by Francis Baartmans mhm
The Mysterious Trail of the Tamarind
Voices from the Margin
In a recently published book Fr Francis Baartmans mhm presents a fascinating account of the Dalits of the Nagwa Basti in Varanasi, India. Extracts from this study are being serialised on this website over the coming days/weeks. (Final Instalment )
Caste: Concluding reflection
Francis Baartmans' home in Nagwa Basti
In his work, 'Culture, Space and the Nation-State', sociologist Dipankar Gupta discusses 'Root Metaphors in the Caste System'.
Every caste in the caste system believes in the metaphor of purity and pollution.
Mentioning the word "caste" means mentioning "purity and pollution".
Castes, however, are unable to agree on who is purer than whom. We have earlier seen how 'low' castes – therefore considered 'less pure' or 'more polluting' — explain in their tales of origin their fall from high status. Their fall is due, according to the stories, to lost wars, or because they were
victims of deceit.
What Cohen writes about Adi Dharm, India's most ancient (adi) religion or 'way of life' (dharma) is a subject of hot debate.
“The history of Nagwa, for its residents, was that of a fall from greatness into a state of dependency by unstable sources of patronage. The destruction of the commons, the latest incursion into Nagwa slum by persons locally identified as Thakurs, members of several land-owning and latter-day barionial castes, was but the repetition of a historical pattern. The Fall of Nagwa took shape within a local ideology of Chamar and other Dalits as the autochtonous bearers of authentic religion and polity, of an Adi Dharm.
Several residents claimed that Nagwa's sanctity antecedes that of Varanasi itself. Adi Dharm is literally the original Dharma. It was described as the true Indian religion and polity, before the foreign invasion of the Vedic Aryans and the imposition of caste and its naturalization.
The lowest 'scheduled' castes and tribal groups were thus the true heirs of a pre-Aryan and pre-Brahmanical Indian religion" (Cohen)
The (ex-)untouchables of India consider themselves to be descendents from India's most ancient peoples, those who lived there before the Aryans entered. Portions of the authentic, indigenous populations were in the course of time amalgamated with the Aryans and were placed at the bottom of what became the caste system.
The (ex-)untouchables of India, Dalits, now increasingly and more aggressively ask why they are considered the 'low' or the 'lowest'. "There is the emerging claim" Gupta writes, "that their religion is the original religion of the region. From the fount of this original religion, or adi dharm, contemporary Hinduism is said to have evolved. According to this version then they stand at the apex of the hierarchy". The claim that they stand at the top of the hierarchy means that they bypass the complex theories of ritual purity and pollution in the caste system. The manner in which Dalits are responding to the caste hierarchy demonstrates the emerging claim that their culture, their religion is non-Aryan, non- Vedic in origin.
Francis Baartmans mhm
'Broken still one'
Documentary on the life and work of Fr Francis Baartmans mhm among the Dalits of Nagwa Basti