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

Mallika Sarabhai releases speech she was 'not allowed' to give at NID Convocation on Feb 7

Counterview Desk
The National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad, a Ministry of Commerce and Industry body, landed itself in controversy following its decision to put off its 40th convocation ceremony, where noted danseuse Mallika Sarabhai was invited as chief guest. The ceremony was scheduled to be held on February 7.

Modi, Shah 'forget': Gandhi’s first Satyagraha was against citizenship law of South Africa

By Nachiketa Desai*
Hindu fanatic Nathuram Godse assassinated Mahatma Gandhi once on January 30, 1948 but his followers raising the war cry of ‘Jai Sriram’ are killing the Mahatma every day. In his home state of Gujarat, Gandhiji was killed a thousand times in 2002 when over 2,000 Muslims were butchered, their women raped, homes and shops plundered and set on fire and even unborn babies ripped out of the wombs of their mothers.

As corona virus 'travels' to rural areas, NGO begins training tribals, marginalised women

By Souparno Chatterjee*
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared corona virus a pandemic. Originating from Wuhan in China, it has traversed the entire globe, almost, and claimed more than 16,000 lives already. That’s largely the urban population. In India, despite all the preparedness and war-like promptness to safeguard against the pandemic, several lives have been lost , and hundreds of individuals have tested positive.

Rani Laxmi Bai, Tatya Tope 'martyred' by East India Company, Scindia's forefathers

By Our Representative
In an email alert to Counterview, well-known political scientist Shamsul Islam has said that was “shameful for any political party in democratic India to keep children of Sindhias in their flock” given their role during the First War of Indian Independence (1857). In a direct commentary on Madhya Pradesh Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia moving over to BJP, Prof Islam has quote from a British gazetteer to prove his point.

COVID-19: Dalit rights bodies regret, no relief plan yet for SCs, STs, marginalized

By Our Representative
In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the National Dalit Watch-National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, endorsed* by several other Dalit rights organizations, have insisted, the Government of India should particular care of the scheduled castes and tribes, trans folks, persons with disabilities and the women and children from these communities, while fighting against COVID-19 pandemic.

Big 'danger' of NPR: A babu can tag anyone as doubtful citizen, Jharkhand meet told

' By Our Representative
People in large numbers from across Jharkhand gathered at the Raj Bhawan in Ranchi to demand that the Hemant Soren government reject National Population Register (NPR) and stop all NPR-related activities. The people’s organisations which participated in the dharna under the banner of the Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha (JMM) resolved to intensify their struggle, insisting, NPR is not a Hindu-Muslim issue but is essentially anti-poor.

Coronavirus scare ‘pushing’ people from Northeast India into more hardship

By Rishiraj Sinha, Biswanath Sinha*
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background or his religion. People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” – Nelson Mandela
***

Gujarat govt plan to 'banish' Gandhian activist anti-democratic, unconstitutional

By Rohit Prajapati*
The current Central and Gujarat governments, and their bureaucracy, have been and are still unable to answer and address the concerns raised, with facts, figures, and constitutional provisions, regarding the terror of tourism in the name of the Statue of Unity and tourism projects surrounding it.

Haridwar Swamis lead Khudai Khidmatgar peace march in Delhi 'riot affected' areas

By Our Representative
A Khudai Kidmatgar team, which visited the riot-affected regions along with Swami Shivanand Saraswati and Swami Punyanand, has insisted that India's true heritage is the lesson of ‘vasudhaiv kutumbakam', and it is the responsibility of all to carry froward this legacy. Originally founded by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in 1930, also known as Frontier Gandhi, Khudai Khidmatgar is claimed to have been revived by young Gandhian activist Faisal Khan in 2011.