This book is a study of the changing relations between members of the priestly caste (Brahmins) and a group of untouchables (Cobblers). The study covers a period of several decades up to the time of fieldwork at the end of the 1960s in a Hindu village in Western Nepal. From a position of almost total economic dependence on the priestly caste, the untouchables had become increasingly independent because of the new opportunities available in the expanding economy of the area. As a result of this they had begun to oppose the Brahmins politically.
At the time of the original publication of this book (1972), there was very little published material written by anthropologists on Hindu village society in Nepal, and very little that dealt with relations between high castes and untouchables anywhere else in South Asia. The author does however seek to put her study into wider perspective by comparing it with other literature on change in South Asia.
This book focuses on a mixed-caste community in the Far Western Hills, here called' Duari', where the upper castes had successfully consolidated themselves at the expense of the lower castes (untouchables, now termed Dalits) not only in terms of land-holding but also educational opportunities, trade and government posts. Nonetheless, at the time of fieldwork, the lower castes had begun to achieve a modicum of economic independence because of new opportunities, and as a result, had dared for the first time to challenge the upper castes politically. I spent nine months carrying out research in Duari, and also visiting neighbouring communities, as well as the local bazaar town and district capital.
This project was part of a larger programme entitled 'Social Change in Nepal' sponsored by the Social Science Research Council of Grear Britain and directed by the late Professor Christoph von Furer Haimendorf, then head of the Anthropology Department at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Other project researchers included Nicholas Allen (Thulung Rai), Barbara Nimri Aziz (two Buddhist populations), and Professor Haimendorf himself (Sherpas of Khumbu). Sadly, I did not return to Nepal 10 carry out further fieldwork, although in 1982, my husband and I trekked with our two young children up the Kali Gandaki valley from Pokhara. In the 1970s I began working in Chennai-Madras, south India, as well as continuing to do research in Tanzania started in the 1960s. Nonetheless, through the work of Lionel Caplan and other scholars, I have continued to follow with great interest the momentous events in the country.
There are many reasons why it gives me enormous pleasure that this, my first book, should be republished now. One is that the original version, written for a commission to a US publisher which wanted to launch a student-friendly series on social change in different parts of the world, was never available in South Asia, and particularly in Nepal. Like other anthropologists and other social scientists, I have become increasingly aware that it is our responsibility to ensure that the fruits of our work are made accessible to the peoples with whom we carry out our research.
A second reason is that this book was originally published in 1972 and since that time, more than three decades of history have changed the face of Nepal, especially in the very recent past. There have been considerable upheavals in the country but currently, there is much hope for a new period of openness and democratisation which will benefit all citizens. This book, in a modest way, shows some of the reasons why many people became extremely dissatisfied with a system which denied them land, education, livelihood and dignity on the basis of their caste background, and why they wanted to change it. It gives a snap-shot of a particular moment in time which may go some way explaining the roots of the radical change now taking place.
It is the intention of this series to present monographs each of which deals with a particular group of people, without seeking to define that phrase too narrowly. Monographs focus on, for example, an African ethnic group, a South Asian caste village or group of villages, and the people of a Pacific island. Each monograph is self-sufficient in its own right and not directly dependent on others in the series, and each is written by an anthropologist who has recently carried out field research in the area concerned.
The focus of each study is on economic, political, and cultural changes, their causes, processes, and consequences during the twentieth century among the selected group of people, and with particular reference to the preceding two decades or so. The primary aim is to describe the changes that have occurred and to give an explanation of the processes involved and their implications. Although broader generalizations (including comparative references to cases and processes elsewhere) are not neglected, it is not a major concern of the series to seek to establish or promote a particular theoretical approach or conclusion. Each author is asked to go beyond description and to make an analysis involving theoretical considerations according to his own preferences.
In the preparation of this series we recognized the necessary diversities of research interests and opportunities, and of theoretical orientation, but nevertheless asked each author, as far as possible, to include the following:
a. in relatively brief outline, the description of a fairly clear and relevant socioeconomic baseline from which to present the account of change (for example, immediately prior to the establishment of colonial rule, or of the achievement of independence, or of the introduction of some major, radical innovation of a technological or social nature);
b. an account of the factors responsible for producing and developing changes and of the agencies through which those factors operated; the initial reactions of the people to these factors and agencies, including the perceptions of the people about them;
c. a description and analysis of the various changes, taking account both of time sequences and of different aspects or parts of the society and culture; the identification of key roles such as those of innovator, entrepreneur, and reactionary (we asked for description to be reinforced, if possible, with quantitative data on such matters as crop production, school attendance, religious converts, and voting in elections);
d. a consideration of sequences of changes within a single field of activity (such as agriculture) and the extent to which there were concomitant changes in other fields of activity (for example, the association of agricultural change with modes of economic cooperation, family organization, religious beliefs and practices, and political action);
e. a summing up of the processes of change in the context of anthropological theory.
We encourage each author to make a serious attempt to cover a wide range of social and cultural changes among the selected people, but acknowledge his legitimate preference to emphasize certain processes of change on which he has most data and theoretical interest.
This is a study of the changes which have come about in the past two decades in relations between high castes (particularly Priests or Brahmins) and untouchables (most of them Cobblers) in a Hindu village in the hills of western Nepal. Particular attention is paid to shifts in the economic and political links between the two groups since 1951, when Nepal emerged from a century of isolation from the outside world and internal stagnation under a despotic regime. Since then, the country has been opened up by new methods of communication, such as roads, airfields, and radio telegraph; educational facilities have been established; a new system of panchayats based on elected councils has replaced the traditional autocracy; a new constitution and a legal code, giving equal rights to all citizens, have been promulgated; land reform has attempted to redress some of the economic inequalities which have persisted for so long. This study examines the effects of these and other recent national innovations on a village community.
However, the static and unchanging nature of western Nepalese society before 1951 must not be overemphasized. It will become evident that change was already taking place at local levels prior to that date, mainly because of increasing pressure of population on land, which appears to have reached its crisis point in the first three decades of this century. Change was also the result of a chronic shortage of cash, needed for paying taxes and purchasing certain essential commodities which had to be imported. Those in a position to obtain cash-particularly the Brahmins, who received it from their clients-were able to become extremely wealthy and powerful. They lent money to members of other castes and took land on mortgage in return; they also bought land in the village. Much of the land which was sold and mortgaged belonged to untouchables, who had only limited access to cash. The latter became progressively poorer and more dependent upon the Brahmins for the wherewithal to make ends meet. The only way out of the vicious circle of indebtedness and landlessness was for untouchables to migrate to India for varying periods in search of unskilled work.
Since 1951, the district capital, very near the village, has expanded, and opportunities to earn cash locally have grown apace. The flow of cash into the district and the village has increased enormously. At the same time, the poorer sections of the village population have benefited from the opening up of a new rice-growing area a short distance south of the district, where grain is obtainable at half the local prices. Many untouchables and members of other castes now depend on obtaining their grain cheaply from this area.
A period in which the untouchables became increasingly dependent upon the Brahmins for cash and grain has therefore been followed by one of new economic opportunities for all castes, and, although the untouchables have not succeeded in raising their overall economic status, they have become increasingly independent of the Brahmins.
This has had important political repercussions. The establishment of an elected council led to bitter factional fighting in the village. At first, the factions followed the lines of an existing cleavage, based largely on high-caste clan affiliation. But soon the leaders of high-caste factions realised the electoral importance of the untouchables, who number half the village population. In recent years, the composition of factions has changed: one faction consists mostly of high-castes, and the other has a largely untouchable membership. It would be an oversimplification to describe this process purely as a change from conflict on "vertical" to conflict on "horizontal" lines, although this is certainly the idiom in which it is phrased in the village. However, there is little doubt that the untouchables would be unable to act against the high castes, had they not achieved a large measure of economic independence.
An important argument which underlies my analysis is that change is not uni-causal; there is no single, independent variable. In order to reach a full understanding of recent events in the village which I call Duari', the relationship between a number of variables-what Beals (1955) terms "interplay among factors of change"-must be examined.
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