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Land and Caste in a South Indian Village

Land and Caste in a South Indian Village
Item Code: NAJ498
Author: Dr. A. Karuppiah
Publisher: University of Madras
Language: English
Edition: 1998
Pages: 180
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 9.0 inch x 6.5 inch
weight of the book: 250 gms

In the year of Golden Jubilee Celebrations of India's Independence, it is apt to review the society in its different manifestations. When India opted for Secular, Socialist and Democratic Republic, the founding fathers of the Constitution of India recognised that some old institutions need to be given up and replace them with new institutions which can usher in a new society based on equality and social justice. Among such outcastes which the Constituent Assembly identified was caste system. Caste system had degenerated into a hierarchical order with exclusive processes in terms of connubium, commensality and occupation. It had also excluded a substantial section of the population which constituted the base of caste social pyramid from all decision making bodies.

A critical review of the preceding five decades of Indian Independence will reveal some startling facts. Among other things, the importance given to land by the Indian psyche has been significantly responsible for the survival of the outdated Indian caste system. Hence, it is of paramount importance to critically assess the interrelationship which subsists between the caste and land owning patterns. It is also necessary to know the extent to which land owning had contributed to the caste ranking.

The present book therefore, is an important effort to comprehend sociologically the relationship between land and caste in rural Tamilnadu. This book is based on a study conducted by the author Dr. A. Karuppiah in Kottaipatty village in Madurai District of Tamilnadu. This work is sound in its methodological approach, data analysis and interpretation of social facts emerging out of the data analysis. This book helps us also to grapple with the problem by referring to many important studies which have been conducted in this vital area. This study and the earlier studies cited bring out in vivid terms the importance of land holdings and their transfers for persisting with the pernicious caste phenomenon in rural Tamilnadu in particular and India in general. Tamilnadu which was under ryotwari system of land tenure exhibits, as shown in this book, the particular impact of the ryotwari system on the caste categorization in this part of the country. One salient feature of this stydy has been the interesting finding about the pattern of transfer of the land from the upper castes which traditionally held lands to the lower castes. This land transfer has resulted in the transformation, as pointed out in this book, of the power structure and intercaste relations. Another revealing feature of this change has been the improvement in the educational standards of those castes which were primarily outside of literacy and education. Indirectly, it can be concluded that economic growth in terms of income, wealth and land owning may bring out the desired change of leveling the development. The author" however, should revisit the village to examine the ways and means by which the newly acquired economic betterment could be utilised for eliminating the undersirable hold of caste on the society in the village India.

I congratulate Dr. A. Karuppiah for his excellent book. It is a welcome addition to the existing fund of sociological knowledge and literature on the social processes which are playing the dominant role in Indian Polity, Economy and Society. I am confident that the students of Indian society as well as the general public will find this book interesting and informative. I wish the author a great success in the current and future scholastic endeavours.



The main aim of this book is to study the association between land, caste and social relations and to explain how changes between them have broken the established social barriers and intercaste relations in a village situation. Further, this book attempts to analyse historically the ways in which the direction and magnitude of land transfers, loosers and gainers within the framework of caste so as to provide a lead to understand the predicament of government policy. This study also focusses its attention on the dynamics of socio-econmic changes and distribution of land and behaviour of caste' group, in the political field. In other words, the study focusses on land as a tool of social analysis in the understanding of the conditioning factors in the social construction of land-ownership pattern' on the one hand in the village and land itself as a conditioning factor on the changes among the social construction of tradition and modernity among the groups in the agrarian society on the other hand. Lastly, land is the only natural resource which has gone into commoditisation process in the earliest social formation of the society. Its transformation through years has not only been influenced by hut also influencing the social factors. This book is based on the Ph.D. thesis of the author submitted to the University of Madras.

I whould like to record my indebtedness to my teacher Prof. D. Sundaram, Professor and Head, Department of Sociology, University of Madras, for his invaluable guidance, supervision and encouragement throughout this study. His keen interest in this work gave me inspiration and generated confidence in me to complete this study.

I wish to acknowledge my special obligation to Late Prof. D. Palani, Professor of Sociology, University of Madras, for his multiple kinds of help, wise counsel, and encouragement throughout this study.

A special mention must be made about Prof. V.K. Padmanabhan, Professor, South and South -East Asian Studies, University of Madras, for his valuable suggestions during the course of this study.

In the course of my research I was greatly assisted by many officials of the Government of Tamil Nadu. Mr. M. Ramasamy, B.A., B. ed Inspector General of Registration (in-charge), Government of Tamil Nadu; Mr. G. Nagarajan, B.A., Sub-Registrar of Elumalai and the Village Administrative officer of Kottaipatty village in Usilampatti Taluk of Madurai District, Tamil Nadu deserve my sincere thanks for providing the revenue records which formed the basis of this research work.

I am thankful to Dr. V. Jayadevan, Director, Publications Division, University of Madras, for his constant support to publish this book.



Background of The Problem

It is common observation that Indian village society is characterised by social and economic inequality and hierarchy embedded in the caste stratification. In the social organisation of Indian village society, the land, wealth, status, labour and power are also divided on the basis of social status of each caste in the social structure. Such a distribution creates socio-economic inter- dependency among caste groups in the village. Thus the co-existence of agrarian castes of a non-economic structure is the most fundamental fact about the Indian agrarian social structure to be reckoned with (Dhanaghare: 1983; Beteille: 1965).

Down the ages, Indian society consisted of four straw or varnas of people in relation to their occupations and they were termed as Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Sudras. The untouchables were pushed to the periphery of the caste system. 'Hinduism claims to identify the caste system by reference to powerful ideologies of dharma and to its covariant pollution/purity syndrome. Thus, varna plays a vital role in rationalising, justifying and stabilizing social, economic, and political relations within the society. .It is argued by Berreman (1983) that "dharma and pollution/purity scale is the rationale of caste rank and hence for most of caste members' social, economic, political and religious opportunities are decided by birth. It is self-evident that under the ideology of Hinduism, that high castes should own most of the land and must not till the soil nor work with their hands while the lower castes have to do tillage or cultivation. The fundamental division of India's peasant society into land-owners and land-labourers is thus enjoined and reinforced by this ideology and divine sanction".

Land is an important resource and therefore the ownership of land is the centre of attraction in the rural economy of independent India. "The control over land basically determines the power structure and social status and enables the land owner to reap the benefits of developmental programmes. Thus, the emerging Indian rural scenariois characterized by a sharp disparity between two opposing groups: on the one hand, there is a group of big land- owners who control a large part of the lands and other resources and who have gained all round development through the state policies. They are acquiring surpluses which are not being used in raising the productive base of the rural economy. At the same time, there is the other group of vast number of agricultura1labourers, marginal and small farmers who find that work on land is not sufficient to provide them even the subsistence. But in the absence of non- farm employment, they stick to it, howsoever unremunerative it may be" (Shankar:1990)

M.N. Srinivas views that "land ownership becomes more prestigious and according to him power was said to be gained in the village by groups and individuals in terms of land holding. The dominant castes tend to combine economic power with political power to gain higher ritual status in the caste hierarchy' (Srinivas: 1959). "The ownership of land, political power and ritual status bas resulted in cumulative inequality and hence the avenues for emancipation of the less fortunate were quite limited" (Lakshrninarayana:1984). In the same vein of Srinivas and Lakshminarayana, Neale argues that "little or no distinction is made between acquisition of leadership, control and power over an area and ownership of land of that area. This relationship of such wealth and power forms the core of the Indian perception of land and its meaning for, the society. It is a fact that those who own and control land, use it as an instrument of power and domination over those who have less of it or those who do not have it at all. Neale carries the theme to its actual base and calls it, "Land is to Rule." So, land bas an aspect of power, particularly in the countryside where importance of such power is more clearly visible" (Neale:1969).

Frykenberg similarly points out that ''relationship between land control and social structure is complex. He further states that all kinds of holdings and rights were intricately linked to definite socio-economic and communal as well as political rules. All sections of structure were related to agricultural strata namely tenants and land holders, small and big. Frykenberg presents a view of socially structured land control relationship with gradations between two theoretically absolute polarities. Here, one extreme is the Lord over land and on the other is labour on land. Between the two, there are innumerable strata of lesser Lords and larger number of labourers"(Frykenberg:1969).

"Given the fact that some must do the heavy work, that others will do mainly non-manual work and that yet others need not do any work at all, the ownership, and control of scarce resources must assume crucial significance in the actual determination of tasks. In other words, it is no accident that the most onerous and arduous work is, as a rule, left to the landless and that large landowners are generally the ones who are able to avoid work" (Beteille: 1965: 1974).

Cohn has highlighted it in another way by saying that "the control of land and distribution of the product of the land were and continue to be determined by the social relations and the social structure of the large Indian population. Land tenure in India was and is not only about ownership of land, rents and taxes but also about kinship, marriage, ritual, status, prestige, power and authority. He further mentions that in traditional Indian society, wealth and status attained outside of agriculture were transmitted into landed status, since other kinds of activities such as trade and service were not of as high a social status as being a zamindar. Therefore, ownership of land ensured stability of social status to the owners of land. However, cultivating land was not considered as a comforting activity" (Cohn:1963;1969).

Thus, in rural society in India, the standard of life of the individuals largely depends on the ownership of land. The economic and social status of the cultivator is measured by the extent of land he possesses. Possession of land gives economic independence and social status. Naturally, as every one strives to wrest land from the groups who owned the land traditionally, there is an equal attempt on the part of others not to yield to this tendency. It is often said that the village societies maintain their societies in such a way that the capital and property rules and economic chance of the society may not be permitted to work in ways disruptive of the values and norms of the society (Mansingh Nash: 1966): The rural society in India do exhibit such kind of unwritten practices of caste-based ownership of personal and natural resources. Land being one of the natural resource seems to be owned or shared within the caste-framework and their social formation of the villages in India cannot be seperated from among the deeply entrenched caste-based production forces in India. The human resources development and land as a natural resource have never been looked into its interactional force, although the framework of production relation and social formation continued to be the predominant themes. The current development efforts in India lead for more structural conditions affecting the caste, socio-economic mobility of individual and groups and consequent command over land as a resource in the villages warranting a special focus in sociological perspective.




Chapter I Introduction 1-20
  of the problem 1
  of the study 4
  Conceptual and Theoretical Framework 5
  Aim and objectives of the study 16
  Research Methodology 16
  Case study setting 17
  Method of Data Analysis 19
  Tools of Data Interpretation 20
  Chapterization 20
Chapter II Review of Literature 21-56
  The Studies on the Role of Caste 21
  The Studies on the Criteria for Caste Ranking 21
  The Studies on the Mobility in the Caste System 22
  The Studies on Land ownership of Agrarian Communities 23
  The Studies on the Distribution and Transfer of Land Ownership Amidst Agrarian Communities 38
Chapter III Village Setting - Its Physical And Socio-Economic Structure 57-85
Chapter IV Date Analysis And Interpretation 86-159
  Land Ownership Pattern: 1948-1993 86
  Trend of Land Ownership Patter: 1948-1993 138
  Land Transfers: 1948-1992 142
  Causes and Impact of Land Transfers 151
Chapter V Summary And Conclusion 160-166
  Bibliography 167-178
  Index 179-180

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