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About the Book : The volume brings together papers presented at a Seminar organized by the Indian Institute of Advanced Study in late 1993. Participants in the Seminar included historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, sociologists and economists. The paper question many popular notions about the history of social formations in India. Since "tribe" and "caste" constitute two of the basic categories in terms of which Indian society is sought to be understood, the con...

About the Book :

The volume brings together papers presented at a Seminar organized by the Indian Institute of Advanced Study in late 1993. Participants in the Seminar included historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, sociologists and economists. The paper question many popular notions about the history of social formations in India. Since "tribe" and "caste" constitute two of the basic categories in terms of which Indian society is sought to be understood, the contemporary relevance - both for theory and policy formulations - of this volume will be quite considerable.


The Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, organized a seminar on the theme 'Tribe to Caste' in November 1993. The seminar brought together a number of historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, sociologists and even some economists.

The purpose of the seminar was to combine historical and anthropological analyses in order to understand one of the fundamental historical transformations to have taken place in India (and in the whole South Asian subcontinent). Certainly, both the theme of the seminar and the combination of disciplines that it brought together owe their inspiration to D.D. Kosambi. Kosambi always held that much of Indian history could be seen right in the present and that a combination of anthropological and historical analysis was needed to uncover the various processes that had been at work in the course of Indian history. Many of the scholars who presented papers at the Seminar have themselves continued the tradition of combining anthropology with history.

But, the Seminar was held a couple of decades after Kosambi did his work on Indian history. It was held at a time when its theme is going somewhat out of fashion, at least in some academic circles. Out of fashion for two reasons. The first is that with the current eclipse of the socialist project, a view of society is gaining ground in which there are no substantial boundaries between one epoch and another and all' of human history is a repetition of much the same venality. The second is that the very terms of this Seminar are now suspect, supposedly the product of Orientalist scholarship of colonizing powers.

In introducing this volume of Seminar papers, the above and some related issues will be taken up for discussion.

(which anyway was not the topic of the Seminar), it is still possible to insist on the 'importance of an analysis of epochal changes, certainly of particular epochal changes.

The transition from tribe to caste is one such change. The result of this process was the formation of institutions like private property, the caste system, the state and the patriarchal family. While this change took place over a long period of time and included a number of intermediate stages, it was not just uniformitarian, in the sense of gradual and constant cultural growth and modification, a kind of accretion as it were. There were periods of accretion of small changes (say, the Vedic period, or within tribal systems), and there were also subsequent periods when these small changes gave way to major changes, qualitative changes in ways of living, relating to each other and even in ways of making sense of things.

The denial of such a major break in South Asian history has varied manifestations. In sociology and anthropology it is seen in G.S. Ghurye's refusal to allow any separation between the tribes and castes. For him, the tribes were only "backward Hindus". Of course, this stand itself is part of a "nation-building" project, one which requires the amalgamation of all peoples into a Hindu nation. Such a concern is evident not only in India but also in Nepal. A Nepalese scholar protested against the" use of the term "tribe" in the Nepalese context. 'The main point of his critique \ seems to be that the use of the term by foreign scholars intro- duces biased 'ideas of social disharmony' and thus undermines the process of nation-building in Nepal.

The denial of distinct forms of living and being, of making sense of things, is a form of ethnocentrism. In economics this ethnocentrism is strongly manifest in seeing all pre-capitalist economic systems as merely imperfect forms of capital. All history is seen as the striving of capital to reach its full-blown form. When that has been done and there are no more worlds for capital (and its attendant cultural and political baggage) to conquer, then that is the "end of history".

In India ethnocentrism consists in seeing the history of all communities as being merely the striving to become Hindu, to become a caste. There is no distinction between tribe and caste. All communities are castes, only the degree of being castes is different. Baidyanath Saraswati in his note to this Seminar insisted on the "cultural oneness" of tribe and caste. He asks for "tribe" to be treated as "caste", and "caste" to be understood as a cultural unit.

Powerful support for these ideas (which in a sense deny history, deny the process of formation of caste society, jatikarna or castification' ) comes from the analysis of inequality in society. If, as Andre Beteille emphasizes, social inequality is "a common condition of all human societies", then can we draw a valid distinction between tribal equality and caste inequality? Is there a contrast in the ethical foundations of these two purportedly different forms of society? In this Seminar Shalina Mehta argued for "the universality of inequalitarianism as an innate principle of all societies"." Certainly inequality has always existed and will exist, but, as Amartya Sen has suggested we ask, are there areas in which equality is sought and areas in which inequality is accepted? Do these areas of equality and inequality vary in different societies? And, are there societies which do not recognize equality in any sphere?

In a gatherer-hunter band, access to productive resources (the forest) is that of the whole band. Membership of a band, which may be temporary, determines access to its forest resources. Income, however, is that of the individual family. So, even in immediate return societies which, Woodburn argues," are "assertively egalitarian" there is some inequality.

This is as one should expect, for, as Amartya Sen points out. 'The demand for equality in terms of one variable entails that the theory concerned may have to be non-egalitarian with respect to another variable, since the two perspectives can, quite possibly, conflict." Here, in the gatherer-hunter band there is an equality of access to the band's resources, but the actual income of each family depends on a number of other factors which would be unequally distributed among families - skill, number of able persons in a family, and so on. At the same time, the impossibility of accumulation means that immediate differences cannot become cumulative. At the same time, mechanisms of redistri- bution playa social security function and tend to enforce an egalitarian consumption.

Along with the above, it should be noted that there is inequality, between men and women, in their access to the supernatural and the ritual knowledge of the community. But this inequality does not as yet have consequences in other spheres of social, political and economic life.

At the other extreme, lies the caste system. At one level, there is an equality of social status within a caste (a poor Brahmin is still a Brahmin). But, at another level, that of relations between castes there is a profound inequality in access to knowledge, productive resources and social status. A prescribed inequality exists even in the naming of persons: "(The name) of a priest should have (a word for) auspiciousness, of a ruler strength, of a commoner, and (the name) of a servant should breed disgust.

Is there any sphere in which there is equality between the castes? Not even in the sphere of punishment for breaking the law. "A ruler who shouts abuse at a priest should be fined a hundred (pennies); a commoner (who does this) a hundred and fifty or two hundred (pennies); a servant (should be given) corporal or capital punishment.

The contrast between the two systems outlined above is stark. The first has some notion of equality and some sphere(s) in which there is equality, while there is inequality in other spheres. But in the second there is no notion of equality, in any sphere. Rather, there is a notion of equality in the theory of the caste system. That is with respect to performing one's caste duty (dharma) according to one's fate (karma). Of course, the rewards for this performance of dharma are unequal in this life, since not every caste's svadharma is of equal standing, but only the svadharma of the priests coincides with the universal, the samanyadharma, which is the measuring rod.

Certainly when searching for a theory that would serve the ends of furthering social justice, one would have to exclude Hinduism, as the ideology par excellence of the caste system,in not having a basal equality altogether. While tribal cosmologies at least provide some notions of equality in some spheres and thus can lead to a discussion about the spheres in which equality is desirable.



Introduction 1
Tribe into Caste: A Colonial Paradigm(?)
Tribe-Caste Continuum? Some Perspectives from the Tribal History of Colonial Eastern India
The Legand of Evolution from Homo Equalius to Home Heirarchicus
From gh Tribe to Caste : Domination Reaffirmed
Tribe as Caste
Hunter-Gatherer and Early Agriculturist:
Archaeological Evidence of Contact
From Tribe to Caste: An Ethnoarchaeological Perspective
Tribe-Caste Intraction: A Reexamination of Certain Issues
Some Problems in Constructing Varna Identities in Early North India
Castification of South Indian Society: movement of Appropriation and Control of Resources
From Clan and Lineage to Hereditary Occupations and Caste in Early Sough India
The Kudi in Early Tamilham and the Tamil Women from Tribe to Caste
Gender Transmations in Tribes
Bhils in the State-Formation of Mewar:
Some Preliminary Observations
The Gond in Bihar
Transformation in Tribal Society: A case of Tribe-Caste
Dichotomy in Tribal Region of Bihar
Tribes into Castes and Peasants: the Tripura Tribes
From Tribe to Caste: The Mogs of Tripura
The Warlis: From shifting Cultivators to Peasants and Labourers
A Strategy of Interdependence: Gaddi, Peasant and State in Himachal
From Territory to Caste: Process of Social Transformation in Central Himalayas
Typological Homogeniety or Language Attrition:
A case of Tribal Languages in Jharkhand
Withdrawal: The Bhunjia and Paharia in Western Orissa
The Bodos: The Tribal for whom History Failed
The Long Transition: The Kuch-Rajbangshis of North-Eastern India
Notes on Contributors

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Item Code: IDG502 Author: DEV NATHAN Cover: Hardcover Edition: 1997 Publisher: Indian Institute Of Advanced Study, Shimla ISBN: 8185952434 Language: English Size: 8.8" X5.7" Pages: 462
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