Skip to main content

When North Gujarat Gandhians told Dalits: Dead cattle beef eating lowered their status among "higher" castes

By Rajiv Shah
Amidst controversy surrounding flogging of four Dalits belonging to the Rohit (chamar) community for eating the beef a dead cow continues unabated, a top blogging site has published excerpts of a 1989 paper by a senior Vienna-based sociologist, who highlights how the despicable practice in Gujarat was related with the perception that cattle scavengers “remove the impurity attached to the carcass and transfer it to themselves.”
Authored by Prof Shalini Randeria, currently rector at the Institute of Human Sciences, Vienna, the paper is based on her fieldwork in several villages in Sabarkantha and Mehsana districts (North Gujarat) and Ahmedabad in 1983-84 and 1987. The paper is titled "Carrion and corpses: Conflict in categorizing untouchability in Gujarat” was published in “European Journal of Sociology”, Vol 30, No 2.
Pointing out that the perception was linked with the view that “death is the most potent of all the sources of impurity and inauspiciousness in the life of a Hindu”, Randeria, who belongs to Ahmedabad, says, thanks to a queer campaign in the late 1930s by local Gandhians against the consumption of meat and liquor, carrion eating was given up by sections of Dalits, though its strong vestiges remained intact in 1980s, when the field work was carried out.
Referring to a meeting of Gandhians with Dalits in 1939 in village Ilol, Randeria says, a resolution was passed for ensuring abstinence of carrion, along with alcolohol, on a very strange ground: That “it lowered one’s status in the eyes of the higher castes.”
Giving details, Randeria says, “The text of the resolution quotes Mathurdas Lalji, the Gandhian social worker who presided over the proceedings, as having said that the consumption of alcohol and carrion were responsible for the 'untouchables' being regarded as demons (rikshas).”
Randeria quotes the Gandhian as saying: “During the monsoon rains and the scorching summer heat, we of the upper castes (waliyat-sāhukar) shelter dogs, cats and donkeys on our doorsteps and allow them to enter our houses. But we do not even permit you who drink liquor and eat carrion to set foot on our doorsteps. So you are counted as lower than even dogs and donkeys”.
Pointing out that carrion-eating in Himmatnagar and ldar Taluka of Sabarkantha district may have been given up as a result of the efforts of local Gandhians in the late 1930s and 1940s, Randeria says, till then carrion distribution was “shared” among the various “untouchable” castes in a peculiar pattern.
Thus, she says, the Garo, the “Dalit Brahmins”, who who carried out all the rituals for rest of the Dalit sub-castes, would get “the head of the animal”, while the the Valmikis or Bhangi would receive “the feet, hooves, intestines and kidneys.”
As for the middle-level Dalit sub-castes, she says, “The rest (thighs and sides) was more or less equally distributed between the Vankar and Camar, though the Vankar had a right to the liver in recognition of their leadership (mehetarāi) of the 'untouchables'.”
Comments the sociologist, “This pattern shows a striking similarity to the Purusa Sukta myth of the origin of the four varnas from the primeval man (the Brahman from his head, the Kshatriya from his arms, the Vaishya from his thighs, and the Shudra from his feet). The hierarchical division of society is reflected in the hierarchical division of the human or animal body in each case.”
During her field study, Randeria found that the practice of consuming carrion may have died down, but the scavenging of cattle and and other animals did not. Thus, cattle scavenging and tanning remained an “exclusive” chamar (Rohit) specialization, along side “the manufacture and repair of certain leather goods”.
Down the Dalit social ladder, the Valmikis performed the “tasks of dragging away dead dogs, etc.” off the village, the sociologist added.

Comments

TRENDING

Impact of state repression? Kashmir's 65% people prefer independence: Cambridge study

By Rajiv Shah 
Even as the Government of India’s controversial move to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) into two union territories is not only refusing to down die but has acquired international dimensions, a recent study, published by the Cambridge University Press, has claimed “pro-independence attitudes” among that 65% of Kashmiris, warning, this sentiment worsens when the state machinery resorts “repressive violence”.

Quit India Movement 'betrayal' and dubious role of Hindu Mahasabha, RSS leaders

By Shamsul Islam*
After the recent guillotine of Article 370, Hindutva ideologue Ram Madhav, while celebrating the occasion stated that it was honouring of the sacrifices of Dr Shyam Prasad Mukherjee and thousands others who laid down their lives for its removal. It is to be noted that Dr Mukherjee was a cadre of RSS and was groomed into a Hindutva leader by another Hindutva icon, VD Savarkar.

Congress' anti-democratic laws led to Modi govt's 'Constitutional' changes: Scholars

Counterview Desk
A large number of academics* said to be belonging to several Indian and international institutions, even as taking strong exception to the Narendra Modi government's alleged move to amend the Constitution through "illegitimate" means, have taken strong exception to their colleagues in academia who we have become "all too accustomed to adopting a calculated silence in the face of such indignities."

Kashmir normal? Schoolboys, teenagers being arbitrarily picked up, detained: Report

Counterview Desk
A four-person team, consisting of Jean Drèze, well-known development economist; Kavita Krishnan, who is with the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist); Maimoona Mollah of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA); and Vimal Bhai of the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM), back from a five-day fact-finding mission (August 9-13) from Kashmir, has said that people they spoke to “expressed their pain, anger, and sense of betrayal against the Government of India.”
In a report, “Kashmir Caged”, released along with a short eight-minute film, they said, the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, dissolution of the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), and bifurcating it into two Union Territories, is not being supported by anyone they met, except for BJP spokesperson on Kashmir affairs Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo, who claimed 46% vote share in J&K.
Excerpts from the report: When our flight landed, and the airlines staff announced that passeng…

Dholera 'inundated': Gujarat govt tries selling low lying area as top smart city site

Counterview Desk
Even as the Dholera Special Investment Region Regional Development Authority (DSIRDA) of the Gujarat government was busy organising a junket for Gujarat-based journalists for the area sought to be sold as an ideal special investment region (SIR) for industrialists, well-known farmers' activist Sagar Rabari has wondered why no investor has so far agreed to put in money in an area situated in Ahmedabad district along the Gulf of Khambhat.

Skewed sex ratio 'behind' ban on rural Thakor girls' mobile use, inter-caste marriage

By Jharna Pathak*
On July 14, 2019, the Thakor community of 12 villages of Banaskantha district in Gujarat announced a ban on the use of mobile phones by unmarried women. Simultaneously, they imposed penalties on inter-caste marriages. The family of any girl of the community marrying without the consent of her parents would now be fined Rs 1.5 lakh while that of a boy marrying a girl from other community without his family’s consent would be penalised with a fine of Rs 2 lakh.

Kashmir kayoed, bhakts 'jubilant': Much like crowds when Hitler purged Jews, Catholics

By Fr Cedric Prakash sj*
August 12, 2019 was the great festival of Eid al-Adha (incidentally, for Jews, Christians and Muslims – the sacrifice of Abraham is a very significant one); for the people of Kashmir however, this year Eid was a sad day indeed, what with the lockdown and communications blockade!

Modi's Gujarati mind? Why govt move to 'sell-off' defence PSUs isn't in national interest

By Sandeep Pandey*
The Standing Committee on Defence, 2017-18, of the 16th Lok Sabha highlights the idea of Buy Indian-IDDM (Indigenously Designed Developed and Manufactured). The Committee expressed concern over the import content of equipments produced and developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Ordnance Factories (OFs) and defence Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) because of the dependence it creates for military hardware on foreign suppliers.

J&K curbs 'violate' International Covenant on civil, political rights: Letter to Modi

Counterview Desk
The International Federation for Human Rights (IFDH), a Paris-based human rights NGO with global presence, has sent an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying the decision to “reconfigurate” Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), remove its special status and impose a “complete lock-down of the region” violates Kashmiris’ “fundamental right to self-determination and their right to participate in crucial decisions that affect their lives.”

Modi's Kashmir move meant to 'solidify' Hindu majoritarianism, 'demonize' Muslims

By Battini Rao*
The parliament of India on August 6 put its stamp of approval on bills abrogating article 370 and downgrading the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) to two union territories. When the representatives of the people of India were deciding the fate of the state, the people of J&K were forced into collective house arrests.