“Over the time it became difficult for individual to upgrade in the social order, but social mobilization was always evident in Indian society.” Critically Examine.

“Over the time it became difficult for individual to upgrade in the social order, but social mobilization was always evident in Indian society.” Critically Examine.  ©


Social mobility was always present in India but it’s nature kept changing.

Vedic period:

  • Early Vedic period:
    • There was no caste division. Occupation was not based on birth. Members of a family could adopt different occupations. However certain differences did exist during the period.
      • Varna or color was the basis of initial differentiation between the Vedic and non-Vedic people.
      • The Vedic people were fair whereas the non-Vedic indigenous people were dark in complexion and spoke a different language. Thus, the Rigveda mentions arya varna and dasa varna.
      • Here dasa has been used in the sense of a group different from the Rigvedic people. Later, dasa came to mean a slave.
    • The warriors, priests and the ordinary people were the three sections of the Rigvedic tribe. The sudra category came into existence only towards the end of the Rigvedic period.
      • This means that the division of society in the early Vedic period was not sharp.
      • This is indicated by the following verse in the Rigveda: “I am a poet, my father is a physician and my mother grinds grain upon the stone. Striving for wealth, with varied plans, we follow our desires like cattle.”
    • R S Sharma states that “the Rig Vedic society was neither organized on the basis of social division of labour nor on that of differences in wealth … it was primarily organised on the basis of kin, tribe and lineage.”
  • In later Vedic phase:
    • There was the rise and growth of social differentiation in the form of varna system.
    • The four varnas in which society came to be divided were the brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas and shudras.
    • The shudras, the fourth varna were at the bottom of the social hierarchy. They were ordained to be in the service of the three upper varnas.
      • They were not entitled to the ritual of upanayana samskara (investiture with sacred thread necessary to acquire education). The other three varnas were entitled to such a ceremony and hence they were known as dvijas.
      • This can be construed as the beginning of the imposition of disabilities on the shudras as well as the beginning of the concept of ritual pollution.
  • Post Mauryan period:
    • Varna system in Dharma-sastras divide the society into four varnas (Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishya and Shudras), those who fall out of this system because of their grievous sins are ostracised as outcastes (untouchables) and considered outside the Varna system.
      • Olivelle writes, “we see no instance when a term of pure/impure is used with reference to a group of individuals or a varna or caste”. The only mention of impurity in the Shastra texts from the 1st millennium is about people who commit grievous sins and thereby fall out of their varna. These, writes Olivelle, are called “fallen people” and impure, declaring that they be ostracized.
    • Concepts of Jatis emerged within the varna system through fragmentation, consolidation as well as the incorporation of tribal and foreign communities within a structure which regulated hierarchy through marriage rules and endogamy.
    • The earliest use of jati in connection with a Varna is found in the Nirukta which speaks of a woman of a shudra jati.
    • Around second century BC concepts of vratya and varnasamkara were invented because of the assimilation of widely divergent social, economic and cultural groups.
      • These two concepts largely contributed to the formation of separate jatis due to non-performance of the sacred duty (vratya) or because of the mixed marriages of original founder couples (varnasamkara or confusion of class).
      • These theoretical devices, it is believed, were highly successful in extending the Varna system into the jati system. Type of inter-marriages were hypergamous (with the direction of hair i.e Anulom) and hypogammous (against the hair i.e Pratilom).
    • The vratya and varnasamkara concepts seem to have led to a dilution or modification of the Varna concepts particularly in the early historical period. The notions of vaishya and shudra Varna acquired new meanings which favoured a shift from the relative purity of function to relative purity of birth implied in the transition from Varna to jati.
    • The process of evolution of jatis under the broad categories of varnas acquired a new dimension in the post-Mauryan period.
      • The chief characteristic of the jati system was the crisis in the old order and the lawgiver’s desperation to preserve brahmanical society, not only by ordaining rigorous measures against the shudras, but also by inventing suitable genealogies for the incorporation of foreign elements into varna society.
    • Manu lays down that, if in times of distress the vaishya cannot support himself by his own occupations he should take to the occupations of the shudras. This shows that the distinction between the functions of the vaishyas and the shudras was being gradually obliterated.
    • Possibly they sometimes refused to perform their duties. To prevent this situation, the dharmashastra writers suggested measures of both coercion and concessions. The Satavahanas declared themselves to have been the restorer of varnashramadharma.

Thus, we can see Verna system was more based on individual basis than for community. But with time it shifted to community. There are many legends that talks about up-gradation of person from one class to another with practice of penance and piety. But over the time it became virtually impossible to upgrade but progressively easier to fall. ©

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