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Adaptive significance of the Indian caste system: an ecological perspective

Gadgil, M and Malhotra, K (1983) Adaptive significance of the Indian caste system: an ecological perspective. In: Annals of Human Biology, 10 (5). 465 -477.

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Indian society is an agglomeration of several thousand endogamous groups or castes each with a restricted geographical range and a hereditarily determine mode of subsistence. These reproductively isolated castes may be compared to biological species, and the society thought of as a biological community with each caste having its specific ecological niche. In this paper we examine the ecological-niche relationships of castes which are directly dependent on natural resources. Evidence is presented to show that castes living together in the same region had so organized their pattern of resource use as to avoid excessive intercaste competition for limiting resources. Furthermore, territorial division of the total range of the caste regulated intra-caste competition. Hence, a particular plant or animal resource in a given locality was used almost exclusively by a given lineage within a caste generation after generation. This favoured the cultural evolution of traditions ensuring sustainable use of natural resources. This must have contributed significantly to the stability of Indian caste society over several thousand years. The collapse of the base of natural resources and increasing monetarization of the economy has, however, destroyed the earlier complementarity between the different castes and led to increasing conflicts between them in recent years.

Item Type: Journal Article
Publication: Annals of Human Biology
Publisher: Taylor and Francis Group
Additional Information: Copyright of this article belongs to Taylor & Francis.
Department/Centre: Division of Biological Sciences > Centre for Ecological Sciences
Date Deposited: 28 May 2009 08:25
Last Modified: 19 Sep 2010 05:32
URI: http://eprints.iisc.ac.in/id/eprint/20392

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