Section B – (ii) Caste System:
(a) Perspectives on the study of caste systems: GS Ghurye, M N Srinivas, Louis Dumont, Andre Beteille.
(b) Features of caste system.
(c) Untouchability – forms and perspectives
Recent incidents across rural India of Dalits getting beaten up to death, specifically around access to water, are now a new normal.
Less than a century ago, the distribution of water in India was status-based. Access to water was segregated and unequal between families and communities. The private rights to secure supplies were guarded in the name of ritual purity.
According to Herbert Kisley – “Class is a collection of families or group of families bearing a common name which usually denotes or is associated with specific occupation, claiming descent from a mythical ancestor, human or divine, professing to follow the same heredity callings & regarded by those who are competent to give an opinion as forming a single homogenous communities.”
According to Charles Coole – “When a class is somewhat strictly hereditary, we may call it a caste.”
RITUALUSATION OF WATER
In Vedic texts, water is referred to as Apah, or literally the Waters. The Waters are considered to be
purifying in a spiritual context. Vedic philosophy thus bestows a sacred character on water, which is then identified as a medium to
attain spiritual enlightenment. The concept of purification in early Vedic texts was essentially
spiritual, rather than moral and/or physical.
In contrast to the notion of spirituality in early Vedic texts, Smrtis or post Vedic literature constructed
the notion of ritualism. Water governed the ritualistic or bodily purification of human existence.
Ritualism was related to the construct of Dharma or moral law and the most authoritative text on the
subject of Dharma is the ‘Laws of Manu’, or Manusmrti.
CHAVDAR WATER TANKS AND MAHADS
In 1927, thousands of dalits marched down the steps of Chavdar (meaning ‘tasty’ in Marathi) water tank in Mahad, Maharashtra, bent down, dipped their hands into the water, and took a drink. For generations in India, though people of all other castes and even animals could drink from the Chavdar without any objection, dalits were considered too impure to do so. In accordance with the oppressive rules of the caste system, many public spaces such as water bodies like the Chavdar tank and roads were, and still are, out of bounds for the so-called ‘untouchables’. Thus, this act of quenching one’s thirst from the water of Chavdar was a fight for the basic human right to drink water, and more importantly, in the words of the father of the Dalit Movement, Dr. Ambedkar, it was an attempt to reconstruct society on the principles of the French Revolution; the ‘foundational struggle’ of the Dalit Movement towards caste annihilation.
HAS WATER RELATED IMPURITY NOTION FADED IN INDIA ?
Launched in 2019, the Jal Jeevan Mission is halfway towards achieving its goal of piped water supply to 18 crore rural households by 2024. However, this achievement is marred by near-constant and brutal incidents of Dalits trying to access water. In August 2022, Indra Meghwal, a Dalit student from Surana village of Rajasthan’s Jalore district, was beaten to death by his teacher reportedly for merely touching a drinking water pot. A similar death of a Dalit man occurred in Rajasthan’s Jodhpur district in November 2022 — Kishanlal Bheel was thrashed for drawing water from a tubewell.
A research study by the National Dalit Watch titled, “Droughts, Dalits and Adivasis”, in September 2022 surveyed Marathwada’s 2,207 Dalits and Adivasis of 10 villages of Osmanabad and Kallam blocks. The study found that 72% did not have adequate water for drinking and hygiene, while 56% SCs and 48% STs reported experiencing untouchability.
Unfortunately, the “water-caste nexus” remains unaddressed and is a significant missing link in government policies, which must offer separate provisions for Dalits to have safe access to water. Any policy without these provisions shall remain “untouched” by “Dalits”.