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HVK Archives: Title: Caste: A melting pot too slow

Title: Caste: A melting pot too slow - The Hindustan Times

Rakshat Puri ()
June 17, 1998

Title: Caste: A melting pot too slow
Author: Rakshat Puri
Publication: The Hindustan Times
Date: June 17, 1998

Dear is etched on the -Indian mind - Indian, not merely
Hindu. The four traditionally enumerated castes among the
Hindus are Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. Each
caste has innumerable subdivisions. Hindu society has been
caste-ridden from time immemorial. But those who were
converted to other faiths did not altogether abandon caste.
Among the Muslims are to he found, for example, the
Araeens, the Maraasis, the Rajputs (Rathor and Chauhan
are common Muslim name), the Jats (Tiwanas, Turs and
others), and so on. A Syed would not ordinarily wed an
Araeen, much less a Maraasi. Among the Sikhs there are
Jats, Khatris (who, like the Hindus, believe fondly that the
word is a distortion of Kshatriya) and Rajputs; and of
course what is known as the Mazhabis. Sikh Khatris, Jats
and Rajputs might relate to each other socially, none of
them would easily rub social shoulders with the Mazhabis.

Denzil Ibbetson, in his report on Punjab's census of 1881,
Caste in the Punjab (1883), observed that "the whole theory
of society is that occupation and caste are hereditary; and
the presumption that caste panes unchanged to the
descendants is exceedingly strong. But the presumption is
one which can be defeated, and has already been and is now
in the process of being defeated in numberless instances. As
in all other countries and among all other nations, the
graduations of the social scale are fixed; but society is not
solid but liquid, and portions of it are continuously rising
and sinking and changing their positions as measured by
that scale; and the only real difference between Indian
society and that of other countries in this respect is, that the
liquid is much more viscous, the friction and inertia to be
overcome infinitely greater, and the movement therefore far
slower and more difficult in the former than in the latter."

This was written some one hundred and fifteen years ago.
In the last few decades the "liquid flow" in Indian society
seems to have become less viscous. The measure of
decreasing viscosity is perhaps best provided by
developments, not in the few districts of the Punjab have
remained with India after 1947, but in Uttar Pradesh where
the rise of the "intermediate castes" has changed the
political landscape consequentially. A cogent account of
this is available in the just published Caste vs Caste:
Turbulence in Indian Politics by Pradyot Lal and Tara Nair
(Ajanta Books International, Delhi, 1998).

The book is "a story of how the intermediate castes, which
were not very important in the Congress scheme of political
mobilisation, have begun to increasingly assert themselves
at the political level.... (The) middle or rich segments
within the peasantry, which have always had an economic
clout but were without commensurate political
representation, have over the last three decades evolved
politically as well."

The authors refer to the contributions of Sir Chhotu Ram
who was a minister in the Punjab during the rule of the
Unionist Party at the time of partition, to Charan Singh
"who is by common consent regarded as the architect of a
new political ethos", to Raja Surajmal of Bharatpur, and to
Ram Manohar Lohia, whom the socialists consider to be
"probably the first modern political thinker who understood
the role of caste in the Indian political process". The
intermediate castes of UP include Jats, Yadavs, Tyagis,
Kurmis etc. Incidentally, UP's Chief Minister Kalyan
Singh is said to be of the backward caste, Lodh, from the
State's western part - "there has been a fierce debate within
the highest echelons of the part (BJP) about the need to
effect a change in the party's image of a Bania-Brahmin
party". We book's argument moves through a discussion of
the shifting paradigm and goes on to political -assertion by
the intermediate castes, the idiom of change and the
paralysed Congress 'Hand', the economics of ascension, and
the changing character of the polity as "upwardly mobile
intermediate castes assert themselves against the
traditionally power-wielding, castes in a bid for political
office and power.

Not everything that the authors say may hold water or defy
counter-argument. But the chief pint of the book is that
caste as a factor in Indian politics is emerging decisively -
even if implicitly, on occasion. The authors do not go deep
into the consequences of this in relation to social, moral
and institutional values. But these consequences arc of
course becoming visible in such things as the quality of
debate in legislatures, where almost all issues come to be
subordinated to caste equation and consideration. One only
contrast the quality of debate today with that of yesteryears.
There has come about a tendency to dismiss form. This
could have eventually a deleterious effect on Indian
society's political, cultural and economic health.
Nevertheless, the effective advent of the intermediate castes
in the political process and their striving to participate in
power must be understood and appreciated.

The caste-wise political development in UP, about which
Pradyot Lal and Tara Nair have written, is natural and was
inevitable. Caste is part of the Indian psych . The
intermediate castes - Yadav, Jats and others - having
"consolidated their hold on the land structure", were bound
to seek political power and status. Other justice-denied
castes and the Dalits are on line. The initiative for their
entry into active politics will perhaps come, in good time,
>from the further and unprecedented spread of mass
communication, carrying seeds of violent demand for
atonement.


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