Improving caste identity in India

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Caste identity is a critical factor in the development paradigm in our country. Recently, we have witnessed a surge in representational politics, where the NDA nominated Draupadi Murmu, from the predicted tribe, as a candidate for the 2022 presidential elections. Murmu’s candidacy has symbolic relevance as she would be the first adivasi wife to go to the Presidential Post Office. Is it a simple gesture or would it have greater socio-political repercussions for the Adivasis? The representation policy marks inclusiveness but may not be sufficient to ensure the development of the Adivasi community as a whole.

The Adivasi society, mainly governed by kinship ties, is considered non-hierarchical, compared to the highly differentiated caste system. Purity and pollution exist between the Munda community and the “regional” service castes of Jharkhand. There are historical and socio-political roots of differences in living standards, commensality practices, and the effects of administrative changes on STs and SCs in the region. Most service castes are SC except Lohra which is ST category in Jharkhand.

As weekly local haats (markets) become vibrant spaces for socio-economic activity, the individual bonds between service castes and the Munda community have weakened. The “personalized” nature of services has diminished. Cooperation between communities has been affected by urbanization and modernization. Social groups also have an increased awareness of the viability of identity politics, creating new patterns of segregation. The Munda community no longer depends on its services due to technological changes and does not seem to stick to its traditional cultural practices. As a result, many service castes have discontinued their traditional services and others are looking for additional sources of income.

standard of living

The quality of life in the Munda community and service caste families is determined by an interaction of factors such as power, networks and resources. While these various sources of income bring in meager wages, government programs offer a glimmer of hope. Likewise, education, wealth and reserves form the basis of the new identity and acquired status that distinguish Munda Christians from the rest of their religious community. A section of the Sarna Munda is increasingly inclined towards Brahminical tradition and practices to enjoy the benefits and claim the status quo.

Most Munda families received benefits under the National Food Security Act, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana or subsequent housing schemes, and other social protection schemes.

They are also the main landowners and therefore benefit from agricultural and related sector programmes. 90% of service caste families surveyed enjoyed housing and ration benefits at subsidized rates. In some cases, forced migration has been observed. Members of the service caste often have no land other than that on which their house is built or land donated by the host community. They therefore move to big cities like Delhi, Shimla and Panaji to work as construction workers, domestic workers or to do odd jobs with the support of the networks.

The Central List of Scheduled Castes and Tribes is notified under Sections 341 and 342 of the Constitution of India. Despite the categorical distinction between different social groups, attempts have been made by non-STs to change their caste to ST. Caste groups, especially SCs and OBCs, have also resorted to such measures to avail of reservations and scheme benefits. Are they excluded from development efforts in a region dominated by S&T? Or are they socially, economically and politically well off compared to the mainstream ST community?

In some cases, the service castes felt that they were treated differently, especially at functions organized by Sarnas. Did Sanskritization enable Sarna Munda to embrace the hierarchical caste system? Many Munda Christian converts also adhere to the standards of untouchability. The service castes, although in the minority in terms of land ownership and population, also observe the notion of purity and pollution. The intersection of caste, class and religion plays an important role in shaping forms of discrimination.



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The opinions expressed above are those of the author.



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