Gujarati - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Gujaratis are divided into a number of social groups. The Hindus who constitute the largest group are divided into a number of jatis, which have a hierarchical order based on the principles of purity and pollution. The Brahmans are in the highest position, while the Scheduled Castes occupy the lowest position in the hierarchy. The SCs constitute 7 percent of the population, and they are scattered throughout the state. The Brahmans constitute nearly 4 percent. The other upper castes are the Vanias (traditionally traders) and Rajputs (traditionally warriors). They and some other upper castes together represent 8 percent of the total population. The Patidars, who belong to the middle strata of the caste hierarchy and were earlier known as the Kanbis, constitute around 12 percent of the population. Comprising about 24 percent of the population, the Kolis form the largest caste cluster among the Gujaratis and are distributed throughout the state. Broadly they can be divided into Kolis of the coastal and mainland belts. The latter prefer to be identified as Kshatriyas. The other low castes, such as the Bhois, Machhis, Kharvas, etc., together constitute about 7 percent of the Gujaratis. The Scheduled Tribes, generally known as the Adivasis, constitute 14 percent of the population and are mainly in the eastern belt. There are several tribal groups, some of the major ones being the Bhils, Dhodiyas, Gamits, and Chaudharis. The jatis have traditional panchayats, which are councils consisting of elders that regulate social customs and resolve conflicts. The importance of such panchayats in conflict resolution has declined over the last four decades.

Political Organization. Gujarat is one among twenty-one federal states of the Indian republic. It is governed by representatives elected by universal adult franchise who constitute a vidhan sabha (legislative assembly). A majority party forms the government. The head of the state is the governor, appointed by the president of India. The state government has very wide powers for maintaining law and order, levying taxes, and carrying out development work. It also shares resources with the union government. Gandhinagar is the capital city of the state. The state is divided into 19 districts, which are further subdivided into 184 talukas. Local self-government by elected representatives functions at village, taluka, and district level and also in towns and cities. The local government performs functions related to public amenities, education, and development. It raises resources by levying taxes and income from property and also receives aid grants from the state government. Industrial investment is strongly encouraged.

Social Control. Gujarat today has the usual institutions of a state police force and a hierarchy of law courts, ranging from the submagistrate's court to the state supreme court. In all courts the central writ is the Indian Penal Code. But in addition to these institutions, which were first developed under the British administration of the old Bombay Presidency, there is also an indigenous system of caste and village councils. The caste council is found in any village or small town where the numbers of any one caste or caste bloc are sufficient to warrant it. This council consists of the male heads of the most prominent families in the caste, and its function is to maintain equanimity with other castes by seeing that traditional patterns of behavior (the caste's dharma) are followed. Fines and minor physical punishment may be handed down to those who offend against these patterns. Public humiliation, such as a beating with sandals, is a usual punishment. There is also a village council ( gram panchayat ) which is headed by the village headman ( patel ) and contains leading representatives of each of the caste groups. Its function is partly to conduct formal community affairs, such as seasonal festivals, and partly to resolve intercaste disputes and offenses.

Conflict. Because there has been little labor unrest in recent times, Gujarat has become a relatively prosperous state. Public life has however been marred by several riots led by upper-caste students, in protest against the government policy of reserving places in the colleges for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

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