Class standing or social status is found within the "gypsy tribe," not between gypsies and Romanians, for instance. The gypsies have their own king and queen, nobility, high class musicians, and lower orders.Next Page
The nature of caste status in India, so often confused with the kind of social class status familiar to occidentals, has possibly never been carefully analyzed by American sociologists. What is the nature of the caste hierarchy? Fahlbeck states: 30
This (clean and unclean, twice born, etc.) does not mean that there is legal super-ordination and subordination as in the feudal order or other status societies. The castes are independent of each other as are the crafts . . . . Thanks to their membership in a caste, even the "Unfreie" are not without rights here as in other status societies.
Ghurye 31 refers to the difference in religious and in nominal status between the members of the different castes. The same writer illustrates this thought by stating: 32
Though theoretically the position of the Sudras was very low, there is evidence to show that many of them were well-to-do. Some of the succeeded in marrying their daughters in the royal families . . . . The Vaisya, though traditionally classed with the first two varnas, is grouped on many occasions with the Sudras. As we shall see later on, the occupations ordained for these two classes are almost identical.
Caste status is largely a ritualistic and honorary type of status based on degrees of purity and religious virtue. Defenses for piety has, of course, more significance among the peoples of India than among western peoples, but the principle involved can be demonstrated by an example taken from western practices. For instance, in every Christian country there is a custom that requires special respect and deference for nuns and priests wearing the cloth. New Yorkers will even give up subway seats to Catholic sisters. Is this social status? Or is it pietistic status? Ketkar explains this in these words: 33
How is the precedence manifested? As Brahmin he is at the head of society where holiness is the standard. A caste is pure or impure as much as it is high or low. This purity is not the outside purity, which is apparent to the "bodily eye," but it is some mystic, innate purity. If the pure and the impure are brought together, the pure become impure. For this reason the holy and pure castes should keep as little connections with impure castes as possible.
Castes are rated, then, on a purity scale, not on a social scale.
The mysore Census of 1901 is quoted, in this connection, as follows: 34
In any one of the linguistic divisions of India there are as many as two hundred castes which can be grouped in classes whose gradation is largely acknowledged by all. But the order of social precedence amongst the individual castes of any class cannot be made definite, because not only is there no ungrudging acceptance of such rank but also the ideas of the people on this point are very nebulous and uncertain. The following observations vividly bring out this state of things. " . . . Excepting the Brahmin at one end and the admittedly degraded castes at the other, the members of a large proportion of the immediate castes think or profess to think that their caste is better than their neighbors, and should be ranked accordingly."
It must be remembered that where castes live side by side, with little difference in external appearances and with no common acceptance of their rank even in holiness, they still are socially exclusive; they live as strangers to each other in all things intimate. Their equal status, as judged by an observer from the outside, does not lead to fraternization.
On the other hand, there is no assurance that within a caste group there is any equality of status, opportunity, or social standing -- as the word is used in social class discussions. All of the twelve million Brahmins are not engaged in highly respectable employment, nor do they all have wealth. In fact they rank seventh in average credit among the castes of India. 35 It has frequently been pointed out that Brahmins may be servants of members of a lower caste. The fact that the personal servant of a rich Brahmin must be a poor Brahmin is well known. Speier points out that ". . . the majority of Brahmins prefer for ritual reasons the lowest service in the house to the ministrations [profession] of a physician." 36
30. Pontus E. Fahlbeck, Die Klassen un die Gesellschaft (Jena, 1922) p. 129; translation ours.
31. G. S. Ghurye, Caste and Race in India (London, 1932) p. 2.
32. Ibid., pp. 58-59.
33. Ketkar, op. cit., p. 23.
34. Taken from Ghurye, op. cit., p. 6.
35. S.S. Nehru, Caste and Credit in the Rural Area (New York, 1932) p. 15.
36. Hans Speier, "Honor and Social Structure," in Social Research, vol. II (1935) p. 80.