Indian Sociologists

Indian Sociologists

Question

Outline the position Herbert Risley and G.S. Ghurye on the relationship between race and caste in India.

Answer
I. The position of Herbert Rishley on the relationship between race and caste in India :

(a) Herbert Risley, a British colonial official who was deeply interested in anthropological matters, was the main proponent of the dominant view. This view held that human beings can be divided into distinct and separate races on the basis of their physical characteristics such as the circumference of the skull, the length of the nose, or the part of the skull where the brain is located.

(b) Risley and other believed that India was a unique ‘laboratory’ for studying the evolution of racial types because caste strictly prohibits intermarriage among different groups, and had done so for centuries. Risley’s main argument was that caste must have originated in race because different caste groups seemed to belong to distinct racial types.

(c) In general, the higher castes approximated Indo-Aryan racial traits while the lower castes seemed to belong to non-Aryan aboriginal, Mongoloid or other racial groups. On the basis of differences between groups in terms of average measurments for length of nose, size of cranium, etc.

(d) Risley and others suggested that the lower castes were the original aboriginal inhabitants of India. They had been subjugated by an Aryan people who had come from elsewhere and settled in India.

II. The position of G.S. Churye on the relationship between race caste in India :

(a) G.S. Ghurye’s academic reputation was built on the basis of his doctoral dissertation at Cambridge, which was later published as Caste and Race in India (1932). Ghurye’s work attracted attention because it addressed the major concerns of Indian anthropology at the time. In this book, Ghurye provides a detailed critique of the then dominant the theories about the relationship between race and caste.

(b) Ghurye did not disagree with the basic argument put forward by Rishley but believed it to be only partially correct. He pointed out the problem with using averages alone without considering the variations in the distribution of a particular measurement for a given community.

(c) Ghurye believed that Risley’s thesis of upper castes being Aryan and the lower castes being non-Aryan was broadly true only for nothern India. In other parts of India,the inter-group differences in the anthropometric measurements were not very large or systematic.

(d) This suggested that, in most of India axcept the Indo-Gangetic plain, different racial groups had been mixing with each other for a very long time. Thus, ‘racial purity’ had been preserved due to the prohibition on intermarriage only in ‘Hindustan proper’ (North India). In the rest of the country, the practice of endogamy (marrying only within a particular caste group) may have been introduced into groups that were already racially varied.

III. Conclusion : 1. Today, the racial theory of caste is no longer believed, but in the first half of the 20th century it was still considered to be true. There are conflicting opinions among historians about the Aryans and their arrival in the subcontinent.

(ii) However, at the time that Ghurye was writing these were among the concerns of the discipline, which is why his writings attracted attention.

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