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
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
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