October 12, 2005

Combatting Caste ‘In the rainy season,’ the woman began, ‘it is really bad. Water mixes with the shit and when we carry it (on our heads) it drips from the baskets, on to our clothes, our bodies, our faces. When I return home I find it difficult to eat food sometimes. The smell never gets out of my clothes, my hair. But this is our fate. To feed my children I have no option but to do this work.’ via New Internationalist

The first article of a 10-part series that explores the caste system. You can navigate through the other articles by clicking the arrows at the bottom of the page. Front cover photo: Lalita, a girl from the Musahar caste (also known as ‘rat eaters’) teaches other young girls karate at a Mahila Shikshan Kendra (Women’s Education Centre). She has overcome great barriers in a society that regards her as the most disadvantaged since she is a female from one of the lowest castes in India. She attended the centre against her father’s will and learned how to read, write and defend herself.

  • Thanks smt; I used to read the New Internationalist regularly in print but somehow rarely check their website and I see from this I should. I was aware of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar who's mentioned here through an interest in Buddhism, but really only had a vague notion of how pernicious the reality of the caste system remains.
  • The band Caedmon's Call released an album last year to bring awareness to the plight of the Dalit in India. Many of the tracks were recorded in India while traveling with Compassion International
  • Wow. It seems a hopelessly huge task to bring about a change in a system so old and so entrenched. Grotesquely unfair.
  • Great link. Thanks.
  • There's been some indication that in Vancouver caste is part of the Desi Crew scene. I keep hearing Jat, or Jatt mentioned, and as I understand it, this is a privileged caste, and many, many of the gang boys are from well-off families here; they are perceived as spoiled sons getting into the gangsta thing for the glam and the big bucks rather than desperate types trying anything to get ahead. Hard to get any solid information, but I'll keep trying. The scene here is also complicated by Jat Pride nationalism and religious feuding so it's tough going. jatland.com has some interesting discussion of Jats and how they perceive themselves and other groups.
  • They mentioned that in one of smt's linked articles moneyjane, in reference to the British Bhangra scene. I found that a touch confusing, as I thought Bhangra came for a Punjabi and Sikh background, and that Sikhism was in many ways a reaction to just this kind of problem with mainstream Hinduism.
  • Just read a bit more background from the site you linked and see that Jats were mainly Hindu, but there are also Sikh and Muslim Jats - says it's an identity based on "occupation and heritage" rather than ethnicity or religion.
  • Thanks for the links moneyjane and Abiezer_C.
  • ♫When you're a Jat, You're a Jat all the way From your first cigarette To your last dyin' day.♪ *snaps fingers, dances*
  • When I read moneyjane's comment, I initially thought of Jad Fair.
  • This is from a couple months ago, but just noticed today - Caste discrimination is a root cause and an insidious consequence of the civil war in Nepal, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice charged in a new report [pdf] released today. Caste discrimination is also an issue, to a lesser degree I think, in Japan. The Burakumin are sometimes compared to Dalits with respect to their position in society.
  • The things that human beings do to one another.
  • They also briefly metioned the Buraku here guava. Still, most people seem surprised when I've mentioned the subject before. Thanks for the link btw!
  • Thanks, smt. The "Caste around the world" listing is eye-opening. Didn't know that so many countries had "lower" and/or slave castes. During news coverage of the Bali bombings, I heard that it was predominantly Hindu, and that made me wonder whether Hindus there practiced any kind of caste system/discriminations. Another interesting story from the same issue you posted - Caste Out. There is brief mention of Jats (discussed upthread), and a focus on caste among the South Asian diaspora in the US and UK.
  • guava, that's an interesting point you have raised. Having visited Bali myself, I would guess that there is most likely some form of caste system in place there, although this is just a hunch based on my observations. And yes, that list is quite daunting!