Academic journal article Journal of Political Studies

Marginalized Voters and Supporters: Biradari System, Caste Hierarchy and Rights to Political Participation in Rural Punjab

Academic journal article Journal of Political Studies

Marginalized Voters and Supporters: Biradari System, Caste Hierarchy and Rights to Political Participation in Rural Punjab

Article excerpt

Introduction

Caste system in Punjab represents hierarchical grouping of various quoms or zats on the basis of their birth-ascribed standings(Lyon, 2004).The primary caste based divisions are between the land owners and the service providers (Eglar, 1960; Usman, 2011). Members of landowning zats connected with agriculture as their parentage occupation, such as jats, rajputs and awans, are locally known as zamindars (Chaudhry & Ahmed, 2014), whereas the members of service-providing zats are kammis including weavers, barbers, cobblers, blacksmiths, carpenters and potters. They serve the villagers with their occupational crafts that they inherit from their ancestors along with providing labour to zamindars in managing agricultural activities (Ahmad, 1970; Eglar, 1960). With time, the members of kammi zats are leaving their caste-based occupational crafts and opting for other professions. However, they are recognized in the village setting and differentiated from zamindar and other kammi zats through their ancestral occupations (Usman & Amjad, 2013). Biradari is another important component of caste system practiced in rural Punjab, which divides zamindar and kammi zats in distinct status categories (Alavi, 1972). In literature, biradari is a contested term conceptually that has been used differently in different contexts. Some studies suggest that the terms biradari, zat and quom can be used interchangeably (Ahmed, 2007; Chaudhary, 1999), while others have strictly differentiated biradari from zat and quom (Usman, 2011). Latter emphasize that zat or quom (caste) is a border category than biradari (kinship). All those members of rajput or barber zat, who are relatives, blood relatives or relatives through marriage, form a biradari (Usman & Amjad, 2013). There can be more than one biradaris within a quom residing in a Punjabi village. Subsequently, it is argued that biradari is more significant principle than zat in village life, which determines group loyalties of individuals in election and in other socio-political affairs. Conversely, while looking at the role of biradarism in electoral politics of Punjab, Ahmed (2007) ignored the factor of being relatives as a criterion to constitute a biradari and suggested that all members of a zat or quom are a biradari e.g. a rajput biradari or a barber biradari. Most of the academic studies conducted on the involvement of biradarism in determining the voting behaviour of individuals and groups in Punjab have used the term "biradari" as such.

Dynamics of biradarism and caste hierarchy are the decisive factors in rural Punjab that shape electoral politics and determine voting behaviour of the villagers (Ahmed, 2012; Ahmed and Naseem, 2011). Substantial academic evidence is available on how the biradari-based factional politics influences the entire process of elections from the declaration of candidature, formation of panels, campaigning to voting preferences (Ahmed, 2009; Wilder, 1999). Many studies have examined the role played by traditional landowning biradaris in the formation of political alliances to shape constituency politics in Punjab (Ahmed, 2007; Usman, Munawar & Amjad, 2013). Control of zamindar biradaris over local politics and leadership roles connects them with political influential contesting elections (Usman, 2011). Networking between politicians and biradari-based factional leaders developed during elections gives rise to the system of political patronage. It constitutes the bases of power structures at local level and serves the reciprocal interests of local biradari members and politicians. Voting behaviour of individual biradari members is associated with their group decisions and their dependence on their biradari representatives, who help them to acquire patronage of politicians for accessing state institutions, especially police, courts and job opportunities (Tariq, Usman and Sajjad, 2015; Wilder, 1999).On the other side, kammi biradaris are excluded from these power structures as a result of their restricted rights to political participation in elections and lack of their connectivity with political influential (Hooper & Hamid, 2003; Usman, 2011). …

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