The Caste System and the Sikhs in the
We have seen in the I-Section that the Institution of Caste in India derived its strength not only from a large number of its constitutive individual elements, but that its almost impregnable rigidity flowed from the co-ordination and integration of these elements into a hidebound system. Therefore, its main strength lay not only in the contributory factors, as such, but also in the reinforced structural and operative power of the system as a whole. It has been seen that Sikhism made a planned attack to break both the totality of the integrated caste system and the individual pillars on which it was based.
Partly because religious or radical movements never remain at their original ideological level for long, but mainly because of the large influx of proselytes from the caste society, who had retained some of their caste prejudices and usages in the Missal and later periods, some aberrations did creep in the Sikh Society during this time. But, what we wish to emphasize here is that, even in the Missal and post-Missal periods, the Sikhs never accepted either the validity of the caste system or that of its constitutive pillars. We again draw attention to the three facets of the caste system, namely the Caste ideology, the Brahmins, and the caste society.
The Main components of the Caste Ideology, we pointed out are:
i) The pre-eminence of the caste-status with the Brahmins as the point of reference;
ii) The Authority of Scriptures;
iii) Hindu Dharma;
iv) Custom, ritualism and ceremonialism; and
Even in the Missal and later periods, the Brahmins never became a point of reference in the Sikh society in regard to social status or hierarchy, or for that matter for any purpose whatsoever. The Sikh have never owned allegiance to any scriptures other than Guru Granth Sahib, or to any Dharma other than the Sikh Dharma. The Guru Granth completely repudiates ritualism and ceremonialism, and the Sikhs do not subscribe to the theory or religious sanction underlying the Brahmanical ideology of pollution.
As regards the second and third facets of the caste-systems there is no Brahmin or any other sacerdotal class among the Sikhs, and the Sikh Panth has remained a separate entity from the Hindu Society. Our study in this section reveals that whatever notions and practices regarding connubium commensalism and the village hierarchy that have remained with the Sikhs in the Missal and post Missal periods as a heritage from their previous connection with the caste society, have no point of referece with any of the three facets of the caste-system, namely the caste ideology, the Brahmins and the caste society. What remains, therefore, to be considered is, to what extent some of the prejudices and practices inherited from the caste society by the Sikhs in the later periods have been shed off or modified at various levels of the Sikh Society.
(A) At Panthic Level: Let us first consider the large scale conversions from Hindu ranks to the Sikh society that took place during the Missal and post-Missal periods. Polier (1780) wrote: "The Siques then began to increase greatly in number…… all that came, though from the lowest and most object castes, were received, contrary to the Hindu customs which admit no change of caste, and even Mussalmans were in the number of converts." Griffth tells us that "the Seiks receive proselytes of almost every caste, a point in which they differ most materially from the Hindus." Hugel describes the Sikhs of his time as "the descendants from all the lowest castes of Hindus from which they have been proselyted." These European accounts deal with the times of the Missals and Ranjit Singh. What is even more significant is that this trend continued in the British period. "From 1881, when there had been 1,706,195 Sikhs, to 1921, when there were 3,110,060 Sikhs, there had been a tremendous upsurge inconversion." And these converts came from the higher as well as the lower castes of Hindus. Between 1881 and 1891, "Sikhism was attracting converts from Hindus of the Khatri, Arora, Lubana" Sunar, Tarkhan, Chuhra and Maihtam castes", and "the most remarkable increase by conversion had been among the Chuhra Sikhs." "Between 1901 and 1911 there were large-scale conversions to Sikhism among the Chuhras and Chamars. Hinduism lost some 158,806 Chuhras and 169,103 Chamars in this period."?
This consistent trend of conversions to Sikhism from "the lowest and most abject castes" of the Hindus was, as also noted by Polier and Griffths, a radical departure from the caste ideology and which admit "no change of caste". Proseltization from Mussalmans was equally unthinkable to the caste ideology and the caste society. The very fact that converts to Sikhism were coming in large proselytization numbers from Hindu ranks is enough to show that this despite some of the caste traits and customs retained by the proselytes, was a movement, in its overall effect, leading away from the caste society, and certainly not towards it. And, as regards Brahmins, they are no where in the picture. In maintaining its vital distance from the caste ideology, the Brahmins and the caste society, the Sikh Panth continued to function, on the whole, outside the orbit of the caste system even in the post-Khalsa period.
The institution of Langar (community kitchen) was another factor that kept alive, at the Panthic level, the anti-caste heritage of the earlier period. To what extent, in which sections, and at what levels of the Sikh population, the commensal restrictions of the caste society were retained during this period is not quite clear. Forster (1718) and Malcolm (1812) have observed that the Sikhs retained some Hindu commensal prejudices. As against it, we have the expliclt statements of Ghulam Hussain Khan and the author of Haqiqat (both in 1783), already referred to, that the Sikhs do not "betray any of those scruples and prejudices so deeply rooted in the Hindu mind" and that they eat together with proselytes from whatever caste he might come, and "now this is their custom." There is no doubt that the institution of Langar, where people from all caste dine together without discrimination was started by Guru Nanak himself and has since then continued without any change in its constitution. Malcolm testifies to it indirectly when he writes that upon particular occasions, such as Guru-mat (Gur-mata), the Sikhs "were obliged by their tenets and institutions to eat promiscously." Moreover, this position can be easily verified, as hundreds of people partake food daily, without any discrimination whatsoever, in the Langars attached to the principal Gurdwaras, and thousands of them interdine in the Langars when there are large Sikh gatherings called. Jormellas or Dewans held anywhere outside the Gurdwaras. In fact, the institution of Langar was created for levelling up all kinds of distinctions. To the present day, the women and children eat first and are served there by men as a symbol of humility."
The significance of partaking food, even though occasionally, in the Langar, as distinct from taking prasad in a temple, in which people drawn from all castes, including the out castes, join can only be grasped if it is viewed against the backgrounds of the caste ideology and the usages of the caste society. In Hutton's opinion, taboo on food "is probably the keystone of the system." "Stranger's shadow, or even the glance…… of a man of low caste, falling on the cooking pot may necessitate throwing away the contents." Food has to be cooked "with the precautions of magic ceremony" "the eating of grain, cooked with water, is of the nature of a sacrament." "If the member of a low caste merely looks at the meal of a Brahman, it ritually defiles him." It "is one of the constitutive principles of the castes that there should be atleast ritually inviolable barriers against complete commensalism among different castes." Of the offences of which a caste Panchayat took cognizance, the "offences against the commensal taboos, which prevent members of the caste from eating, drinking or smoking with members of another caste, or atleast of another castes regarded by the prohibiting caste as lower in social status than themselves, are undoubtedly the most important; for the transgression by one member of the caste if unknown and unpunished may affect the hole caste with pollution through his commensality with the rest." The Santals, a very low caste in Bengal, have been known to die of hunger in times of famine rather than touch food prepared even by Brahmins. "A separate lower caste (the Kallars) has arisen in Bengal among people who had infracted the ritual and dietary laws during the famine of 1866, and in consequence been excommunicated." "At the time of the famine, the strict castes were not satisfied with the possibility of cleansing magical defilement by ritual penance. Yet under threat of excommunicating the participants,…….they made certain that often a sort of symbollic chamber separee was created for each caste by means of chalk lines drawn around the tables and similar devices."
Needless to say that, in the Langar, people from all castes, including the Mazhabi Sikhs, can, and do, take part in preparing the food, and nobody bothers as to how the food is cooked and who serves it. Nor is there the least notion of being defiled by eating in a row with others. The question of such defilement being carried to others, or cleansing it by ritual pensance, therefore, does not arise.
In the political field, when the Sikhs regained their national consciousness, S. Kharak Singh (from an Ahluwalia family) was called the 'uncrowned king' (betaj badshah) of the Sikhs during the Akali movement, and 'master' Tara Singh (From a Khatri family) remained the leader of the Akali party till his death. These facts, along with the large scale conversions to Sikh ranks from the lower castes and the continued functioning of the institution of Guru Ka langar, show that the allegiance and adherence to the Sikh ideals at the Panthic level was not questioned either in theory or in practice.
(B) Jat Sikhs vis-a-vis Khatri Sikhs, Arora Sikhs, Ramgarhia Sikhs, etc.
The number of Khalsa guerillas was at one stage reduced to about 2,000 persons, and Khushwaqt Rai (1811) estimated the number of the Khalsa to be about 200,000. In the 1881 census, there were 1,126,861 Jat Sikhs, 263,479 Tarkhan Sikhs, 37,917 Arora Sikhs, and 35,521 Khatri Sikhs. Later, the Ramgarhia Sikhs were demarcated from the Tarkhan Sikhs by the census authorities, and in 1921 there were 68,000 Ramgarhia Sikhs as against 140,000 Tarkhan Sikhs. In the same census, the number of Arora Sikhs rose to 118,000 and that of the Khatri Sikhs to 63,000. Between 1881 and 1931, the total number of Sikhs increased from 1,853,426 to 4,335,771.
These figures show that a great accession of numerical strength to the Sikh ranks took place during the post-revolutionary periods of the Missals, Ranjit Singh and the British rule. It is not surprising, therefore, that the proselytes at this time, on joining the Sikh ranks, did not shed off all of their prejudices and proclivities inherited from the caste ideology and the caste society. Moreover, there was a tendency on the part of some subcastes and tribes within certain areas, to change religion en bloc. It happened also in the case of conversions to Islam. This process further helped to retain, to an extent, the social distinctiveness and some old patterns of social behaviour of such groups within the newly adopted religious societies. What we find, however, is that the Jat Sikhs, Khatri Sikhs, Arora Sikhs and Ramgarhia Sikhs, despite the above mentioned limitations, do not constitute, in their relations with one another, either a caste or a hierarchy in the Brahmanical sense. It has to be made clear that we do not deny that those elements, who joined the Sikh society from the Hindu ranks in large numbers during the post Khalsa period, did retain in varying degrees their heritage of caste-like prejudices and customs. What we are aiming at is to bring out that one of the lasting achievements of the Sikh movement was that it cut off the Sikhs from the caste system and its society, and these proselytes despite their caste heritage, did not revert to that system or society. For a grasp of the full significance of this development the reader is reminded to bear in mind the vital distinction between caste, as such, and the caste system that we emphasized in the first section. There is a marked difference in the potential reactionary tenacious power that social exclusivness oversizes in the two cases. And, also, for making this distinction clear, it is necessary to keep in view the difference between the meaning of the term caste in the ordinary sense (when applied indiscriminately where there are barriers on intermarriages between mutually exclusive groups, which arise from a variety of prejudices even in societies which are free from the Indian type of caste) and the meaning of the term caste in the Brahamanical sense.
We have seen that the Sikh Jats whose brethren in the Hindu Society were assigned a social position on the borderline of Vaisyas and Sudras, became, as a consequence of the Sikh Movement, the ruler of the land and regarded themselves as superior to the Rajputs. Ethine K. Marenco, who in her book 'The Transformation of Sikh Society' has given a wealth of sociological data about the Sikh society in the 19th century and the 20th century upto 1947, goes so far so say that there was a reshuffling of the caste hierarchy among the Sikhs, where the lat Sikhs came at the top and became the point of reference for other Sikh castes. This inference is however neither accurate*', nor is it applicable to the Sikh Society as a whole, but it does recognize that the Brahmins were not the kingpin of the Sikh society.
As regards commensalism, we referred to Max Weber's opinion that "it is one of the constitutive principles of the castes that there should be atleast ritually inviolable barriers against complete commensalism among different castes," and to Hutton's view that "Caste endogamy is more or less incidental to the taboo on taking food and this taboo is probably the Keystone of the whole system."
I.P. Singh conducted a sociological study (1959, 1961) of two Sikh villages**, Dalake in Amritsar district and Nalli in Ludhiana district. According to his findings, all Sikh Jats, excepting the Mazhbis, interdine. Marenco's own assessment is that, "Commensal taboos were not as stringent among the Sikhs as among the Hindus, but there was still a large gap between lat Sikh and Mazbi Sikh. So on this account, the lat Sikhs, Khatri Sikhs, Arora Sikhs, Ramgarhia sikhs, in fact all Sikhs who interdine, cannot be regarded as castes in the Brahmanical sense.
The problem of inter-marriages between lat Sikhs, Khatri Sikhs, Arora Sikhs and Ramgarhia Sikhs, though more intractable, is basically not different. In the first place, there are no "statistics for inter-cast marriages of the Sikhs for different periods " Instances of inter-caste marriage among Sikhs from these castes are not uncommon. Marenco herself has also given two instances, of Udasis and Kesh Dhari Sikhs. "In many cases the lat Sikhs intermarried with Udasis…… The last point is of particular interest. Since the Udasis included Khatris of the Bedi section, as well as members of other castes, this means that the lat Sikhs were marrying outside the lat Sikh caste in 1901. Taboos against marriage with other castes were generally weaker among the lat Sikhs than among the Hindus." Again, "It will be remembered that there was a hypergamous relation between Kesh Dhari Sikhs, generally converts from the lat or lower Hindu and Muslim castes, and the Sahaj Dhari Sikhs, generally Khatri and Arora Sikhs. The orthodox Kesh Dhari Sikhs took wives from the Sahaj Dhari Sikhs, but would not give them their daughters…… A Jat Sikh, seeking a husband for his daughter, looked for a member of a Kesh Dhari Group, as a son-in-law. That son-in-law might be of the lat Sikh caste or not, since the lat Sikhs were known to marry outside their caste more readily than lat Hindus."
Secondly, although it is important to note the number of intermarriages that take place among these groups, what is even more significant is whether there are any Brchmanical connubial taboos in this respect among them" Among classes who marry themselves, marriage outside the class is prevented by sentiment and not by hard and fast rules. Marriage outside the class in Europe might be rare and invalid, but in India, if it is contracted outside the caste, it is a sacrilege." Not only it was a sacrilege, it was visited by severe penalties. A large number of lower castes were formed on account of persons of higher castes marrying into lower castes. Before labelling, on connubial grounds, Jat Sikhs, Khatri Sikhs, Arora Sikhs and Ramgarhia Sikhs as Brahmanical castes, it is necessary to establish that intermarriages between them are inhibited not merely by an old but dying prejudice that they carry along with them from their caste heritage, but by the hard and fast rules of the caste society, according to which "members of different castes must marry only within their castes." In the caste society, the infringment of connubial rules involves severe sanctions and penalties. In the Sikh society, there is no evidence that any Panchayats impose any such penalties. The question of such collective punishment by the Sikhs does not arise as it is against the Sikh religion.
In our view, nor do the Jat Sikhs, Khatri Sikhs, and Arora Sikhs constitute a hierarchy, because a hierarchy pre-supposes demaraction of higher and lower grades, and also some degree of fixation of their relative positions either by their own voluntary acceptance or due to outside pressure. As a consequence of the Sikh revolution, the Jat Sikhs do not recognize anybody as their social superiors; and "the Khatri Sikhs did not have the elevated status of the Jat Sikhs in the Sikh caste hierarchy." On the other hand, "Khatri Sikhs probably considered themselves above the Jat Sikhs in status, ; and "One cannot ignore, of course, the feeling of superiority that the Khatri Sikhs felt towards the Jat Sikhs... "
There is apparent contradiction in these statements. This paradox is resolved if one faces the reality that none of the two groups regarded itself as inferior to the other-the Jat Sikh because of his new position, and the Khatri Sikh because of his wealth, education and the consciousness that the Jats had once been his inferior in the Indian caste hierarchy. We bracket the Sikh Aroras with Sikh Khatris in this respect, as they claim Khatri origin and are more or less similarly placed. There was no outside pressure either to fix the Khatri and Arora Sikhs into a lower position. With the development of the modern economy, it is the commercial and artisan castes which moved to the towns and cities in large numbers. The peasantry, by and large, continued to stick to their land. The result was that Jat Sikhs were sparsely dispersed in the urban areas, where the Khatri and Arora Sikhs were largely located. Moreover, in a money economy, it is wealth which matters, and this was, as compared to the Jat Sikhs, more in the hands of Khatri and Arora Sikhs. There are, therefore, no grounds for inferring that the Jat Sikhs, Khatri Sikhs and Arora Sikhs constitute a hierarchy. The question of their being a Brahmanical caste hierarchy between
these groups, or there being a re-shuffling of caste hierarchy in favour of the Jat Sikhs, therefore, does not arise.
Ramgarhia Sikhs do not appear, as alleged, to be a sub-caste of Tarkhan Sikhs, as there are no commensal or connubial barriers between the two as evidenced by the extensive family ties between them. Any Tarkhan Sikh who leaves his rural surrounding and chooses to call himself a Ramgarhia Sikh automatically becomes one. Tarkhan Sikhs enjoyed phenomenal prosperity, and in 1911 the bulk of the Tarkhan Sikhs were not involved in carpentry. In fact, the Ramgarhia Sikhs, as a group, are more affluent than the Jat Sikhs. Ever since the formation of the Ramgarhia Missal, the Ramgarhia Sikhs have regarded themselve as peers of the Jat Sikhs, and their prosperity has added to their pride and social status. The Ramgarhia Sikhs have never been denied access to Gurdwaras (Sikh temples), but sometimes they build their own in order to assert their independent status. In short, the Ramgarhia Sikhs do not accept the Jat Sikhs as superior to them. Also, the Jat Sikhs are not in a position to lord over them, as the Ramgarhia Sikhs are concentrated in towns and cities, where they form, in many cases, compact colonies of their own. There is, therefore, neither acceptance of any hierarehy by the Ramgarhia Sikhs, nor any outside pressure to force them into one.
(C) Urban Artisans & Menials
Out of a total of 1,853,426 Sikhs in 1881, the number of artisan and menial castes among the Sikhs, other than the Tarkhans, was Lohar Sikhs, 24614; Jhinwar Sikhs 21,754; Nai Sikhs 21,500; Chimba Sikhs 17,748; Sunar Sikhs 14,046, Kumhar Sikhs, 11,947 and Kalal Sikhs 8,931. In the other words these categories do not constitute any caste problem of major social significance. Of these, Kalal Sikhs, although assigned a lower position than most of the artisan castes by the Indian caste system, raised their social status, like the Ramgarhia Sikhs, by capturing political power when they formed the Ahluwalia Missal. Since then they have taken to service, primarily in the army and the police, and have shaken off their dependence upon any social hierarchy. The other artisan castes of the Sikhs migrated to the cities in large numbers, where, being in small numbers and being widely dispersed, can hardly be treated as compact groups. In the villages, too, they are similarly dispersed. As already noted, Sikhs derived from all castes, excepting the Mazhbis, interdine. Therefore, the Sikhs from artisan and menial categories face no social discrimination excepting that they find reluctance on the part of Jat, Khatri, Arora and Ramgarhia Sikhs to intermarry with them. Such intermarriages are not so common, but they are not insignificant either, the writer himself having, attended such marriage ceremonies on a number of occassions.
(D) At the Village Level
The constitution of village hierarchy in the Sikh villages is a heritage from the remote past, as is evidenced by the fact that, in the Indian Punjab, it is, more or less, similar to the one found in the Pakistani Punjab, which owned Islam at a very early date. In both the cases, the peasantry, whether Jat, Baloch or Pathan, is at the top of the hierarchy, and the artisans and menials are' arranged in different lower grades, though under different names in some cases. When Muslim, a Jhiwar is known as Mashki, a Chamar (Cobbler) as Mochi, and a Chuhra (Sweeper) as Mussali. The point to be noted is that the social and occupational status of these Muslim artisans and village menials has remained much the same as it was before conversion to Islam, despite the long duration of the impact of both Islam and the Muslim rule. It is, therefore, too much to expect drastic changes in the hierarchy of the Sikh villages, or in the social status of the artisans and menials who embraced Sikhism at a very late date during the post-Khalsa period. In fact, there is, in many respects, a difference in the social status of the Sikhs drawn from the artisan and menial castes as compared to even their Muslim counterparts in the Pakistani Punjab. But, we shall confine ourselves, for the purpose of our thesis, to finding out in what respects and how far the gradation in the Sikh villages differs from the corresponding hierarchy of the Indian caste system?
There is no statistical data to determine the extent upto which the artisan and menial castes have improved their social standing within the village by becoming Sikhs. But the very fact that quite a large number of artisan and menial castes left Hindu ranks and embraced Sikhism during the post- Khalsa period shows that there was a clear advantage in doing so. Chimba Sikhs, Jhiwar Sikhs and Labana Sikhs (all from exterior castes) had hypergamous relation with their Hindu counterparts, and the practice of this hypergamy was a step for breaking off from the parent castes. Hutton points to the low position of the Dhobis and Chimbas who washed clothes. The fact that a washerman's pursuit brings him into contact with menstrually poluted clothes is enough to make him an outcaste no less than the scavenger who removes night soil or dead bodies. The Sikh Chimbas are not at all treated as out-castes. In another important field, the Sikhs from artisan castes have clearly improved their social position in the villages, because all the Sikh Jats in the village, except the Mazhabis, interdine. Secondly, the Sikh Jats have hypergamous relations with the lower castes of the villages. These are two basic departures from the two 'Constitutive principles' of the Indian caste system. Also, these Sikhs share absolute religious equality with the lat Sikhs, whether in the village or outside it. These facts are enough to show that the Sikhs from artisan and menial castes have not that degree of social stigma attached to them as their counterparts have in the caste society. However, the fact remains that the Sikhs, from artisan and menial castes, so long they remain in the village, do have some social inferiority left as a hangover from their heritage of the caste society. But, there is no doubt that the Sikhs from artisan and menial castes have travelled a long distance away from the corresponding social position of their counterparts in the Indian Caste hierarchy, where they are regarded and treated as Sudras with all the well-known religious and social attendendant humiliations, discriminations and disabilities.
The real tough problem, both in its dimensions and quality, is that of Chamar Sikhs and Mazhabi Sikhs. The Chamar Sikhs and Mazhabi Sikhs constitute quite a big segment of the population in the Sikh villages. In the village gradations, they are at the lowest level, but there is no stigma of pollution in the Brahmanical sense against them. We will discuss mainly the case of Mazhabi Sikhs, as it covers that of Chamar Sikhs also, who are, in fact, a step higher than Mazhabi Sikhs according to the Brahmanical Caste hierarchy.
We again refer to the field studies of LP. Singh (1959, 61). According to him, though Mazhabis (Sikh converts from Chuhras who are the out-castes par excellence of the Punjab) live in a separate hamlet and have a separate well, 'yet no miasma of tuch pollution is attributed to them.' They sit among others in the temple. All Sikh jatis, excepting the Mazhabis, interdine. One of the granthis, the religious functionaries, of the village Daleka is a Mazhabi and is given the same respected position as is given to other granthis in the village. Though marriage is generally within the Jati, women may be brought in from lower jatis. They face little disadvantage on that account and their children suffer none. Complete abolition of jati division among Sikhs is still urged by itinerant preachers. On one such occasion, a Mazhabi rose to ask whether anyone in the audience would receive his daughters into their families in marriage. "Practically everybody in the audience, consisting of all castes, raised his hand". But when he asked who would give girls in marriage to his sons, no one volunteered."
Let us see the points, one by one, in the order raised by L.P. Singh
The Mazhabi Sikhs "live in a separate hamlet and have a separate well." This village configuration is inherited from the remote past and could not, and cannot, be changed without a major resettlement and re-allotment of property, even if the Mazhabi Sikhs are accorded equal social status in the village community.
"No miasma of touch pollution is attributed to them (Mazhabi Sikhs)." This is a major advance from the position of their counterparts in the caste society. "Similar purification is, strictly speaking, necessary as a result of contact with certain low castes whose traditional occupation, whether actually followed or not, or whose mode of life places them outside the pale of Hindu society. Such castes are those commonly spoken of as outcastes or untouchables. Among these outcastes, Hutton counts Chamar, Dhobis, Doms and Sweeper castes. "Some castes that are themselves low are especially strict in keeping untouchables at a distance… Eleven will not touch a Bhangi (sweeper), seventeen will not touch a Chamar…….sixteen will not touch a Dhobi"
"They (Mazhabi Sikhs) sit among others in the temple", which means they are accorded religious equality. This is certainly the case at the Panthic level, where some of them become religious functionaries in the historic shrines controlled by the Panth through the S.G.P.C. The position of Mazhabi Sikhs at the religious and Panthic levels in this matter is totally different from that of the outcastes obtaining in the Hindu society. The Akali movement started when the Sikhs forced the pujaris at the golden temple, Amritsar, who were backed by Govt. to accept the prasad (the sacred food) offered by the Mazhabi Sikhs. The whole Panth backed this movement, and nobody dare challenge the religious equality accorded to the Mazhabi Sikhs in the gurdwaras ever since their control was taken away from individual Mahants. In the caste society, on the other hand, the hold of the caste orthodoxy is most entrenched at the highest religious level. It was mentioned in the Indian Parliament on March 8, 1984, that Mrs. Indira Gandhi (the Prime Minister of India) was not allowed entry into his Math (religious headquarters) by the Shankracharya simply because she had been married to a Parsee. Hutton has given a number of instances of which we give one. "In temples there are (or have been) regular scales of distance beyond which certain castes must remain... No Izhavan or Tiyan (outcastes) must come within 225 ft. of the curtain wall of the temple of Guruvayur in Malabar." Mahatma Gandhi, with all his prestige, was unable to carry the Hindu society with him, and had to be content with advising the exterior castes not to attempt to gain entry to Hindu temples, as God resided in their breasts. Such attempts to obtain entry by exterior castes actually led to communal violence between the caste Hindus and the outcastes at several places.
"All Sikh Jatis, excepting the Mazhabis, interdine" (I.P. Singh) The main Brahmanical ideological consideration underlying absolute commensal taboos against the outcastes is the idea of impurity supposed to be inherent in them, and the way this supposed impurity is imparted to others through mere contact with them or through partaking food and drinks at their hands or in their company. Not only is the idea of pollution by touch absent among the Sikh Jats against Mazhabi Sikhs, but at the Langars the Jats actually take food prepared and served by Mazhabis; and the question of any stigma or penalty on that account does not arise at all, because the Sikh scriptures and Khalsa tradition frown upon it. In the caste society, what to speak of Jats, even the artisan and menial castes would not even entertain the idea of dining with sweepers at any place and under whatsoever circumstances. The reluctance of the Sikh Jats to interdine with the Mazhabi Sikhs at the village, although they do so knowingly at the langars, appears, therefore, as more a question of maintaining their social prestige in the locality, rather than unlike the caste society, that of taboo sanctified by the Hindu Dharma.
I.P. Singh writes that among Sikh Jats there is readiness to accept Mazhabi brides. This automatically means preparedness to abrogate commensal barriers with respect, atleast to their Mazhabi brides, and this fact further supports the view we have expressed above. Evidently, the postion of Mazhabi Sikhs is decidedly better than that of their counterparts in the caste society, where the outcastes are outside the pale of Hinduism and are not admitted to the Hindu society, "This social bar tends to foster conversion to the Sikh faith, to Islam, or to christianity, though even after conversion the social tigma does not vanish at once." "But it is not uncommonly the case that the open adoption of a definite faith, the substitution of Islam or Sikhism for that half Hindu half-aboriginal religion which distinguishes most of these outcaste classes, is the first step made in their upward struggle." The Ramdasias or the Sikh Chamars "occupy a much higher position than the Hindu Chamars." In the Karnal district the mere touch of a leather-maker, washerman, barber, dyer, sweeper, defiles food.* For the V.P. Peasant, "Nothing is worse than to lose your caste, to sit with a sweeper or to touch an impure person." The workers in leather "are looked upon in detestation by orthodox Hindus and the sweepers are "regarded as the very dregs of impurity." Mareno points out that the Chamar and Chuhra Sikhs had more literates than the Chamar or Chuhra Hindus. and among "Chuhras of the three major religions, the Chuhra Sikhs were more frequent in dropping their traditional occupation than the Chuhra Muslims or the Chuhra Hindus. The Chuhra Sikhs also had larger numbers of people turning to agriculture" which helped them in raising their social status. Mareno ascribes this elevation of the social status of the Mazhabi Sikhs partly to British patronage in enlisting them in the army. What she does not take note of is that the British followed the precedent set by Ranjit Singh, for whom the door for recruiting Mazhabi Sikhs in his army was opened by the tradition of the Sikh revolutionary struggle in which the Rangrettas had taken part as comrades in arms with their other Sikh brethren. Secondly, the number of Chamar Sikhs, who joined the Sikh society in larger numbers than Mazhabi Sikhs, and whose social status was also raised on becoming Sikhs, in the imperial Army (1911) was only twenty four.
(E) Progress measured in relative terms:
Human progress is imperceptibly slow and marked by many vicissitudes. It cannot, therefore, be measured by absolute standards, and should be assessed in comparative terms.
We hardly need to recall how the Sikh revolution transformed the Sudra Jat to a Sikh Jat who regarded his status as higher than that of the Rajput. "The position of the Jats in the Hindu hierarchy varied from their position in the Sikh hierarchy. Within the framework of the Hindu caste hierarchy, the Jat Sikhs would be considered along with Jat Hindus, as belonging to the traditional classification of Sudra. Within the Sikh caste hierarchy the Jat Sikhs were at the top of the ladder."72
"Intermarriage between groups of Sikhs derived from Hindu castes was considered to be much freer than in the case of Muslim groups converted from Hindu castes, and of course, neither group fully observed the Hindu rules regarding inter-caste marriage."73
"The Jat Sikhs were known to marry outside their caste more readily than Jat Hindus."
"Among the Jat Sikhs...there was no bar to marriage with women of lower castes, Rose informs us, and the sons would succeed equally," As against it, the Hindu Jats of the Meerut Division avoid hypergamous relations with lower castes. If the caste of women is known to be low, this fact is kept secret. In the Brahmanical system, hypergamy leads to a lowering of the social status of the offspring, and the sons of Jats from 'mol-lana marriages' in the Meerut Division are regarded lower than the sons of regular marriages."
The Jat Sikhs do not have a rigid system of hypergamy in regard to their exogamous groups, the Jat Hindus have.
By adopting the outward symbols of Guru Gobind Singh, "the lower caste converts attempted to avoid the disabilities of their original caste groups and to move upward, through corporate caste mobility."
The Tarkhan Sikhs may be said to have made the greatest strides ahead as compared to the Tarkhan Muslims or Tarkhan Hindus : and the Tarkhan Sikhs and Kalal Sikhs, compared to Tarkhan and Kalal Hindus and Muslims were generally the most literate. On the other hand, there was a tendency to move backwards, in the caste society. "Till quite lately Jats and the like would smoke with him (Tarkhan) among latterly they have begun to discontinue the customs."
"The Chuhra Hindu occupied the lowest place in the social scale. He was avoided by all and his touch was considered as pollution. When converted to Sikhism, he was still a village menial, but he was no longer the remover of night soil. By taking the Pahul (baptism), wearing hIs hair long and abstaining from tobacco, the Chuhra convert might change his standing in the hierarchy."
"By changing their name to Ramdasias, the Chamar Sikhs could alter position in the Sikh caste hierarchy, becoming Sikhs and refusing to marry or interdine with Chamar Hindus."
"While the Sikhs were becoming literate, their women were becoming particularly so. This was in accordance with the generally higher position of Sikh women, compared to their position in Hindu or Muslim society." Ibbetson (Punjab Castes, sec. 340) corroborates our over-all view on this point as follows :- "As in all other countries and in all other nations, the graduations of social scale are fixed; but society is not solid but liquid, and portions of it are continually rising and sinking and changing 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 friction and insertion are largely due to a set of artificial rules which have been grafted on the social prejudices common to all communities by the peculiar form which caste has taken the Brahmanical teachings. But there is every sign that these rules are gradually relaxing. Sikhism did much to weaken them in the centre of the Punjab, while they can hardly be said to exist on the purely Mohammadan frontier". In this context, the extract to which the proselytes drawn from the caste society in the post revolutionary period, have been able, as compared in some respect, even to their Mohammadan counterparts in the erstwhile Punjab, to shed off their Brahmanical past is no mean achievement.
Finally we like to point out that whatever caste-like aberrations crept among the Sikhs in the post-revolutionary period are in no way a reflection upon the Sikh Revolution itself. Rather, if used as hind-sight, these shortcomings high-light the accomplishments of the movement in its revolutionary phase. The caste like prejudices are so deep-rooted and tenacious in our historical culture that they are receeding at a snail's pace even under the impact of such a powerful another system as the capitalist system (with all its array money-values, technological development, democratic set-up, and mass education, etc.). And rather than surrendering before the new system of its culture!, the caste is putting its own stamp on the distorted versions of democracy and nationalism of which the capitalist system has given rise to in India. Seen in this light, were not the achievements of the Sikh Revolution in this field, so many centuries earlier, truly remarkable ?
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