Pahari - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Most features of social organization have been covered above under the headings "Division of Labor," "Kinship," and "Marriage and Family." The remaining point requiring explanation is the Pahari system of caste categories. The pan-Indian system of castes and caste categories comprises innumerable localized castes ( jati ), Hierarchically ranked according to their inborn purity. Castes, in turn, are grouped into five ranked categories called varnas: Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaisya, Sudra, and Achut. The first three are called "twice-born," indicating a higher order of ritual purity than the other two, while the Sudra, in turn, are purer than the Achut, who are regarded as woefully polluted ( achut literally means "untouchable") and in fact are scriptually described as outside of the varna system, although structurally they comprise a fifth varna. Brahmans are traditionally the priestly castes; Kshatriyas are the royal, administrative, and warrior castes; Vaisyas are the yeoman farmer castes (who in historic times have come to be identified primarily as mercantile castes); Sudras are the "clean" artisan and service castes; and Achut are the castes that perform the most polluting tasks (e.g., scavengers, latrine cleaners, leatherworkers). In Pahari society, by contrast, generally only three varnas are represented—Brahman, Kshatriya, and Achut. Proportions in each category vary locally and regionally, but 75 to 90 percent of the Pahari population is Kshatriya. The Pahari social Organization can be understood, in a rough way, by saying that there are no Vaisya castes, and all of those castes that in most of India are Sudra are in Pahari society classified as Achut, creating in effect a tripartite varna system. But Indigenous terminology, at least in the Central Pahari region, suggests that the varna system is or in origin was in fact binary, comprising simply "twice-born" and "untouchable" categories. Pahari Brahmans and Kshatriyas are often collectively termed "Khas" or "Khasiya"; Pahari low castes are collectively termed "Dom." The social reality of this seems confirmed by the fact that marriage between Pahari Brahmans and Kshatriyas is tolerated (although reluctantly and without Ceremony) , something that plains society does not countenance, and marriage among low castes is similarly allowed.

Political Organization, Social Control, Conflict. At the village level, each caste is organized to handle internal conflicts and transgressions. However, heads of high-caste households (or some of them) traditionally constitute a council that decides matters of policy and social control for the village at large and intervenes as well in low-caste disputes or transgressions. Since independence, various kinds of Councils have been established by the national governments of the nations in which Paharis live. In India, these are elected bodies, with an elected headman and with seats reserved for women and members of Achut castes. Their actual powers, however, tend to be limited to official matters, while social control remains with the traditional high-caste councils. As is true throughout India, low-caste individuals and collectivities are subject to stern measures, including violent physical sanctions of the most dire sort, to enforce the constraints placed on them by the high castes.

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