This post has been written by Srestha Chatterjee. Sreshtha is an alumni of St Xavier’s University, Kolkata (Department of Sociology). Her research interests lie in caste, society and urban lifestyles.
A general understanding that exists among most of the urban population is that caste does not exist in a city, as it is specifically rural characteristic. Caste system seems to persist almost hideously under the daily lives and practices of people, even in the urban. The city seems to hide under its mundane practices the vicious beliefs and stereotypes regarding the vertical hierarchy of the predominant caste system. The aspect of urbanization is always considered to be ‘Western’, as a result of which relating caste system in a Western development called city is hardly digestible. Yet, that was the best grounds for developing the roots of permanence in the domain of the casteist mentality and practices that still carry on in the urban. In the paper of David F. Pocock titled Sociologies: Urban and Rural, we get a historical evidence as to how caste system evolved into many forms from the traditional to the contemporary city life.
Historical cities and caste footprints
Roots of the caste system date back to several decades in the context of Indian history and they still casually persist in the corners of our conscience. It was troublesome to think or even imagine the Indian context, both in the urban and the rural, without the presence or mention of caste in it. That is the case because even in the most traditional cities that existed in the ancient Indian context, there was a clear determination and demarcation of roles and jobs or professions on the basis of caste guilds, with certain castes who were specialized in certain distinct professions would belong to these guilds. However, this specialization of skills still exists in the present urban society, or there are ghettos in the cities especially denoted for certain castes to live and survive in an overtly competitive and capitalistic environment. The city was the fertile land on which the seeds of caste segregation were very strategically spread, as the king in the pre-modern times ruled from the center which meant that there was a system of recording the number of citizens living in an area, including records of what kind of jobs they are involved in.
The modern scenario ….
In the present times however the situation has changed where the caste surveys has been reduced and even the government has requested so that caste surveys are conducted on the guidelines of 2001 census, as it would create endangering effect on the census activity itself, exposing that so many categories of under-privileged sections which exist outside the census data. The city is actually a very precise ground in which caste is hidden under the category of class, the class category becomes an alternative for the caste category. The class system becomes more important as the city is supposedly the industrialized and modernized part which loosens its ties with the traditional ties of kinship and caste networks. Yet another example tells us a different story, where caste mobilization in cities have helped settle Gujarati Banias and Marwadis to settle and set up a clear dominance in the markets of prominent Indian cities, including that of Kolkata. The caste liaison has even helped the process of urbanization, by attracting laborers from the rural areas, and hence increasing the migratory movement from one type of settlement to the other. They usually take the disguise of backward classes or the neglected category of individuals, who remain restricted in certain neighborhoods of the city, thus bringing about ghettoization and accumulation of sections of people who are usually avoided and forgotten when a city gets planned. Thus, the only thing which was supposed to get affected by the vertical hierarchy of the caste system has now helped in neutralizing and spreading the caste system in a horizontal order, whereby caste is present in literally every corner of a city.
The ‘holy’ political entanglement of caste in a modern city ….
The role of religion also becomes very much utilitarian in the maintenance of caste system, especially the hold of the dominant caste, as they are the ones who really are mostly privileged and ignorant enough to consider that caste system has lost it’s hold in the city. Idolizing certain castes as powerful enough to exercise influence itself gives an understanding how much caste strategies and prejudices get backed by religious “morals and values”, which only favors the preponderance of the Hindu ideals as mentioned in texts written by Brahmins. The hidden reality of the caste system also takes shape through the popular politics, understood through the case of Dravidian politics and its cultural populism, or when vote banking necessarily targets false promises to the scheduled castes and other backward classes. Yet the promises lose their prominence once majority is gained by the upper caste leaders. The subtle forms of caste segregation and manipulation could even be seen in cases of renting out apartments in the cities, where your caste and religion still matter to acquire basic livelihood facilities; and even the case of finding life partners involves looking out for the purest of the castes to be married into.
Caste has indeed gained a prominence in various forms by being spread out in the heart of the city life, in various forms which includes trade, occupational mobilization, or even ghettoization. The ignorance of its inexistence won’t change the fact that some sections of the society still face bigger social atrocities like untouchability and continue to survive in a selfish economy.
- Pocock, David F; Sociologies: Urban and Rural, 1960; Contributions to Indian sociology. – Los Angeles, Calif. [u.a.]: Sage, ISSN 0069-9667, ZDB-ID 217246-X. – Vol. 4.1960, p. 63-81
- Sampath, G; Explained | Why is the government against caste census? October 3rd, 2021; The Hindu
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