Jatav - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. In India's villages the caste system is an organic division of labor, each caste having a traditionally assigned and distinct occupation and duty. Because Jatavs, as Chamars, do the polluting and polluted tasks of removing dead cattle from the village and of working with leather, they are ranked as Untouchables at the bottom of the system. Traditionally, their major occupation in the village was agricultural and other menial labor for landowners. In cities, where the traditional interdependencies of the caste system are virtually nonexistent, Jatavs are more like a distinct and despised ethnic group.

Political Organization. In preindependent India Jatavs gained considerable political expertise by forming associations and by developing a literate cadre of leaders. They tried to change their position in the caste system through "Sanskritization," the emulation of upper-caste behavior. Jatavs claimed Kshatriya or warrior-class origin and rank, and they organized caste associations to reform caste behavior and lobby for their claims. After independence India legally abolished the practice of untouchability, established the universal franchise, and developed the policy of "protective discrimination." That policy reserves electoral constituencies for Scheduled Caste candidates according to their percentages of population in the nation and the states; it does likewise for jobs in the national and state civil services; and it offers educational benefits to them. Jatavs have taken advantage of that policy and turned to active participation in India's parliamentary system of government. At times they have elected members of their caste to various state and national legislatures. In villages they have been less successful at influencing local political institutions and capturing funds meant for developmental projects. A major influence upon Jatavs was the Untouchable leader Dr. B. R. Ambedkar (d. 1956) who encouraged Untouchables to fight for their rights, and, as first minister for law in India, provided a powerful role model. Through their political efforts his statue and picture may be found in public parks and bus stations, symbolically asserting their quest for equal citizenship in the nation.

Social Control. Everyday control and leadership of local communities was traditionally in the hands of hereditary headmen ( chaudhari ). Serious cases of conflict, breaches of caste rules, and other caste-related problems were decided by councils of adult men ( panchayat ) in each locality. In the past, higher-level councils existed for more serious cases or for appeals. The council system and the powers of hereditary headmen have gradually eroded, especially in cities where the courts and the more educated and politically involved leaders and businessmen have become more prominent and influential.

Conflict. Conflicts arise within and between families and individuals over money, children, inheritance claims, drinking, insults, and the like. In recent years conflicts, both in cities and villages, have taken a political turn as Jatavs, and other Untouchables, have tried to assert their rights. Non-Untouchable castes have reacted negatively. Serious riots between Jatavs and upper castes have occurred in cities, such as Agra, and dangerous conflicts have also occurred in villages. Jatavs feel that the pace of change is much too slow, while upper castes have rejected it as too fast, unjustified, and contrary to orthodox Hindu teaching.

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