(Info) Castes in Bundelkhand

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Bundelkhand

Castes

Castes in Bundelkhand

As in most other parts of India, society in Bundelkhand is stratified by caste. A significant feature of the region is high percentage of population belonging to scheduled castes (SCs).

Brahmins, who traditionally enjoyed highest ritual status, are subdivided in Bundelkhand  mainly as Jajhotias and Kanyakubjas (Kanujias). Both groups are claimed to have come from the ancient city of Kannauj, located along the Ganga in Kanpur division.

'Jajhotia', or Jujhotia, is probably derived from an ancient name for Bundelkhand (see Chandela period).

Traditionally ranked below the Brahmins are groups that claim Rajput and Kshatriya lineage. Also known as Thakurs, their main subdivisions in Bundelkhand include Dikhit, Bais, Bundela, Panwar, Chauhan and Dhundera. Historically Dhunderas and Panwars were linked to Bundelas by marriage ties.

Descended from ruling clans or their allies, Rajputs, or Thakurs, were the biggest landlords of Bundelkhand. According to an 1889 assessment reported in the Jhansi district gazetteer [p 82], they owned around 40% of the land. In 1947, the figure had come down only marginally to 36%; in the same year, Brahmins owned close to 20% of the land in the district.

Vaishyas, who traditionally formed the third-ranking caste group, are subdivided in Bundelkhand as Agarwals, Gahois, Parwars, Agraharis, and other groups.

Traditionally these groups did not own much land; their principal occupations were trading and moneylending. With increased agriculture distress, many moneylenders became large landlords.

Kayasths, traditionally scribes, were also in a good position to acquire land, as they were the first social group to understand the intricacies of the land ownership regime brought into force by the British. Of the 12 traditional subdivisions of Kayasths, Srivastavas form the majority.

All these caste groups, come under the 'general' category of castes and constitute around 10-15% of the rural population of Bundelkhand.

Traditionally ranked below the general category are a large number of groups, often named after their traditional occupation, which come under the other backward class (OBC) category.

Across Bundelkhand, as in most parts of India, OBCs form the largest proportion of the population.

Distribution of social groups among rural households (2002)

District Total rural households % ST % SC % OBC % Other
Mahoba 129304 Neg 28 54 18
Banda 251748 Neg 20 62 17
Chitrakoot 140619 Neg 30 48 21
Datia 101954 2 30 55 13
Chhatarpur 239272 5 28 51 15
Tikamgarh 202947 6 27 59 9
Panna 173469 18 22 42 18
Damoh 218272 14 21 54 10
Sagar 418242 13 21 55 11

Source: 2002 BPL Survey data. Data for other UP Bundelkhand districts incomplete/not available. Percentages derived from absolute figures and rounded off to nearest integer (hence do not total to 100 in all rows). 'Other' includes general category castes and religious minorities. Neg= <1%.

Among major OBC groups in Bundelkhand are Ahirs (Yadavs), traditionally cattle-breeders and milkmen; Gadariyas, who traditionally reared sheep; Koris (weavers), Kurmis (cultivators), Kachis (vegetable cultivators); Lodhis, who were traditionally landowners and cultivators aligned to ruling families; Arakhs, a martial tribe known for its hunting prowess, Telis (oil-pressers), Sonars (goldsmiths), Nais (barbers), Darjis (tailors), Dhobis (washermen) and Kumhars, or potters.

Many OBC households were beneficiaries of post-Independence land reforms and have emerged as a dominant economic and political force.

As in the rest of the country, OBC and SC categorisation varies across MP and UP, and across districts. Dhobis are SCs in UP, but not so in MP, except in three districts. Kumhars are SCs in Chhatarpur, Datia, Panna and Tikamgarh, but not in the rest of Bundelkhand.

Though determined by traditional taboos and prescriptions, the social ranking of caste groups is subject to much change, according to economic and political circumstances.

The case of the Lodhis of Bundelkhand is a good example. In the 19th century they were placed by the British 'lowest among the agricultural castes' in northern India.  In south Bundelkhand, their ranking rose dramatically, following migration to the region and alliance with ruling clans.

However, SCs, scheduled tribes (STs) and other highly marginalised groups considered 'criminals' during British rule continue to be at the bottom of the social and economic ladder.

Courtesy : bundelkhandinfo.org

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