Monday, January 22, 2007

Hinduism and Untouchables

The word Hindu is derived from the river Sindhu or Indus. Hindu was primarily a geographical term that referred to India or to a region of India as long ago as the 6th century BC. Hinduism is a synthesis of the religion brought into India by the Aryans (1500 B.C.) and indigenous religion.
When the Aryans moved across India from their foothold in the northwest, they conquered yet more people. To place the newly conquered groups into their society, the Aryans created a new caste. However poorly off the Shudras were at the bottom of the caste system, the members of the new category were even worse off, for the new caste was placed below the Shudras. In fact, the Untouchables were put outside the caste system altogether; they were outcastes. The purity regulations were such that not even the Shudras would relate to them, and they were assigned the worst occupations, such as latrine cleaners, leather tanners, and so on.
According to the classical religious text of Hinduism, the population is divided into four ranked categories called Varnas. Each Varnas have its own rights and duties. In the Hindu social system in Nepal, the Varna Vaivastha is very important. The literature meaning of the world is "color". There are four Varnas: the Brahman, the Kshatriya, the Vaisya and the Sudras and they have four colors signifying their cultural identity.
From the stand point of the Great Tradition represent by the Vedas, Untouchables have no place at all. The absence of untouchable from the Verna scheme may arise simply from the later emergence of this social condition: the weight of opinion suggests that untouchability only crystallized in the second century of the Common Era, whereas the varna principle seems to have been established over one thousand years earlier. Varna classification has persisted as a representation of the whole Hindu order; the position of untouchables as Hindus has been contradictory.
(Mender Sohn.O & Vieziany 2000)
Untouchables are the very bottom elements of society in both status and economic terms and have undergone a profound change in their view of themselves and the society around them. People are engaged in a specific occupation: Brahman priest, Kshatriya warriors, and Vaisya merchants. The lowest ranking is Shudras or occupational groups or untouchables (Nep.Achhut, Dalit) the orthodox high caste Nepalese attitude is that untouchables are regarded just as a service caste. The Kami exist to make metal work, the Damai live to sew clothes, the Sarki's sole purposes on the earth is to make shoes, and the only reason for the Badi is provide sex (Subedi:1995)
Caste status is determined by birth. People from low castes are considered inherently inferior and are related to a disadvantaged position, regardless of their behavior. In the Reg Veda it is said that the Brahman born from the highest part of the Brahma, his mouth possessed godly power. He was to teach the Vedas, perform sacrifices to the Kshatriya and Vaisya, and accept gift from them in exchange. The Kshatriya, born from the arms of Purusa, possessed royal power. He was to fight enemies, give gift and food to Brahamana and protect the Vaishya. The Vaishya, born from the things of thePurusa, possessed productive power.He was to produced wealth for Brahman and Kshatriya through in exchange for protection. The origin of sudra, from the feet of purusa, followed a code enjoining him to serve the Brahaman, Kshatriya and Vaisya in exchange for maintenance. Brahmin and Kahtriya were considered twice born because they go through an initiation ceremony and are allowed studying the sacred texts. The sudras are supposed to be the servants to the twice-born Varnas.
. The Varna system is a set of ideas developed to explain an early division of labor, but these ideas have always been interpreted in different, contradictory ways.
It is generally agreed that the opposition between pure and impure is manifested in some macroscopic form in the contrast between the two extreme categories: Brahmans and untouchables. The Brahmans being in principle priests, occupy the supreme rank with respect to the whole set of castes. (Dumont 1980:46-7)

Caste system and untouchable in Ancient and Modern Period of Nepal
During the Lichhavi rule in Kathmandu valley Jayasthiti Raj Malla introduced as elaborate system of 64 castes among the Newars. In Gorkha, Ram Shah adopted this model into a less structured form. Then after Sen rulers of Palpa claimed to a Hindupati. These theocratic tendencies were against Muslim hegemony in Mugal Indian. But with the decline of the Mughal, there emerged another power in the plains: the British rules with Christain faith. Such a historical compulsion led to the primacy of Brahman orthodoxy in the Nepalese court to construct a Hindu haven against Mughal (muslim) and British (Christain) regime.Therefore the designation of Muslim and Europeans beef eaters as impure in the Muluki Ain.
The old Muluki Ain of 1854 was promulgated by Janga Bahadur that specified and categorized the schedule of social offenses punishable by law. Punishment for an offense was determined by taking into account the caste of the offender and of the victim. In 1936 the new Muluki Ain was promulgated by King Mahendra, while it did not do not away with the idea of caste altogether, did make discrimination on the basis of caste illegal in the courts, in education, and in employment. ( P.R. Sharma's articles)
The main significance of the Muluki Ain encompassed all people under the Gorkhalis rule. Another important feature was its modification from the classical form which reflected the political dominance of three Parbatiya castes: Bahun, Thakuri, Chetri. Not only were the Tarai Brahmans ranked in a lower position than Parbatiya Chetri, the hill caste system had provisions for cooperation throught miscegenation by legitimizing hypergamy ( Sharma, 1993)
The impact of the Muluki Ain feld most among the non-Hindu groups, mainly Mongoloid, who had been inducted from egalitarian jati to hierarchical caste and associated norms.
Muluki Ain, 1854 was a written version of social code that had been in Practice for several centuries in Nepal. Its caste categories diverged from the four Varna of the classical vedic model and instead had three categories to accommodate the tribal peoples between the pure and impure castes. These were further classified into five hiereachies with the following order of precedence.
Wearers of holy cord ( caste)
Non-enslavable Alcohol-Drinkers ( ethnic)
Enslavable Alcohol – Drinkers (ethnic)
Impure but touchables caste ( ethnic, other caste and outsiders)
Impure and untouchables caste ( caste)

The first hierarchy as pure, tarai Brahman was ranked below chhetri and Newar Brahman. Newar Brahman was similarly placed below the Chhetri. The second hierarchy included Magar and Gurung, long associated with Gorkha regime, and also sunuwar who had received the lal mohar (royal seal) of being Hindu in 1825. There was not reference to Rai and Limbu, the last tribals to succumb to the Gorkhali rule. The third hierarchy had Bhote, some smaller tribes and descendents of freed slaves (Gharti). The fourth and the fifth hierarchies were considered impure castes with the distinction of the former as 'touchable' (no water sprinkling needed after contact) and the later as untouchable
(purification necessary after contact). The lowest hierarchy had six artisans of the hill and two Newar scavenger sub groups.

The Muluki Ain was silent about the status of Masdise (tarai) caste, be it touchable or untouchable. There was discrimination in the extent of punishment for crimes according to the caste hierarchy of the person. The rule was one of higher penalty for those in upper hierarchies or the extent of penalty was tied to the level of ritual purity. The Newars had the following gradation.
Hierarchy Sub group
Shrestha (Hindu) 70
Bada (Buddhist) 60
Jyapu (Framer) 40
Nrtisan caste (Hindu) 35
Impure but touchable (Mixed) 15
Impure and untouchable (Hindu) 10
The old legal code, Muluki Ain: Nepal constitution- 1990 guarantees the right to equality by stating that the state shall not discriminate against citizens on the basis of religion, color, sex, caste, ethnicity or belief (Article 11.3). However the above constitutional right is negated by a claude in the Muluki Ain as amended in 1992 which stresses that the traditional practices at religious places shall not be considered as discriminatory. This means that those castes once categorized untouchable would still have no access to shrine and temples. In the same way, adherence to traditional practices would imply exclusion of untouchable castes and therefore, inequality in other spheres also. Thus caste discrimination and untouchables has remained a fact of everyday life in the world's only Hindu Kingdom.
Muluki Ain is a document of great historical legal and cultural interests for scholar on Nepal, by which all people in Nepal, high and low were supposed to have been judged ( sharma 2004). This Muluki Ain divided Nepali people into the following hierarchy:
-Pani nachalne and chori- chhoi parne
-Pani nachale chhoi chitto halnu parne.

The Dalit of Nepal remains socially excluded, economically exploited and politically suppressed. The source of such oppression is the state's religious ideology that sanctifies inequality based on caste. The revised Muluki Ain 1963 retains vestiges of discrimination with terms like high and low caste, religious segregation and vagueness in clauses on untouchable. Since the Dalit plight is of least concern to higher castes, there is paucity of hard data on the extent of their deprivation. The data available on the education level; and incidence of poverty provide clear evidence of the correlation between caste hierarchy, literacy and economic status.
The livelihood problem of the Dalit is mainly due to lack of farmland as they are dependent on artisan occupation and wage work. Furthermore, their traditional skills are being made redundant with intrusion of mass produced goods and new technologies. The depressed status of the Dalit is evident from their low levels of literacy, low income, and low life expectancy. The fate of Dalit is one of a vicious circle. Caste discrimination marginalizes them from economic opportunity, which in turn leads to further dependence and destitution. Since they are unable to complete economically and politically due to social exclusion, constitutional provisions pertaining to equality of opportunity remains a mere rhetoric. Therefore such a condition of exploitation based on caste can be tackled only through the initiative of affirmative action.

The main forms of discrimination include, denial of entry, service and access to common resource forced labor, discrimination in education, employment, politics and development works and atrocities against Dalit women. Although Dalit specialize in skills such as metal, leather, wooden, stitching and singing works, they live in poverty because of the practices of caste based untouchability and discrimination. The work culture has been "hated" and non-working culture has been promoted by the high caste".

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