En Route – July 2011

VISAKHAPATNAM – INDIA

With only a few hours before boarding the train to Chhattisgarh, we decided to go the beach. Being a sunny Sunday afternoon, the beach was full of Indian families who had come to enjoy their afternoon. Again I was the centre of attraction (really irritating). We left after one hour after all, there was nothing to do for me since women were not swimming. In modern day India women are given equal opportunities as men but in the past they were seen as weak people with no rights. However, this is not the case in some of the remote rural areas where women are still abused and oppressed due to illiteracy and lack of voices in their society.

A father and son in the Vishakaphatnam beach

In India people are divided into castes.  Caste system is a system of social stratification and social restriction in India in which communities are defined by thousands of endogamous hereditary groups called Jatis. According to the Hindu religion, there exist four castes arranged in a hierarchy. The religious word for caste is ‘Varna’. Anyone who does not belong to one of these castes is an outcast. Each (Caste) Varna has certain duties and rights. Each Varna members have to work in certain occupation which only those Varna members are allowed. Each Varna has certain type of diet.

She was selling durians in the train

The highest Caste is of the Brahman. Members of this class are priests and the educated people of the society. The Varna after them in hierarchy is Kshatria. The members of this class are the rulers and aristocrats of the society. After them are the Vaisia. Members of this class are the landlords and businessmen of the society. After them in hierarchy is the Sudra. Members of this class are the peasants and working class of the society who work in non-polluting jobs. The caste hierarchy ends here. Below these castes are the outcasts who are untouchable to the four castes. These untouchables worked in degrading jobs like cleaning, sewage etc.

The first three castes had social and economical rights which the Sudra and the untouchables did not have. The first three castes are also seen as ‘twice born’. The intention in these two births is to the natural birth and to the ceremonial entrance to the society at a much later age. Each Caste and also the untouchables are divided into many communities. These communities are called Jat or Jati

One of the women selling fresh cashewnuts in the train

The Sudra is the largest class and it has the largest number of communities. Each Jat is limited to professions worthy of their Varna. Each Jat is limited to the Varna diet. Each Jat members are allowed to marry only with their Jat members. People are born into their Jat and it cannot be changed. This is the how the caste system is supposed to be in its religious form. But in reality it is much more complicated and different from its religious form.

These castes have caused so much division among the people especially because it makes it hard for the people in the low castes to rise to interact or even marry people from the higher castes and vice versa. I remember even on the trains when they saw me that I am black with a white person they used to ask us which castes we come from because majority of the white Indians belong to the high castes and thus it is very hard to find them with a black person who is from another caste. But with time this is changing as more and more people like Ambedkar and Gandhi who fought for the elimination of the caste system and the many organisations today still fighting for this. The Indian government is also facilitating the fight by expanding its effort to include people from poor, backward castes in its economic and social mainstream.

Pilgrims in the train station

For me this is not surprising, I come from a country with over forty tribes and tribal clashes are very common and they even lead to deaths. Like in the 2008 post election violence that left 2000 people dead. This division came during colonisation.

When the British colonised Kenya, they had to divide the people in order to rule them easily. They enforced and created tribal divisions which unfortunately exist up to date and continue to have deep roots in the society. Tribalism and racism is in everyone what matters is the degree of racism that is in every person. If the degree in one person is high it is due to a certain experience or information that that person has towards a certain race or community. After all, we are all human beings we all walk on two legs, we have two eyes, two arms. The only difference is the colour of the skin, the hair and the behaviours.

The following morning we were on the train to Jagdalpur in Bastar district, Chhattisgarh on the southern banks of river Indravati.

REFERENCES

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caste_system_in_India

Aharon Daniel, 2005, The Religious form of Caste System of India viewed through http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caste_system_in_India

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