Caste system in Nepal
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The Nepalese caste system is complex and continues the traditional system of social stratification of Nepal. The caste system defines social classes by a number of hierarchical endogamous groups often termed as Jāt. This custom is found in the Hindu . Nepal consist of four social classes or varna: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra. There are some ethnic indigenous groups which do not belong to this class system.
History of the caste system in Nepal
The Nepali civil code Muluki Ain (1854) was written by Jang Bahadur Rana after his European tour. It codified social codes in practice for several centuries in Nepal that was rooted in Vyavahāra (traditional Hindu legal procedure), Prāyaścitta (avoidance and removal of sin) and Ācāra (the customary law of different castes and communities). These three are collectively called Dharmaśāstra. A traditional Hindu king was duty-bound to put these precepts into practice.
The Muluki Ain divided Nepali citizens into two castes "the caste whose water is allowed to remain pure" and "the caste whose water is defiled". Chiefs of the various castes were entrusted with sorting out issues related to their own castes. The heads of Kamis (blacksmiths) and Sarkis (tanners and cobblers) were called Mijhars. Similarly the head of Damai (tailors and musicians) was called Nagarchi. Castes of the first (non-defiling) category also had their chiefs. In this way community members might not need to go to courts or government offices to settle minor legal matters. Mijhars and Nagarchis, however, added to injustice and exploitation meted out to their respective communities. They were obviously influenced by their masters' natures. Like their masters, they never hesitated to do injustice against their own communities. No appeal was heard against them.
From the medieval period onward, people could lose status through caste demotion. People considering themselves superior used caste as a pretext for exploitation. The lower castes were prevented from entering temples, receiving education, listening to high-caste people's teachings, worshipping, planting Bar or Pipal trees, digging ponds, and participating in fairs and festivals. Upper caste people use the things such as sewing cloths, iron pots & other instruments that were prepared by untouchable caste. Sometime, their bloods used by those upper caste people, who have unable to find same group bloods from his/her relatives. In this way, upper caste uses such things and articulated their bloods but they never eat untouchable caste touches food items and water. This problems persist also into intra-untouchable caste group. They could be exiled from the country for looking at a high-caste woman. If they encountered someone of higher caste they would have to step aside. They had to pay jadau (obeisance) to any higher caste person. They could be put to death for rebelling against caste rules. If someone from higher caste married a woman from lower caste, he was not eligible for legal intercession against jarikhat (adultery). A sacred thread-wearing or even non-thread-wearing person would need to be ritually purified if they were touched by an 'untouchable'. Two-way conversation with upper castes was banned for them. These discriminatory provisions of the civil code were based on Hindu scriptures like Parskar Grihyasutra, Gautam Sutra, Manusmṛti and Shukra Niti. There was no provision for lower-caste participation in the economic, social, cultural and administrative spheres. They had to survive on low-paid manual work such as playing indigenous musical instruments, leather-work, practicing music, art and dance, pottery, general labor, cleaning latrines, and washing clothes. This system prevailed till by law until Muluki Ain was revised in 1962.
The present caste system derives from Shah dynasty founder Prithvi Narayan's famous saying that Nepal was a garden of four varnas and 36 castes. However this is only a rough estimate for the Hill region. The Newari community and the Terai community each has more than 36 castes.
Four Varnas in Nepal
The 'Chhathare' used to be the rules, nobles, and courtiers during Nepal's Malla rule.
There are many Kshatriyas castes living in the Nepalese Terai.
The 3rd varna includes people from the Vaishya varna, mainly comprising merchants, farmers, cattle-herders and artisans. Vaishya are janajati i.e ethnic groups Gurung, Newar, Magar, Tamang, Rai, Limbu, Sherpa, Mananggay, Mustang-gi, Thakali, Dolpo, Walungi and similar ethnic groups comprise over 50% of the population of the Middle Hills.
The 4th varna includes people from the Sudradamai varna, mainly labourers, artisans and service providers.
The caste engaged in sewing clothing is called Suchikar (सुचिकार)or Sujikar (सुजिकार). Those who play musical instruments like damau (damaha, दमाहा), hudko, and devbaja – particularly in wedding processions—are referred to as damai (दमाइ), dholi ढोली, hudke (हुड्के), nagarchi (नगर्ची) and nagdi. Originally they were called different names according to which instruments they played. Someone employed in sewing is now called darji (दर्जी), tailor, master, or tailor-master. Darji was once used only for tailors, but now it is used for all tailors as well as musicians. Similarly, damai or damahi has also undergone extension of its meaning. Initially it only meant someone who played the damaha. Now it is used for the entire caste.
Surnames Pariyar, Nepali, Rasaily Darji,and others have come in vogue recently. In western Nepal, Damai came to be used only lately. As damai is considered a derogatory word in the east, so is dholi in the west. This community is distributed all over Nepal.
Community of wandering singers
There is a community known as Gaine (गाइने) or Gandharwa (गान्धर्व) who wander about Nepal singing ballads of historical bravery and gallantry, self-accompanied by a sarangi (सारङ्गी) -- a four-stringed violin-like instrument.
Gaine are also found settled in the Western and Mid-Western Regions, especially in Jumla, Kaski (Batulechaur), Syangja, Gorkha, Tanahu, Palpa, Gulmi, Rupandehi, Surkhet, Dailekh, Jajarkot, Rukum, Pyuthan, Dang and Salyan districts, as well as in Kathmandu Valley and Bhojpur in eastern Nepal.
Gaine are looked upon as untouchables, however Jhalak Man Gandarbha (1935–2003) rose to national prominence and performed regularly on Radio Nepal. Gaine sometimes use the surname Nepali. Only a limited number of other surnames sound original. Most are like surnames of Brahmins, Kshetris and Kamis, or are named after particular places.
The caste system today
The caste system is still intact today but the rules are not as rigid as they were in the past. Because of western education, contact with foreigners, media, and modern communications, people are progressive in many aspects. In 1962, a law was passed making it illegal to discriminate against the untouchable castes. In practice however, discrimination still continues today.
In the past, when Brahmins and Chetris came in contact with Sudras, they used to bathe. Now, some people just sprinkle water on their body and some do not even care at all. Today, Brahmins have land, work in the field and are involved in government service. Some Baisya and Sudra caste people are teachers, high officials, and successful politicians. Previously, Brahmins were not subject to the death penalty and were instead given the same status as cows in the Hindu religion. But now, all castes are equally treated by the law. Education is free and open to all castes. Discrimination is only done socially.
The caste system has also led to a structural class divide which persists, in which lower castes/ethnicities are generally socio-economically worse off than those of higher castes/ethnicities.Among Indigenous ethnic groups it only Newars who have Castes(Caste system). It is notable, though, that some few of the indigenous (adevasi janajati) lower castes belong to peoples who are economically generally rather well of - such as the Newars. Recent research has also shown that when it comes to Nepali people's impressions of social change, "poverty, human resources and region explain more of the variation than ethnicity, caste or religious belonging" - i.e. people's perception of their own social situation has more to do with geography and objective social class, than with their association with the groups that the state has based its internal social policy on.
In recent times, following the overthrow of the Nepali monarchy and move towards a federal republic, ethnicity and caste have taken center stage - the indigenous peoples (adevasi janajati) who make up a third of the country having been guaranteed rights that have not yet been fulfilled. There is an observable reaction to this among certain Brahmin and Chhetri groups, seeking to prevent group-based rights from becoming an important factor in the country that earlier had a political system associated with group-based discrimination. Certain outside analysts have suggested that "seeking a balance in approach requires addressing both specific indigenous historical injustices while creating a common citizenship for all marginalised citizens regardless of identity, which remains a particularly challenging issue for Nepal."
- Caste system in Nepal
- Caste discrimination
- Nancy E. Levine. Caste, State, and Ethnic Boundaries in Nepal. The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 46, No. 1 (Feb., 1987), pp. 71–88 doi:10.2307/2056667
- Nepal: Towards a Democratic Republic: Caste, Ethnicity and Inequality in Nepal
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- Hachhethu, Krishna "Nepal: Confronting Hindu identity", South Asian Journal, 2(October–December 2003), pp. .
- http://www.spinybabbler.org/traditional_arts/music/instruments.php Damai instruments
- Aasland, Aadne and Marit Haug: Class, Caste or Location? How Do Different People Assess Social Change In Nepal? The NIBR International Blog, 27.05.2011
- Jones, Peris S.: Deepening Democracy: International Labour Organisation Convention 169 and Nepal's Democratic Transition The NIBR International Blog, 11.06.2011
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