Census of India

Date: 1901

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I have always been much impressed by the difficulty of conveying to European readers who have no experience of India even an approximate idea of the extraordinary complexity of the social system which is involved in the word caste. . . . Let us take an instance, and, in order to avoid the fumes of bewilderment that are thrown off by uncouth names, let us frame it on English lines. Let us imagine the great tribe of Smith, the "noun of multitude," as a famous headmaster used to call it, to be transformed by art magic into a caste organized on the Indian model, in which all the subtle nuances of social merit and demerit which "Punch" and the society papers love to chronicle should have been set and hardened into positive regulations affecting the intermarriage of families. The caste thus formed would trace its origin back to a mythical eponymous ancestor, the first Smith who converted the rough stone hatchet into the bronze battle-ax and took his name from the "smooth" weapons that he wrought for his tribe. Bound together by this tie of common descent they would recognize as the cardinal doctrine of their community the rule that a Smith must always marry a Smith and could by no possibility marry a Brown, a Jones, or a Robinson. But over and above this general canon two other modes or principles of grouping within the caste would be conspicuous. First of all, the entire caste of Smith would be split up into an indefinite number of "in-marrying" clans, based upon all sorts of trivial distinctions. Brewing Smiths and baking Smiths, hunting Smiths and shooting Smiths, temperance Smiths and licensed-victualer Smiths, Smiths with double-barreled names and hyphens, Smiths with double-barreled names without hyphens, Conservative Smiths, Radical Smiths, tinker Smiths, tailor Smiths, Smiths of Mercia, Smiths of Wessex—all of these and all other imaginable varieties of the tribe Smith would be as it were crystallized by an inexorable law forbidding the members of an y of these groups to marry beyond the circle marked out by the clan name. Thus the Unionist Mr. Smith could only marry an Unionist Miss Smith, and might not think of a Home Rule damsel; the free trade Smiths would have nothing to say to the protectionists; a Hyphen-Smith could only marry a Hyphen-Smith and so on. Secondly, and this is the point which I more especially wish to bring out here, running through this endless series of clans we should find another principle at work breaking up each clan into three or four smaller groups which form a sort of ascending scale of social distinction. Thus the clan of Hyphen-Smiths, which we take to be the cream of the caste—the Smiths who have attained to the crowning glory of double names securely welded together by hyphens—would be again divided into, let us say, Anglican, Dissenting, and Salvationist Hyphen-Smiths, taking ordinary rank in that order. Now the rule of this trio of groups would be that a man of the highest or Anglican group might marry a girl of his own group or of the two lower groups, that a man of the second or Dissenting group might take a Dissenting or Salvationist wife, while a Salvationist man would be restricted to his own group. A woman, it will be observed, could under no circumstances marry down into a group below her, and it would be thought eminently desirable for her to marry into a higher group. Other things being equal it is clear that two-thirds of the Anglican girls would get no husbands, and two-thirds of the Salvationist men no wives. These are some of the restrictions which would control the process of matchmaking among the Smiths if they were organized in a caste of the Indian type. There would also be restrictions as to food. The different inmarrying clans would be precluded from dining together, and their possibilities of reciprocal entertainment would be limited to those products of the confectioner’s shop into the composition of which water, the most fatal and effective vehicle of ceremonial impurity, had not entered. Fire purifies, water pollutes. It would follow in fact that they could ea t chocolates and other forms of sweetmeats together, but could not drink tea or coffee, and could only partake of ices if they were made without water and were served on metal, not porcelain, plates.1

1RisleyH.H.n/an/an/an/a, : 1901, 1 (Part 1): 518–519.


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Chicago: "Census of India," Census of India in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed September 22, 2023, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=9UHQIRMHJYYPXR2.

MLA: . "Census of India." Census of India, Vol. 1, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 22 Sep. 2023. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=9UHQIRMHJYYPXR2.

Harvard: , 'Census of India' in Census of India. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 22 September 2023, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=9UHQIRMHJYYPXR2.