CASTE IN URBAN INDIA
CASTE IN URBAN INDIA
With Growing secularisation caste bonds have weakened and gave more importance to class structure in urban areas. Generally caste is thought to be a phenomenon of rural India mainly associated with agrarian economy. Caste system has been viewed as a system which has restricted the development of non-agrarian economy. It is assumed that urbanization along with industrialization would induce certain essential changes in the caste-based system of stratification.
In spite of these changes caste has not disappeared and in the process of establishing social identities it is still widely used in all parts of India. In fact, some sociologists say that it is not necessary at all that with the process of urbanization it will give way to class system of stratification in urban areas.
The establishment of caste association in order to help their caste fellows in terms of educational and occupational opportunities, political power, etc. again reveals the vitality of caste system. The most powerful role that caste identity is playing in contemporary period is in politics which governs the power dimension. The need to gain power through the modern political system has forced leaders to mobilize people of not only one’s immediate sub-caste but the wider caste group itself. Caste provides a readymade identity along which people align themselves. In India we have at all levels a parliamentary democracy where the numbers of votes become very important. Therefore, in today’s India, horizontal unity of caste over a wide area, in both rural and urban sectors, provides a vote ‘bank’ that can ensure the election of a candidate from one’s own caste.
Caste seems to have also become a basis for organizing trade union like associations. These associations are nothing but interest groups which protect the rights and interest of its caste members, such as the Gujarat Bania Sabha, the Kshatriyas Mahasabha (Gujarat), Jatav Mahasabha of Agra etc. These are caste associations which perform the functions of a trade union for its members. On the one hand, this can be viewed as the strength of a caste; on the other, as pointed out by Leach, once a caste becomes a trade union-like organization, it becomes competitive and therefore, it becomes a class group.
Certain aspects of behaviour associated with caste ideology have now almost disappeared in the urban context. The rules of commensality have very little meaning in the urban context where one may not know or may ignore the caste identity of one’s neighbours, friends, servants, etc. Though in family and marriage matters, caste is still quite important but other factors such as, education, occupation etc., of the partners are also just as important as caste. The increased with the young frequency of inter-caste, inter-region marriages have people coming more in contact with each other in urban areas. It is clear that caste is still significant in urban areas, although its functions have changed and become modified. We may say that it has lost some of its earlier rigidities and has become more flexible.
Indian urbanite suddenly becomes an anonymous, city-bred person who is totally isolated from primary contacts outside the nuclear family. Studies found that the kinship organization in the old wards (mohalla) of Meerut city in the past and amongst the poorer section of the population in the city even today, follows the same pattern as in the rural districts of this region. The persistence of the similar pattern of kinship organization, as found in the villages, in the older and poorer sections of the city goes to show that there is no sharp cultural discontinuity between the masses of the pre-industrial towns and the peasants of the countryside