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Surveyors and Scholars

Satish Saberwal

By Anil Bhatt
Manohar Book Service, 1975, xv plus 224, 40.00

VOLUME II NUMBER 5 September-October 1977

The questions, posed in this book are: How do caste backgrounds influence, in contemporary India, the distribution of income, wealth, and secular status (toge­ther called socio-economic status or ‘class’)? How important are caste back­grounds for political involvement? Have the statutory hostility to untouchability, and the package of reverse discrimination in favour of the ex-untouchables, made a dent in their traditional disabilities in relation to occupations (and therefore in­come and wealth) and to political parti­cipation? These questions have been around for a long time, and it would ad­mittedly be difficult to say something very new about them. By and large, the posi­tions Bhatt takes have long been part of the conventional wisdom within a certain tradition. He arrives at them by analy­sing questionnaire responses from 1,757 Hindus, selected from 100 rural and 20 urban communities in Andhra, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal through a random sampling procedure specified in Appendix A. The data collection was part of Sidney Verba’s larger cross-­national study of political and social change. Bhatt's analytic procedure bears the strong imprint of his mentor, but I shall leave judgements regarding the sta­tistical operation to the professional jour­nals. What, broadly, are the findings? In some ways Bhatt argues at the national level what Andre Beteille did a decade earlier for his Tanjore village, Sripuram: whereas traditionally the upper castes used to have not only high ritual status but also high levels of wealth and power, and vice versa, the changes of recent years have sundered these three dimen­sions apart: a Harijan minister or bureau­crat dealing with a Brahmin supplicant illustrates the possibilities. Within this broad thrust, Bhatt finds that ‘class’ ­i.e., a combination of education, income, and occupation—is strongly influenced by caste background, in both urban and rural areas; most of the better off are up­per caste, most of the worse off are lower caste. The lower castes are getting more education, but the upper castes are mov­ing further ahead yet. Between the four states there are differences which Bhatt cannot explain because he does not know the details of their variant social and eco­nomic histories. In this as in later analysis, Bhatt is singularly unwilling (or unable) to dig much behind the relationships thrown up by the statistical analysis—or even to speculate much over the possible direc­tion of casuality in ...

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