*Ms. Shailja Saxena **Abhishek Kumar According to Oxford dictionary, Caste means “any class or group of people who inherit exclusive privileges or are perceived as socially distinct “or” each of the hereditary classes of Hindu society, distinguished by relative degrees of ritual purity or pollution and of social status” Inter caste relations have always been an area of interest for an intellectually able society and these relations have undergone a sea change post independence. With liberalization and globalization as the current trends, talking about caste differences appears to be a mockery in the name of modernization. But the fact of the matter is that caste differences still exist and caste consciousness still remains. Caste has permeated every segment of the society and it is not now that caste has gained importance; it had become an integral part of our social structure even before independence, particularly in peninsular India. Economic interdependence of the caste system has weakened post independence.
But it is still evident that members of different castes traditionally perform tasks for one another in Nevertheless, it is clear that members of different castes customarily perform a number of functions for one another in bucolic India that stresses on cooperation rather than competition. There has been a ritual opposition of sanctity and pollution which since times immemorial has been a cornerstone of the hierarchical framework of caste. The norms of sanctity and pollution worked to point out the difference and categorizations of castes and sub castes.
Prominent amongst them were those concerned with mingling between different castes. They determined who could dine together at a mean and with whom. Not just this, the rules also determined who could accept water and food and from whom1. Only people belonging to equal castes could dine together. Mostly, people accepted cooked food and water from the hands of people belonging to the upper caste but not from people belonging to the subordinate castes. Professor, Symbiosis Law School
Student, BBA.LLB, Symbiosis Law School, 2011-2016
Andre Beteille, “India’s destiny not caste in stone.” The Hindu, February,21,2011, Section D, Final edition. Also, there continues to be a general link between castes and occupation. The link exists to the point that lowest castes are majorly concentrated in low paying and tedious jobs whereas the higher castes explore well-paid and esteemed jobs. The association was dominant in our traditional economy of grain and land. Economic growth and availability of opportunities have loosened the link between occupation and caste but the link still remains unbroken.
2. Saraswata, Swami Sahajanand, Swami Sahajanand Saraswati Rachnawali in Six volumes . (Delhi: Prakashan Sansthan 2003. pp. 519 (Volume 1).
4. Lowest Caste
Above is the list of 4 categories in which the castes of the village can be divided. The upper caste and middle class people enjoy good relations with each other. They readily participate in each other’s ceremonies. But the lower and lowest castes do not share the same camaraderie with each other though they play an important role in the rituals and ceremonies of upper caste households which has been discussed later in the paper. Inter caste relations on the economic platform
The Bhumihar, Kormi and Yadav are land owners while most of the untouchable castes are marginal landowners and landless labourers. Even though engagement in agriculture is common to all castes from Bhumihar to untouchables, certain occupations are duly performed by certain caste only. Certain kinds of occupation are considered as better suited to people of the upper caste. The economic disparity and specific occupations of different castes have resulted in interdependence of the various castes in village Bihta. All high caste, middle caste and low caste groups come into contact with the Lohar (Blacksmith), Thakur (Barber), Dhobi (Washer man), Chamaar (Shoe maker) and Dom (Toilet cleaner).
Their services are considered indispensable in the village. All these groups come into contact with other high class groups usually in an economic context but there is an exception too. Few castes of the village render their services in Traditional Jajmani system. Brahamans serve their Jajmaan (a category comprising of people from the upper, middle and lower caste) performing religious rituals for them. They restrain themselves from catering to the people belonging to the lowest castes like Dom, Dusadh and Chamaar. Under the Jajmani system, other lower and lowest castes also serve the upper castes. The upper castes give them two pieces of land for accommodation and agriculture respectively. The upper castes sometimes also hand over rice and wheat to the people of the lower castes.
In village Bihta, there are a few hajaams who impart their services to different houses on a regular basis and they get rice, wheat and other cereals as consideration of their work from the people of the upper castes. The women of the hajaam households also make visits to the houses of upper castes during times of delivery, marriage and the last rites. In Bihta, only 4 Hajaams presently exist and each hajaam caters to 60 upper class households which gives them enough means for a decent livelihood. This way they are economically related to all the members of society. However, they do not cater to the people of the lowest castes (Dom).
The Chamaars are cobbler by profession but they also work for upper caste people for discharge and disposal of dead animals like cows and buffalos. They charge a definite quantity of rice and wheat annually whether animals die or not. Their services are, however, readily available whenever required. Over the past few years, the scenario has undergone a change and now, the Shoe makers charge for their services in cash but not on annual basis but on work basis. The shoe makers perform the work which many abhor so their importance cannot be undermined in the society. The people of this caste also play musical bands at weddings and on other festive occasions. Foe playing musical instruments, they get compensated through cash and grains. They remain connected to the people of the upper castes because of their indispensability in times of dire need.
The Brahmins serve the upper, middle, lower castes by performing spiritual jobs for them at a fixed price. The spiritual jobs they render are not charged on an annual basis. It is a caste which specializes in rites and rituals and its role in the society is of vital importance too. Professionally, they cater to other castes for consideration but Brahmans are still considered as superior because they perform spiritual activity on all occasions. It is believed that they stand above in the hierarchical structure of the society as they are know the ways to reach out to God and appease the souls of our ancestors. The priests work on wages basis but they are important members of the village organization and maintain good social as well as economics relation with the other members of the village.
This caste basically indulges in marketing of household goods from people of different castes purchase household commodities. Many a times, during periods of flood or famine, they sell commodities on credit basis to the farmers of all communities like Bhumihar and Yadav. It is only when conditions return to normal, that the farmers repay the baniyas for the products purchased by them on credit basis earlier. The farmers return their dues to the baniyas by giving them farm products like rice, wheat and sometimes, money also. In this manner, people are dependent and closely connected to Baniyas for economic reasons. Though they are interdependent on each other for economic concerns, yet few castes like Rajputs and Bhumihars avoid inviting them in functions because they think that they consider baniyas as inferior to them in caste and social stature. However, their interaction for trade purposes till remains.
Inter- caste relations on social grounds.
Caste is most important social division in Bihar. Casteism is deeply embedded in their thoughts. People mingle with each other at dining and other social events. Inter caste marriages are still not a regular happening in the state. However, there are a few cases of inter caste marriages wherein the bride and the groom belong to separate castes. Marriage between a Baniya and a Brahman is not accepted by village even though both the families might not see any problem in such a union. The society still discriminates between the two castes. Choice of food is largely different in various castes. For example, few caste including Dom and Dusadh prefer eating pork.
The nature of their work and their preference for food also makes them susceptible for detest from the upper castes. They are considered as untouchables and even though our society might be progressing at a fast pace, such discrimination on the basis of caste still persistes and the so called ‘untouchables’4 are not permitted to enter the premises of the upper caste people. The social camaraderie is confined to addressing each other on occasions like weddings and deaths. Economic interdependence far exceeds social interdependence. The hierarchical structure still weighs heavily on the minds of people of Bihta. Inter caste relations due to rituals and religion.
Though the caste differences exist largely in the village Bihta, yet there are many factors that are common amongst the various castes. The commonality arises because they all share a common religion and to be precise, ‘one God’. Their interdependence is evident at all events. The services of the barber are considered necessary because he is considered a ritual purifier on various occasions. Shaving is an important ritual on many occasions such as death of any member in village that are from same gotiya5.
Brahamans are treated with respect social circuits even though he might be poor. In every ritual such as birth, marriages, construction of house, even on purchase of vehicle, Gods are worshipped and whenever Gods have to worshipped ceremoniously, the role of the Brahmin gains paramount importance. All castes respect Brahmans and seek spiritual enlightenment from him. It is believed that insulting Brahmans would amount to committing a sin and the redemption of the sin would only be in death, or possibly beyond death. It is their fear of God and the death that the respect for Brahmins stands unshaken.
4. Tom O’Neill,” Discrimination against India’s lowest Hindu castes is technically illegal”, National Geographic Magazine, (2003). 5. People of same Bhumihar gotras within seven generation.
However, inspite all the reverence that Brahmins seek and get, there remains a commonality between them and the lower and lowest castes. The commonality is the language- the speech they converse in and it is this language that binds them together. For example, the Brahmins and the untouchables speak the same language and they also have certain culture forms in common, though they pace themselves in two extremes in the hierarchical model of the Hindu caste. It is also difficult to isolate a particular cultural trait as social, economic or religious as one trait compliments the other in an organic, functional character of the society. Nevertheless, the other most important binding factor is the economy of the people itself. Historically, the economy of the Bihta is governed by two groups of people, the Bhumihars who are landowners at larger extent and Baniya who runs shops. This economic model is operating up to now. Similarly, certain caste groups are permitted to do only certain type of caste specific occupation. In other words, the economic disparity and caste specific occupations force people to line together for survival. Religious festivities in village are an important medium to minimize the conflicts among groups.
Bihta Village has a more homogenous community structure. If we analyze the socially defined boundaries of kinship. Caste , ethnicity, language, economic condition, duration of stay and religious values, this village shares many of these features in common. Most of the caste groups in the village are Hindus. They celebrate Hindu festivals, worship Hindu gods and goddesses. They speak Hindi and Magahi. Their marriage and kinship patterns are similar and they are closely related to each other. Though the caste solidarity is more pronounced among the caste groups, politics is controlled more by the Bhumihars. The Bhumihars are economically well off due to their huge possession of land in the village which are of high value. All the caste groups in the study area have harmonious social relationship. They participate in feasts with each other, worship village deities, and attend marriage ceremonies and death rituals.
The social solidarity is seen on the occasion of Holika dahan festival in which all the caste groups irrespective of political ideology and local personal differences gather at a public place. On one hand, where there is camaraderie, howsoever little it might be, there are towns and cities where castes differences lead to bloody wars. Caste related violence or hate crimes are frequently witnesses in various parts of the country despite decreasing caste consciousness in the urban parts of our country. One such place is Gwalior- the fourth largest city of Madhya Pradesh. Gwalior was considered to be the priority urban region of Madhya Pradesh. Low cost of production, cheap availability of land, easy supply of raw material, availability of labour at low costs and strategically located on the Delhi- Agra-Bombay highway, with an Airport to boast of, Gwalior could easily be one of the first priorities of any Industrial House but it is shocking to note that out of more than 200 companies that were set up around 20 years back in the city, only 3 have survived. Caste differences have resulted in pushing back the development of the state by two decades.
Amongst the prominent castes, Gurjars, Thakurs and Pandits are most dominant. Though their traditions and customs are quite similar, yet the differences are rampart. It is their surname that marks the beginning of differences amongst themselves over almost every issue. The locals of this region are known to be notorious. Chambal region has had a history of Caste based conflicts and dacoities. It is infamous as the home for dacoits and other social deviants. As a result, the local workforce is different from the workforce in rest of the nation and this difference is not desirable. The labourer’s attitude towards work is very repulsive. This area lags behind rest of the nation by many years owing to these differences. This is one of the main reasons why the companies in this region could not compete with companies in other states.
They can’t even think of International competition when even local competition is beyond their reach. Where hatred has over awed the city and tarnished its image, there are exemplary states which excel in maintaining cordiality amongst different castes. An example of such cordiality can be witnessed in Karnataka where in the annual procession of a certain village, temple cart which bears images of the idols to whom the welfare of the village can be attributed, is made to move forward with the combined efforts of representatives of different castes- be it upper or lower. It is a belief amongst the villagers that the cart would not move forward unless diverse castes toil together to move it. It is a rare example of brotherhood and solidarity amongst people of different castes.
Castes remain deeply embedded in the heart and minds of all citizens. On being born, the infant is gifted his caste first and his name later. We might have progressed considerably post independence but have not yet reached a stage where caste differences would cease to exist. Feeling ashamed of being born into a particular caste and feeling proud for being born into another is traditional human nature. Removing these differences will liberate the society from shackles of orthodoxy and will dampen the spirits of all opportunistic politicians who very tactfully encash on such regressive mind sets of the citizens of our country.
The conclusion remains that in spite of all socio-political differences, the thread of economic interdependence keeps people of different castes in one loop. It would be better if the society realizes this mutual dependence of castes and values each caste on the basis of the contribution made by them towards the progression of our economy rather than demeaning or degrading each other on the basis of the so called God given inferior status. Casteism is racism- the sooner we realize that, the better it would be for our country’s social, political and economic health.
Andre Beteille, “India’s destiny not caste in stone.” The Hindu, February,21,2012, Section D, Final edition. Saraswata, Swami Sahajanand. Swami Sahajanand Saraswati Rachnawali. Prakashan Sansthan. 2003. Ghurye. Features of the Caste System, caste in India. Popular Prakashan, Bombay.1969
Thorat Sukhadeo, Newman, and Katherine, Blocked by caste: Economic Discrimination and Social Exclusion in Modern India, 2010
Srinivas, M.N., “An Obituary of Caste as a System,” The Economic and Political, February 2003.
Cordaux, Richard ., “Independent Origins of Indian Caste and Tribal paternal Lineages,”Current Biology, 2004-02-03.
Tom O’Neill,” Discrimination against India’s lowest Hindu castes is technically illegal”, National Geopraphic Magazine,(2003).
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