Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Caste vs Class

Maybe I had one of those rare childhoods but I grew up not quite realising the importance of 'caste'. At some point I figured I was a bania or 'vaishya' but it did not seem very relevant because my father was a scientist. So I never made the connection between caste and profession.

When I set up JAM a few people commented that being a 'bania' I had business in my blood. I found that hard to believe. Yes, my grandfather ran a small shop and many of my uncles and cousins were traders. But for all practical purposes I was a first generation entrepreneur. The only thing I was 'natural ' at was doing well in exams, which is hardly relevant!

What I'm saying is, in a single generation you can flip from flop or flop from flip. My father studied under kerosene lamps, on a meagre scholarship. Effort combined with luck and ability, led to social mobility. A government job which took him to the four corners of the world. And to a universe of x rays and gamma rays beyond that.

My brother and I were incessantly drilled on the 'value of education'. It was held up as our only passport for the future. So we grew up striving for it, yearning for it. And that, I think, is the crucial X factor due to which certain kinds of young people make it through competitive exams. And others don't.

If it was merely a question of access to resources surely we'd be seeing more rich kids than middle class ones in what are considered the 'best colleges'. Of course, poverty is a major constraining factor for the rest - it's hard to sustain a fire in a an empty belly. Although a few exceptional individuals do.

But, I believe class is not necessarily linked to caste. Now you may disagree with my view of the world and say no, caste is still a major impediment in social progress for a large number of Indians. And therefore, we need reservations. And I am ready to accept that argument - but on the basis of facts and statistics!

As we all know, reservations were initially recommended for a period of 10 years.Now they are in force for close to 50. Has any social scientist tracked the results of this policy? And I am talking purely of a sociologist or economist doing their job - uncoloured by any ideological agenda.

To begin with, can we have statistics from all educational institutions currently following 22.5% reservation on the profile of candidates being admitted? How many under the SC/ ST quota are first generation college goers or from households where income is below Rs 1 lakh a year? How many from rural and how many from urban areas?

Such data surely exists, but it is nowhere to be found in the current debate. 'Reservation and Private Sector: Quest for Equal Opportunity and Growth' seems to be a good, and recent, compilation of various papers on the subject. (If anyone has accessed the book - please do share some gyaan!)

A Flawed Figure
Secondly, the entire reservation argument is built on 52% of the population being "OBC". An article titled ABC of OBC in the Indian Express observed..

Using 11 criteria , the Commission identified 3,743 caste groups as OBCs. Since population figures along caste lines were not available beyond 1931, the Commission used the 1931 census data to calculate the number of OBCs. The population of Hindu and non-Hindu OBCs worked out to about 52 per cent of the total population.

I simply cannot understand this! How can 60 year old data be used to arrive at such an important figure. And why wasn't a census along caste lines conducted in 2001 if this policy was to be properly implemented?

The 2001 census provides data by variables like age, sex, religion, marital status, educational status and disability. But as far as caste goes it only tracks SCs and STs. This really blows my mind... !

However we have something called a National Commission for Backward Classes Note the use of the word CLASSES not CASTES. Class need not necessarily mean caste.

NCBC could have taken the initiative to define backward classes in a new way (eg people living in kachcha houses, not owning land, no access to drinking water = 1 disadvantaged class, across caste lines). But no, it insists on naming specific castes' as backward CLASS.

Take a list at the castes included for the state of Gujarat. Folks with surnames like Thakore, Nayak, Puri and Goswami are 'backward' in that state (if I have understood correctly...). Did NCBC duplicate an exercise as gigantic as the census to arrive at this list? How much science goes into making such lists, and how much politics??

Here is an interesting paper by JNU professor Pradipta Chaudhury which highlights the enormous complexity of the issue. The observation is for UP, based on data available at the turn of the century (not this one - the last one!)

With respect to literacy rate, three OBCs, namely, Sonar, Halwai and Kalwar, were ahead of four high castes, namely, Rajput, Taga, Bhat and Kandu. Similarly, with respect to economic status, five OBCs, namely, Sonar, Jat, Gujar, Kisan and Mali, were better off than Brahman and Rajput, the two most numerous high castes, which accounted for one-fifth of the Hindu population. Two SCs, namely, Khatik and Dusadh, had higher literacy rates than many OBCs.

The writer concludes that:

Even in a backward region like U.P. at the beginning of the 20th century, there were large variations in the literacy rates and economic conditions of castes that were later pooled together and treated as homogeneous categories...High ritual rank could not secure some of the upper castes against low economic status. Similarly, low ritual status did not prevent large sections of Jat, Gujar, Sonar, Kisan and Mali from attaining prosperity.

Caste did not preclude the upward economic mobility of a section of the untouchables. Even with ‘5000 years old tradition of learning’, the Brahman population of U.P. could not reach an average of 12% literacy by 1911; they were not the most literate of castes.

I really wish academicians like these, who can offer solid facts and not just emotional arguments were invited for TV debates Last night there were two JNU professors on Karan Thapar's show on CNBC but the lady who was pro reservation was speaking more from the ideological platform than a scientific one.

Perhaps facts don't make for good television in which case I wish Prof Chaudhuri makes his case in the edit pages. His paper points out...

Advocates of caste politics argue that the problem will be solved if the OBCs or SCs are arranged according to the degree of backwardness and split into subgroups such as ‘more-backward’and ‘most-backward’ and sub-quotas created within the total quota. However, the economic status of households varies a great deal within each caste. In a caste, several economic classes exist.

Marginal and small peasants, and landless labourers constitute the bulk of the population in each caste. At the same time, every caste contains a section, varying in size, of well-to-do families.

Did all the lower castes suffer from an equal degree of ritual handicap? Actually, there was an elaborate gradation and hierarchy among the intermediate or shudra and even the untouchable castes, which governed interaction between them and kept inter-caste socialisation to a minimum. The rich households belonging to a low caste tried to imitate the customs and rituals of the upper castes such as child marriage, prevention of widow remarriage and payment of dowry for marriage.

So there you have it - a whole new perspective!

Our vision for ourselves
JNU professor Dipankar Gupta rightly pointed out on TV that at the end of the day it boils down to what how we wish to shape the idea of India. Is it going to be an India dominated by caste, or do we look at 'capacity building' of weaker sections of society?

50 years ago the 'idea of India' as unity in diversity was shaky. The south protested against imposition of Hindi as a national language. Today, thanks to Bollywood and bhangra, Hindi is not seen as 'alien' by young people anywhere in India. It may be dominant but is not necessarily 'dominating'. Today dosas are available in South Ex and chana bhatura in Chennai. Food has become a great unifying facor in the idea of 'India'.

Similarly, I feel, caste had become irrelevant to a significant number of young people. But now it may once again become top of the mind... And that, I think will ultimately damage the idea of India. Things are far from perfect today but we should be working towards making caste a non issue. Not the issue.

Lastly, we need to shake off the guilty feeling that we are the first and only society in the world to devise this 'abominable' social practice. Caste based discrimination has existed in varying forms in varied places. And been successfully eradicated. As I observed in my column on sify.com

Few would know this, but France once had a group of people known as ‘cagots’. “These people lived separately from others, on the edge of towns and cities,” writes David Berreby in Us and Them. “They entered churches by separate entrances, and they could not touch an ordinary Christian, let alone marry one.” Cagots were the Dalits of French society—they no longer exist. They were absorbed into the mainstream.

Similarly, Korea had its own group of outcasts called the paekchong, who lived apart from the rest of society and worked in special occupations—butchery, leatherworking, shoemaking and related trades. Berreby writes that paekchong and prejudice against them was alive in the memories of Koreans of 50 years ago, even though the legal status had been abolished since 1894.

But today, they have ‘vanished without a trace into the mainstream of Korean society’. It took a Japanese occupation, a war and post-war economic growth to achieve that. Not reservation.

One can only hope that the economist in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh prevails over the politician! And reservation is not perpetuated, even as opportunities are created for all...


  1. This is one the best article you have written on a subject unusual for this column without mentioning and hinting about IIMs on the way! Please keep variety in your writings for youth of today is interested is more than MBAs and fashion, and even if they are not, I think, popular journalists have the responsibility to make them.

  2. This is so far the most relevant and earnest article I've read by an Indian on his/her blog. This is worth 'Ctrl+S'.

    Candid, upright and crisp. Excellent Rashmi!

    p.s. Whatever happened to the public interest litigations that I used to read in newspapers couple of years back in India? Why does no body come forward on such relevant issues?

  3. Awesome. I use this word rarely. Your research is incredible.

  4. the funny thing is, some "castes" are backward (OBC) in Bihar, whereas non-backward in other states. Yeh sunke to Ambedkar baba bhi pagla jaayenge!

  5. Hi Rashmi,

    A great post as usual, backed by good research. In an almost parallel post, I used the same link that seems eerily coincidental for me. There seems to be quite a bit of "anti" opinion about the reservations, but what do the masses think, especially those who stand to benefit? It would be good to hear their thoughts on this. I seem to have unfortunately missed the debate on CNBC.

    One another point: The Cagots were the really downtrodden ones, and were given the task of cleaning the personal filth of the other residents in society.

  6. With clear facts showing that reservation is most welcome when economic condition and access to resources have been taken as the parameters rather than caste, as it does not present the true picture of the needy. TRUE - every sensible person would agree. But, why isn't it implemented that way then? The answer is - Politics. Politics cannot be dealt with facts, especially in our country with diverse factors for polarising the voters and of whcih caste factor still plays a HUGE role. So, an appropriate political argument should be framed for making this case for the economically needy and that could take us a long way in helping the REAL needy.

  7. The list of backward castes is truly amazing. For TN for eg., backward castes include certain kinds of Chettys (an extremely prosperous business community), Gounders (who control the textile industry in areas like Coimbatore and Tirupur)and Nadars (who control several large private banks, and one of whom is Shiv Nadar, one of India's richest entrepreneurs). Whats funnier is that some castes are backward only if certain districts - clearly caste based reservation does not work

  8. If scrutinized carefully, contrary to the popular belief, quota system harms its apparent beneficiaries the most. In about 60 years of providing reservation to SC/ST, there have been only a handful of examples when a student from these categories has made to an educational institute or job through open competition. According to present trends, most of the selected candidates from these categories do not perform as well as their general counterparts and a substantial proportion eventually do not meet the requirements to succeed in their respective fields. This in no way means that these castes lack the genetic make-up or inherent capability to emulate or compete with general category. It is just an example of ubiquitous normal human behavior – most of us do not walk the difficult path if an easier alternative is available. The complacency resulting from the availability of reservation would bring down the performance level of any cast and not just SC/ST. Proposed 27% reservation for OBC is nothing but a “Golden Deer”. Undoubtedly, this much percentage of OBC are already making to higher education and esteemed jobs. The crutches of reservation might increase this number for once; however, in the long run, there’s just one possible outcome – the number will come back to its present level and performance, intelligence and general standard of education will plummet.

  9. Well, I have something in common with you..being a bania and my dad was in TIFR and now in sister organization...

    Most importantly, the country needs to have commonalities in terms of shared view of progress and empowerment and not belongingness in terms of caste.

  10. M happy that Indians have started realising this..

  11. hay guys, can somebody pls tell me how does reservation in IIT/IIM helps SC/ST/OBC in todays india.

    i mean now a days most of jobs are from private organisations and they dont recruite based on SC/ST/OBC.
    and whatever government jobs are availble, dont exactly require that you must be from IIT/IIM. in case of government jobs, if it is techinical position, an engineering degree from any AICTE approved institute will suffice (i dont know if govt recruite MBA's)

    so how does it will help SC/ST/OBC unless their is reservation in private sector too (i wish i dont live to see that day).

  12. If one goes through Gandhiji’s autobiography, one realizes that not a single Indian politician has literally worked among the masses for their upliftment the way he did. To penalize meritorious students for their own inefficiency and laziness and introducing reservations is to miss the wood for the trees. Indian Stalwarts like Krishmanurthy, Osho, Shri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekanand have stated that the real purpose of education is to direct the student after looking at his inner potential. (See link - Make your passion your profession) The politicians of today are too lazy to do all that and that is why they have come out with such artificial gimmicks like reservation and depriving the meritorious students from realizing their potential which is the literal meaning of the word education.. It is a shame that such a thing could even be contemplated when both the head of government and the head of the state are individuals with impeccable meritorious credentials.

  13. Rashmi, a nice article... a well researched (thats your style anywayz). As ashish pointed out it was off the usual IIM, MBA blah, blah... Nice one.

  14. Rashmi, excellent post! Well researched and articulate. This post has the capability to sway the opinion of even a pro-reservation guy!

    Two days back, I too had written a post "Reservation in Education or Propagation of Educational Impotency?" on similar lines of argument though it was not as well researched as yours.

    Once again I must say, "Great Article" :-)

  15. As many have said, a well researched and intelligent post. Definitely one of the your best in the year so far!

    Yes, we need more transparency and numbers on the table for a meaningful discussion to take place and less of emotion and ideology.

  16. Rashmi!
    Yet another excellent post!!!
    We need more voices against reservation! Magazines like JAM which many youth access should dedicate columns againts such artificial divisions existing in our society in the name of caste/community/religion etc!
    Good article!.....

  17. Arey these bhadwa politicians have vote banks and these reservation systems are fucking the trip ya.. TOTAL GAME PLAYING.

    What justice in this country? The rich can send their kids abroad to study in bloody Oxford and all.. So that matter is straightened out.. We the underclass will always suffer because of all this BS..

    As for poor people, just subsidise the fucking education no, spend more money on education and schools and colleges and the wealth of the country i.e. the people u fucking fucktards instead of appeasing minorities with your secular bullshit..

    And they call this a democratic country..

    Arey what benefits I got from my upper caste? In the end I'm fucking brown, like 90% of the people in this country..

    Why are they fucking with the only level playing field that an individual has?

    But then what's the point of making sense or speaking logic? Power is politics, guns, and vote banks..

    These people don't give flying fucks between two rats asses suspended in the air like a matrix special effect what you think..


  18. Loved your post! I am going to quote it when I write mine. I was looking for facts and by glory here are some pearls!

    Thanks boss.

  19. HI,

    This is the best article I have read on this subject in the blogosphere. Keep up the good work.

  20. Wonderful post! Definitely one of your best.. We need thinkers and writers like you, Whether you cultivate your business skills or not, people like you should work towards policy making !!

  21. Will somebody ask wat do obc/sc want?

    are they even getting primary education? are there enough schools in rural india?

    wat difference will it make even if 100 percent seats are reserved in their name.

    hats off to our politicians.


  22. Rashmi You rightly pointed out how bad the reservation is to “meritous” candidates. India is the only country which has this upto 50% reservation, that to only Hindus at the expense of all Non-hindus. Think about the siuation of muslims who constitute 15% in this situation. they are the one who are getting the raw deal.

    you being rational would be knowing that In private business, most people are recruited on the basis of contacts, sifarish, loyalty and political influence, oh yeah caste affilation not “merit”. Do you know one of my friend told me that he was not recruited in Infosys coz he is from backward class. I tell you here that he is very good fella, and know his subject. He told me that Infosys has positive discrimination in their recruitment. I can vouch for that as Infosys is our vendor and every consultant I have met with is from one caste only…you know who! So this talk of all meritious thing is bullshit. Just think abt it without getting emotional like 90's self immolation. if you want to fill your backoffice staff say in Infosys with clerk and all, how do you go about it cutoff marks! nah its not rocket science. No its all boils down to contacts, sifarish, loyalty and oh yeah caste affilation not “merit”.

    You know the largest selling english daily in the world has no Dalits and just 3 OBCs among the 300 journalists of the newspaper group, most of them Brahmins, Kayasthas and Banias. This was not due to conscious policy: it was just how things were-”naturally”, “spontaneously”, as a manager put it.

    I don’t need much to say how much the backward people need reservation, coz they have been supressed for centuries, even though we are most losing out in this.

  23. Though I feel, my comment is goning to be lost in your so maby fan-following, I do appreciate the well-read article.

    1. You do regcognise the heterogenousity of Indian society but still wish u bring them under the "class" umbrella.

    2. I am not aware how could you be unaware of the "role of caste" till a certain age but certainly it is never possible for those of lower castes. could you see the the difference ?

    3. The castes/religions far from being irrelvant are reinventing in still newer form.

  24. Business, science and technology knows no bars of caste, creed, nationality etc...
    These fields cannot afford this. So just forget that recruitments are done on the basis of caste. This happens only in govt. jobs (PSUs, banks etc.) and everyone knows about their performance.
    My father has collegues recruited from the quota and I know how his branch( he works in a bank) BEARS them.
    Someone above has questioned the recruitment of less no.of ppl frm lower castes...
    The employers are running a company. They have to operate at very low margins and give profits. They just care about the guys who deliever.
    A naive can understand that.
    Move on to science and technology. Can the caste decide whether the person will do gud work in this field?????
    Obvious is NOOOOOOO.
    To excel in such advanced fields u need to have a solid background. At this high level reservation will only detroit the quality of education.
    So I guess i will go in line with some of the others that push shud be given t frm the beginning itself. I know how i had worked my ass off in my school days in a strict disciplined manner. Now wen i am ready to compete for degree course some ignorant fellow with SC/ST certificate walk into these elite institutes romping me and my dreams.
    Someone take a pity on us!!!!!!

  25. @Zulfi
    TamilNadu has the highest percentage of reservation - 69! In our batch it was even higher because of 'rural' quota. At the end of four years, almost my entire class got placed and no company I know of made any distinction on caste lines. The only people who couldn't find jobs were the ones with backlogs. Infosys, since you bought it up, recruited nearly 100 people. Now given that the reservation percentage was 69, Infosys could not have recruited 100 upper caste people. I personally know a lot of people belonging to backward castes working not only for Infosys but for all companies - TCS, CTS, IBM, Microsoft the list goes on. Not one of them has complained of any discrimination. And yeah you are right people who are truly backward, irrespective of thier caste, need an affirmative action policy, not reservation.

  26. Again, a most enlightening post. Thanks.

  27. I suspect that people outside of IITs, esp journalists, know nothing about
    this issue else there would
    have been a huge uproar long ago.

    At IIT, Kharagpur, there is a BOG or Board of Governor's quota. In that
    the children of the staff of IIT can get a direct admission, based on their
    marks in the higher secondary examinations,
    to the undergraduate courses in any of the science streams at IIT,
    Kharagpur! The students do not even have to sit
    for the IIT entrance tests. A first division in the board exams will secure
    a seat in IIT.

    I suppose this quota was created to promote the meritorious and needy
    of the staff. However, the children of the professors of IIT use this qouta
    as a
    freeway to IIT. They do not have to prepare for 2 years, nor compete with
    lakhs of students to
    secure their places in IIT. They just need a first class in their board
    exams, and voila, they are
    through. They will be treated as an IIT student in the general category (at
    least the students
    from the reserved categories will always mention their quota in applications
    etc. ) and will always get all the benefits
    one associate with being an IITian.

    Years ago, I learnt about this quota when I just got admission in IIT. I had
    friends who left everything
    they loved and sweated blood for years to achieve their dream of becoming an
    IITian. They did not make it the first time,
    so they studied madly again and again, and again.

    And there in the classroom, I saw smiling, content figures of people, who
    never struggled nor had to worry about
    qualifying since a place in IIT is a gift when one is born to a professor,
    sitting in the places of my worthy friends. It was no consolation
    that the BOG students fared miserably in their classes.

    Quotas are created for people who were wronged or disadvantaged in some way.
    I just wanted to ask how the child of an IIT professor is ever disadvantaged
    in life so that he can get a free seat in IIT.

  28. You think our politicians beleive in Quotas? They first provide quotas, bring down quality and then buy imported stuff and when they are sick rush to a US or European hospital. All in the name of making India a developed country

  29. Rashmi, I forgot to say that your articles are remarkable. add me to your list of fans.

  30. Interestingly, foreign governments, partuicularly the UK, are celebrating the Quota Controversy. They say, as the quota system spreads, more students will come to the UK (unable to get a good education domestically), on the average spend upwards of £25,000... which is about the amount of tax collected from someone earning £70,000 (GBP = INR 80 approx..)and they dont even have to offer them a job!! The money will naturally go towards subsidising higher education for the Local students.

  31. . . .very nice !! have not read a sensible take on this, in ages.

  32. Rashmi,Liked your blog.Here is mine http://www.emotionalzombie.blogspot.com/ "No! Let’s join the self-proclaimed snobs protesting with slogans “Remember your place”, polishing shoes and cleaning premises? Let’s pretend not to see it at all! Damn

  33. Anonymous9:02 PM

    If banias were not allowed to open small shops where would have been their present generations now ?

  34. Nadar community movement for upraise in social status:

    Among the various communities of South India, the Nadars have perhaps clearly evidenced the impact of change over the past 200 years. Considered by high-caste Hindus in the early nineteenth century to be of extremely low status, the Nadars – toddy-tappers, climbers of the palmyra palm – suffered severe social disabilities and were among the most depressed communities in the Tamil country.The Nadars have had a turbulent and colourful history.

    The MARAVANADU “country” (nadu) appearing on no map is a discontinuous territory that runs north from Tirukkurungudi (hamlet nestled at the foot of the ghats in southwest Tirunelveli District, near Kanya Kumari) across a dry landscape dotted with irrigation tanks spanning about twenty miles across the edge of mountains (western ghats in the west) and the plains below; and from Madurai (in the North) it curves east down to Rameswaram (inthe East). It is the territory in which Maravars or Tevars have exercised dominance for roughly 400 years. It is marked by the old fort towns founded by Marava palayakkarar under the royal Nayaks of Madurai. This Marava territory was historically defined by its separation from areas of Telugu Nayak power in the east and Vellala/Brahman power in the south along the Tambraparni River.

    In the 1890s, riots broke out regularly in this territory especially in Kalugumalai, Kamuthi, Sivakasi and various other villages of former Thiruvelveli and Ramanathapuram jilla of South Tamilnadu as the dominant community tried to restrict

    -the rising status of Nadars merchants who were fighting in the courts and on the streets for rights of temple entry.
    - Keeping people out of temples, defending sacred temple precincts from
    pollution, expressed a wider power over space.
    - Land ownership, access to forests, privileged house sites, places of honor in processions, a place at the table of the Raja or in the court of the British Collector - all of these constituted power by control over symbolic space

    Their struggle to rise above their depressed condition assumed dramatic forms in a series of escalating confrontations between the caste and its antagonists. Hostility to the efforts of Nadars to establish a new status resulted in a series of violent outbursts culminating in the riots of 1899 known as the Sivakasi Riots where more than 5000 armed men of a local upper community attacked then so called Shanar community of Sivakasi to drive them out of their new settlement.


    The construction of identities is an interactive social process in which multiple actors, states, governments, civil society and individuals all play a part.

    States invent social categories to map society and to depict the objects of social policy so that they can collect taxes, provide services, maintain law and order, enforce legislation.

    States often work under the positivist illusion that social categories are objective, “out there,” needing only to be actualised in administrative records. They do not recognize that the very act of naming creates or transforms reality.

    When the ruled experience the consequences of being categorized, they often respond by denying or challenging the naming that has taken place.

    The construction of difference is not the exclusive domain of the state or of elites.

    Groups and individuals that constitute civil society confront states in a contest over the content and consequences of discursive formations and social constructions.

    The debate in the U.S. about the ways to represent racial categories in the 2001 census, whether to provide predetermined categories or let respondents give their own version, illustrates the role of the state data apparatus in the construction of difference.

    The state must have categories in order to make social policy. Somewhat surprisingly, the American state did not assert that its categories were objective. It recognized they were political: the categories represent a social-political construct designed for collecting data on the race and ethnicity of broad population groups in this country, and are not anthropologically or scientifically based

    And the state was not the only actor. There was strong opposition to self-designation by parts of the black community, fearing the effects on black-targeted legislation if numbers were reduced by defection n to mixed race categories. That seven million persons chose to report themselves in the 2001 US Census as multiracial suggests the fluidity of social categories.

    More than a century back, the Census of India under the British raj too provides an example of how states can take a lead role in naming and ranking social groups.

    From their reading of classic Sanskrit texts, raj officials inferred that Indian society consisted of discrete social groups with firmly ascribed rules of conduct and specifically ranked positions in a social hierarchy. They reified the meaning of texts that native interpreters were in the habit of using more flexibly

    Starting in 1888, raj officials used the census in ways that were supposed to lend scientific precision to these social categories. They defined and enumerated: Brahmans, literate persons who perform ritual functions, advise authorities on correct Hindu conduct, and occupy the top of the socio-religious ladder; Gujars, herdsmen, of modest social standing; Jats, sturdy cultivators; Nadars, laborers who climb the coconut palm and whose polluting work of making liquor relegates them to the lower end of the social ladder.

    Such listings created both a certified reality and resistance to it. The certified social designations became the basis for social policy, which further confirmed the categories. The census story does not end with a document-creating state freezing social phenomena in stereotypical categories run, the state did not succeed in imposing a neo-Brahmanical view of Indian social structure.

    Civil society groups countered the census descriptions by organizing self-help caste associations. The associations mounted legal, administrative and political challenges to the names, occupations and histories that the census imposed on them ,

    In the case of the cocopalm-climbing Nadars, their caste
    associations presented evidence to the authorities that many of their caste fellows had left the polluting work of palm liquor production, developed clean habits by personal renunciation of liquor intake and become merchants, and that by history they had been part of Kshathirya clan or regional lords.

    Hence they were incorrectly named, characterized, and ranked.

    Nadar associations vigorously lobbied the authorities to change
    what the census said about them and encouraged thousands of Nadars
    to offer a different occupational description to the census takers.
    In the Nadar story we see the creation and re-creation of identity and status as a result of interaction and contestation between state and civil society. The nature of caste identity are complex than is indicated in the text and this complexity is particularly clear in the case of the Nadar Mahajana Sangam (the largest Nadar Association which
    organises annual Nadar Conferences for the upliftment of the community
    and bring social reformations within the community). The community memebers took up to Social reformation with restriction to Brahminic cult in their practices and customs through various routes especially through Ayya Vazhi, the Social Respect movement spearheaded by WPA Soundarpandia Nadar, the invovlement of Suthanthira Party leader Shri T S Adhimoolam Nadar of Mukkudal. The role of Brahmins in Nadar community is highly limited, with the local Pandarams or Community members donning the role of preists of their own temples for Amman, Ayyanar, Karuppasamy, Periasamy and SudalaiMadasamy. The services of Brahmins were terminated for other customs like Marriages and the community leaders themselves started taking to solemnising the marriage and other social functions at the behest of active support from leaders of Social Respect Movement and Nadar Mahajana Sangam. All the birth and death related ceremonies are handle by Barber community specifically identified for the practice who are called as Ambattiars.

    An expert treats this Nadar community practice for reformation is actually achieved through a caste clusters of several sub groups formed as a single caste. It is questionable to what extent all of the Nadar castes constituting the Nadar caste cluster ever organized themselves even in a purely modern political fashion, let alone whether they interacted with respect to occupational, affinal, and martial considerations.

    On the other hand, discrete Nadar subcastes do seem to have operated as corporate groups, with respect to a variety of considerations, over a wide regional territory. Nadars while turning away from their traditional occupation by leaving the toddy processing to jaggery and distilling to make arrack formed associations to take up cluster
    based mercantilism network.

    Simultaneously they strived to gain the elevated social status by practicing clean habits with the disapproval of alcoholic consumption and staking claim to Kshathirya status. Nadars, who utilize mercantile and business sites, which are called pettais , from the term for a fortified market in which itinerant traders protected their mercantile goods and cattle used for goods movement and in which they engaged in trade.

    Coordination of their pettais through self help and micro-finance paved way for local business-cum- merchants promoted community schools started in pettai premises with the support of community philanthropist and whose consolidation is accomplished only through branches of their own organized committee developed caste associations.

    When the Nadar community were suppressed they promoted Tamil cutlural life with extra ordinary cooperative efforts coupled with learnings from the advantages of western schooling & modern business principles.From the breast-cloth controversy in Kumari nadu's Thovalai jillah through the sack of Sivakasi to the unification movement under the ageies of Nadar Mahajan Sangam, the Nadars’ rise, exemplifying the processes of mobilization in Indian society, provides rich material for an analysis of the social life of a community in change.

    Their adotption to clean habits shying away from the traditioanl toddy came for praise from every national leader of the freedom struggle period and especially from the Father of Nation "Mahatma Gandhiji", also from British Raj officials and then heads of higher communities of early nineteenth century. After a long legal and social struggle and on the continued exhibtion of good character by the entire set of community, their old name of ‘Shanar’ was abandoned and the honorific title ‘Nadar’ was adopted. The Justice Party government adopted the term in all public records from 1921.


    By and large to meet any cause, resources are not a problem. The problem is the presence of committed people. If there are people committed to a particular cause, resources come. Instead of thinking of funding and
    resources, we should try to create better human resources for the purpose of promoting human rights.

    Cultural institutions should be looked at intelligently and imaginatively to be able to become effective support for human rights education. There are examples of actual use of culture to be able to promote the interest of disadvantaged people (e.g. the case of Nadars in Tamil Nadu in India who created a new myth of origin—making them descendants of the sun god—to help them raise their status in society.)

    The issue of caste, for example, can be seen in light of human rights principles. Instead of saying it is bad or dangerous, caste can be questioned on whether it is hostile to other communities, or hierarchical.Or, whether untouchability is practiced by caste. Caste is undergoing a change in India. From being a hierarchical, interdependent system, it is moving into a situation where each caste is functioning like ethnic communities.

    Values that are within the community can be used to deal with the presentproblems. Human rights education can bring out the fact that people in the community have values which people such as technicians who develop industries do not have. And these latter people can learn much from the former such as in protecting the environment.

    (For Details Refer: Human Rights Education and Society: Relevance and Need South Asia Workshop Report)

  35. The caste movements of India in the last two centuries can be grouped in two broad categories:

    1) the reforms movements situating themselves within the caste system and relying on the mechanisms of sanskritisation (eg: Sri Narayana Guru Movement for Ezhavas in Kerala and Yadava movement in North)

    2) Other one based on an ethnicisation based partly on western ideology (through schools and missionary activities) with a strong egalitarianovertone. (eg. The movement within majority of Nadar community in TamilNadu or Satyashodak Movement started by Joti Rao Phule’s (1827 – 1890) in Maharastara or Kshatriya Movement guided by Shri Natvarsingh Solanki in the early part of last century in Gujarat (for Rajputs andKolis).

    In Maharastra and Tamil Nadu, the ethnicisation of caste and the formation of caste federations helped these group to get organised.

    In Maharastra, Shri Phule, a Mali by caste did not convert to Christianitybut translated Christian idioms into a new discourse focussed on King Bali, the subterranean god who reigns in the underground world according to Hindu Mythology. Through the vernacularisation of Christian values and symbols, Shri Phule endowed the Communiites of Maratha with a new positive identity
    to them.

    In Tamil Nadu, ethnicisation was observed with Nadar community and Kontaikatti Vellalars, who were influential landlords but present in low numerical strength.

    The change in collective identity of ethnic identity building were much more conducive to social change than caste associations or caste fusion of simple or pure. The caste federations successfully incited the sub castes to adopt the same name in the Census and to break the barriers of endogamy, even if, within a caste, within a caste. The members of the upper class still tend to inter-marry, but then it is more economic endogamy than purely caste- based endogamy.

    The process of ethnicisation of Nadar community in South India has been observed by Robert Hardgrave and reported in his publications. The Nadar Mahajana Sangam was founded in 1910 through caste federations and associations and Sangam promoted what he calls as CASTE FUSION as the unit of endogamy expanded. According to S.Barnett this kind of fusion tended to transform caste federations to ethnic group.

    The caste associations or federations (eg. URAVINMURAIs in Nadar community had a secular outlook and became gradually mutual aid structures forming several co-operative units for the community such as in charge of founding schools for the caste children, pettais and bank, Siddha hospitals etc in Tamilnadu, creating co-operative movements ( example of Co-operative sugar mills in Maharastra, Co-operative banks in Gujarat). They behaved like a collective enterprise with economic and political objectives.



    Self Respect Movement was a radical and populist movement founded by E.V. Ramaswami Naicker, popularly known as ‘Periyar’ against the domination of the Brahmins . He was at first with the Congress and actively took part in the Non-Cooperation Movement but later on parted from it due to “its apathy towards the non-Brahmins”.

    The movement has its root in the philosophy of satya shodak Samaj of Jyotiba Phule it was against the elitism practiced by the Justice party . It was radical in nature and advocated weddings without Brahmin priests, forcible entry into the temples, burning of Manu Smriti and outright atheism. He was a great Champion of Tamil Language and Dravidian culture and tried to remove
    Sanskrit words form Tamil Literature.

    Ezhava Movement

    Ezhave, an untouchable caste of Kerala attempted to improve their
    position under the leadership of Nanu Asan, later known as Narayan Guru in the beginning of 20th century by adopting sanskritization. He was the founder of SNDP Yogam. Its gospel was one caste, one religion, one God. It attempted to uplift the Ezharas by spreading education and imbibing cleanliness and other tidy habits amongst them. Many schools were opened up throughout kerala. They gave up practice of untouchability in respect to the castes below them. they defied the restriction on their free movement in the streets. Many temples were built and Sri Narayn Guru was able to simplify riffles
    regarding worship, marriage and funerals. The two methods (Education and sanskritisation) adopted by Narayan Guru was able to transform the Ezhavas into a backward caste within 30 years. Narayan Guru also started temple entry movements in association with the Nair service society which was fairly successful . In Nov. 1936, the Maharaja of Travancore threw open the gates of government controlled temple to Hindus of all castes.

    Ayya Vaikuntasamy Anbu Vazhi Kodimakkal movement
    The socio-religious reforms of Ayya Vaikuntar had enkindled rethinking on many social issues within the community. Ayya’s Movement was responsible for a few important movements in subsequent years. They were the thozh seelai agitation, the temple entry agitation and the movements started by Narayana Guru as well as Ayyankaazhi, to name a few.

    Ayya Vaikuntar’s preachings created awareness among the peopleThe low caste women had no right to cover their breasts in public places. They were allowed to wear dress covering only the lower part of the body. Only the Nambudiri and Nair women had the right to cover their breasts. In those days, covering of one’s breasts before the caste Hindus was a crime. There were incidents of the rulers punishing the women by cutting off their breasts for covering them. Carrying water pots on the waist was prohibited for the lower castes. The women were permitted to carry water pot only on their heads.

    Due to the preaching of Ayya Vaikuntar and the influence of Christianity, the lower castes, particularly the Nadars stated to revolt against these practices. They asked their women to cover the breasts. Men started wearing towel and dhoti in any fashion they liked. The women started to wear blouses called as kuppayam. They started wearing sarees freely just as the people of adjacent Pandiya Nadu.

    In Kalkulam taluk of Kanyakumari District, the harassment was so severe that the local Christian priest reported the matter to the Government

    Many people from the lower castes embraced Christianity just to escape from the grip of the caste Hindus. The missionaries guarded the converts from the harassment of the higher castes. The converts gained their rights with the help of missionaries. The Hindus who were in the majority influenced by Ayya Vaikuntar’s words, dressed like that of the caste Hindus. This was a silent movement and they gained this right quietly and peacefully.

    The lower castes had no right to enter the temples throughout the Madras Presidency and also in the Travancore State. The lower castes were not only not allowed into the temples but also were prohibited to amble in the car streets*.
    Even though Ayya Vaikuntar was against these temples, his social reforms for equality urged His people to gain equality in temply entry also. So, Nadars and other lower castes tried to enter the temples and conduct poojas. The caste Hindus objected to this and this created problems at various places.

    Ayya Vaikuntar advised His followers not to go to the temples. They constructed their own nizhal thangals and conducted festivals defying the Government Order.

  36. The word "Punyaaham" means sacred or blessed day (Punyam Aha:). Sacred day or blessed time is said to be an important factor for the success of any "Karmam". In Manthram 2-21-6 of Rig Vedam, "Sudinathivamanhaam" or Punyaaham is also included among the sacred things to be received while praying to Indran. The Punyaaham ritual includes Manthram to the effect that gods will be pleased and will support blessings by pious Brahmanans who are themselves pleased through such rituals. Through blessed times (Punyaaham), the mind and body get cleansed and awakened, and through the power of the mind, all Karmams achieve success. In Punyaaham, prayers for purification are repeated several times. Moreover, this ritual is said to be a highly effective Karmam leading to the attainment of aura of action (Karmachaithanyam), purity of words, long life, happiness and fertility as a result of the blessings of more than ten gods/ godesses.
    Sun, the son of time (Kaalam), is indeed the most appropriate god to be prayed for a blessed day, which ensures success of "karmam" after tiding over bad times. Undoubtedly, it is the Sun god who has to be propitiated during Punyaaham. But the ritual begins and ends with prayers to Varunan. This contradiction has been clarified by Sankaraacharyar by explaining that the 533rd name in Vishnu Sahasranaamam equates Suryan with Varunan which has been accepted by Saayana also. Reference to Prajaapathi in the punyaaha manthram is also explained through ch 533 of "Saanthi Parvam" of the Mahaabharatham epic where Sooryan is depicted as one of the Prajaapathis, while Varunan is not. The Sun god is confirmed as the deity ruling over Punyaaham. The undeniable place of Sun god is further reinforced through the symbolic acts of raising the hands to the sky to bring Sun god down to the earth as well as the dropping of bright gold into holy water (Theertham), and certain manthrams.

    The Punyaaha manthram is in fact an integrated form of selected Manthrams from Thaithireeya Samhitha and Thaithireeya Brahmanam. The "Naandeemukham Punyaaham" is performed prior to most of the important rituals for improving sanctity of the Karmam. "Sudhha Punyaaham" is done for eliminating "Asudhhi" (impurity or pollution), while "Ara Punyaaham" (half-punyaaham) is a brief or shortened version of "Sudhha Punyaaham"..
    source. http://www.namboothiri.com/articles/punyaham.htm


    Pro reservationationists ironically favour Muslims who only speak Hindi at home or Nayudus and Reddys who speak only Telugu at home. At the same time they treat Tamil-speaking Brahmins and Chettiars as foreign invaders by excluding them . They also claim to fight for the Tamil cause….by dividing Tamil society!!? PMK, DMK, ADMK etc reject creamy layer, support the cruel 2-tumbler system of Southern Tamil Nadu and now demand extended reservation. PMK leader will go Delhi, Hyderabad and Bombay to promote reservation rather than setting up Tamil learning centers in those places. This shows that Tamil Nadu policitians don’t mind loosing their self respect and prefer to worship their Hindi masters than to work for an integrated Tamil society. Incidently the PMK health minister has made Hindi compulsory for medicine, the the DMK surface transport minister has made Hindi compulsory on national roads even in Tamil Nadu.

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