower income families in the Dravidian political fold.' The second exception concerned his personal ‘charisma’. Whereas Karunanidhi was a backroom film script writer with no public personality, MGR was the greatest ‘hero’ filmstar in the history of Tamil cinema. He carefully nurtured this hero image in a wide variety of ways. On the one hand, he celebrated the glorious history and culture of the Tamil with unparalleled pageantry and display. In 1980, to coincide with the World Conference of Tamil Studies, he was reported to have spent upwards of eight crore rupees on a festival which recreated the medieval facades of Madurai and involved thousands of people in parades and marches. He also brought down ‘the Queen of Delhi’ to preside with him as his consort at the celebrations. On the other hand, he developed a personality cult which made him a benevolent uncle-figure (in later years, his favourite screen-role) to hosts of Tamil families. Through assiduous publicity, he presented himself as a lone hero struggling in a world of corrupt politicians and incompetent bureaucrats to obtain justice for ‘the little man’. Whenever disaster struck, he was pictured in the front rank of the rescue services: in the Thanjavur floods of 1983-4, he was seen saving the drowning from his helicopter. He also carefully built a following among women voters. For many years, he championed the cause of alcohol prohibition on the grounds of the damage which drinking did to family life. After abandoning this (amidst an orgy of corrupt licence-selling), he then turned to the Midday Meals Scheme and a programme designed to feed children. In the Tamil Nadu of the 1980s, most of the structural problems which surfaced in the Karunanidhi era remained. But the power of MGR’s personal ‘magic’ contrived to conceal them—as, perhaps, must needs always be the case with Dravidian politics. For, as we have seen there has never been any shortage of contradictions in the relationship between Dravidianism’s medieval values and the imperatives of ‘modem’ politicoeconomic systems. On this analysis, the AIADMK regime was one of bread (or rice) and circuses (or movies) and, in broad political terms, might be conceived as a form of Bonapartist or Caesarian democracy. Classically, the bourgeoisie, or the elite of wealth, withdrew from a formal position of control over the state apparatus and the constitutional political process. Not only was their direct control no longer necessary for the purposes of capital accumulation but their attempt to exercise it, or rather the sight of their attempting to exercise it, provoked resistance and instability. Formal control was transferred to a cadre of professional political.managers who on the basis of a populist ideology, mollified resistance by turning what was left of the

Caste, Class and Dominance in Modern Tamil Nadu


state into a welfare agency and by stirring up feelings of patriotism and atavism. By these means, the elites ‘disappeared’ so that they could preserve their privileges and abilities to accumulate (in black money) at very little cost, while the illusion of democracy permitted the people to imagine that they ruled. Of course, there are differences between the contemporary Tamil Nadu situation and that originally analysed by Marx in mid-nineteenth-century France: differences which are of crucial significance to the political future (Marx, 1968). There seems no case that ‘the bourgeoisie’ wrecked the old political system simply through their own internecine strife. Important though the battle for Congress succession after Nehru’s death was, the forces undermining the hegemony of the old Congress were more deep-seated. They lay in the expansion of political participation and in the changing politico-economic structure. What they revealed was the extreme narrowness of the modern elites who had inherited the Indian state from the British. These elites had little to offer the majorities of Tamil society, could not accommodate them into their modern political system and were socially and culturally objectionable to them. This estrangement indicates that the modern Indian bourgeoisie are structurally much weaker than their French counterparts of a century ago and enjoy far less authority. They belong to a different culture whose prospects for diffusion through the whole society are limited, as limited, in effect, as are the prospects of a modernizing transformation of the entire economic base. In France, the Bonapartist regime, beneath its veneer of populist radicalism, covertly developed the forces of capitalism to the point where, eventually, the bourgeoisie could return to the public stage and dominate society through the institutions of an advanced industrial economy. Tamil Nadu’s capitalist modernization, under the British and early Congress regimes, however, went little further than establishing the foundations of a small-scale market economy. And, since 1967, so far from pressing onwards towards a meaningful transition to advanced capitalism, DMK regimes, in order to hold down potential resistance, have been obliged to drive the economy backwards towards the infinite proliferation of petty property and ‘private’ black marketeering. If Bonapartism in France was a brief political phase whose function was to consolidate the developing dominance of the bourgeoisie and modem capitalist system, the prospects and situation of DMK Bonapartism look neither so brief nor, from the bourgeois perspective, so promising in their likely outcome. Little has been achieved by way of capitalist development and the institutionalization of bourgeois dominance. Rather, the DMK regime has become more a desperate attempt to keep the forces of mass poverty and an intractable economic situation from overrunning the small elite groups who have enjoyed most of the benefits of the twentieth century. The regime pursues purely defensive tactics and has no offensive strategy capable of consolidating the authority of the modem elites.



How much longer can it succeed in maintaining political stability in Tamil Nadu and what may happen next? Marguerte Barnett considered that the principal future pressures on the interest group synthesis achieved by the DMK would come from the Adi-Dravidas and the propertyless poor who are most obviously excluded from it (M. Barnett, 1976). It is, however, difficult to see quite how these pressures are to be manifested. AdiDravidas seem too isolated, too small in numbers and too internally divided between labourers and proto-middle class families with small property and a vested interest in the backward caste system to represent a significant force of opposition. Equally, there appear major obstructions in the way of the propertyless poor generating anything resembling a coherent class ideology and political strategy. In the first place, there is the nature of the class structure itself: a context of petit bourgeois proliferation and proletarian ‘lumpenization’ (through the growth of the ‘informal’ sector and the casualization of agricultural labour) hardly seems conducive to the development of a consciousness of class-for-itself. And second, should any such development begin to occur, the nature of the modern Indian state more or less guarantees that it will be directed into ‘safe’ political channels. Since the Great Depression, the Indian state has become increasingly ‘managerial’ in its relationship to the economy, intervening in the market place and allocating the distribution of a wide variety of resources. The ideology of nationalism (both Indian and Tamil) has consistently pushed it further along this path for it must needs claim to serve the whole of the nation and thus must appear to protect the poor and the weak from the adverse effect of market competition. What this ‘managerial’ role means, however, is that the bureaucracy mediates antagonisms generated by disputes over the distribution of resources and converts them from issues with the potential to promote conflicts between classes into issues which appear to concern only administrative practices. Farmers, squeezed by rising fertilizer prices, do not take up cudgels against merchants and industrialists but rather appeal to ‘government’ for subsidies. Textile mill workers, threatened with unemployment, do not organize themselves against the capitalist employers who engender their insecurity but rather petition ‘government’ for subvention. The managerial state is very successful at obscuring the structure of exploitation on which the capitalist system rests and at fragmenting into discrete interest groups, petitioning government for their own limited ends, forces which might otherwise flow into generalized opposition to the system itself. Rather than ‘new’ forces of caste and class pressure, one suspects that the most serious threat to the stability of the current synthesis will come from contradictions between the elements already inside it. These elements exist in a state of dynamic equilibrium: the dynamism being created by their insistent demands for more privilege, patronage and resources. In part, the equilibrium was achieved by MGR’s ingenuity in constantly getting ‘more’ for Midday Meals, Backward caste jobs and

Caste, Class and Dominance in Modern Tamil Nadu


economic subsidies and, in part, by the force of his personal magic. In the short term, MGR’s demise seems the most important crisis for the politics of Tamil Nadu. He has no obvious successors, at least with anything approaching his personal standing. Indeed, so much did the AIADMK come to depend upon him that its principal party organizations remained tied to his film fan clubs. Without a dominant leader figure—a hero or saint—it has always proved difficult to hold the Dravidian consensus together and the immediate consequence of his death may well be to see Tamil society re-divide itself into feuding ‘communities’ motivated by senses of underprivilege and relative deprivation. Rather than brahman vs. non-Brahman or Aryan vs. Dravidian, however, it seems probable that the next wave of communal conflicts will be along the lines of Forward vs. Backward castes and Hindus vs. Christians and Muslims. These lines of potential conflict have been etched into the political system by the practices of DMK rule: the former for reasons which we have already seen; the latter, most recently, in part because Tamil nationalism’s rapproachment with Indian nationalism has made Hinduism one of its common points of reference and, in part because MGR, to meet the incessant demands of the Backward caste lobby for patronage, tried several times to edge minority Christian and Muslim groups out of Backward caste status in order to find ‘more’ for the Hindu majority. In the longer term, of course, the most serious threat to Dravidian politics comes from the drying up of resources for redistribution. If the elites and/or the Government of India cease to be prepared or to be able to subvent the DMK’s systems of social patronage, the stability which these have created will simply disintegrate. In the event of the Government of India being responsible for this (as some of Rajiv Gandhi’s pro¬ nouncements make possible), it is easy to foresee a return to rancorous anti-Northemism and demands for separatism. In effect, the most likely trajectory of Dravidian politics from their present situation seems to be backwards towards a return to the internal ‘communal’ disharmony and chauvinistic regional nationalism of the 1930s to 1960s. If this trajectory were followed, the Government of India, no doubt, would feel obliged to meet its national responsibilities and intervene directly in Tamil affairs either through Governor’s Rule or through an attempt to reconstitute Congress dominance over the state. But there is no reason to believe that the Congress could better provide Tamil Nadu with political stability in the 1980s than it could in the 1960s. The problem of communal rivalry, and anti-national resistance is likely to remain until some new charismatic leader emerged to conjure away the Dravidian ideology’s internal contradictions, reunite the people around a set of common symbols and distribute, or appear to distribute, largesse to all those demanding it. In effect, the politics of Tamil Nadu seems locked into a circle and destined to move round and round between the conflicts and the disintegrations of the EVR and Karunanidhi eras and the syntheses and



stabilities created by Annadurai and MGR. If the circle is to be broken, two things seem necessary and neither is very likely. On the one hand, successful economic development and modernization, to sweep away the petit bourgeoisie class base and create a clearer context of opposition between capital and labour, would transform the character of social aspirations. On the other, a restructuring of the Indian Constitution to alter the relationship between the Centre and the States would change the nature of state politics. At present, the politics of the DMK(s) are predicated on petit bourgeois aspiration and the implications for state government of the very ‘centrist’ Indian Constitution. Both make for a politics of irresponsibility. On the one hand, petit bourgeois ideology sees society as consisting of isolated individuals and social groups rather than broader structural relationships. The advancement of private interest is not taken to have consequences for other members of society. On the other hand, under the Indian Constitution, state governments enjoy an extremely loose relationship between their expenditures and their own tax bases. The central government provides them with a large part of their resources through grants and development aid and thus permits them to leave open the equation between the creation of wealth and its redistribution through the society of their territories. In these circumstances, which reflect the lack of real power at the level of the state, the principal function of state politics can only be to ask for, or demand, ‘more’; and th6 best state-level politician is he who can get ‘more’. The context induces a politics of irresponsibility, of illusion and insistent mendacity. In effect, it makes for a politics of Dravidianism, which can put off confronting the structural issues raised by the nature of capitalism and the modern state simply because it does not need to; should Tamil Nadu fail to generate or to redistribute sufficient wealth to sustain its peoples, somebody else will pick up the bill. Whether, in the foreseeable future, this is likely to change seems very questionable. Certainly, there is evidence that the modern elite, to some degree in Tamil Nadu but much more in New Delhi, are becoming restive at the costs and consequences of the welfare economy. However, were they to attack it, the results for political stability would be dire and, in heralding a new political age, could as easily herald their own demise, at the hands of petit bourgeois revolt, as their progress and victory. Set against this, the present system, at least when controlled by a genius like MGR, has the advantage of dissipating forces of opposition at what is not, for what it buys, a very high cost. In a national economy which contrives to spend freely on jet-based air defences and nuclear energy programmes, if the price of political stability is 25 paise a day for a Midday Meal, it would be the height of folly to stop paying it. One suspects that the political system of Tamil Nadu will remain locked into its cycles of charismaticallyinspired synthesis, and ‘community’-inspired conflict tor many more years to come. The system is largely harmless to the modern elites and it is not

Caste, Class and Dominance in Modern Tamil Nadu


clear that these elites have anything better to offer, or at least anything whose risk factors are so low.

REFERENCES Alexander, K. C. 1989. ‘Caste Mobilization and Class Consciousness’ (in this volume). Appadurai, A. 1974. ‘Right and Left Hand Castes in South India’, Indian Economic and Social History Review (Delhi), Vol II: 216-60, nos. 2-3. Appadurai, A. and Breckenridge, C. A. 1976. ‘The South Indian Temple: Authority, Honor and Re-distribution’, Contributions to Indian Sociology (Delhi), no. 2. Appadurai, A. 1981. Worship and Conflict under Colonialism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Baker, C. J. 1975. ‘Tamil Nadu Estates in the Twentieth Century’, Indian Economic and Social History Review (Delhi), no. 1. -. 1976. The Politics of South India 1920-1937 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). -. 1977. ‘Leading upto Periyar' in B. N. Pandey (ed.), Leadership in South Asia (Delhi: Vikas). - 1984. An Indian Rural Economy 1880-1955: The Tamil Nadu Countryside (Delhi: Oxford University Press). Banton, M. 1977. The Idea of Race (London: Tavistock Publications). Barnett, M. 1976. The Politics of Cultural Nationalism (Princeton: Princeton University Press). Barnett, S. 1975. ‘Approaches to Changes in Caste Ideology in South India’ in B. Stein (ed.), Essays on South India (Honolulu: University Press of Hawai). -. 1977. ‘Identity Choice and Caste Ideology in Contemporary South India’ in K. David (ed.), The New Wind (The Hague). Beck, B. 1972. Peasant Society in Konku (Vancouver: University of British Columbia). Beteille, A. 1966. Caste, Class and Power: Changing Patterns of Stratification in a Tanjore Village (Berkeley: University of California Press). -. 1974. Studies in Agrarian Social Structure (Delhi: Oxford University Press). Caldwell, R. 1881. A Political and General History of the Tinnevelly District (Madras). Cohn, B. S. 1970. ‘The Census, Social Structure and Objectification in South Asia’, unpublished seminar paper (Copenhagen). -. 1980. ‘History and Anthropology: The State of Play’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, XXII: 2. Diehl, A. 1977. E. V. Ramaswami (Lund). Dirks, N. 1979. ‘The Structure and Meaning of Political Relations in a South Indian Little Kingdom’ (California Institute of Technology), CIS, NS, 13: 2. -, 1987. The Hollow Crown (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Djurfeldt, G. and Lindberg, S. 1975. Behind Poverty (London). Forrester, D. 1976. ‘Factions and Film Stars: Tamil Nadu Politics Since 197L, Asian Survey, no. 3.



Gough, E. K. 1955. 'The Social Structure of a Tanjore Village’ in M. Marnot (ed.), VilTage India (Chicago: University of Chicago Press). -. 1981. Rural Society in Southeast India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Guha, R. (ed.). 1982. Subaltern Studies I (Delhi: Oxford University Press). Hardgrave, R. 1965. The Dravidian Movement (Bombay: Popular Prakashan). -. 1969. The Nadars of Tamil Nadu (California: University of California Press). Harriss, J. 1982. Capitalism and Peasant Farming (Bombay: Oxford University Press). -. 1983. ‘The State, Industrialisation and Development’ in The State in South Asia (University of East Anglia), working paper. Irschick, Eugene F. 1969. Politics and Social Conflict in South India (Berkeley: University of California Press). Kumar, D. 1983. 'South India’ in D. Kumar (ed.), The Cambridge Economic History of India, vol. II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Ludden, D. 1985. Peasant History in South India (Princeton: Princeton University Press). Marx, K. 1968. ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte’ (1852), in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works (London: Lawrence & W). Mencher, J. 1978. Agriculture and Social Structure in Tamil Nadu (Durham). Rajayyan, K. 1971. South Indian Rebellion: The First War of Independence (Mysore: Rao and Raghavan). Rudolph, S. and L. 1967. The Modernity of Tradition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press). Shivakumar, S. S. 1978. 'Transformation of the Agrarian Economy in Tondaimandalam 1760-1900’, Social Scientist (Delhi), no. 70. Singer, M. 1974. When a Great Tradition Modernizes (Chicago: University of Chicago Press). Spratt, P. 1969. The DMK in Power (Madras). Stein, B. 1980. Peasant State and Society in Medieval South India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press). Stuart, H. 1892. Census of India, 1891, vols. XIII-XV (Madras). Washbrook, D. 1971. Review of Hardgrave in Modern Asian Studies, vol. 4. -. 1975. 'Development of Caste Organisation in South India 1880-1925' in C. Baker and D. Washbrook (eds.). South India: Political Institutions and Political Change (New Delhi). -. 1976. The Emergence of Provincial Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). -. 1981. 'Law, State and Agrarian Society in Colonial India’, Modern Asian Studies, XV: 3.

THE POLITICS OF ACCOMMODATION Caste, Class and Dominance in Andhra Pradesh G. RAM REDDY

This chapter examines the ways in which the colonial state and the successor post-Independence governments operated in the complex political ecology of Andhra Pradesh to preserve the overall power in society of the upper classes of the Forward castes. In both the pre-Independence and post-Independence periods, of the various techni¬ ques employed, the politics of accommodation displayed the greatest potential to ensure the continuity of the dominant groups—and to prevent a breakdown in the social system. This was achieved despite sharp economic differentiation within the Forward castes, and the increasing politicization of the Backward castes and lower classes. The possession of state power afforded the dominant castes ample scope for enlisting the support of aspiring Backward castes. This was achieved by increasing the number of positions and the amount of resources available to their leaders. In the Indian social context, the attention paid to the demands of local leaders of Backward caste groups could be assumed to accommodate the group they ‘represented’ through a process of vicarious participation in the symbolic prestige thereby conferred on the whole community. Moreover, the distribution of patronage and rewards was carried out in ways that encouraged competition among the leaders of disadvantaged groups which prevented them from combining to establish a new political formation of all the disadvantaged. The result was that they could not rely on a substantial social base for sustained support. These ‘leaders’, therefore, were diverted from demands for structural changes which could benefit the larger castes/communities they ‘represented’, and directed toward seeking rewards for family and factional groups to assure their co-option into the existing power structures. In its actual functioning, the practice of political accommodation took on an ad hoc and expedient character in response to the various claims raised by competing social groups. Radical policies were thereby avoided and ameliorative measures pursued. Attempts were made to woo all sections of society within an eclectic policy framework, and to reject a dogmatic approach. The underlying assumption was that every aspirant to



power had his price, and that he had to be paid this price in order to enlist his support. The basic objective was to contain discontent short of the point at which it could raise an effective challenge to the underlying distribution of power. In Andhra, the politics of accommodation was facilitated by the heterogenous composition of the region. The Andhra districts, which were internally differentiated betwen the circars or the fertile coastal belt and the dry uplands of Rayalaseema were administered during the colonial period as part of the Madras Presidency. By contrast, the backward Telangana region remained under the direct rule of the Nizam of Hyderabad until 1948. The combination of all the Telugu speaking districts into Andhra Pradesh in 1956 left the state divided into three regions (the circars, Rayalaseema and Telangana), characterized by cultural discon¬ tinuities, economic imbalances and political rivalries. In addition, the high incidence of poverty and the skewed distribution of land (Tables 1, 2 and 3 provided ample scope for the politics of manipulation and/or accommoda¬ tion. Table 1

Dimensions of Rural Poverty (head count)

Region and Districts

Percentages of persons below the varying poverty line Rs 50

Rs 55

Rs 60

Rs 65

Andhra Krishna East Godavari Guntur Cuddapah West Godavari Chittoor Nellore Ongole Visakhapatnam Kurnool Ananthapur Srikakulam

34.5 44.4 33.5 45.3 41.4 47.4 43.2 49.5 55.4 57.4 64.6 69.7

32.9 51.9 45.6 53.5 52.7 57.4 57.5 61.8 64.7 65.9 72.9 77.9

51.0 58.7 57.3 61.0 63.1 66.1 69.8 72.3 72.6 72.9 79.9 84.1

58.5 64.7 67.6 67.4 71.9 73.6 79.5 80.3 78.8 78.8 85.1 88.9

Telangana Nalgonda Khammam Nizamabad Mahboobnagar Hyderabad Medak Adilabad Warangal Karimnagar

31.9 39.6 41.9 57.2 59.5 68.1 69.6 70.2 80.4

38.8 47.6 51.2 66.7 69.1 77.7 76.4 77.6 86.4

45.6 55.2 60.6 74.5 77.0 84.8 81.9 83.4 90.3

57.7 61.8 68.4 81.6 85.3 89.0 86.1 87.8 93.3

Source: Radha Krishna, et. at., 1983.

Caste, Class and Dominance in Andhra Pradesh


Table 2

Dimensions of Urban Poverty: 1977-78 (head count) Region and Districts

Percentages of persons below the varying poverty line

Rs 60

Rs 65

Rs 70

Rs 75







East Godavari















West Godavari






















































































SOURCE: Radha Krishna ex. at., 1983.

Table 3

A Comparative View of Ownership Holdings: 1954-55 and 1970-71 Andhra


Size of holdings in hectares





Total No. of No. of Total No. of Total No. of Total holdings area holdings area holdings area holdings area per cent per cent per cent per cent per cent per cent per cent per cent 10.2




































Above 20









Source: Rao, 1966: 11. Bureau of Economics and Statistics, Agricultural Census 1970-71, (Hyderabad).



The strategy of political accommodation to co-opt locally influential groups was first used by the British government. The introduction of English as a medium of instruction drew the elite literati class, the brahmans, into the administrative services and the modern professions. By the mid-nineteenth century, in addition, construction of the anicut across the Krishna and Godavari rivers created a new agrarian middle class among the economically dominant and numerically large cultivating castes in the circars. Subsequently, the British initiated a number of political measures to expand representation of these rising groups—a creation of their own policies—in local and state government institutions concerned with public welfare. After Independence, and the introduction of adult suffrage, the emergence of a larger competitive set of social elites was handled through patronage politics based on the distribution of offices and other resources, such as development funds, between rival factions and regions. Such policies enabled the larger landowners and middlemen among the dominant castes to successfully preserve their overarching power until the 1980s. However, as larger and larger numbers of persons from the low castes and classes became politicized, the creation of new positions to buy off aspiring elites and avert large-scale social discontent grew so inflated that the strategy was transformed from one of patronage to populism. The strategy seemed (and seems) to work best when used by a charismatic leader, as the symbol of hope for the broad masses whose real gains were (and are) minimal. Nevertheless, the inability of such policies to alter the structural arrangements responsible for the impoverished condition of agricultural labourers—a class that out-numbered cultivators by the 1980s—suggested serious potential limitations to this approach. The Ecology of Political Evolution in Andhra Pradesh Within the circars of the Andhra region, caste and class coincided for some time to produce a local structure of dominance that placed brahmans at its apex. According to the 1921 Census (Table 4), brahmans accounted for three per cent of the total population in the districts of Andhra Pradesh. Kapus/reddys constituted the largest caste group at over 15 per cent. The kammas, the second largest cultivating caste among the Forward Castes, totalled 4.8 per cent. Despite the small numbers of brahmans relative to the cultivating reddy and kamma caste groups, brahmans outnumbered reddys in the most developed districts of the coastal circars region (although kammas had even greater concentrations in Krishna and Guntur). Other sections of the Forward non-Brahman cultivating castes, although much smaller in total numbers than the reddys, and even the kammas, were also present in disproportionate strength in the most productive Krishna and Godavari districts (Table 5). The Backward castes constituted a very large proportion of the population in the districts of Andhra Pradesh at 46 per cent in 1921.

Caste, Class and Dominance in Andhra Pradesh


Table 4

Percentage of Different Castes to Total Population of Districts Merged into Andhra Pradesh Forward Castes

Per cent





Backward Castes

Per cent

Scheduled Castes

Per cent





































Per cent


kammaral vishwa























5.4 46.1



SOURCE: Census of India, 1921, and Census of H. E. H. Nizam’s Domain, 1921.

However, they were also unevenly distributed, and divided into a large number of small groups. The most populous among them, the gollas (6 per cent) were spread more or less evenly in the Andhra region, but the telagas (5.2 per cent) had virtually no representation in the uplands of Rayalaseema. Among the service castes, the chakalis (4.2 per cent) constituted the largest caste group, while other Backward castes were present in numbers of one to two per cent or less. Among the Scheduled Castes, in 1921, two groups together constituted 17 per cent of the population, the malas (7.3 per cent) and the madigas (9.7 per cent). They were, however, divided by caste and sub-caste distinctions, and spread unevenly across districts. Muslims (and Christians) made up another seven per cent of the population.



3 CL