Tuesday, October 25, 2005

an excerpt from my recent assignment

I would like to state my problem with caste, whether in a lived reality or in its historiography. I have lived most of my life in urban settings, where not that caste doesn���t exist but rather exists in hierarchies of economy or class. Throughout India, individuals are also ranked according to their wealth and power. For example, there are "big men" (bare admi , in Hindi) and "little men" (chhote admi ) everywhere. "Big men" sit confidently on chairs, while "little men" come before them to make requests, either standing or crouching down on their haunches, certainly not presuming to sit beside a man of high status as an equal. Even men of nearly equal status who might share a string cot to sit on take their places carefully--the higher-ranking man at the head of the cot, the lower-ranking man at the foot.
I, personally, don���t understand the necessity for religion. And ���being��� a Hindu probably suits me fine because without really taking part in everyday rituals I am still a ���Hindu���. In a way the history of Hinduism is the history of India too. Or at least what we learnt in I.C.S.E in the third standard says that, About 3,600 years ago, a group of cattle herders from Central Asia settled into India. This group of people, called the Aryans, brought with them their beliefs, customs, Sanskrit.
The Aryans disregarded the local cultures. They began conquering and taking control over regions in north India and at the same time pushed the local people southwards or towards the jungles and mountains in north India. The Aryans who conquered and took control over parts of north India subdued the locals and made them their servants. In this process the Vaishyas who were the farmers and the craftsmen became the landlords and the businessmen of the society and the locals became the peasants and the craftsmen of the society. The skin color was an important factor in the caste system. The meaning of the word "Varna" is not class or status but skin color. Most castes are traditionally associated with an occupation, such as high-ranking Brahmans; middle-ranking farmer and artisan groups, such as potters, barbers, and carpenters; and very low-ranking "Untouchable" leatherworkers, butchers, launderers, and latrine cleaners. There is some correlation between ritual rank on the caste hierarchy and economic prosperity. Members of higher-ranking castes tend, on the whole, to be more prosperous than members of lower-ranking castes. Many lower-caste people live in conditions of great poverty and social disadvantage.
Later conceptualized was a fifth category, "Untouchable" menials, relegated to carrying out very menial and polluting work related to bodily decay and dirt. Since 1935 "Untouchables" have been known as Scheduled Castes, referring to their listing on government rosters, or schedules. They are also often called by Gandhi's term Harijans, or "Children of God." Although the term Untouchable appears in literature produced by the low-ranking castes, in the 1990s, many politically conscious members of these groups prefer to refer to themselves as Dalit, a Hindi word meaning oppressed or downtrodden.

I wasn���t sure of my caste till I was 15 or so. I did not know because it did not matter to me either way. Anyway, I am a Bengali baidya. My ancestors were banished from the ranks of Brahmanism because of some disputes which arose because of the practice of medicine by a small group of Brahmins and their mingling with the kaisthas. This mingling gave rise to very interesting double surnames, and this led me to enquire into my caste history. My mom���s family is a Brahmin one. But my grandfather is a communist and loathes talking about caste. To me as to my many friends caste didn���t matter. I did not know that Brahmins were supposed to be vegetarians as Bengalis eat everything. I did not know that only Brahmins had the ���sacred thread��� as most of my cousins have that thread and we are not Brahmins. Only some castes are allowed to offer rice and rice products to god and not others. I did not know that. Similarly lower castes can not offer rice to their Brahmin guests. Did anyone know that, I wonder! Living in urban (middle class/high class-high caste) India caste did not seem to bother me or anyone around me, till recently I realised that I probably don���t know any dalits with whom I mingle socially. May be in urban areas caste has another dimension, Class.


L>T said...

A question: the foundation of caste is religious?
If so, how does religion justify it?
I think it is proabally a universal practice to put people in slots in a society. But, the Indians have a different way of doing it, alright.

L>T said...

P.S. did you find language Guy? Some horrible Christian woman is trying to pick a fight w/me over there. If I was smart I'd ignore her.

L>T said...

Well I see you found it.

uglygirl said...

Caste is the basis of the religion.
but this religion did not come into being at once, and when, caste came into practice, the logic was that the learned(intelligent) would learn, the strong would fight, the clever would do business, the nimble would do menial labour,,, so on and so forth. the strong would then protect the weak, and take care of them, provided all play their own roles. it is very similar to colonialism, imperialism of any kind, slavery.

And thus a brahmin would say that it is in the blood of the shudra to be lazy and not fit for anything but their own work.

shudras, and the even lower caste are in reality the original inhabitants of the land, and Aryans captured the land and created hinduism.

L>T said...

I suppose as in most societys, it starts w/ religion & then the politicals get ahold of it & twist it to mean something benifitual for them.