Baba’s Explainer – Sanskritisation

  • IASbaba
  • September 22, 2022
  • 0
History and Art and Culture, Social Issues
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  • GS-1: Society

Context: Sanskritisation was a term coined and popularised by M.N. Srinivas, an eminent social anthropologist in his book Religion and Society Among the Coorgs of South India ( 1952) to describe the cultural mobility in the traditional caste structure of Indian society.

What is the meaning of Sanskritisation?
  • M N Srinivas writes, “Sanskritization is a process by which a lower caste or tribe or any other group changes its customs, rituals, ideology and way of life in the direction of a higher caste.”
    • Examples include wearing of sacred thread, denying the use of meat and liquor, observing endogamy, prohibition of widow remarriage etc
  • In his study of the coorgs of Mysore, M.N. Srinivas came to know that the lower castes were trying to raise their status in their caste hierarchy by adopting some cultural ideals of the Brahmins. As a result they left some of their ideals which are considered to be impure by the Brahmins.
  • To explain this process of mobility, Srinivas used the term ‘Brahminization’. Later on he called it ‘Sanskritization’ in a broad sense.
  • In some societies the lower caste people followed not only the customs of the Brahmins but also the customs of the locally dominant castes like Kshatriyas
    and Vaisyas to raise their status.
  • Srinivas pointed out how in a caste structure with rigid and hereditary placements/ranks, Sanskritisation became a process through which mobility in caste positions/roles became possible for certain castes.
  • Sanskritization process is not only confined to the caste people of Hindu society, it is also found among the tribal society.
  • Therefore, it is a long-drawn phenomenon that is not restricted to the caste hierarchy/religious structure alone, but also encompasses a wider social and cultural process that is integrative of, and not limited to, the Hindu caste order.
  • In Sanskritisation there is culture accumulation as well as culture depletion.
    • The “lower” castes are giving up their own rituals, customs, folkways, and values. Hence, there is culture depletion.
    • On the other hand, there is culture accumulation in view of the fact that they are taking over new values, traditions, and customs from the upper castes.
  • The concept of Sanskritization has also given rise to De-sanskritization. There are some instances in modern times, some of the higher castes are imitating the behaviour pattern of “lower” caste, and for example Brahmins have started taking meat and liquor. This process is called De- sanskritization
Did Sanskritisation lead to social mobility?
  • M N Srinivas also warned that the process itself did not always result in higher social status for such castes.
  • Other factors such as economic well-being, political power, education, and establishment of literary/historical evidence for their affiliation to/descent from a particular caste lineage were also important for their aspirations for higher social positions
  • Most importantly, for the Dalits, Sanskritisation did not guarantee higher social stature and did not lead to improvement in their everyday life. This showed how the caste system continued to be particularly exclusionary for the Dalits, and efforts to raise their social status were opposed and stopped by castes ranked above them.
What are the hindrances of Sanskritisation?
  • The very fact that it takes decades and decades for a caste to raise its status is indicative of the slowness of the process and slowness is an indication of the opposition.
  • The most important factor in the hindrance for the process is the resentment of other castes against any caste that tries to raise its status. Often political and economic pressures are put. At times even physical force is used to prevent the lower castes’ taking on the customs and the rituals of higher castes.
  • Another factor that hinders the process of Sanskritisation is westernization. Westernisation may be characterised as a movement from the sacred to the secular.
  • As both the processes of sanskritisation and westernisation are going on at the same time, there is a conflicting, or more correctly, a confusing situation. Most of the castes are faced with a dilemma of making a choice.
  • On the one hand, there are the lower castes trying to take on the traditional values and customs of the upper castes, to raise their status. On the other hand, the upper castes are discarding some of these customs.
  • With increased industrialisation, greater communication, new occupations, greater education, it seems likely that westernisation will be the more dominant process.
What are some of the criticism of Sanskritisation theory?

1.Reinforces Heirarchy

  • Even when Sanskritisation allows for social mobility through elevation to a relatively higher position in the caste hierarchy, it only modifies the rank/position of communities in the caste hierarchy and reinforces graded inequalities and practices in the name of caste, while not offering a strong critique and denunciation of the caste system as a whole.
  1. Blunts Anti-Caste Struggle
  • To understand caste relations through Sanskritisation alone is to ignore the role of the anti-caste struggles which did not follow the cultural-ritual trajectory of Sanskritisation.
  • These anti-caste struggles aimed at not imitating or adapting the supposedly ‘superior’ socio-cultural values of the higher castes — values and practices that are casteiest, discriminatory and exploitative.
  • Instead, these anti-caste struggles are aimed at destroying the very structure of caste and instituting a casteless, caste-free society.

Main Practice Question: How factors are weakening the rigidity of Caste hierarchy in Indian Society?

Note: Write answers to this question in the comment section.

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