Analysing The Genesis Of Untouchability Cultural Studies Essay


Nepali society is divided (stratified) mainly two ways: (a) status and (b) class. According to max Weber, status is connected (related) to honour and privilege and class with economic order, race or Varna, caste and ethnic groups belong to status strata. Estate and social class belongs to class strata. Varna is classified and caste is a group. There are four Varnas named Brahman, Kshhetri, Baishya and Shudra.

Yam Bahadur Kisan, a leading Dalit scholar of Nepal, has listed nine different theories on the emergence of caste system in the Indian subcontinent. These are: Traditional, Religion, Economy, Racial, Evolution, Criminal, Functional, Sanskritization, Social division (Kisan, 2005:7-10).

He has mentioned five bases for the emergence of the Varna system. These are (a) Pursush Sukta, (b) Colour, (c) Occupation, (d) Personal characteristics, and (e) Heredity (Kisan, 2005:14-24).

He has also listed six reasons for the emergence of Shudras. These are (a) non-Aryan slaves and those vanquished the battle, (b) Aryan non-conformists, Aryan enemies, (c) intermarriage, (d) progeny, and (e) occupation and powerlessness (Kisan, 2005:25-27).

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Nepal's racial composition is made of four races: (1) Mongoloid, (2) Caucasoid, (3) Dravid, and (4) proto-Australoid. Indigenous peoples belong to mongoloid, Dravid and proto-Australoid racial groups. Brahman/Bahun, Kshyatriya/Chettri, Vaishya and Sudra/Dalit, and Muslims belong to Caucasoid racial groups.

According to Ulrik, H. Johansen (2002:8), "Hinduism was introduced to the Area, today known as Nepal, in the eleventh century when a massive migration followed 'the Muslim conquest in North India'. Until then the population consisted of the ethnic groups 'Janajatais'embracing Bonist, Buddhist and animistic traditions and beliefs". According to Dilli Ram Dahal et al. (2002:5), "…the genesis of caste system can be traced more accurately from the reign of king Jayasthiti Malla in the context of Kathmandu Valley and with the introduction of the Old legal code of 1854 in the context of Nepal as a whole", "…the present Dalit population of Nepal could be the mixture of two distinct groups of people"; (i) "a group of people who originally came to Nepal from India along with other Hindu caste members," and (ii) "the 'made' Dalit groups from the illegitimate sexual relations" (Dahal et. al., 2002:6).

Untouchability is practiced by "higher castes" also but they are not considered or referred as Dalits. These are as follows:

- Untouchability is practiced in many Brahmin/Bahun families. In such families for example fathers, who are "Swayam Pakya" (those who cook themselves), do not eat food cooked by other family members, including sons and daughters in-laws.

- Also, among the Hindus, women are considered untouchable during menstruation and childbirth. They are treated like untouchables temporarily. Thus Hindu women became untouchables on the basis of reproductive roles but not on the basis of caste (source: Indian Institute of Dalits Studies, 2008).

Kisan's view about the genesis of caste system giving the different theories is more reliable because he is a profound Dalit scholar who has a broad vision about social systems like the caste system of Nepal and deep knowledge about cultural and sociological aspects of the caste system. He was illustrating the development of the caste system and how it appeared in the level of Dalits in the Himalayan kingdom, which makes it easier to understand caste history of Nepal. As well Varna system is also reliable. The genesis of Dalits also gives a clear picture of his attitude over caste system of Nepal, which ordinary people can understand.

Hinduism and Hindus

The word 'Hindu' is neither a Sanskrit word nor Pali nor Devanagrik nor Dravidian. The word 'Hindu' cannot be found in any Vedic texts - Vedas, Upanishads, Geeta, Sutras, Mantras, Puranas, Mahabharata, Ramayana or any other Vedic literatures considered to be ancient (Jayaram, 2000). The word 'Hindu' according to the linguists is a Persian word. "The earliest reference of word 'Hindu' can be found in the Avestha, the sacred book of the Zoroastrians. The word "Hindu 'ush" was also found at least in two inscriptions of king Darius (early 6th century BC.), whose empire said to have extended up to the borders of river Sindhu" (Jayaram, 2000). The feudal Nepali Hinduism is intermingled with the ethnic beliefs, superstitions, rituals and rites even though some studies assume that in ancient Hindu epic Ramayana and crusade Mahabharata references are found regarding ethnic group of people such as Kiratas in the hills and Sakayas in the plains (Savada, 1991).

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Ritual and physical purification: Caste members perform their caste-specific rituals and worship their caste specific deities. Castes, even the so-called lower castes, always 'justify endogamy on the basis of putative biological differences' (Gupta, 1991:37). As well 'only after we accept castes as discrete are we in a position to understand why castes equally pure refrain from merging their identities (Ibid: 130).

First worshiping time to any God first should worship to Ganesh. Slusser (1998:328) points out, it is the female deities that are responsible for such diseases as cholera, malaria and meningitis. Children's illnesses are particularly attributed to the chwāsā Ajimā-The Remains Deity (Nepali, 1965:335). In hierarchical caste system Brahman, Kshhetri, Baishya and Shudra are more or less following their own traditional culture. Mostly Nepali people have great faith over deities. For example medical treatment to recover from disease is sourced from worship of deities. In a way Hindu caste society has been influenced directly and indirectly from traditional religious and cultural aspects but now it is weakened.

Up until a few decades ago the Kathmandu valley was particularly susceptible to devastating outbreak of smallpox (tahkai). The disastrous epidemic at the end of the eighteenth century is particularly embedded in the collective consciousness of the people. It was this epidemic that king Rana Bahadur's favourite queen died and, in a desperate attempt to keep his son from catching the disease, the king tried to expel all the children from the valley (Slusser, 1998:329). When vaccination became readily available, as a child was inculcated, family members would take offerings to Ajimā.

The traveller Si-tu panchen (1700-1774) describes such an epidemic, which was raging in the summertime (though not in the winter) of 1723 when he was visiting. Once stricken by the disease most people died within thirty hours. The king reported that on a single night during the rainy season over one hundred dead bodies had to be removed from the town (Lewis and Jamspal, 1988:199). The king also told his guest that this had gone on for three years and that two-thirds of the population had perished. The cure for such illness is affected by the worship of the goddess who is considered to have brought the misfortune. Often Newars will also report at such times to a traditional doctor (Vaidya), a medium (dyah waimha), or other practitioner (Gellner and Shrestha, 1993, Gellner, 1994). Sometimes a Citrakār is called for healing purposes. He will paint powerful symbols, such as lions, on a patient with a skin problem (Toffin, 1995b:243).

3.2.5 Race and Racism

Nash notes, 'in English image black became a partisan word, a black sheep in the family, a black mark against one's name, a black day, a black look, a black lie, a blackguard, and a black ball were all expressions built into cultural consciousness' (1974:162-63).

The labelling of Asians as blacks prompted the export of people of Chinese and Indian descent to British colonies as contract labour. In spite of all these everyday racism persists (see Essed, 1991) with vehemence and to understand this we need to understand the trajectory of the career of the concept of race.

The problem of racism could have been overcome through scientific education, good attitude and good behaviour of people in the field. Although to conceptualise races as linguistic categories was a stupid idea, it became very powerful as exemplified by the Aryan myth (see Poliakov, 1974). Understandably races came to be considered as nations. This four-in-one phenomenon gave birth to idea of unity in blood, language, culture and nation (Oommen, 2002:115-26).

The Third World was caricatured as a world of tradition, having too much of religiosity, irrationality, under-development, overpopulation, political chaos, that is, bereft of modernity (Pletsch, 1981:65-90).

The recent report of the RAND Corporation notes that the US can retain its scientific supremacy in the world because of the contributions made by scientists of foreign origin, particularly those from India, China and Europe, residing in the US (see Gopal Raj, 2008:13). Caste is found in all the countries of South Asia, it is particularly strong in India and Nepal because of its deep relationship with Hinduism. The Hindu nationalist scholarships that attack orientalists are not different methodologically because they often rationalize internal colonialism. The attack against orientalism was articulated forcefully by Said (1978). Inden (1990) reinforced Said's line of argument with special reference to India.

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Savarkar (1929) holds that the combination of shared ancestral territory; common blood and similar culture make the Hindus for whom India is both Fatherland and Holy land. The Dravidian movement, which is anti-Aryan, also conceptualized Dravidians as a race (inam) to wriggle out of the Aryan characterization of Dravidians as lower castes. '…concepts of caste, race and national identity interacted in complex and dynamic ways with changing orthodoxies of evolutionary race theory' as Susan Bayly (1997:215) correctly comments.

Purity of the realm: Father Ippolito Desideri (1932:316) noted in 1722 that "Newar travellers, before being readmitted to Nepāl from Mughal territory had to undergo purification by bathing for forty days in cow's urine, drinking it, and eating cow dung occasional." After their conquest of Nepāl in 1768-1769 the Gorkha rulers continued to preserve the purity of Nepāl as their locus authority.

Some of things Shahs (rulers) have been following the status queue of Newar traditional customs like that. Newar people also caution about caste barriers in Nepali society. Traditional culture and customs were followed by the Shah dynasty as well as by Hindu people.

Gorkhali envoys returning to Kathmandu from Tibet underwent three days of purification at Nuvakot, just outside Nepal. Their readmission to the realm was signified by the king's offering water from his pitcher at the Kathmandu palace (Cavenagh, 1851:69; Oldfield, 1880:1, 412).

The conception of the realm as a universe implies that the realm was an autonomous and auspicious system of social relationships. Nonetheless other such realms existed on the subcontinent. According to one Brahmanical scheme there were fifty-six universal realms in the Sacred Land of the Hindus (bhāratavarsa), of which Nepāl was one (Hamilton, 1819:192).

Although the Khas claimed Kshatriya status, nevertheless they were considered to be inferior to the Thakuri clan of the Shah dynasty, which traced its royal descent from the Rajputs of western India (see Levi, 1905:1, 258-78).

The pride that the Gorkha nobles took in the administration of justice (see Hodgson, 1857:234-35) is expressed in such saying as "For knowledge go to Kasi; for justice go to Gorkha" (cited by Smith, 1852: 1, 151-52) and "blood, salt, and law - all these are cheap in India" (recited today in the Nepalese Tarai). It means people have such kind of strong believe with Gorkha rulers, they were giving justice to own citizens. It means Gorkha rulers were good concept of national building strategy to make people closure with them.

Cow slaughter, however, was banned with utmost severity (RRS, 1980:170; see also RRS, 1979:126-30). Persons who commit the heinous crime of slaughtering oxen in a Hindu land shall be flayed alive, impaled, or hanged upside down until dead. Their property shall be confiscated and members of their families enslaved.