It has been said that the Sikh movement did not do much to promote inter-caste marriages. This assertion has probably been made in order to detract from the anti-caste achievements of the movement. It appears that the role of endogamy1 in the caste complex has either not been understood, or has been over-emphasized.
(i) Endogamy and the caste complex
Hutton writes: ‘Indeed, it seems possible that caste endogamy is more or less incidental to the taboo on taking food cooked by a person of at any rate a lower, if not of any other caste, and in the view of the writer this taboo is probably the keystone of the whole system. It is not uncommon in some parts of India for a man of one caste to keep a concubine of a lower caste, or even a non-Hindu, and he is not outcaste by his caste fellows on that ground, though he may be, and often is, on the ground that he has eaten food cooked or served by her or taken water from her hands. This suggests that the taboo on marriage is the necessary and inevitable outcome of the taboo on food and drink, rather than the cause of it.2 Hutton thus under-scores the point that the problem of endogamy is only a part of * In dealing with resrictions on inter-caste marriages, we exclude exogamy, because it is not born out of the considerations of social discrimination, and hypergamy, because the sikh who form the majority of the Sikh Jats, who form the majorityn of the Sikh npopulation, are not adverse to taking wives from the lower castes. the caste complex, and not an independent or a premier part at that. As such, its role should be viewed in this context and in the right perspective. The removal of endogamy is not indispensable for breaking up the caste structure. For, the caste has been losing its hold in India since it came in contact with the Western culture and the capitalist economy. But, all the same, not many inter-caste marriages have taken place since then so as to make any appreciable contribution to this development.
What is fundamental to the caste system is the preservation of the caste status, and the ritualistic and religious sanction which helped maintain that status. The restrictions on inter- caste marriages are made inflexible by the religious and ritualistic rules of the caste ideology. ‘Among classes who marry among 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.’3
What makes endogamy formidable and obnoxious in the caste society is that inter-caste marriages, as pointed out by Ketkar, are not prevented, as in class societies, primarily by sentiment, but by the ‘hard and fast’ rules of the caste ideology. These ‘hard and fast’ rules are not applicable exclusively to endogamy. Most of these rules, especially the social approach underlying them, cover in their ramifications almost the entire spectrum of caste mechanism. For, example, caste endogamy is the product of the notion that Aryan blood is pure and the non-Aryan impure, and that the admixture of the two should be avoided. As the mixture of the Aryan and non-Aryan bloods had already taken place on a large scale, caste endogamy was enforced at a later stage to compartmentalize this mixture so as to prevent further admixture. Exactly, the same principle or notion about the purity of Aryan blood and the impurity of non-Aryan blood underlies the injunctions against inter-dining among castes and pollution by contact or sight. ‘Despite their indispensability for a millennium, the impure castes have remained absolutely impure; because of the blood they inherit which could not be accepted as pure under any circumstances. All such people are magically defiled.’ ‘Their very presence may infect the air of a room and so defile food in it that it must be thrown away to prevent evil enchantment.’4 The idea that certain persQns defile if they sit down to a meal in one row is present in the Sutras.5 Similarly, Gautrna upholds that an impure person imparts pollution by his touch and even by his near approach.6 In the later periods, these rules were further elaborated and made rigid. In the medieval Occident, ‘there were factual barriers restricting the connubium between differently esteemed occupations, but these were no ritual barriers, such as are absolutely essential for caste. Within the circle of the ‘honourable’ people, ritual barriers were completely absent; but such barriers belong to the basis of caste differences. 7 ‘Nowhere are endogamy and the exclusion of commensalism more rigidly observed than by the occupational castes, and this is by no means true only of the interrelation of high and low castes. Impure castes shun infectious contact with non-members as rigidly as high castes. This may be taken as a conclusive proof of the fact that mutual exclusiveness was predominantly caused, not by social, but by ritualistic factors based on the quality of many of these castes as ancient guest or pariah people.8
All the above facts emphasize that the foundation on which the super-structure of injunctions against inter-caste marriages, intercaste commensalism inter-caste contact pollution, etc., rested, was the same. Ritual barriers or magical distance between castes in their mutual relationships (whether it applies to inter-caste marriages, inter-caste commensalism, various notions about pollution or to the stigma attached to certain occupations) is a fundamental basis of the caste. ‘The caste order is orientated religiously and ritually to a degree not even partially attained elsewhere.’9 ‘Complete fraternization of castes has been and is impossible because it is one of the constitutive principles of the castes that there should be atleast ritually inviolable barriers against complete commensalism among different castes.’10
(ii) Restrictions in other societies
Another important point to be borne in mind is that caste restrictions on marriages are not the only restrictions current on marriages between exclusive groups. Individual and group prejudices against marriages, based on considerations of various kinds (viz., health, beauty, colour, race, class etc.) exist in societies where there are no castes. In other words, caste endogamy is superimposed on prejudices about marriages between mutually exclusive groups common to non-caste societies as well. This leads to two corollaries. First, the problem of restrictions on marriages between exclusive groups or classes is not solved by the undoing of the caste endogamy. Secondly, the problem of removing prejudices regarding marriages, as it is in non-caste societies, is hard enough to solve. Because, in view of the very personal nature of the marriage relations and the human prejudices involved, no positive regulations can be prescribed in this field. Except for marriage restrictions imposed by the caste system, few societies have tended to lay down positive laws governing marriages between different social groups or classes. No wonder that Plato’s suggestions in this regard always remained as the odd ramblings of a philosopher’s mind; and the attempt in Rome to regulate marriages through the Theodosian Code failed miserably. For the same reasons, the racial problem between the Whites and the Negroes in the U.S.A., or elsewhere, continues to be intractable. The super-imposition of caste endogamy on the other prejudices regarding marriages made the problem doubly complicated.
(iii) The Approach of the Sikh Movement
Guru’s stand on the issue is very clear. When the Muktas (the select band of Sikhs in the congregation of Guru Gobind Singh at Anandpur who were given this honorific title for being foremost in living upto the ideals of Sikhism) advocated inter-caste marriages, the other Sikhs openly expressed their inability to follow this line. The matter was represented to the Guru himself. The Guru indicated that the advice of the Muktas should be followed. He said, ‘The four castes are one brotherhood. The Guru’s relationship to the four castes is common (Le. equal). There is no doubt about it… Muktas are my own life. What they do is acceptable. ‘11
‘Caste is probably what Professor Bartlett would call one of the ‘hard points’ of Hindu culture, and any attempt to modify it by a direct attack on it is likely to provoke resistance and discord, and reformers will need to aim at some ‘soft point’, some other feature of the culture, that is, through which the ‘hard point’ can ultimately be circumvented and isolated.’12 It is probably on this account that, ‘In regard to the matter of the right to enter Hindu temple, the exterior castes were advised by Mr. Gandhi not to attempt to gain entry, as God resides in their breasts.’13 If this cautious approach was necessary in the twentieth century, it was much more so in the times of the Sikh Gurus. They had to avoid taking steps that might affect adversely the very objectives of the movement. They were not idle dreamers interested only in the postulation and declaration of a utopian stand. They could not afford to sit in isolation tied to an abstract maxim. They were the leaders of a movement. Although they never swerved for a moment from their objectives, and even paid with their lives for not doing so, they had to weigh beforehand the feasibility of each and every step they took in the light of its likely consequences on the course of the movement as a whole. As leaders keen to achieve practical results, they were aware of the necessity not only of carrying their followers with them, atleast a majority of them, but also of ensuring their zealous participation. Evidently, they would not like to take such steps as might sidetrack the main problems. There were open rifts in Sikh ranks at different places between those who wanted to stick to the old rite of Bhadan (cutting off the hair of the child at a certain stage of his life) and those who wanted to give it up following the Guru’s injunction not to shave.14 Where differences could crop up on such a minor issue, the Gurus could not risk the future of the movement by insisting on inter-caste marriages.
The abolition of the caste was not the only goal of the Sikh movement. It had also to fight the religious and political oppression of the rulers. In fact, the pursuit of this objective became more urgent especially when the Mughal rulers launched a frontal attack to convert the Hindus to Islam. The Sikh movement depended for all its recruitment to its ranks entirely on elements drawn from the caste society. It could not afford to cut itself off completely from the base of its recruitment. By doing so, none of the three social objectives of the movement would have been furthered. Neither would it have succeeded in building a society outside the caste order; nor could it have successfully challenged the religious and political domination, or captured political power for the masses.
It is in this context that the anti-caste stance of the Sikh Gurus and the Sikh movement should be judged. No socialist or communist movement has ever cared to adopt the issue of inter-class marriages as its plank. They know that human prejudices regarding marriages would automatically disappear with the levelling up of class differences. Similarly, the Gurus attacked the very fundamentals of the caste, Le. caste status consciousness and the ritualistic barriers between the castes. They hoped that caste endogamy would disappear with the disappearance of caste-status consciousness and these ritualistic barriers. They did not want to side-track the comparatively urgent problem of challenge.
Secondly, as we have said, the Gurus did not want to cut off, as far as possible, the movement from the base of its recruitment. Two instances would amplify the point we want to stress. It was Guru Nanak who started the institution of Langar where people of all castes and creeds dined together. It was a very big step towards breaking the caste ritualistic barriers. But, it was Guru Amardas who made it a rule that nobody could see him unless he had dined at the Langar. Possibly this could not be done all at once in the beginning, because it required time to educate and influence the people in overcoming the ritual or taboo by which one could not eat ‘in the sight of people not belonging to one’s caste.’ In the famine of 1866 in Bengal, when people were forced by starvation to eat in the public soup kitchens opened by the Government, ‘they made certain that often a sort of symbolic chambre separee was created for each caste by means of chalk lines drawn around the tables and similar devices.’15
Again, Guru Gobind Singh himself took away the Janeo of Alim Singh when he felt it necessary to prevent him from reverting to the caste society.’16 But, the same Guru advised his Sikh not to insist on anybody wearing Janeo, 17 nor coerce anyone to forgo it. The same was the Guru’s approach regarding inter-caste marriages. While he approved of the proposal of the Muktas, he did not prescribe or insist on inter-caste marriages, leaving it to the Sikhs to follow it on their own.
1. Rose, 11, p. 361
2. Hutton, p. 71
3. Ketkar, p. 117
4. Max Weber, p. 13
5. Ghurye, p. 79
7. Max Weber, pp. 34-35
8. Ibid., p. 106
9. Ibid., p. 44
10. Ibid., p. 36
11. Rehatname, pp. 68-69
12. Hutton, p. 130
13. Ibid., p. 202
14. Sri Guru Sobha
15. Max Weber, p. 37
16. Macauliffe, V, p. 157
17. Mahima parkash, ii, p. 831