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M N Srinivas and 'Dominant Caste'

Mysore Narasimhachar Srinivas (1916–1999) was an eminent Indian sociologist who is known for his work on caste and caste systems, social stratification, Sanskritization and Westernization in southern India and the concept of 'Dominant Caste'. As part of his methodological practice, Srinivas strongly advocated ethnographic research based on fieldwork, but his concept of fieldwork was tied to the notion of locally bounded sites. Thus some of his best papers, such as the paper on dominant caste and on a joint family dispute, were largely inspired from his direct participation (and as a participant observer) in rural life in south India.

MN Srinivas in his paper entitled 'Dominant Caste in Rampura' highlighted the process of social change in India based on the concept of dominant caste. According to him, a caste to be labeled, as a dominant caste must have extensive cultivable land should have considerable numerical strength and should occupy a high place in the local caste hierarchy.

The Green Revolution led to the increase in production and consequently increases in the prices of agricultural land. This coupled with political clout and contact with those in political powers was important factors to get into the league of dominant caste. So some castes which were dominant earlier are no longer so. Others have taken their place by virtue of their being able to acquire money, muscle and political power. The model of sanskritization for lower caste is not always the Brahmin. The model is the dominant caste with money, huge following and political power or connection with those in political power.

The dominant caste may assume self-importance, distance itself from others and consider itself as the protector of the community. Influential members of the dominant caste settle disputes not only in their community but also intra-caste disputes. A dominant caste in order to maintain harmony among the different economic strata within its caste structure may form caste-based associations. Caste members are exhorted to take measures to maintain the purity of the caste and improve their caste status.

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