Spring 2008 - Volume 15 / Issue 1
©2008 P. Ghuman
Class a New Avtara of Caste: A study of Untouchables in a Punjabi village: Or Untouchable Women in a Punjabi Village: 1950s and 2006. pp. 2-22
Paul Ghuman (Avtara Singh), University of Aberystwyth
This inquiry is undertaken in the light of previous research and literature on Dalits which conclude that caste remains an important force/dimension in the social and personal lives of Indians. We set out to find out how the social, religious and socio-economic positions of Dalits, especially of women, have changed since the mid-1950s in a Punjabi village. Data were collected by semi-structured interviews ‘participant observations’; and notes from a personal diary were used to supplement this qualitative data. From the data we have ample evidence to infer that caste still impacts and shapes in a major way the social and personal lives of people in the village under study. There are separate Gurdwaras for the Jat Sikhs (farming caste) and Chamars (Ad Dharmis – traditionally described as leather workers’ caste); and Valmiki (also known as Bhangis – sweepers and toilet cleaners) families have their own Bhavan (place of worship). There are two cemeteries in the village: one for the Jat Sikhs and other for the Dalits (previously called untouchables). There have been no inter-caste marriage in the village and social mixing is kept to the minimum and that only takes place on special occasions. However, unlike the 1950s, Dalits are in majority and control the village socio-political affairs through Panchyat – a village council. ‘Ritual’ untouchability - a common practice in 1950s - has completely disappeared. There are no separate wells or residential areas. The village Dalits no longer work as farm labourers but seek employment in government sponsored projects, and in nearby city mills. This has enhanced their self-image and boosted their moral and motivation and they are challenging the hegemony of Jat Sikhs in the village affairs (also see Jodhka, 2004). The latter are in minority and in a weak position due to the large scale emigration of their progeny to overseas countries. There is a rising middle class of Dalits, albeit in an embryonic form. There has been a sea change in the lives and treatment of Dalit women. They are no longer exploited by the village farm owners, and sexual abuse which was common in the 1950s has completely ceased.
Ad Dharmis, Dalits, Jats, power structure, Scheduled castes, Sikhism, social class, Panchayat, sexual exploitation, varna, Untouchables