Palanpur, the Economy of An Indian Village

By C. J. Bliss; N. H. Stern | Go to book overview
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Appendix to Chapter 2
The material contained in this appendix is as follows.
§ 2.A.1 Caste
§ 2.A.2 Village politics and institutions
§ 2.A.3 Durable ownership
§ 2.A.4 Case histories of families and their land
§ 2.A.5 Nearby villages.

§ 2.A.1 Caste

The castes of Palanpur were listed in rank order in § 2.1. The question of caste ranking is a delicate one and outside our range of competence (see McKim Marriot, 1965, and Cohn, 1959). The ranking that we have used is, as has been remarked, a rough guide to status, including economic status, of the various castes in the village. The precise tests that are proposed by sociologists of village India have to do with the performance of ritual functions at weddings and other ceremonies and the giving and taking of food. These tests, however, are often inapplicable to Palanpur (except in the case of the Sweepers, whose position at the bottom of caste ranking is in any case obvious) because ceremonial functions are frequently not performed by those outside the household. Similarly there is not a great deal of giving and taking of food. The Sweepers take away waste food from all households. Otherwise the traditional service castes are engaged for the most part in activities different from those which define their caste. To take an example, the majority of village households do not employ a Dhobi for washing clothes. However the Dhobis keep rugs which are used at weddings.

Exchange of food mostly takes the form of the provision of a meal for an agricultural labourer. He will nearly always be of a lower caste than his employer according to our ranking and will eat food prepared in his employer's kitchen. An interesting example where exchange of food does confirm a caste ranking, but only a fairly obvious one, is provided by Rajendra Singh, a Thakur who has sold most of his land and lost status by taking up with a low-caste woman, not his wife. He now lives in part from his employment as night watchman at the Seed Store and in part from agricultural labour. However when he works for an employer who is not a Thakur he goes home to take his lunch.

Another criterion for ranking castes which has served elsewhere is the use of names as opposed to a more honorific form of address. However this is not much help in Palanpur because, Sweepers apart, men generally call each other by their names, except that they sometimes employ a term of respect for age when addressing an old man.

We found that indicators of caste ranking such as those discussed supported the ranking that we have proposed or at least did not contradict it. But where two castes were close enough together to make the question of their relative position an acute one such criteria were often unhelpful. In our formal analysis in later chapters we shall only distinguish three groups: Thakurs, Muraos, and the rest.

The ranking of the Passis well illustrates the difficulties of producing an exact ranking. The Passis are a migrant group who came many years ago from East U.P., where there is little doubt that they were Harijans. However their economic status in the village is not low because they enjoy a good deal of well-paid outside employment. In talking to villagers we found disagreement as to the status of the Passis and people would disagree,

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