Thursday, 16 October 2008

Understanding the Paradox of Changes among dalits of Punjab

special article
Economic & Political Weekly EPW octoBER 11, 2008 49
cParamjit S Judge, Gurpreet Bal
A study of dalits in two districts of Punjab reveals that
ghettoisation remains common (including in urban
areas). While the traditional caste occupational structure
has changed, this is less so among dalits in rural areas.
Caste endogamy remains the norm.
The study shows that casteism is powerfully
embedded in the collective consciousness. The caste
system is oppressive due to discrimination, exclusion,
exploitation and untouchability, but at the same time it
situates the dalits in the system as a collective identity.
Their desire is to end all kinds of discrimination,
oppression and exclusion, but not the caste system in
its entirety. This is an instance of a deep-rooted
internalisation of a world view.
This paper is based on interviews of 1,600 dalit
respondents randomly selected in Amritsar and
Jalandhar districts of Punjab.
Since independence, the forces that have been unleashed to
ameliorate the conditions of the dalits in India include conscious
efforts on the part of the government through constitutional
provisions, reservation policies and special development
programmes. Besides, there have been numerous instances
of the efforts by the dalits through political mobilisation towards
improving their conditions. All these efforts towards changing
the socio-economic conditions of the dalits for the better are destined
to have a bearing on the caste system as such. This paper is
an attempt, based on empirical investigation, to understand the
paradox involved in the changes that are taking place among the
Punjabi dalits. The main objective of this paper is to examine
whether at the empirical level all these forces have made an
impact with regard to the conditions of the dalits in Punjab.
Equally important is to see whether the caste system has been
eroded at different levels of the lives of the dalits. Ghurye (1969)
identifies the following features of the caste system: segmental
division of society, hierarchy, restriction on feeding and social
intercourse, civil and religious disabilities and privileges of the
different sections, lack of unrestricted choice of occupation and
restrictions on marriage. In certain respects, the present study is
linked to the identification and examination of certain dimensions
of the caste system that are expected to change.
In the specific context of Punjab, with dalits constituting 28.85
per cent of the population of the state, attempts have been made
to identify certain key dimensions of change in the socio-economic
conditions of the dalits [Jodhka 2002 and Judge 2004]. Based on
the empirical research some dimensions have been examined
these two studies, namely, social ecology, religious places and
economic conditions.1 Equal attention is needed for the investigation
into the issues that are linked with the way the dalits
construct their orientation towards change with regard to caste
endogamy and caste identity. It may be added that the caste system
and casteism are equally important in impeding and facilitating
certain basic changes in the system. The caste system is
marked by political and economic asymmetry and cultural plurality,
whereas casteism is the system of ideas and principles that
justify the system. As a system of justificatory ideas, casteism is
embedded in the mind and the world view of the people and
may persist longer than the changes in the caste system through
education, occupation and social ecology. Keeping in view the
central features of caste, the following aspects have been examined
here to map the changing (and not so changing) contours of
Punjabi dalits: social ecology, hereditary occupations, religious
places, caste endogamy and caste identity.
The present paper is a part of the report submitted to the University
Grants Commission that funded the project ‘Education, Empowerment,
Emigration and Entrepreneurship: A Sociological Study of Mobility
among the Dalits in Punjab’. The authors wish to acknowledge the
assistance provided by Bhupinder Thakur, Gurpreet Singh and Manoj
Birdi as research staff. Critical comments of M Rajivlochan are gratefully
We are grateful to the referee of this journal for giving useful
comments as a result of which we have been able to improve the
paper tremendously.
Paramjit S Judge ( and Gurpreet Bal
( are at the Department of Sociology,
Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar.
speciAl article
octoBER 11, 2008 EPW Economic & P 50 olitical Weekly
Before proceeding to a discussion of the above-mentioned aspects
of the changing and perpetuating conditions of the dalits,
it is important to briefly state the methodology of the study. The
study is based on the interview of 1,600 dalit respondents
randomly selected in two districts of Punjab, namely, Amritsar
and Jalandhar. An equal number of the sample (400) was drawn
from each of the four units that were identified as social types,
namely, Amritsar city, Amritsar villages, Jalandhar city and
Jalandhar villages.2
1 S ocial Ecology
The social organisation of physical space is one of the most important
dimensions of understanding change in a society. The
notion of the ghetto basically emerged in the Jewish context in
which it was understood that the Jewish population was confined
to overcrowded localities. There are historical reasons for the
emergence of the phenomenon and in the post-Holocaust period,
the situation has somewhat undergone a
change with regard to the Jews. The ghettos,
however, have not disappeared. It has
been found that ethnic communities and
blacks live in ghettos. Two reasons are ascribed
to the process, namely, a low income
level and sociocultural/racial distinction
from the dominant population of
the community. The latter is so strong
that it tends to become the only reason
for ghettoisation. An informal network
develops in which the dominant community
creates a system of checks to
ensure the denial of entry to the “others”
as residents in the locality. In other
words, the social organisation of space
occurs in such a manner that the
economic dimension in the determination
of physical space gets marginalised.3
It is important to mention that few attempts have been made to
understand the social organisation of the urban physical space
with regard to the dalits. One of the ways of understanding the
social organisation of space is to know the caste background of
the neighbours. It is important to begin our discussion on the
neighbourhood patterns. Table 1 shows the caste background of
the two neighbours of the respondents. It may be pointed out that
the respondents were asked to reveal the caste background of the
neighbours residing on both sides of their houses.
It is evident from the data that the respondents have been predominantly
living in a neighbourhood where the people of their
own caste reside. The fact that draws immediate attention is that
even the cities are not free from caste-based neighbourhoods.4
The social ecology of the urban areas acquires importance
of the general understanding that cities are the modern
centres where caste distinctions do not operate in the market situation.
Possession of capital and goods for exchange becomes the
most crucial basis of interaction. So far as the market is concerned,
similar principles may operate, though the western
experiences of immigrants reveal that even the market situation
could create exclusionary practices on the basis of birth-ascribed
features. Influenced by the city life in the western countries and
repulsed by the Indian village life, B R Ambedkar did not only
create a critique of the village republic the way it was constructed
by the British administrators [Moon 1989], but also asked the
dalits to leave the villages and go to the cities [Virdi 2004]. However,
as Judge and Bal (2005) have argued, the migration
of the
Punjabi dalits neither followed any such perception that their
conditions would undergo change nor was there any increase in
migration rate. Even now the proportion of the dalits in urban
Punjab is less than that of villages. As a matter of fact the expanding
cities have enveloped the villages that made many of them
city-dwellers. The city was to them a place where the market situation
could be clearly separated from the residential space. In the
case of residential spaces the concentration of dalits in certain
localities is obvious. It is evident from the data in Table 2 that in
the case of 18 wards in Amritsar and 21 wards in Jalandhar the
percentages of the scheduled castes
(SCs) are above their population percentage
in the state ranging from 29 to
85 per cent.
There is another fact that comes to
the fore in the case of all the localities
in both the cities. In Amritsar, balmikis
in Gowal Mandi, mazabis in Guru Ki
Wadali and meghs in Haripura localities
are in an overwhelming majority.
In Jalandhar ad-dharmis/chamars in
Boota Mandi and Mithapur, balmikis
in Ali Mohalla and meghs in Bhargo
Camp are living in their own caste
localities. In such a situation in which
social ecology corresponds with the
caste background, the classical notion
of the city is seriously challenged. The
economy perspective would
lead us to the understanding that such a situation could have
emerged due to the overlapping of class and caste positions. It
may be partially true. But it was seen that even in the case of economic
mobility, as is illustrated by the ad-dharmis of Boota
Mandi, social ecology is marginally altered. The prosperous addharmi
respondents had then started living in the adjoining
Guru Tegh Bahadur Nagar in palatial houses, but the locality was
still mainly inhabited by the ad-dharmis. Sharma (2003) in his
study of a small town in Rajasthan has shown how the social
of space is closely associated with the caste. There is
a likelihood of a small town showing the ecological segregation
of castes. The interesting
aspect is that all the big cities of Punjab
like Amritsar, Ludhiana and Jalandhar have the same kind of
pattern. Such a pattern organises the social space in such a way
that the perpetuation
of caste identities seems highly probable.
At the same time, such aggregation of people of one caste at one
place facilitates the mobilisation process.
The villages hardly show any changed scenario with regard to
the settlement pattern. As is evident from Table 1, the dalits
continue to have segregated houses. In the villages of Amritsar
Table 1: Caste Background of Two Neighbours
Caste Status Urban Rural Total
Same caste 736 (92.00) 766 (95.75) 1,502 (93.88)
Both higher 7 (0.87) 15 (1.88) 22 (1.37)
One same, one higher 48 (6.00) 18 (2.25) 66 (4.12)
One high, one lower 9 (1.13) 1 (0.12) 10 (0.63)
Total 800 (100) 800 (100) 1,600 (100)
Figures in brackets are columnwise percentages.
Table 2: Number of Wards according to the Percentage of the
Scheduled Castes in Amritsar and Jalandhar
% of the Amritsar Jalandhar
Scheduled Castes Number % Number %
of Wards of Wards of Wards of Wards
0-5 16 25.81 6 10.91
5-10 11 17.74 4 7.27
10-20 13 20.97 18 32.73
20-29 4 6.45 6 10.91
29-50 16 25.81 13 23.64
50-85 2 3.22 8 14.55
Total 62 100 55 100
Source: Census of India, 2001.
special article
Economic & Political Weekly EPW octoBER 11, 2008 51
district the dalit locality is called ‘thathi’, whereas in the Jalandhar
district it is called ‘chamarhli’ [Judge 2004]. It is already
argued by many scholars that the location of the dalit colony is
towards the southern-western direction of the village.
2 Hereditary Occupations
Occupational mobility is an indicator of both economic and social
mobility. Sociologists take occupation, education and income as
the determining variables of the class position of the individuals
and families. Occupations do not change in a makeshift manner,
as there is a definite relationship between economic change
and the emergence of new occupations that require certain
skills. Capitalism/industrialisation is credited with creating
occupational diversification that broke the traditional hereditary
character. In India, caste and occupation had close
to the extent that even the caste names could reveal the
nature of hereditary occupation. For example, chamar, mochi,
bhangi, lohar, nai are some of the caste names that are the names
of the occupations as well. In the existential world of village India,
the caste name invariably invoked the occupation. For example, jat
meant peasant, saini meant vegetable grower, julaha meant
weaver, and so on. Obviously, the arrival of capitalism
with new occupations
that required education was destined to break the correspondence
between caste and occupation.
There has been a lot of diversification
of occupations among the dalits,
which is clear from the fact that the
dalit respondents are involved in as
many as 46 occupations in both the urban
and rural areas. However, everything
has not changed. As is evident
from the data in Table 3, 28.75 per cent
in the cities and 49.5 per cent of the
dalits respondents in villages are still
involved in the low status occupations.
In the case of male respondents, sweeping
and agricultural
labour, and in the
case of female respondents and male respondents’ wives, to be a
maidservant or domestic help is the predominant occupation. It
was also noticed that many of them tried to conceal their occupation.
Table 3 also shows that among the respondents 17.12 per
cent in urban areas and 9.66 per cent in rural areas do not have
any occupation. A probe into the matter reveals that they had
actually concealed the fact that they were either sweepers
or maidservants.
Understanding the change and persistence in the occupations
of the dalits depends upon how we look into the matter with regard
to the occupational characteristics of the respondents. One
way of understanding is that there has been a definite change in
occupations as there is some percentage (about 6 per cent) of respondents
occupying prestigious occupations as they are industrialists,
big traders, large landowners, etc, whereas the other
would be that some of the respondents are still located on the
lowest occupational rungs. It is also plausible that there is a class
formation among the dalits. Another way of looking at
the empirical reality is that change is taking place in a gradual
manner. It may be pointed out that dalit castes have also been at
the bottom of the class structure. They were involved in polluting
occupations. There is a difference between caste and class mobility.
One is related with status enhancement, whereas the other is
economic. In the case of dalits the two were combined and it
could be anticipated that if the dalits stopped doing defiling
work their status could change. Such a change has occurred in
a limited fashion though the nexus between caste and occupation
has been fractured.
3 R eligious Places
All the respondents, irrespective of their rural or urban
backgrounds, were assertive with regard to one query, namely,
whether they were allowed to enter the temple/gurdwara belonging
to upper dominant castes. What was that assertion? There is
no restriction on their entering any temple/gurdwara. Rather
many balmiki respondents in both Amritsar and Jalandhar cities
laughed at the query and declared that “nobody could dare stop
us from entering a temple”. However, the dalits of Punjab are
struggling against the upper dominant castes, particularly the jat
Sikhs, on issues concerning the religious places. The issue of religious
places has historically evolved in two phases. First, it was
related with the right to worship in the temple. Ambedkar led
dalits to make a forced entry in the temples
in the initial stages of his struggle for
equality of worship [Zelliot 1970]. The
second stage began when the dalits
either had their own religious places or
they started “reclaiming” their religious
places. So far as the issue of entry into
religious places is concerned, it has
almost been settled. Jodhka (2002) and
Judge (2004) have noted the practice of
not allowing dalits to enter the temple in
Patiala district. But, such instances in
Punjab are rare.
The issue of religious place is an important
dimension of intercaste interaction and caste system.
One dimension of religious place is what Jodhka (2002) has
brought out in his study, wherein he noted that in 51 villages the
dalits had their own gurdwaras though the number of such villages
could be much more. It has been pointed out that there are 10,000
dalit gurdwaras in Punjab [Webster 2007]. The implication of
this finding could be very interesting. One of the interpretations
of this empirical fact is that the dalits are not allowed to enter the
gurdwara and in protest they have constructed their gurdwaras
[Jodhka 2002 and Bal 2007]. The practice of untouchability at
religious places among the Sikhs is almost absent in the Doaba
region of Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Kapurthala and Nawan Shahar
districts of Punjab.5 There is a widely held belief that there
is caste hierarchy among the Sikhs though the caste system
lacks rigidity that is prevalent in other parts of the country. The
existence of the practice of untouchability is invariably denied.
There is another way of understanding the issue of the separate
gurdwaras. Let us look into the historical and anthropological
dimensions of the religious places and their caste-linked
Table 3: Categorywise Occupational Levels of the Respondents
Occupational Prestige Category* Urban Rural Total
I 25 (3.12) 16 (2.00) 41 (2.56)
II 46 (5.75) 9 (1.12) 55 (3.44)
III 8 (1.00) 1(0.12) 9 (0.56)
IV 58 (7.25) 20 (2.20) 78 (4.73)
V 171 (21.38) 147 (18.38) 318 (19.69)
VI 124 (15.50) 133 (16.62) 257 (16.06)
VII 231 (28.88) 396 (49.50) 627 (39.18)
VIII/NA 137 (17.12) 78 (9.66) 215 (13.43)
Total 800 (100) 800 (100) 1,600 (100)
*These occupational categories have been constructed on the basis of
D’souza (1985). These categories have been arranged in descending
order in terms of prestige of the occupation.
Figures in brackets are columnwise percentages.
speciAl article
octoBER 11, 2008 EPW Economic & P 52 olitical Weekly
existence in Punjab, which, metaphorically, could be stated as “a
religious place of one’s own”. Historically, the social structure of
a Punjab village typically followed the all-India pattern in which
the entire social organisation revolved around agriculture. In the
present Punjab, prominent castes of landowners are jats, sainis,
lobanas, kambohs, mahatons, khatris and brahmins. The numerically
preponderant and politically dominant caste among them
in Punjab is that of the jats. Since more information is available
on the jats, it is appropriate to select them for an illustration of
the entire issue. The jat landowner traditionally had a large
number of service castes that were related to him under the
“Jajmani” system. As the entire village community depended on
agrarian production for its existence and livelihood, the landowner
occupied the central position so far as the economic life of
the village was concerned [Judge 2002]. All other castes were
limited in number except for the agricultural workers who invariably
belonged to the dalit castes. This fact of the existence of the
service castes and their proportion in the population of village
has been noticed by Dirks (2002: 76) in India in general, “No village
contained more than a few of these families…”. The construction
of a religious place in such a situation could only be
done under the patronage of the landowning caste.
Most of the villages in the Doaba region in particular are without
any temple despite the presence of the Hindus, whereas all
the jat Sikh villages have gurdwaras. Over a period of time, the
number of gurdwaras in the villages has begun to rise. There is a
general impression that there is a caste basis for the gurdwaras.
Each caste tends to have its own gurdwara. Such an observation
is partially true. To understand the reality underneath, one may
raise a question as to why the jats have more gurdwaras if the
logic of caste basis is taken into consideration. As a matter of fact
there is a gurdwara for each locality called ‘patti’ in Punjab. The
dalits having their separate gurdwara is a recent phenomenon.
The green revolution process brought changes in the Punjab
economy and society. The arrival of migrant labour pushed the
dalits out of the agrarian relations, as they were displaced as
labourers due to which they had to go to the cities to
look for work in the non-agricultural sector. The conditions of the
dalits relatively improved and they diverted their attention to the
affairs of god. The balmikis constructed their temples, addharmis
their Ravidas temples and ramdasias and mazabis their
gurdwaras. It should be pointed out that so long as a caste community
is poverty-stricken and its members are finding it difficult
to make both ends meet, it may not be able to construct its
temple or gurdwara in the village. In the case of the Sikhs it is
quite probable that during the period of the Singh Sabha movement
the construction of gurdwaras according
to the locality and
caste was discouraged due to its claim of equality among all the
Sikhs. The conversion of jats to Sikhism in the Doaba region at
the turn of the 20th century due to the proselytisation
of the Singh Sabha movement leads us to raise a pertinent question,
that is, what did happen to their religious places of worship?
Since the jats as the landowning
class had a Hindu past, it was
expected that they might have constructed some temples. We
know that so far as ancestor worship is concerned those places
are still intact. However, the question of temples relating the
jats to their Hindu past has not been settled. There are two possibilities.
One, there were no temples of any sort in the villages
of Punjab. Second, the jats after their conversion to Sikhism
the sacred place as well.
So far as the Doaba region of Punjab is concerned, the above
argument holds well, but the Majha region in which Amritsar
district falls presents a different case. During data collection the
mazabi respondents of Amritsar district reported caste-based
exclusion of religious practices. Many of them said that the upper
caste Sikhs did not allow them to carry the sacred book to their
residence for purpose of performing various rituals/ceremonies
on the pretext that their houses were dirty. Similar information
was given by the mazabis of Guru Ki Wadali – an erstwhile village
that has become a locality of Amritsar city. No such thing
was reported in Jalandhar district. The respondents while asked
about the religious places said that their villages
had common
gurdwara(s). It clearly shows that a certain degree of religious
exclusion is practised in some parts of Punjab.
It may be reiterated that a separate gurdwara does not imply
that its existence is a consequence of exclusion. There are three
kinds of gurdwaras of the Sikhs. First, there are historical gurdwaras.
These gurdwaras are linked with the Sikh gurus or certain
events in the Sikh history. The Golden Temple in Amritsar
is one of the examples of historical gurdwaras. The second type
of a gurdwara is what have now become very well-known religious
places, namely the ‘deras’.6 The deras are a part of both
the Hindu and the Sikh religious traditions of Punjab; and if we
take the Sufi tradition into consideration, then it is possible to
put even the places of the Sufi ‘fakirs’ as a part of the same tradition.
In the early medieval period, there were deras of ‘Nath
yogis’. Sufi saints had their own deras. After the emergence of
Sikhism, the institution of deras could be found among them.
The ‘nirmalas’ and the ‘udasis’ had their own deras. These
deras have also come into conflict with the mainstream
religious establishments. Recently, deras have also become
places of contestation among different castes. The third kind of
gurdwaras is called the social gurdwaras. It is here that the
issue of untouchability or exclusion has emerged. In the 10
villages studied in Amritsar and Jalandhar districts, there was
no historical gurdwara.
A question was asked about the number of religious places and
their responses are given in Table 4. It is interesting to note that
Table 4: Number of Religious Places in Each Village
Village Jat/Kamboh Common Mazabi Hindu Dera Sufi Church Balmiki Ravidas
Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Temple Pir’s Tomb Temple Mandir
Gehri 1 1 2 1 1
Galowali 1 1 1 1
Bhoma 1 3 1 2 1
Kotli Dhole Shah 1 1 1 1
Nawan Pind 1 1 1 1 1
Udhowal 2 8 1
Adharman 1 1 2 1
Meham 2 1 2 1 1
Bath 1 1 16
Mehtpur 2 8 1 1
Total 7 7 6 6 3 39 3 7 2
(First five villages are from Amritsar district, whereas the rest five are from the Jalandhar district.)
special article
Economic & Political Weekly EPW octoBER 11, 2008 53
there was a clear-cut distinction between the Amritsar and
Jalandhar villages. In the case of Amritsar villages, the predominant
trend was to identify the gurdwara with the caste, whereas
the villages in Jalandhar district had the predominance of common
gurdwaras. Notably, the mazabis and balmikis abound in
terms of religious places though the largest number of religious
places in villages was that of Muslim Sufi saints. The Muslims of
the eastern Punjab migrated to the western part of Punjab after
Partition. However, it may be noted that while mosques in villages
have disappeared, the tombs of Sufi saints are well-maintained. It
implies that the composite religious tradition of Punjab has not
been completely eliminated by the efforts at constructing a single
religious tradition.
Finally, the existence of a distinct religious space is a different
dimension from that of a separate gurdwara if the issue implicates
the religious practices of the dalits. Comparing to the ideal
typical constructions of the deprivation of dalits, the existence of
a place of worship is a major transformation
in the conditions of the dalits.
The issue of the gurdwara is complex
because some of the respondents reported
discrimination that comes close
to untouchability. However, the construction
of the gurdwara on the part
of the Sikh dalits could be considered
in terms of their ability to do so. Caste
was always present and strong even earlier. It was not what
Gupta (2007) thinks about the rising tide of caste consciousness,
rather the change is with regard to the rising awareness of
the dalit castes and its manifestation in the public sphere. The
political economy of the religious place indicates that there is
some improvement in the economic conditions of the dalits. The
existence of separate gurdwaras for different castes presents an
illustration of untouchability
as well as of dalit mobility however
limited it may be.7
4 E ndogamy and Intercaste Marriages
Caste endogamy is regarded as one of the major citadels on which
the caste system rests. The notions and practice of hypergamy
and hypogamy existed in the Indian tradition, but these are more
a part of mythological stories than reporting of actual cases. The
combination of caste endogamy and the institution of arranged
marriage have made caste almost a permanent system. Caste endogamy
is also a result of a principle that has transformed into a
mentality. Vovelle (1990: 12) defines the examination of mentality
“as the study of the mediations and of the dialectical
between the objective conditions of human life and the ways
in which people narrate it, and even live it”. In a way the notion
of mentality implicates the combination of objective and subjective
conditions with a difference from traditional understanding
of this dichotomy. The subjective is understood in terms of
how it is narrated/told. It seems natural to think, expect and
anticipate that the people belonging to the lower castes whose
stake is in the demolition and destruction of the system would
support intercaste marriages. Caste identity presupposes
endogamy in spite of the fact that in a patriarchal system the
identity of the male is more important than that of the
female. The respondents were asked to give their views on
the significance of caste endogamy if they thought that it was
desirable. Table 5 indicates the views of the respondents with
regard to caste endogamy.
It is obvious that the dalit respondents living in villages overwhelmingly
consider caste endogamy significant in comparison
to the urban dalits. Less than 3 per cent of rural respondents
stated that caste did not matter, whereas 29.12 per cent of the
in the urban areas viewed endogamy as insignificant.
In both the settings there was comprehensive support for
caste endogamy. Tradition is a vague word and the caste system
could be plausibly regarded as a part of Indian tradition. Since
the rural respondents are supporting caste endogamy, it is clear
that this view cuts across caste lines. On the other hand, a considerable
proportion of the urban respondents regarded caste endogamy
as not significant. Keeping in view this fact, it is proper to
see the castewise
responses of the
urban respondents. The conjecture is
that the ad-dharmis and meghs would
be more tilted towards the insignificance
of caste endogamy than those
of mazabis and balmikis.
The data presented in Table 6 show
clearly that among those who emphasised
traditions as the reason for
supporting caste endogamy, the majority belonged to the
mazabi, ad-dharmi/chamar and sansi castes. At the same time,
among the ad-dharmi respondents one-fourth of them considered
the issue unimportant. If we take a closer look at this table
and see how each caste is distributed in terms of its emphasis
on caste endogamy, then only meghs could be considered to
be more amenable to marginalise caste endogamy. In that
sense, our conjecture is partially substantiated. The second
main caste that does not attach a crucial significance to caste
endogamy is that of the balmikis. It may be concluded that the
dalit castes consider caste endogamy significant as a part of
the tradition.
Related with the issue of endogamy is the event of intercaste
marriage. The respondents were asked whether intercaste marriages
could destroy the caste system. The responses are given in
Table 7 (p 54 ). Again there are rural-urban differences in the
sense that 96 per cent of the urban respondents are of the view
that it is possible to end the caste system if intercaste marriages
Table 5: Significance of Caste Endogamy
Significance Urban Rural Total
Tradition 518 (64.75) 775 (96.88) 1,293 (80.82)
Better understanding 20 (2.50) 1 (0.12) 21 (1.31)
Family support 24 (3.00) 1 (0.12) 25 (1.56)
Does not matter 233 (29.12) 23 (2.88) 256 (16.00)
Do not know 5 (0.63) - 5 (0.31)
Total 800 (100) 800 (100) 1,600 (100)
Figures in brackets are columnwise percentages.
Table 6: Castewise Responses: Why Caste Endogamy Is Significant (Urban)
Responses Caste Tradition Better Family Does Not No Total
Understanding Support Matter Response
Ad-dharmi/chamar 150 (71.77) 2 (0.95) 4 (1.91) 53 (25.36) - 209 (100)
Megh/kabir panthi 141 (57.08) 4 (1.62) 9 (3.64) 92 (37.25) 1 (0.40) 247(100)
Balmikis 109 (56.48) 7 (3.63) 5 (2.59) 71 (36.78) 1 (0.52) 193 (100)
Mazabi 108 (80.59) 7 (5.22) 5 (3.73) 13 (9.70) 1 (0.75) 134 (100)
Sansis 3 (100) - - - - 3 (100)
Dumnas 7 (50.00) - 1 (7.14) 4 (28.57) 2 (14.29) 14 (100)
Total 518(64.75) 20 (2.50) 24 (3.00) 233 (29.12) 5 (0.62) 800 (100)
Figures in brackets are rowwise percentages.
speciAl article
octoBER 11, 2008 EPW Economic & P 54 olitical Weekly
come into practice. Interestingly, most of the rural respondents
have showed uncertainty with regard to intercaste marriages.
They remain undecided about the issue. The urban respondents
are more articulate
with regard to the issue than the rural
respondents. One of the reasons is that all the urban respondents
have personal knowledge of such marriages due to which many
of them think that such marriages never succeed or caste is deeprooted.
An attempt was also made to further examine the urban
respondents. Table 8
presents castewise
data on whether intercaste
could destroy the
caste system. Predictably,
the ad-dharmis,
meghs, sansis and
dumnas constituted
the major proportion
of those respondents
who were of the view that it was possible to end the caste
system through intercaste marriages. Balmikis and mazabis were
not sure of the proposition.
In terms of education, as shown in Table 9, the responses are
predictable. It is widely understood that education creates awareness.
Obviously, educated respondents in the urban areas consider
the proposition as a possibility. It may be further pointed
out that even the educated respondents are not wholeheartedly
supporting the view.
The issue of intercaste marriage has wider ramifications. In
a society in which modern institutions provide space for
interaction among people belonging to different castes, there
is always a possibility of certain frequency of intercaste marriages.
The issue is also related to how the other caste
groups understand it.
The following may not be a common occurrence, but such cases
appear once in a while: Despite filing a writ in the Punjab and
Haryana High Court for security, a couple – Ashwani Kumar and
Baljeet Kaur – were murdered by the girl’s relatives – “punishment” for
marrying against her family’s wishes.
Ashwani, a Balmiki, and Baljeet, a jat, belonged to Rauli village falling
under Mehtpur police station (The Sunday Tribune, July 15, 2007, p 1).
The case refers to the area in Jalandhar district from
where the sample of villages was drawn for the present study. In
contrast to Amritsar district, the dalits of Jalandhar district, as
we have seen, have done well in different walks of life. However,
the upper caste dominant jats do not think so. There is
still another issue with regard to intercaste marriages. Can we
look at the possibility of intercaste marriages among the dalits?
The same rule applies here also. The caste hierarchy among
the dalits prevents any possibility of breaking caste barriers
through intercaste marriages [Judge 2002].
However, it is equally important to know the actual number
of intercaste marriages in which at least one of the couple is
from a dalit caste. Table 10 gives the data on the cases of intercaste
marriages in which dalits are involved. The data could be
interpreted in various ways of which three seem plausible. Let
us first look into the dominant pattern. A majority of cases
(56.35 per cent) reporting intercaste marriages are that of
between a dalit boy and a non-dalit girl. One of the reasons
could be that since the dalit boys are socially more mobile
than dalit girls, owing to the factor of patriarchy, the mobile
and educated dalits can marry from the upper castes. An
illustration of this could be given of the family of Steven Kaler
in Boota Mandi, Jalandhar who is a factory owner. The castes
of the wives of his three brothers are brahmin, upper caste
Jain and khatri.
Secondly, in some cases the girls belong to the backward
classes like nai and jheer, where the differences in the positions
in the caste hierarchy could not have evoked a hostile response.
Thirdly, a case of a non-dalit girl marrying a dalit boy is invariably
controversial and the family of the girl opposes it. The
conflict tends to keep the case alive in memory. On the other
hand, a dalit girl marrying a non-dalit boy makes the girl
invisible as she leaves the locality and there is not much reaction
to such cases. After some time the case is forgotten.
it is clear that despite all preferences for cast endogamy
and reactions against intercaste marriages, change is also taking
Table 7: Whether Intercaste Marriages Can
Destroy Caste Systems
Response Urban Rural Total
Possible 384 (96.00) 16 (4.00) 400 (100)
Desirable 107 (52.45) 97 (47.55) 204 (100)
Caste is deeprooted
140 (92.72) 11 (7.28) 151 (100)
Such marriages
do not succeed 36 (92.31) 3 (7.69) 39 (100)
Undecided 133 (16.50) 673 (83.50) 806 (100)
Total 800 (50.00) 800 (50.00) 1,600 (100)
Figures in brackets are rowwise percentages.
Table 8: Castewise Responses to Whether Intercaste Marriages Can End Caste
System (Urban)
Responses Caste Possible Desirable Caste Is Such Marriages No Total
Deep-rooted Do Not Response
chamar 125 (59.81) 25 (11.96) 17 (8.13) 9 (4.31) 33 (15.79) 209 (100)
kabir panthi 138 (55.87) 38 (15.38) 35 (14.17) 2 (0.81) 34 (13.76) 247 (100)
Balmikis 71 (36.79) 28 (14.51) 52 (26.94) 9 (4.66) 33 (17.10) 193 (100)
Mazabi 40 (29.85) 16 (11.94) 32 (23.88) 15 (11.19) 31 (23.13) 134 (100)
Sansis 3 (100) - - - - 3 (100)
Dumnas 7 (50.00) - 4 (28.57) 1 (7.14) 2 (14.28) 14 (100)
Total 384 (48.00) 107 (13.38) 140 (17.50) 36(4.50) 133 (16.62) 800 (100)
Figures in brackets are rowwise percentages.
Table 9: Intermarriages as a Means to End the Caste System according to the
Education of the Respondents (Urban)
Responses Caste Possible Desirable Caste Is Such Marriages No Total
Deep-rooted Do Not Response
Illiterate 28 (7.29) 11 (10.28) 33 (23.57) 11 (30.56) 30 (22.56) 113 (14.12)
Literate 11 (2.86) 2 (1.87) 8 (5.71) 3 (8.33) 4 (3.01) 28 (3.50)
Primary 55 (14.32) 21 (19.63) 24 (17.14) 5 (13.89) 25 (18.80) 130 (16.25)
Middle 59 (15.36) 16 (14.95) 36 (25.71) 4 (11.11) 21 (15.78) 136 (17.00)
Matriculation 99 (25.78) 35 (32.72) 28 (20.00) 7 (19.44) 37 (27.82) 206 (25.75)
+2 53 (13.81) 12 (11.21) 4 (2.86) 3 (8.33) 9 (6.77) 80 (10.00)
College/graduate 53 (13.81) 7 (6.54) 5 (3.57) - 5 (3.76) 71 (8.88)
Postgraduate 7 (1.82) 2 (1.87) - - 2 (1.50) 11 (1.38)
professional degree 19 (4.95) 1 (0.93) 2 (1.43) 3 (8.33) - 25 (3.12)
Total 384 (100) 107 (100) 140 (100) 36 (100) 133 (100) 800 (100)
Figures in brackets are columnwise percentages.
Table 10: Incidence of Intercaste Marriages Involving Dalits
Caste Status of the Couple Amritsar Amritsar District Jalandhar Jalandhar District Total
Boy dalit, girl dalit 13 (27.66) 3 (25.00) 8 (17.78) 3 (13.63) 27 (21.43)
Boy dalit, girl non-dalit 20 (42.55) 7 (58.33) 32 (71.11) 12 (54.55) 71 (56.35)
Boy non-dalit, girl dalit 14 (29.79) 2 (16.67) 5 (11.11) 7 (31.82) 28 (22.22)
Total 47 (37.30) 12 (9.53) 45 (35.71) 22 (17.46) 126 (100)
(100) (100) (100) (100)
Figures in brackets are columnwise percentages.
special article
Economic & Political Weekly EPW octoBER 11, 2008 55
place. However, the general response of the dalit respondents
regarding intercaste marriage is negative.
5 Dalit Identity
The project of ending the caste system seems to have lost direction
in the face of tradition and resilience of caste. The defining
features of caste clearly have showed that the attack on caste has
to take place from all fronts if it is to be destroyed. If the caste
differences do not disappear or wither away with all round efforts,
then the next logical question is what is to be done? Is it
possible to end a system that has been in existence for centuries
with the stroke of a pen or micro-level efforts? One of the
preconditions for the destruction of the caste system is the end
of all caste-based identities.
One of the numerous castes of Punjab is that of the jats. They
are also the dominant caste in the villages. They are proud of
their jat identity. Similarly, the graffiti written on four-wheelers
like trucks in particular would show the arrogant jat displaying
himself. The most popular graffiti is ‘putt jattan de’ (sons of jats).
No other caste group would find such mention. Recently, a similar
trend could be found among the chamars of Punjab, as is evident
from the following
graffiti: ‘putt chamaran de’ (sons of chamars),
then “chamar power”. However, the following graffiti behind a
truck is notable for its identity assertion: ‘Awen bharam ne
mutiaran de, marhi neet rakhade munde chamaran de’ (Young
women are mistaken in thinking that the chamar boys have evil
intentions). Such examples may be rare, but present before us a
different trend in the caste issue. There has been a rise in caste
assertion and it is not from the upper castes where it was
always present. The dalits have begun to assert their caste identity.
The contemporary political scenario is also favourable to such
assertion. Mayawati’s coming to power in Uttar Pradesh is an important
aspect of this assertion. Whatever might be her political
strategy, she essentially represents dalits. The present is marked
by the perpetuation of caste in which the politics of numbers
has led to a situation where it is in the interest of the dalits to
articulate and manifest and maintain their caste identities.
6 C onclusions
The findings of the empirical study point towards the paradox of
change among dalits. At the level of the caste system, inequalities
and exclusion continue to show their existence, the evidence of
which could be ascertained on the basis of data on social ecology,
occupation and access to religious places. Secondly, at the level of
casteism as a world view the dalits are unable to construct the
plausibility of a society without caste. The relevance and indispensability
of caste in marriage has been largely accepted by them
though there are apprehensions that without ending caste endogamy
caste may not disappear. Articulation of dalit identity for political
gains in the electoral process is again an important issue of
concern. From the perspective of the dalits, the end of the caste
system is the most radical change that could be thought of. The
traditions, however, do not allow the dalits to emerge as a homogeneous
category. Casteism is powerfully embedded in the collective
consciousness of the dalits as a result of which their orientation
towards caste system is ambivalent. For them the caste system
is oppressive due to discrimination, exclusion, exploitation
and untouchability, but, at the same time, it situates them in the
system as a collective identity. Their desire is to end all kinds of
discrimination, oppression and exclusion, but not the caste system.
It is an instance of deep-rooted internalisation
of a world
view – a process of reification in which like the Marxian market
and relations emerging from that caste becomes a natural, absolute
and ahistorical fact for members of the society. While the
need is to think of Indian society without caste, the possibility of
caste differences without inequality seems real.
1 Jodhka (2002) has examined the issue of untouchability
by further probing into the issues like access
to village streets, sharing of drinking water sources,
unclean occupation, practice of untouchability in
modern institutions, police behaviour, etc.
2 Each unit has distinct social characteristics in terms of
caste. For example, Amritsar city consists of balmikis,
mazabis and meghs, Amritsar village mainly the
mazabis, Jalandhar city balmikis, ad-dharmis and
meghs and Jalandhar villages were comprised addharmis
and balmikis. It may be informed that the
dalits are 28.78 per cent in the Amritsar district and
37.69 per cent in Jalandhar district.
3 There could be an exception to the general rule in
the sense that in the class society some rich
blacks, such as Oprah Winfrey, may be living in
the posh and white-dominated neighbourhood.
4 Judge and Bal (2005) have shown how the organisation
of the social space in Amritsar and
Jalandhar cities in the case of the dalits exhibits
strong association with caste.
5 The following empirical observation may be important
in understanding how untouchability has declined
in the Doaba region: In village Ajram in
Hoshiapur district there are three gurdwaras out of
which one belongs to the jats and the other non-dalit
castes, and two to the ad-dharmis. When the authors
attended a ‘bhog’ ceremony in the gurdwara meant
for the jats and other non-dalits, it was interesting
to find that the priest belonged to the julaha caste.
This priest was a stopgap arrangement, because the
gurdwara priest was unwell and he belonged to
the mazabi caste. The person who prepared the
‘langar’ (community food) belonged to the ad-dharmi
caste. On top of that, the women who were
cooking chapattis belonged to the bazigar caste.
6 Recently, clashes between ‘Sikhs’ and the followers
of Sacha Sauda sect have made the word ‘dera’
7 The issue of religious places provides for varying
interpretation largely due to the complexity involved
in the situation. Having a separate gurdwara
thus could also be understood as “assertion for
autonomy” as stated by Jodhka (2002) though religious
communities tend to construct horizontal
solidarity unless there are internal sectarian fissions.
Bal, Gian Singh (2007): ‘Viaktigat Suntarata, Dera
Sacha Sauda Vivad and Dalit-Kisan Samasya’,
Nawan Zamana, July 22 (Punjabi).
Dirks, Nicholas B (2002): Castes of Mind: Colonialism and
the Making of Modern India, Permanent Black,
New Delhi.
D’souza, Victor S (1985): Economic Development, Social
Structure and Population Growth, Sage, New Delhi.
Ghurye, G S (1969): Caste and Race in India, Popular
Prakashan, Bombay.
Gupta, Dipankar (2007): ‘The Threat from Within’,
Hindustan Times, July 28.
Jodhka, Surinder S (2002): ‘Caste and Untouchability
in Rural Punjab’, Economic & Political Weekly,
May 11, pp 1813-23.
Judge, Paramjit S (2002): ‘Punjabis in England: The
Ad-Dharmi Experience’, The Economic & Political
Weekly, August 3, pp 3244-50.
– (2004): ‘Interrogating Changing Status of the
Dalits of Punjab’ in Harish K Puri (ed), Dalits in
Regional Context, Rawat, Jaipur, pp 100-31.
Judge, Paramjit S and Gurpreet Bal (2005): ‘Dalits
and Urban Social Space’, Indian Social Science
Review, 7(2), July-December, pp 98-120.
Moon, Vasant (1989): Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar:
Writings and Speeches, Vol 5, Government of
Maharashtra, Bombay.
Sharma, K L (2003): ‘The Social Organisation of Urban
Space: A Case Study of Chanderi – A Small Town
in Central India’, Contributions to Indian Sociology,
Vol 37, No 3, September-December.
Virdi, S L (2004): Bahujan Manifesto, Guru Ravi Dass
Society of Calgary, Calgary.
Vovelle, Michel (1990): Ideologies and Mentalities,
Polity Press, Cambridge.
Webster, John C B (2007): ‘The Dalit Sikhs: A History?’
in Tony Ballantyne (ed), Textures of the Sikh Past:
New Historical Perspectives, Oxford University
Press, New Delhi, pp 132-54.
Zelliot, Eleanor (1970): ‘Learning to Use Political Means:
The Mahars of Maharashtra’ in Rajini Kothari (ed),
Caste in Indian Politics, Orient Longman, New Delhi,
pp 29-69.

No comments: