Dalits in India
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Backward Castes

Dalits And Caste System Among Sikhs

As is the case in other non-Hindu commmunities in India, caste prejudices are very much a reality among the Sikhs.

Although the Sikh religion has been anti-caste and has a large constutuency of the dalits who embraced the faith to escape casteism in Punjab, the practice of caste is very much alive in the Sikh community.

Although Sikhism has no place for caste and stresses on the universal brotherhood of all people irrespective of caste, gender, religion and occupation, in the Punjab censuses conducted between 1881 and 1931, over 25 castes were recorded within the Sikh community.

These castes, among others unclude jats, khatris, aroras, ramgarhias, ahluwalias, bhattras, sainis, labanas, lohars, kambohs, mahatam, chhimbas, nais, ramdasias, jheers, mazhbis, and rangretas.

Out of these castes in the sikh community – two agrarian castes (jat and kamboh), two mercantile castes (khatri and arora), four artisan castes (tarkhan, lohar, nai, and chhimba), two out­caste groups (chamar and chuhra), and one distiller (kalal) are considered to form the core of the “caste constituency” of the Sikh panth.

Except the mercantile caste of khatri all other castes including the jats fall in the sudra (artisans) and the ati-shudra (untouchables) categories of the Hindu social order.

In other words, Sikhism has primarily been the religion of the dispossessed and plebeians, but at the same time has been contaminated by it.

The practice of caste has been particularly stiff among the dominant castes of landowning Sikhs in the rural areas of Punjab.

Further, although 95% of the Sikh population are from the low castes, most of them are landless in a community in which power revolves around land.

More than 80% of the agricultural land is owned by the jat Sikhs, while a very large majority of the low caste Sikhs have no land.

According to the 19991 census, the low caste Sikhs own only 4.82 % of the land holdings and 2.34% per cent of total area under cultivation.

Available information indicates that nowhere else in India are dalits untouchables deprived of agricultural land as in Punjab.

As a result, over 60% of Dalit Sikhs have been forced into agricultural labour as a servient, in the process making them subordinate to the landing owning Jat castes.

Caste seclusion of Dalits in Jat villages continues. Dalit houses are located outside the villages and even the land on which their homes are built are considered the property of the Jats. This subdues the dalits in fear of losing their homes if they displease their Jat masters.

The extremely low land share of the dalits is one of the major causes for their struggles and their seclusion from mainline society.

The slightest protest by the dalits for betterment of their living conditions usually leads to the jats imposing total social boycott on them.

NOTE: You can get detailed and extensive information about this aspect of the Dalits, Caste System And Untouchability in our Award Winning eBook 'Truth About Dalits'.

By Kancha Illaiah
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