Caste in the City: The Dynamics of Class-Caste Mobility in Mumbai

Ben Piven
Fulbright Scholar @ the Tata Institute of Social Sciences
July 15, 2008

सBयHव जयA

Table of Contents

List of Terms 5
Introduction 14
Why Mumbai? 16
Chapterization of Objectives 20
Methodology 23
Sample Profile 24
Researcher Bias 33

Chapter I: An Overview of the Caste Phenomenon in India 37
Etymology & Terminology 39
Sociology of a Classificatory System 45
Varna Culture 53
Caste and Ethnicity 63
Ambedkar, Egalitarianism, and the Bahujan Movement 70

Chapter II: Geography of Caste-Class Convergence in Mumbai 81
Koliwada to Kitna Fayda: A Maharashtrian Village Scaled Upwards 82
Residential Segregation 88
Transport, Slums, Literacy, and Density 93
Class-Caste Correlation 101
Urban Space, Social Change, and Critical Theory 105

Chapter III: Caste Relevance in Contemporary Mumbai 110
Marriage & Matrimony 116
Private Sector Access 122
Dalal Street: the Financial Sector 128
MyBoom and the BPO Sector 133
Bollywood: Pop Entertainment Sector 136

Chapter IV: Comparative Analysis of Two Maharashtrian SCs 144
Demographic Assessment 146
Mahar/Neo-Buddhist Summary 152
2001 Census Undercount 160
Matang Summary 175
Upward Mobility 181
Non-Hindu Religions & Caste Uplift 184

Chapter V: Caste and Subaltern Cosmopolitan Identity 197
Comparison with the American Situation 200
Reservation System 204
Affirmative Action and Positive Discrimination 218

Chapter VI: Conclusion 221
10-Point Summary 232

Appendix 239

Interview Form 244

Bibliography 246

Acknowledgments 249

List of Tables, Figures, Images, and Maps 252

List of Terms
Adivasi (आ9दवासी)- The original inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent, generally
considered synonymous with tribals and concentrated in the tribal belts.

Ambedkar, Dr. Bhimrao Ramji (डॊ.भीमराव रामजी आWFडकर)– Indian Constitution author,
political reformer, and Dalit liberation philosopher, who led his Mahar caste of
former Untouchables into Buddhism in 1956. He is fondly referred to as
Babasaheb Ambedkar by those who revere him.

Atishudra (आ9तशYD) - Meaning ati (beyond) shudra (the fourth and lowest varna), this
refers to castes who were below shudras in the traditional Hindu caste hierarchy.

Atrocity – Any act of violence or abuse, either physical or verbal, carried out due to a
perceived caste superiority.

Basti (बLती) - A neighborhood or settlement, either in an urban or rural area, with a
particular caste character (i.e. Matang basti).

Bhangi – The caste of manual scavengers (removers of night soil) from North India that
is highly urbanized in Maharashtra. The Employment of Manual Scavengers and
Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act of 1993 banned the employment
of manual scavengers and outlawed the construction of dry (non-flush) latrines.

Bhangar – The scrap material gathered by Dalit rag pickers that is recycled into
something usable.

BJP (भारतीय जनता पाटR) – The Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People's Party) is the
right-of-center Hindu nationalist party that governed the nation from 1998-
2004 and currently governs in a number of states. Typically, the party takes a firm
stance with regards to Hindu traditions, the perceived Islamic threat, and free
market economics. L.K. Advani, Narendra Modi, and A.B. Vajpayee are some of
the most notable party leaders.

Bombay (बॉIF) – The erstwhile name for the most populous city in India, bestowed on
the city by the Portuguese and rendered Bom Baia, meaning “good bay.” The
financial, commercial, and entertainment capital was formally christened Mumbai
(ostensibly the original pronunciation in Marathi and Gujurati) in 1995. It is now
the world's fourth most populous urban agglomeration.

BPL (Below the Poverty Line) – The threshold in 2008 was deemed to be less than 10
rupees per day per person, which is 300 rupees per month. 300 million Indians
were thus included in this category in 2008. This is equivalent to $84.50 per
year, while the average Indian earns $400 per year.

Brahmin (GाNण) – The highest varna in the traditional Vedic hierarchy, whose roles
include priest, teacher, and scholar. Not to be confused with Brahma (GNा - the
Hindu god of creation) and Brahman (GNन्, GN - ultimate reality).

BSP (बMजन समाज पाटR)- Bahujan Samaj Party, chaired by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister
Mayawati . While considered by many to be “the” Dalit political party, the BSP
has successfully attracted many non-Dalit political factions to the party.

Buddhism (बौE धमV) – The faith established in and around what is currently known as the
Indian state of Bihar by the followers of Siddhartha Gautama in the 5th Century
B.C.E. “Buddha” is best defined as “enlightened one,” and the religion was
arguably more influential in India than Hinduism for the first millennium of its

Caste – A complex unit of Indian society that combines many factors such as occupation,
ethnicity, language, geography, and class. The English term is most closely related
to jati or community but is sometimes incorrectly conflated with varna.

Caste, Lower (also backward or depressed caste) – Any of the diverse castes generally
perceived to rank relatively low on the scale of ritual purity on which Brahmins
are at the top and the former Untouchables are at the bottom. These groups
generally also tend to rank relatively low on the scale of socioeconomic power.
All Scheduled Castes and some OBC castes constitute this group.

Caste, Middle – Any of the diverse castes understood to be in the middle of the caste
hierarchy. In the contemporary period, upwardly mobile OBC castes are would be
said to constitute this group.

Caste, Upper (also forward or higher caste) – Any of the diverse castes generally
perceived to rank relatively high on the scale of ritual purity on which Brahmins
are at the top and the former Untouchables are at the bottom. These groups also
tend to rank relatively high on the scale of socioeconomic power. Brahmins,
Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas would generally be considered to be in this category.

Caste Hindu – A person who belongs to a caste that is part of the four varnas. Thus, the
term is used in contradistinction to Dalit, which denotes a person who is avarna
(without a varna).

Chamar (Chambhar) - Traditionally involved with leather work, they are Maharashtra's
third most numerous Scheduled Caste and India's most numerous SC.

Chokhamela – The 14th century saint and Marathi poet who belonged to the Mahar caste
is widely regarded to have been the first Dalit poet in India.

Congress (भारतीय राK[ीय कO@Sस) – The Indian political party that is currently the chief
member of the United Progressive Alliance's ruling coalition. After having led the
struggle for independence from the British, this party has remained the dominant
political force in India ever since, with few exceptions to the continued strength of
the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. The party's current president is Italian-born Sonia
Gandhi, and the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is the party's leader in
the Rajya Sabha.

Dalit (दिलत) – Meaning “broken” or “held down” in Marathi and Sanskrit, this term
refers to persons formerly considered Untouchables and was popularized by
Ambedkar. A more socio-cultural term than the legally sanctioned “Scheduled
Caste,” the word is also controversially used to refer to persons of non-Hindu
faiths whose ancestors are believed to have been Hindu Untouchables.

Devadasi (Cवदासी) - A religious prostitute whose duty is to serve the deity. In
Maharashtra, Matang women often served this role. Although the state
government recently passed the Anti-Devadasi Bill to protect women from being
exploited for religious purposes, the institution prevails.

Dhor – The Scheduled Caste whose traditional occupation was to skin dead animals.

Dorkhenda – A type of rope traditionally made by Matangs.

Dvija – Any of the three twice-born varnas (Brahmin, Kshatriya, and Vaishya). Any
individual fitting into this category is governed by universal laws of cause/effect
(karma) and is expected to observe his duties (dharma) as he goes through the
proper life-stages (ashrama).

Endogamy – The anthropological terms describing the practice of marrying within one's
social group. In the traditional Hindu village system, almost all jatis were

Exogamy – The practice of marrying outside of one's social group. This was historically
shunned by mainstream Hinduism.

Garbha griha (गभV गZह) - Literally meaning “womb chamber,” this innermost area of the
temple is where the deity's image (murti) resides. While most commonly
associated with Hinduism, both Jain and Buddhist temples have this feature.
Most temples traditionally excluded Untouchables from this space, and some
temples exclude non-Hindu foreigners from the holiest of holies.

Garudi, Mang – This Scheduled Caste is entry #47 on the SC list for Maharashtra and is
generally included with the Mang/Matang caste, which is entry #46.

Gawaki – In the Balutedari system of villages in Maharashtra, this terms describes the

diverse tasks assigned to village menials in exchange for food and other

Gayran – Common grazing land on the outskirts of the traditional village that was often
used by Untouchables for cultivation and raising livestock.

Gotra – Defined as a clan or lineage, literally meaning a herd of cows, it denotes the
progeny of an ancient sage and is generally used by Brahmin castes to indicate
their ancestry. There were traditionally eight rishis from Vedic times who were
considered the primary sources of the gotras.

Grampanchayat – The village-level, self-governing institution.

Halgi – A drum made of a wooden hoop and goat belly traditionally played for spiritual
purposes by the Matang caste in Maharashtra.

Harijan (हरिजन) – Meaning “children of God” (Hari is one name for Vishnu) this term
was employed by Gandhi to describe the Untouchables that he sought to dignify.
The name continued to be used in certain parts of North India but has fallen out of
favor in much of India and considered patronizing. Gandhi established three
newspapers (one each in English, Hindi, and Gujarati) by this name.

Hinduism (सनातन धमV) - One definition defines a Hindu as being one who accepts India
as his fatherland and as his holy land. The faith is generally ascribed to be the
world's third largest, with polytheism, reincarnation, and karma being key facets.
This term was coined by the British, who commenced the debate on the inclusion
of Untouchables as Hindus. The Muslim League, the political manifestation of the
genesis of the Pakistani state, argued that this would artificially increase the
perceived demographic strength of the Hindu majority.

Jajmani – The name given to the system of interdependence that exists in the traditional
Hindu village, by which families exchange labor for pay, protection, and security.
This reciprocal social and economic arrangement became entrenched in the
medieval period.

Jati (जा9त) - Literally meaning “birth,” an endogamous caste which functions as a
community with particular cultural, linguistic, religious, and social practices. With
over 3,000 such groups in India, membership is often communicated by one's
surname. Additionally, most jatis, especially in North India, often belong to a
particular varna.

Kersuni – Type of long broom traditionally made by Matangs.

King Prasenjit – A Buddhist king whose sister-in-law is believed to have been Matang.

Kotwal – Assistant to village-level government revenue officer.

Kshatriya (\9^य) – The second highest varna, this terms denotes warrior status and
belonging to the aristocratic/ruling community of a particular region. The Rajputs,
Khatris, and Jats are some notable jatis that belong to this varna.

Kunbi – An agricultural caste of Maharashtra and of surrounding states that is one of
many Maratha sub-groups. Considered an OBC, the group is one of the more
significant land-owning castes in rural Maharashtra.

LSMS Commission – The Krantiveer Lahuji Matang Samaj Study Commission was
founded in 2005 by Maharashtra's Ministry of Social Justice to assess the overall
development of the Matang caste. The 'Matang report' was the result of the study
conducted by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences for the LSMS Commission.

Mahadeo – A term referring to Siva, the Hindu god of destruction and member of the
triumvirate, whose other deities are Vishnu and Brahma.

Mahar (महार) – The most numerous Scheduled Caste of Maharashtra, a majority of this
community have converted to Buddhism under the aegis of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.
This group is also referred to as neo-Buddhists, and its members have often been
some of the most politically visible Dalits.

Maharashtra (महाराK[) – The Indian state whose capital is Mumbai that has the second
highest population and the third largest area. It is one of the country's most
industrialized and urbanized states, contributing 14.7% of the nation's GDP and
13% of national industrial output. The state's official language is Marathi, and the
state has India's largest populations of Jains, Zoroastrians, and Jews.

Mangwada – The name given to a settlement inhabited predominantly by members of the
Mang/Matang caste (wada denotes neighborhood). They tend to be located on the
outskirts of villages and in slum areas of cities, generally lacking in decent

Manuvadi – Those persons who traditionally believed in the prescriptions of Manu, who
is said to have created the Hindu code of law (canonized in the Manusmriti),
which justifies the practice of Untouchability.

Maratha (मराठा) – The Marathi-speaking people belonging to the Kshatriya caste that has
traditionally dominated rural Maharashtra in terms of political power and size of

Matang (also Mang) – The name of the second most numerous Scheduled Caste in
Maharashtra. While Mang is generally the term used in rural areas, Matang is
considered Sanskritized and is preferred by urbanized communities of this caste.

Mayawati (बहन मायावती) - The current Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh is the leader of
the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and has been instrumental in the upsurge of Dalit
political visibility during her turbulent term of leadership. Her critics accuse her
of insidious corruption, while her followers are intensely loyal to her program of
lower caste upliftment.

Mumbai (मXWबई) – The most populous city in India, as well as its entertainment,
commercial, and financial capital, the urban agglomeration is estimated to be the
fourth largest in the world, after Tokyo, New York City, and Mexico City. Home
to the Bombay Stock Exchange, Reserve Bank of India, and Bollywood (Hindi
film and television industry), the city was officially renamed Mumbai from
Bombay in 1995.

Mutton – In South Asia, this implies goat meat generally, but also used as pseudonym for
beef when an effort is made to disguise consumption of cow products.

NCP (Nationalist Congress Party - राK[वादी कॉU@Sस प\) – Indian political party that
split off from Congress in 1999 over Sonia Gandhi's right, as an Italian-born
woman, to assume leadership.

Neo-Buddhist – The name give to the type of Buddhism embraced by B.R. Ambedkar
and the majority of the Mahar caste after a series of conversions begun in 1956.

Pallan (also Pallar) – Upwardly mobile Scheduled Caste of Tamil Nadu that has been the
victim of caste injustice by certain OBC castes but has also perpetrated some
injustice against other Dalit castes (such as Chakkiliars) that traditionally ranked
lower on the caste hierarchy.

Panchama – The fifth varna, i.e. former Untouchable caste persons who are generally
labeled as Dalits in today's socio-cultural and political parlance.

Pariah (also known as Paraiyar) – One of the most numerous Scheduled Castes in Tamil
Nadu and the source of the English word “pariah” meaning outcast.

Phada - Type of short broom traditionally made by Matangs.

Phule, Jotirao (ज्योतिराव गोविंदराव फुले) – A Maharashtrian social reformer of the 19th
century who founded the Satya Shodhak Samaj (Society of Truth-Seekers,
dedicated to asserting worth of individuals irrespective of caste) and is best
known for his efforts to educate women and lower-caste persons.

Potraj – A traditional Matang religious role in rural Maharashtra that involves cross-
dressing, self-flagellation, drum-beating, dancing and devotion to the Mariai deity
in exchange for money and other gifts.

Prevention of Atrocities Act of 1989 – The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes
Prevention of Atrocities Act of 1989 is a Central government law aimed at
protecting SC and ST persons from atrocities, discrimination, and persecution.
The law prescribes punishments for violations and levels of financial
compensation for victims of caste atrocities.

Protection of Civil Rights Act of 1955 – This Central government law outlawed the
practice of Untouchability and other caste-based discrimination.

Puja (पूजा) – A ritual of Hindu religious observance that demonstrates reverence for a
particular deity or guru.

Pukka – A type of home construction involving materials that are resistant to the elements
such as stone, brick, cement, or other durable materials.

Purskar – The government reward for inter-caste marriages.

Rag-picker – An individual, generally of the Matang or other Scheduled Caste, who
engages in the traditional occupation of sorting through trash for particular types
of fabric or other waste for recycling purposes. This work is typically only
performed in urban areas.

Red-tapeism – Bureaucratic backlog and administrative inefficiency resulting in a loss of
economic productivity.

Reservation, Government Sector Employment – The quota, in percentage terms, of jobs
in the public sector alloted to persons of particular caste groups. The system dates
back to 1950, and each state uses different percentage breakdowns for the
particular caste composition unique to the region. The Central government also
has its own quota breakdown for Central government jobs.

Reservation, Political – The seats in municipal, state, and national government that are set
aside for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe candidates. A fifth of the seats in
the national parliament are reserved for members of the Scheduled Castes.

Reservation, University - The quota, in percentage terms, of university admissions slots
alloted to persons of particular caste groups. As with public sector jobs, the
system dates back to 1950, and each state uses different percentage breakdowns
for the particular caste composition unique to the region. The Central government
uses its own quota breakdown for Central-operated universities.

Ritual purity – The concept of religious sanctity that is ascribed to the uppermost castes,
specifically Brahmins, under the Vedic caste hierarchy. Acts of pollution or
contamination by ritually impure castes were believed to threaten the superior
social status of the priestly elite. Thus, these allegedly impure groups were
considered Untouchable.

Safai karamchari – Often synonymous with sweeper, this is a Hindi term referring to
conservancy and sanitation workers.

Salve, Krantiveer Lahuji – The famous Matang anti-British freedom fighter and
contemporary of Phule.

Samaj (समाज) – A particular society or community defined by particular caste, linguistic,
geographic, or religious traits.

Sanctum sanctorum (see garbha griha)

Sanskritization – Coined by sociologist M.N. Srinivas, this describes the process by
which lower castes attempt to emulate the cultural practices of upper castes in
order to move up the caste hierarchy. It can be considered similar to 'passing' in
anthropological jargon. Assimilation of dietary restrictions and Sanskrit
vocabulary are two primary forms. Srinivas believed that this process could result
in upward mobility for a caste, especially if located towards the middle of the
caste hierarchy.

Sarpanch – The head of the local governing body (grampanchayat).

Sathe, Annabhau – A notable Matang writer of the mid-Twentieth century.

Scheduled Caste (SC) – The classification used by the Indian government to designate
the various castes considered Untouchable under the traditional Hindu caste
system who comprise around 16% of the national population. Their status in the
Constitution of 1950 entitles them to various economic and legal benefits as a
result of their collectively backward status.

Scheduled Tribe (ST) – The classification used by the Indian government to designate the
various tribal groups who comprise around 8% of the national population. They
are listed together in the Constitution in order to provide for adequate legal
framework for their uplift, having been groups that were never integrated into the
traditional Hindu village system and caste hierarchy.

Scheme (also Government Scheme) – Any type of official welfare policy aimed to
promote the uplift of particularly backward social groups.

Shiv Sena (शिव सेना) – The right-of-center political organization headed by Bal
Thackeray that has capitalized on a pro-Marathi and pro-Maharashtra platform for
Mumbai and has more recently has focused on Hindutva. The group has been
pivotal in generating ill will in Mumbai towards, in chronological order, Tamils,
Shettys, Muslims, and most recently, North Indians. However, the anti-North
Indian movement in Mumbai is largely the work of MNS and its leader Raj
Thackeray, Bal Thackeray's nephew. The group continues to draw its inspiration
from the legendary Maratha conqueror Chhatrapati Shivaji.

Shudra (शYD) – The fourth varna in the Vedic hierarchy, this group is composed of
laborers, artisans, and farmers. In many villages, this largest number of jatis
would fit into this group. However, in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Orissa, and
Assam the varna hierarchy did not fully apply. Shudras have largely been
considered Otherwise Backward Classes in most parts of India, although this
correlation is far from uniform. Additionally, 97% of Balinese Hindus are
considered Shudra.

Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) – The state government body that looks after
redevelopment work and slum dweller resettlement programs.

Savarna – see Dvija

Traditional occupation – Any task that historically was performed exclusively by a
particular community, such as toddy-tapping, leather-work, or oil-pressing.

Untouchability – The state of being Untouchable, involving the practice of physical caste
discrimination whereby members are particular lower caste groups were not
permitted to come into various types of contact with members of higher caste

Vaishya (वTJय)- The third highest varna, composed of traders and merchants. Historically,
large-scale business was conducted exclusively by members of this community.
Some specific castes include Chettiar, Gupta, Agarwal, and Bania.

Varna (वणV) – Literally meaning color, any of four broad social groupings described in the
Vedas into which individuals would fall according to their occupation: Brahmin
(priest), Kshatriya (warrior), Vaishya (merchant), and Shudra. Varnashrama
dharma (वणP]म धमV) refers to the system of intertwined class and the stages of
human life.

Vote-bank – A particular community whose votes are considered to be taken for granted
by certain politicians and/or parties given their history of loyalty (i.e. Dalit vote-

Wada (वाडा) - An area of a locale that is predominantly inhabited by a particular

Yeskar – The village sentry or guard in rural Maharashtra, traditionally a member of the
Mahar caste.

Zopadpatti – A typical slum dwelling composed shoddily of corrugated metal, plastic,
and other temporary materials.


My ideal society would be a society based on liberty, equality, and ideal
society should be mobile, should be full of channels for conveying a change taking place
in one part to the other parts.1 - Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar

This report delves into the task of formulating a coherent explanation of
contemporary Mumbai’s relationship with caste as a dynamic characteristic of individual
identity and of membership in broader social groupings. In the commercial, financial, and
entertainment capital of India, has caste become more or less of a significant factor in
determining housing arrangements, employment, and marriage partners? Do its ongoing
manifestations in caste-based socioeconomic class stratification, party politics,
reservation, and endogamy ensure that caste will endure for centuries to come? To what
extent can individuals and caste-groups extricate themselves from their ostensibly
unalterable and permanent station on the caste hierarchy? Do individuals from lower
castes have the opportunity to succeed in Mumbai's most dynamic economic sectors?
The challenge of analyzing the socioeconomic mobility of individuals and of
whole castes over time is supremely multidimensional due to sheer complexity, incessant
social controversy, and conflation of political ideals with concrete reality. Caste
groupings can sometimes be said to have elevated on the socioeconomic class hierarchy
merely when a small number of caste members have achieved significant occupational
and educational progress - decent government jobs and university degrees - or when
ideology becomes so powerful that a whole group psychologically lifts itself out of the
abyss of erstwhile untouchability. However, caste traditions die hard, and Indian culture
is increasingly host to such incomprehensible paradoxes between seemingly outdated
customs and dazzlingly modern innovations and social progress.
Castes themselves consistently express ambivalence towards a system that might
simultaneously: justify their past, present or future dominance; entitle them to multiple
political, occupational, and educational benefits by means of either positive or negative
discrimination; and subject them to various forms of casteism by other castes. Moreover,
From Dr. B.R. Ambedkar's introduction to Writings of Ambedkar, Volume 1

general ambivalence emerges from a practical modern perspective. It is quite reasonable
to see, both theoretically and pragmatically, that the system of caste organization was at
least a partially functional, albeit often horribly unjust, aspect of Hindu village life. Yet
its manifestations in the contemporary urban context have evolved into postmodern
expressions of a rather different arrangement. It is the combination of these multiple and
concurrent truths that makes the caste juggernaut so much of an enigma for an
investigator, who is compelled to abide by Morton Klass' dictum regarding the school of
anthropological eclecticism: “whatever methodological or ideological approach – or
combination of them – allows me the best grasp of the problem at hand.”2
However, perhaps the far-reaching consequences of the caste enterprise can best
be understood by someone not born into the Hindu caste system. Outsider interest in the
question of caste derives from the subject's “ubiquity and strangeness,” according to
sociologist G.S. Ghurye.3 One bizarre aspect worth exploring is the elusiveness of a truly
robust definition of ‘caste,’ thereby comprising a perennially Sisyphean facet of caste
studies. While thoroughly exotic for Western intellectuals who are tantalized by the
idiosyncrasies, mysteries, and relative permanence of the arrangement, the uniqueness of
this Hindu system of caste stratification combines the following factors of sociological
differentiation in varying proportions of one to the other at different times: class,
ethnicity, occupation, language, and geography. Simultaneously, caste involves each and
every one of these five variables, and there are many historical examples of castes that
are very similar in terms of four of these variables but diverged due to a sufficient
difference in a mere single one of them. While some castes can be identified by
pinpointing just a few of these five variables, determining a particular caste might require
at least four in order to ascertain the exact caste in question.
Thus, due to the sheer intricacy of the caste system in general, this paper purports
neither to explain thoroughly the origins of caste nor to articulate the sum-total of current
and future caste relations in India. Moreover, it is beyond the scope of this research to
offer a public policy recommendation for where caste ought to go in the future. This
research has earnestly aimed to avoid political entanglement, but this is hardly possible at
this juncture, due to the enormous stakes involved in any major public study of caste
Klass, p. 3
Ghurye, p. 1

demography or community development. The goal throughout has been to present an
anthropological account of how the system dynamics function but to remain divorced
from any sort of desire to induce planned change.

Why Mumbai?

Mumbai breathes differential relations and is dependent on a highly intricate
system of caste, community, and class interactions that frame most of the economic and
social activities that take part within the geographical confines of this 400-odd year-old
megalopolitan mammoth. Examples of occupational specialization by particular groups
include Mahar dominance in the sanitation department and Palanpuri Jains as the
undisputed kings of the diamond cutting business. Nhavis, Sutars, and Dhobis are still
relatively dominant in hair-cutting, carpentry, and clothes-washing, respectively.
Marwaris and Gujaratis have long been the dominant communities in the finance sector.
And, Muslims with the surname Khan are far and away Bollywood's top clan. While
some of these groups are indeed castes, religious and ethno-linguistic distinctions are so
intertwined with caste that it is often quite impossible to isolate the caste factor in
assessing its relevance in the city.
The leviathan of caste stratification is unique in Mumbai precisely because so
many have decided it should be ignored, forgotten, or swept under the hegemonic rug of
modernity. It is routinely denied, denigrated, and ultimately de-notified4 from the list of
societal phenomena that characterize Mumbai, for good or for ill. Countless Mumbaikars
believe, often at no fault of their own, that caste is a relic, an antique, a fossil of the
distant past, an extinct beast. This is precisely why the role of caste in Mumbai should be
analyzed, debated, and assessed - neither simply to plan the annihilation of caste nor to
promote worship at the altar of caste. However, the geographical footprint of caste in
Mumbai has unfolded over time in such a way that cannot be expressed simply or
quickly, as its manifestations are quickly changing, especially vis-à-vis the village-level
expressions of caste hierarchy, which appear to be as entrenched as ever in many Indian
To be ‘de-notified’ in the Indian context means to be removed or excluded from a list upon
which one was previously notified or included.

The number of castes in Mumbai who mix and mingle, miscegenate and migrate,
is too vast to appreciate fully. To declare definitively how many castes exist in the urban
agglomeration of Mumbai is impossible, but it is estimated that there are between three
thousand and six thousand castes in all of India. This would imply that some several
thousand castes and sub-castes are present in Mumbai. Perhaps it would not have been
completely impractical to count up the castes of Mumbai if the Census of India had not
discontinued its caste-based enumeration after 1931.5 These days, the Census only
conducts thorough local-level analysis of the Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe
(ST) communities, leaving the exact demographics of the other three quarters of India's
population largely to guesswork.6 Thus, for example, one cannot say definitively how
many Brahmins are present in Mumbai, much less in all of India. Moreover, there are no
statistics on the population of Teli (oil-pressers) or Sonar (goldsmiths) in Mumbai, and
definitely not for the whole state of Maharashtra.7
All Indian cities, including Mumbai, publish comprehensive Census information
on mother tongue, sex ratio, and religious composition; so, why would a caste
distribution be so impossible to estimate, at least within a few thousand here or there?
Due to the abandonment of the caste-based census over 75 years ago, enumeration of
each and every caste is not a 21st century reality. Barring re-adoption of this method of
conducting the census, such caste-based cartographic articulation of urban geography is
not feasible at this time. Because there are likely close to 2,000 castes in Mumbai alone,
conducting a sample survey of the city's thorough caste geography is far beyond the
scope of this research.

R.B. Bhagat, Professor of Demography at the International Institute for Population Sciences, said
that some demographers suggest that the reinstitution of the caste-based census might be the best
way to clarify who is entitled to what under the jati-based reservation system. Caste Census:
Looking Back, Looking Forward by R.B. Bhagat in Economic and Political Weekly May 26, 2007
The National Sample Survey's category statistics on the segmentation of Indian society into SC,
ST, OBC, etc will be addressed in the pages below. While the National Sample Survey includes
these broad caste categories in its inquiries, its findings are based on state-wide samples rather
than extensive enumeration as in the Census.
These types of statistics do indeed exist for the SC and ST communities and will be discussed in
greater depth in the context of a comparative analysis of the Maharashtrian SC communities.

Image 7: Washermen (mostly Dhobi caste) cleaning clothes at Mahalaxmi's Dhobi Ghat

Consequently, to digest this beast of caste dynamics in India's largest metropolis,
one must acknowledge the task's dimensions. The caste system is an elephant - an alive,
panting, roaring, foaming, and sighing, galloping pachyderm. As the scope is narrowed to
Mumbai, the features must be contextualized in the current expressions of caste and its
multiple avatars within the rapidly changing economic and social climate of India's most
metro of metro, the most cosmo of cosmos. The maya nagari8 is the eternally touted
Island City where rags-to-riches tales are deeply ingrained in the urban fabric. The
sophisticated and overcrowded polity is now the world's fourth largest urban
agglomeration. Does this distinction imply that the city has progressed beyond the
quondam caste hierarchy of rural India?
Many questions will be addressed in the pages below. One involves whether caste
is still relevant in determining occupations ranging from ear-wax remover to toddy-
tapper. Are Brahmins still largely concentrated in promulgating knowledge in academia,
media, religion, law, and politics? Do Kshatriyas still dominate the police, military, and
land-owning classes? Are Vaishyas the most avid capitalists and entrepreneurs? Have the
various Shudra castes in Mumbai held on to their particular crafts and labors? In the
urban core of India, are the former Untouchables still manual scavengers, crematorium
workers, tanners, and rag-pickers? These questions will be addressed in the text, tables,
maps, and photographs below.
Regardless of the unfeasibility of some of the project's original aims of
articulating the sum-total of Mumbai's caste geography, the goals of this project stand to
characterize the cultural geography of a system that, while very much prominent in rural
areas, is typically argued to be merely a latent feature of life in Mumbai. On the one
hand, the recent history of socioeconomic mobility is fraught with a innumerable
examples of atrocious casteism, particularly in the villages of the more backward regions
of India. But, assessing caste injustice in Mumbai cannot be limited to a single city map
of where atrocities have taken place.
As retired high-ranking Indian Administrative Service Officer Nanak Ramteke
says, “You won’t find that in Mumbai...I did not find a single incident of overt caste

This phrase best translates to “city of dreams,” in the sense of Mumbai being a place where
migrants flock in reaching for the stars and subsequently meet with both illusory and concrete

discrimination in Mumbai, because it's so speedy, busy, and people don't bring it into the
open.” Ramteke, himself a member of the Mahar Scheduled Caste, recounts three
examples of heinous acts of casteism perpetrated against him in his native village prior to
his migration to Mumbai in 1974. One involved a servant woman from a Scheduled Tribe
yelling caste-based obscenities at him. Another was a Dhiwar fisher-caste man who
refused to serve him water on the basis of his caste. The third was in 1950, when a village
Patil burned a cot after his having touched it. “Nowadays, that Patil's grandchildren go
out to dinner with us!” said Ramteke, whose own grandfather used to utter the obligatory
Johar-Maybap-Johar to show his obedience to his caste superiors. “But in trains,
cinemas, hotels, bazaars, caste just is not there in Mumbai.” Yet, Untouchability in the
public sphere has taken on much more subtle and intangible dimensions, such that
casteism is manifest these days in its psychological, ideological, and economic avatars.

Chapterization of Objectives

Chapter I: To provide some historical background on the multiple enigmas of caste, as
there is exponentially increasing change upon an arrangement that has persisted in
various forms for some 3,000 years.

Chapter II: To shed cartographic light on the geographical scenario of the caste-class
overlap in Mumbai, which is the commercial, financial, and entertainment capital of
India, as well as India’s largest urban agglomeration. As the city absorbs a range of
globalizing, modernizing forces, it is necessary to assess demographic composition,
population density, illiteracy, and residential segregation.

Chapter III: To analyze the relevance of caste in contemporary Mumbai in the following
contexts: three private sector employment sectors (finance, entertainment, and BPO9);
and matrimonial practices.

Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) is a rapidly growing industry in India and includes call
centers, billing, purchasing, marketing, tech support, back office/front office, and other general
third party off-shoring. India has expected revenues of $10.9 billion USD for FY 2008 just from
offshore. Newsline Issue No. 75, January, 2008

Chapter IV: To conduct a comparative analysis of Maharashtra’s two most numerous
Scheduled Castes (Mahar/neo-Buddhists and Mang/Matang) in the context of
metropolitan Mumbai, with a focus on their differential experiences with socioeconomic
mobility. This chapter also delves into how caste distinctions and the uplift of Scheduled
Castes impacts upon various non-Hindu faiths.

Chapter V: To connect the caste factor to a more universal subaltern identity by
illustrating some parallels with the subaltern American experience, especially with
regards to reservation quotas, positive discrimination, social justice, and the interplay of
caste and race.

Chapter VI: To summarize the lingering impact of caste affiliation on Mumbai with a
focus and the broader ramifications of caste identity.

Upon conveying a robust account of caste and its place in modern Indian society,
it is expected that certain questions will remain unanswered. These puzzles feed into the
more specific areas of inquiry in the subsequent chapters of the report. The assessment of
socioeconomic status in relation to geographic features of the city and cartographic
distribution are integral to the in-depth exploration of Chapter II. Moreover, the emphasis
on the contemporary period implies a focus on the manifestations of caste unique to
Mumbai at this juncture - in addition to an articulation of how much caste matters today.
To what extent, both at present and in the future, does caste determine where people live
(Chapter II), what jobs they take, and whom they marry? (Chapter III). With special
attention paid to the variable of time in adopting a more historical perspective, this paper
uses quantitative and qualitative data to illustrate mobility or lack thereof already
achieved and the resultant development level attained by particular communities (Chapter
IV). Does reverse discrimination against forward castes via reservation policy
overshadow the negative casteism experienced by the backward castes? How do these
dynamics function in relation to particular national and international norms? (Chapter V).
In assessing how divisions along caste lines will impact future allocation of

socioeconomic resources, there is a growing debate on the normative, empirical, and
practical consequences of a political economy organized along caste lines (Chapter VI).
Extremely underprivileged economic status, overly rigid social stratification, and
the practice of Untouchability are the ills that are usually attributed to the caste system, as
it has been evaluated by its critics. Even so, a Western-style class partitioning might
explain socioeconomic divisions in contemporary Mumbai better than the traditional
Indian caste system. And, this form of class, rather than caste, stratification is arguably
much more relevant to the city’s burgeoning financial, BPO, and entertainment industries,
considering that traditional caste-based occupations have decreasing relevance in
Mumbai. But, to what extent does class position mirror traditional caste rank? Does the
ostensibly meritocratic method of determining occupation actually pan out in a perfectly
just fashion, or is this a quintessentially Panglossian truth?
In contradistinction to other geographical locales, how does Mumbai function as a
zone of neutral or prejudiced caste attitudes? This report’s discussion of caste identity,
upward mobility, labor market flexibility, and inter-caste relations aims to be a wide-
ranging sociological inquiry into the disparity between the dynamism of the cosmopolitan
urban environs and the contrasting interactions that take place in the zones of relative
caste conservatism outside of the metropolitan regions. While there are undoubtedly
lingering cultural and social markers of caste stratification, this research probes into
whether the old hierarchy faces decreasing relevance on the frenetic floor of the Bombay
Stock Exchange, in the climate-controlled cubicles of call centers, and on the sets of
Bollywood feature films.


The above-mentioned questions about caste led to the decision to undertake both
qualitative and quantitative levels of analysis in this study. The statistical,
mathematically-based analyses arise from the fieldwork conducted, as well as from
demographic data accumulated from various sources. The vast difference between the
quantitative and qualitative types of data makes for a holistic overall impression of caste
in the city, as optimal social science requires that the two be complimentary rather than
contradictory in evaluating the issues at hand.
In this report, the primary data comes from several different sources. Firstly, the
fieldwork forms are the most significant of the primary data sources. These sample
surveys (included in full in the Appendix) are the result of subject interviews by a team of
fieldwork investigators in either of two locale types, which are described below in more
depth. Some of the initial interviews were translated on-the-spot from Marathi to English
to enable the survey to be completed, while basic Hindi knowledge (on the part of the one
non-Indian investigator) was generally sufficient enough to complete the form. Over half
of the interviews (51.8%) were conducted by investigators who were fluent in English,
Hindi, and Marathi. In addition to the the fieldwork, further primary qualitative data
comes from in-depth interviews of individuals who were deemed to be exceptionally
knowledgeable on the issues at hand – mostly persons involved in relevant cultural and
political pursuits. Included in this category are academic experts, social activists,
newspaper editors, government officials, and corporate executives. Moreover, informal
caste discussions with a vast range of Mumbaikars informed the production of this report.
These discussions were with lay-people and professionals, young and old, male and
female, forward caste and backward caste. Also, the seemingly unrelated observations of
countless non-academic individuals indubitably added to the perspective of this report.
In terms of secondary data, this research draws on several different sources.
Various media that were used include newspapers and periodicals from both India and
and abroad. Notably, The Times of India, Wall Street Journal, The Economist, Tehelka,
BBC News Online, and Dalit Voice were the most common sources of this sort. Next, a
comprehensive literature review formed the scholarly basis for the analysis conducted

herein. Some of the academic figures that were particularly influential in the formation of
the perspectives generated were M.N. Srinivas, Gail Omvedt, Debjani Ganguly, and
Oliver Mendelsohn. These authors in particular provided this research with proper
academic footing in a field where dry ground can rather quickly turn to quicksand. It is
impossible to understate the number of half-truths that were dispelled by thorough review
of the literature at hand dealing with caste, class, and urban sociology issues in India.
Next, a key component of this research is the demographic, cartographic, and
other statistical information that was pooled together from the Census of India and the
National Sample Survey. Additionally, the Study on the Socio-Economic, Educational,
and Cultural Development of the Matang Samaj in Maharashtra produced by the Center
for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy (CSEIP) at the Tata Institute of
Social Sciences (towards which this author contributed much analytical writing and
editorial support and hereafter referred to as the 'Matang report') was a significant source
of secondary data. Countless map collections, such as the Scheduled Caste Atlas of 1991
and Mumbai – Presentation of Thematic Maps on 2001 Census Data at the Section Level
were also important sources of information. Photography of cityscapes, diverse
occupational situations, and human interactions was also an integral part of the data
collection process. As the research methods employed in this report were fairly diverse,
each method was used to provide information for a slightly different aspect of the project.

Sample Profile

The sample size used for the fieldwork portion of this project was 517 individuals.
This quantity of respondents was deemed sufficient to gain proper understanding,
qualitatively and statistically, of the populations in question. This project’s fieldwork was
conducted with questionnaires filled out exclusively in Mumbai by Indian citizens who
are currently residing in the urban agglomeration of Mumbai. While the respondents were
of a wide range of caste backgrounds, almost half belong to Scheduled Castes. The
emphasis throughout the fieldwork was on the types of geographic locale and how
perceptions of caste identity might vary in different nodes of the city. The fieldwork was
conducted in two types of settings: low-income, predominantly Scheduled Caste

neighborhoods and in/around workplaces in the three selected private sector industries
(finance, BPO, and entertainment).

Table 1: Fieldwork Sites
Site # Locale Respondents % of sample
Low-income Neighborhood
1 Ambedkar Nagar, Chembur 15 2.9
2 Mogarapada, Andheri East 20 3.9
3 Annabhau Sathe Nagar,
20 3.9
4 BDD Chawl, Worli 15 2.9
5 Bharat Nagar, Bandra East 22 4.3
7 Buddha Colony, Kurla 20 3.9
8 Dharavi 58 11.3
12 Labour Camp, Matunga 23 4.4
14 Mahalaxmi Railway Station 20 3.9
16 Malwani Camp, Malad West 21 4.1
17 Matang Rishi Nagar, Mankhurd 19 3.7
20 Ramabai Colony, Ghatkopar 15 2.9
21 Santosh Nagar, Santa Cruz East 20 3.9
22 Shivaji Nagar, Govandi 18 3.5
23 Vadala East Police Station 19 3.7
Sub-Total 325 62.9

Private Sector Workplace
6 Bombay Stock Exchange, Fort 40 7.7
9 Film City, Goregaon East 20 3.9
10 Godrej-Boyce Complex,
20 3.9
11 Kamal Amrohi Studios,
11 2.1
Jogeshwari East
13 Logitech Park, Andheri East 20 3.9
15 Mahindra, Worli 20 3.9
18 Mehboob Studios, Bandra West 20 3.9
19 Mindspace, Malad West 20 3.9
24 Zee TV, Worli 21 4.1
Sub-Total 192 37.1
Total 517 100.0

Particular fieldwork sites were picked for their suitability due to a number of
reasons. Most important was the diversity of location. It was imperative to select locales

Map 1

in a wide range of Mumbai neighborhoods. To ensure that the attitudes revealed in the
interviews were not limited to a particular section of the city, Suburban and City locales
were picked for their heterogeneity. Access was the first concern, and with the private
sector work environments, it was often necessary to avail permission from inside
contacts. Regardless, private sector employees were always most interested in being
interviewed during smoke or lunch breaks. It seems to be universally true that
respondents are more open to share information in such settings. While respondents were
largely picked at random, those who appeared eager to interact were certainly prioritized.
A majority of those solicited for an interview agreed to participate. In the event
that it was not possible to interview employees in actual offices, smoking areas, or
cafeteria/canteen, then respondents were often interviewed around the entrance to the
work facility. Even within each locale, a mix of respondents were chosen such that there
would be a range of education, income, and caste levels. Within the film studios
particularly, there was a concerted effort to interview both white-collar and blue-collar
employees therein.

Table 2: Employment Sector
Sector Frequency Percent
Finance 51 9.9
Entertainment 64 12.4
BPO 42 8.1
Other Sector 316 61.1
Not employed 44 8.5
Total 517 100.0

The initial target had been to include around 50 respondents from each of the
three key employment sectors in the study. As mentioned previously, these three sectors
were seen to be some of the most dynamic and rapidly growing of the many facets of
Mumbai's economy. Therefore, it was a major goal of the project to find out the level of
participation by lower castes in these work environments, which historically seemed to
have the lower strata of Indian society involved only as office peons or spot boys. Over
60% of the respondents were employed in some other sector of the economy, and 8.5%
were either unemployed, students, or house-wives.

Figure 1

Figure 1 above shows the category breakdown of the sample, which ended up
being close to the goal of having half of the total respondents from the Scheduled Castes.
These are the categories used to determine eligibility for reservation as per the
classifications created by the Constitution of 1950, even if the categories do vary rather
significantly from state to state. Respondents were asked to report their category in the
state of Maharashtra, but in some cases (especially migrant workers), they reported their
category in their home state. While persons in the open-general category cannot avail of
the reservation benefits,10 Otherwise Backward Class (OBC), Scheduled Tribe (ST), and
Scheduled Caste (SC) persons are entitled to various government perks. Greater Mumbai
is approximately 9% SC,11 and so SCs are well over-represented in this study, since it is
their experience with caste that has appeared most noteworthy. Although the primary

The notion of an open-general category is directly tied the reservation system but also loosely
correlates with the group of forward castes. Low-income persons in this category can indeed avail
of certain reservations in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. In addition, persons with physical,
auditory, and visual disabilities, as well as Kashmiri migrants, are eligible for reservations as
such, even if they would generally be considered to be open-general individuals.
According to the 2001 Census, SCs are only 4.88% of the city. However, as per the analysis of
the 2001 Census undercount contained in Chapter IV below, it was determined that the SC%
approaches 9%.

focus was on the SC experience, it was sometimes thought an even more diverse range of
castes (perhaps fewer Mahar Buddhists) would have been beneficial for improving the
diversity of opinions gathered.

Table 3: Age
Age Quantity Percent
Under 18 5 1.0
19 to 30 267 51.6
31 to 45 196 37.9
46 to 60 39 7.5
Above 61 10 1.9
Total 517 100.0

The age breakdown of the sample is a function of the median age in India (25), as
well as the ease of relatively young fieldwork investigators interviewing respondents of
comparable age. Communication was generally seen to be easiest with respondents in the
19 to 30 and 31 to 45 age categories.

Table 4: Sex Ratio
Gender Quantity Percent
Male 405 78.3
Female 112 21.7
Total 517 100.0

As for the gender breakdown of the sample, it is actually rather regrettable that a
larger female sample was not interviewed in the study. There were significant efforts
made to increase the number of females reached. However, with predominantly male
fieldwork investigators, it ended up being exceedingly difficult to ensure that gender
balance was achieved. This imbalance reflects the reality of gender even in contemporary
urban India, in which it is sometimes viewed as questionable if females are interacting in
public with a male stranger.

Table 5: Religious Composition

Religion Quantity Percent
Buddhist 141 27.3
Christian 27 5.2
Hindu 277 53.6
Jain 6 1.2
Muslim 65 12.6
Sikh 1 .2
Total 517 100.0

In terms of the religious breakdown of the survey respondents, there are a
disproportionately high number of Buddhists, due to the fact that the predominantly
Buddhist caste of Mahars was a major focus of the study. The Muslim respondents were
clustered in the entertainment industry and the low-income neighborhoods. Christian
respondents were quite numerous in the BPO workplaces.

Table 6: Area Type and Caste Rank Crosstabulation
Caste Rank

Area Type 1 2 3 4 5 Total

243 49 27 5 1 325

74.8% 15.1% 8.3% 1.5% .3% 100.0%

Private Sector Workplace 5 7 26 114 40 192

2.6% 3.6% 13.5% 59.4% 20.8% 100.0%

Total 248 56 53 119 41 517
48.0% 10.8% 10.3% 23.0% 7.9% 100.0%

Caste rank was a major component of this study. The complete list of castes and
their respective rank is included in the Appendix. The methodology of caste ranking was
rather straightforward but also involved some assignments based on supposed socio-
cultural status levels. All Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe persons were ranked 1.
OBC persons were split between 2 and 3 depending on whether their group was seen as
being relatively more or less backward, respectively. All non-Brahmin forward castes
were ranked at 4, and all Brahmins were ranked at 5. Non-Hindu persons, especially
Muslims and Christians, were sometimes difficult to categorize. While Pathan Muslims,

Khan Muslims, and Syrian Christians, for example, were ranked as 4, those non-Hindus
with OBC status were placed into 2 or 3 based on the socio-cultural relative status of their
particular group. This caste rank system thus replicates rankings that emerge from the
traditional Hindu village scale, as defined both objectively and with some judgments by
the researcher. Thus, this system of ordering the castes attempted to duplicate ordering of
the conventional varna hierarchy.
As for the caste breakdown by area type, there is an inverse relationship between
the two types. Undoubtedly, of respondents found in the predominantly Dalit
neighborhoods, very few (1.8%) were forward caste persons of caste rank 4 or 5. This
amounts to just six forward caste respondents. Conversely, very few persons of low caste
rank were found at these private sector work sites. Just 2.6% of respondents interviewed
at that area type were of caste rank 1. Thus, 80.2% were of caste rank 4 or 5. While this is
by no means a statistically sound way of determining the respective representation of
these groups in these particular locales, more will be discussed on this later in the report.
In the predominantly Dalit bastis, an effort was made to interview a broad
sampling of people both residing in the area and visiting. While the focus undoubtedly
was on the Dalit community, there was a definite interest in the caste perspectives of all
the inhabitants. An attempt was made to have the sample diversified as far as gender,
caste, and class. As for the private sector job sites, most of the interviews were conducted
on the premises of the particular industry or company. While persons actually employed
in the industry were preferred, other visiting individuals were also included who were not
directly employed in the industry. Generally, the goal was to gain insight on two extreme
ends of the caste spectrum. This particular variety of individuals was sought to provide a
broader perspective on caste in Mumbai.
The percentage who were employed in the three key parts of the private sector
were thus intended to shed light on what were viewed as the three most dynamic aspects
of the Mumbai economy. In these environments, the goal was to establish the importance
of caste affiliation. Do the results confirm the notion of caste being like a private club?
As anti-caste crusaders allege, are dominant castes akin to an old-boy network, which
employs increasingly modern methods of controlling Indian society through
discriminatory hiring, marriage alliances, and urban, privatized economic machinery?

Table 7: Socioeconomic Class

Socio-economic Class Quantity Percent
High 7 1.4
Upper-Middle 48 9.3
Middle 201 38.9
Lower-Middle 189 36.6
Low 62 12.0
N/A 10 1.9
Total 517 100.0

These classes are a function of self-reported class identity. Although there is a
tendency across the board to characterize oneself as belonging to the beloved middle-
class, there was generally a candid response on the socioeconomic class question. Some
of the less educated respondents could not identify their class and required significant
information about the classifications. The inspiration for this survey question was a
passage in The Untouchables that explained the five classes of the Indian population on
the basis of income quintiles: Low (58.5%), Lower Middle (25.4%), Middle (10.4%),
Upper Middle (3.7%), and High (2%).12 Thus, it is clear that this project targeted a
disproportionate number of Lower-Middle, Middle, and Upper-Middle class persons.

Table 8: Political Preference

Political Party Quantity Percent
No Political Preference 219 42.4
Bhartiya Bahujan Mahasangha 1 .2
Bhartiya Janata Party 22 4.3
Bahujan Samaj Party 67 13.0
Indian National Congress 104 20.1
Community Party of India - (Marxist) 1 .2
Maharashtra Navriman Sena 9 1.7
National Congress Party 6 1.2
Rashtriya Janata Dal 1 .2
Republican Party of India 51 9.9
Samajwadi Party 4 .8
Shivaji Sena 27 5.2
Youth Congress 5 1.0
Total 517 100.0

Mendelsohn, p. 33

While more on political divisions will be discussed below, this is an introduction
to the political breakdown that exists in the sample. Over two-fifths of the respondents
did not have a political preference which included 52.1% of those interviewed at the
private sector workplaces. On the other hand, 36.6% of those interviewed in the low-
income neighborhoods did not have a favorite political party. Regardless, there was
widespread disaffection towards the political process and a general feeling that
corruption, dishonesty, and gridlock are the mainstays of the political universe. The
ongoing reality of Indian politics is that the poor constitute the vast majority of voters and
that patron-client politics encourages politicians to engage in pay-to-play relationships -
such that much of the educated, urban middle class is wholeheartedly turned off by the
current political atmosphere.

Researcher Bias

In the process of investigating the phenomenon of caste, one major
methodological and moral challenge faced in this research was how to adopt a pragmatic
and ideologically dispassionate attitude vis-à-vis the potential entrenchment of various
forms of stratification. The key was avoiding the pitfalls of moral relativism, all the while
maintaining the polite distance required of a foreigner digging up the latent truths of
Mumbai's caste dynamics. The goal throughout was to be able to illustrate the realities,
both positive and negative, of the existing stratificatory scheme. The constant juggling act
necessitated siding with neither the caste functionalists, caste deniers, nor the class/caste
conflict theorists, who continuously exchange impassioned perspectives regarding the
alleged usefulness, irrelevance, or viciousness, respectively, of the caste enterprise. Also,
both extremes of partiality were difficult to digest: “the abstract, ideological stance of
militants and revolutionaries,” as well as the excessively politically correct musings of
bureaucrats and executives.13
The framework of caste dynamics in Mumbai is today couched in terms of which
groups possess genuine financial, cultural, and political capital. Irrespective of whether

Ganguly, p. 178

the current distribution of resources is just, one of the broader aims of this project is to
describe how caste might play a role in this allocation. Yet, simply broaching the subject
often suggests that one seeks to alter in some fashion the current caste-wise distribution
of resources. It is difficult to divorce oneself from any stake in this uber-political
jockeying, when choice of vocabulary, examples, and tone could imply one's biases. The
language itself is suggest of political intentions and the position that one has taken in the
cultural battle, especially with regards to the reservation issue, which is the single most
explosive subject for which caste is the pivotal factor.
Moreover, regarding some of the most important aspects of the project, certain
interview responses had to be converted from qualitative into quantitative answers, given
a cultural gulf that was not fully appreciated prior to conducting the fieldwork. The
difficulty therein resulted from the difference in the way that Americans understand
numerical rating systems and how fieldwork respondents could not quite convert their
judgments on the intensity of caste relevance into an integer between one and ten.14 Thus,
some of the key statistics that emerge in this report were based on a method of inferring a
numerical answer based on the respondents' descriptive responses. This data on caste
relevance is presented in Chapters II and III. The decision to use 1 to 10 rankings was
influenced by the American cultural inclination to view things on such a spectrum, even
if Indians were not highly adept at adapting to this different model of ascribing
importance or lack thereof to something. On the survey, simple yes/no questions were
used when it was thought that a straightforward, albeit somewhat reductionist question
was the best way to elicit a quantitatively useful response.
So as not simply to impose caste preconceptions upon the research subjects, this
study attempted throughout to pose questions in an even-handed way. Prior to conducting
the fieldwork stage of this project, it was supposed that, of the three key areas of caste
relevance being examined (housing, work, and marriage), the most strongly caste-
influenced would be matrimonials. It seemed initially to be the only category in which
jati affiliation was the dominant trait used in determining sufficiently suitable or potential
marriage partners. As for employment, it was predicted that various other communities

It is observed that Americans often rank performance, affinity, and intensity on this type of
scale, which Indians generally do not employ when assessing the relative importance of a
particular issue in question.

(such as the mercantile groups), formed by ethno-linguistic networks focusing on
language, geographical origin, and family networks rather than jati, were more pervasive
in determining the extent of employment opportunities. Yet this hypothesis needed to be
tested in the context of the particular employment spaces being analyzed. Next, as for the
residential arrangements, it seemed that linguistic, religious, and class divisions could be
far more important than caste in determining neighborhood composition and residential
location. This too needed to be assessed, using the data provided by fieldwork surveys
and other ward-wise local demographic indicators.
It must be clarified once again that caste is a highly sensitive political issue in
contemporary India. Can it be assumed that caste is a subject mainly broached by those
for whom it is viewed as an ongoing stigma? Might mention of the subject itself indicate
one's caste position? Is the politics of caste a zero-sum game that results in Machiavellian
actors carrying out strictly what is best for their communities and constituencies? It is
crucial to note the political and social touchiness of the caste issue in order to emphasize
that value-free assessment of caste issues is exceedingly difficult. Judging the relevance
of particular manifestations of caste is loaded with normative suppositions about what is
best for Indian society. What assumptions should be made with regards to the potential
bias of author? As a relatively educated Westerner, is it more natural to identify with the
plight of the upper castes? Would it be surprising if more affluent, Westernized subjects
are easier to empathize with, given that their social attitudes, cosmopolitan perspectives,
and even physical features could be seen as being relatively more Western? Which
perspectives were most easily accessible as an interested Western outsider?
Or conversely, it is that much more feasible to take a neutral stance and decide
conclusively that the upper-caste dominance of economic resources is either justified,
oppressive, or neither? How does one maintain the moral objectivity to ascertain whether
low-caste suffering is shameful, dutiful, natural, or immoral? As an outsider, perhaps
there is rebel chic to be availed in taking up the case of the downtrodden and faulting the
flawed, indigenous social system, by applying an Orientalist 'white man's burden'
philosophy to the Indological issues. Outside researchers with no obvious direct stake in
the outcome of the debate on reservation, backwardness, and caste bring a potentially
even-handed set of analytical tools to the table. This problematic was even encountered

during the course of the Fieldwork, as countless respondents demanded to know: Apko
fayda kya hai? Mujhe fayda kya hoga?15
So, the caste debate is loaded with assumptions about the goals of studying this
ancient marker of human difference. This study aims to maintain a scholarly perspective
by avoiding purely normative claims about future of caste, class, and socioeconomic
mobility – though this is most definitely a tall order.
Additionally, it is crucial to reiterate that proposing long-term public policy
solutions to the types of social and political problems addressed herein are beyond the
scope of this paper. While striving to provide profound insights on Indian cultural
geography, sociology, and urban modernity, the project's supreme goal is to assess certain
key aspects of the caste/class nexus in Mumbai, India’s commercial, financial, and
entertainment capital.

“What do you stand to gain from this? How does this benefit me?” were common questions
posed by respondents during the course of filling out survey forms. There was often the
expectation that some material benefit should be incurred by either the respondent himself or by
the respondent's community. It was also a common assumption that some government agency,
either Indian or foreign, had some role in the study. Additionally, there was often confusion about
why a Western researcher would ever take an interest in such issues of caste and class in
contemporary Mumbai.

Chapter I – Overview of the Caste Phenomenon
India is known around the world for many things: the Taj Mahal, curry, call centers,
arranged marriage, Rajasthan and the caste system, to name a few.16

To provide some general background on what is known to English speakers as the
'caste system,' it is necessary to cite a wide range of scholarly literature, as well as
anecdotal evidence. The analysis and summary of caste that follows in this chapter is
informed by Caste in India, The Untouchables, and Caste, Colonialism, and Counter-
Modernity, as well as a host of other works.
The contemporary nation-state of India is defined by astounding mega-diversity.
This renders the Indian entity more like the whole of European Union rather than a sole
country in terms of its linguistic, historical, and cultural range. The mere existence of the
caste enterprise perhaps allows social scientists to make a bit more sense of the massive
scale upon which the various Indian social groups interact with one another. On the one
hand, identified as “possibly the world's ugliest social system,” the caste enterprise is
officially sanctioned by the world 3rd most popular religion: Hinduism.17 According to
one section of the Laws of Manu, lower-caste people who make the mistake of
mentioning the name of a higher caste should have red-hot iron thrust into their mouths.
A hot oil bath is the punishment for commanding a Brahmin how to act. The scriptures
also mandated cutting the tongue and inserting molten lead into the ears of a Shudra who
recites and/or hears the Vedas.
“Throughout modern India, public and political discourse about caste is
dominated by the perceived illegitimacy of the 'traditional' caste hierarchy and by the
need to overcome the effects of persisting caste inequality,” argues Dirks. This statement
from Castes of Mind reflects a typically Nehruvian unease about the role of caste in the
Indian nation-state. Does caste equal casteism? Ambedkar is one historical figure who
largely equated the two, as he sought radical social reform and a cultural revolution
against religiously prescribed traditions.
The South Asian caste system has permeated all of the areas that were

March 28, 2008, International Herald Tribune Globespotters Blog by Anand Giridharadas
Untouchable and Unthinkable, The Economist, October 4th, 2007

traditionally within the Hindu sphere of influence and that persist in partially determining
almost 1.5 billion people’s roles in their respective societies, even where Islam or other
faiths are currently dominant, in Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, among
other nations, including Indonesia, Mauritius, and Trinidad. Nearly one quarter of world’s
population could be classified according to some sort of original caste within this system.
Yet, in addition to the Hindu caste system, there are traditional caste systems that have
existed with varying intensities in feudal Europe, Japan, Korea, China, Hawaii, Latin
America, and in many African societies, including in Mali, Senegal, Nigeria (the Igbo's
osu system), Algeria, Rwanda (the ubuhake system), Ethiopia, and Somalia. India is
clearly not alone among the nations in having had a ranked ordering of social groups, but
perhaps India's version of caste is the most immortal. The fact that India's caste system is
the most notorious might imply that it is the most undying, but it is also evident that caste
manifestations in these other civilizations have shifted into a host of racial, ethnic, and
class distinctions, which will be addressed in greater depth in Chapters II and V below.
Mumbai represents the convergence of South Asia’s demographic and cultural
strains in one ultra-dense megalopolis, but it is first necessary to explore the history of
caste prior to narrowing in on the geographic confines of this paper. The French
sociologist Louis Dumont saw India as being characterized at heart by homo
hierarchicus, rather than the esteemed homo aequalis of the European continent.
Dumont's view of the differential Indian means of social stratification is therefore subject
to proper evaluation. Caste's historical roots will be explored and assessed based on
analysis of anthropological, sociological theories about the evolution of a uniquely Indian
form of occupational division of both labor and of laborers. As the ostensibly occupation-
based categories eventually hardened to become hereditary, today's caste hierarchy is the
result of an ancient process of integration, assimilation, exclusion, and rejection.

Map 2: India's States and Union Territories, courtesy of Maps of India

Etymology and Terminology

The distinction between caste and varna is usually grossly misunderstood in the
West. It is often incorrectly assumed that there are only four “castes,” which correspond
to the four varnas. The general sense of the word “caste,” from the Portuguese casta
meaning “lineage,” “breed,” or “race,” formed the lens through which the Europeans
initially understood the system of Indian social stratification.18 These early folks
attempted to fit the divisions into their preconceived world-views, thus creating the

The Portuguese casta is derived from the Latin root meaning “chaste” or “pure.” While the term
“caste” is now associated with Hinduism, the Portuguese had used the term primarily with
reference to the European forms of social stratification.

impression that varna and caste were synonymous. The Latin root also connotes (as in
the caste of a play or film) some status that is bestowed but not necessarily inherited by
birth. The Europeans thus saw fit to make an implied comparison with the European
feudal model, which was unquestionably class and occupation based, but perhaps lacks
many of the ethnic and religious attributes of the Indian version of caste.
Jati is the Hindi term for which caste is synonymous in general use by lay-people
and by academics. Thus, for the purposes of this research, use of the term “caste” is
generally intended to mean jati. To define jati properly is rather straightforward, although
there is significant ambiguity in terms of overlap between particular jati groups, since a
single caste group could have split based on geographic separation or variation in
standard of conduct. The term literally means “birth” and denotes an endogamous
community in which most members tend to share common culture, language, and
religious practice. While each social group exhibits a sense of exclusiveness and
endogamy, members of the group tend also to have a general understanding about the
peculiar functions and roles of other groups within the caste system. Thus, jatis are
comprised of individuals who are born into a group and remain members thereof for the
entirety of their lives. Jatis were formerly limited to a particular geographic area in which
the individuals in question shared a distinctive brand of religious belief. In a typical rural
setting, with 20 or so jatis, each individual would generally be able to identify all fellow
jati members and would additionally be capable of ranking all other jatis in some sort of
objective hierarchy.19
On the other hand, varna generally means “color” and is often what Westerners
believe to be caste - one of four broad Vedic categories.20 Shantaram uses a brilliant
example of being stuck in a prison with four chambers for the inmates, which can be seen
as apt literary analogy to the four varnas. This anecdote in Gregory David Roberts' novel
relates to the supposedly four different sections of the infamous Arthur Road prison in
Mumbai. In descending order down the hallway, each of the four inmate chambers gets
progressively more dirty and violent, as one moves closer to the contamination of the
toilet area. The prisoners are thusly segregated into four communities (plus one) on the
basis of their accommodation station's relative purity and location. They fight
De Reuck, p. 10
Roberts, Gregory David. Shantaram. Pg. 406

continuously to maintain their place on the hierarchy but often lose their precious space
to an aggressive inmate who has the might and the willpower to displace fellow inmates
from that varna-grouping.
It is in this same light that the caste system, when viewed as a four-tier plus one
varna arrangement,21 can be viewed as a instrumental division of humans designed
somewhat arbitrarily but instrumentally in the Vedic framework. Each inmate wakes up
imprisoned not just to the prison enterprise (analogous to life and samsara) but doomed
to his specific cell (comparable to jati). The seeming permanence of the caste enterprise
is but an illusion, which shatters, albeit temporarily, when those ambitious souls attempt
to fight their way out of their designated social space.
This perhaps unintentional analogy also hints at the contemporary reality of caste
politics; much caste-based violence is a function of attempts at class mobility and the
associated shifts in caste position. The inter-caste struggles for social and economic
resources often stimulate a violent reaction on the part of the defensive caste, which seeks
to protest its stake in the existing societal order.
At the same time, while caste is depicted as concrete, visceral, and worldly, there
is something illusory and arbitrary about the caste enterprise. This is borne out by Dirks’
Castes of Mind, which emerges from the Orientalist school of Edward Said and Bernard
Cohn. What is the role of the British in cementing the roles of India's diverse caste groups
for the benefit of British control? The assumption is that this imperial arrangement
reinforced the prior reliance on karmic doctrine ultimately to beef up the caste system and
provide incentive enough for jatis to know their respective roles in the rankings.
It is important to distinguish between the two separate classificatory schemes of
varna and jati. Firstly, jatis do not always fit neatly into the varna system, and varnas as
such do not even exist in much of South India. Over time, communities have indeed been
able to move up and down around the middle of the varna scale. Many groups have
shifted from Shudra to Kshatriya, which would be considered movement through the
middle of the caste hierarchy. Yet, individuals certainly cannot escape from their own jati.
But, whole communities or sections of communities can increase or decrease their
position on the scale with regards to ritual purity, political power, and/or social prestige.

The “plus one” is equivalent to the Untouchables, considered avarna, i.e. without a varna.

Next, it is imperative to define the terminology currently en vogue for those who
were traditionally on the lowest rung of the caste hierarchy, the former Untouchables.
The choice of appellation for this group of Indians is largely variable within the
geographic expression of India.22 According to The Untouchables explanation, there is no
term that is universally accepted, hence the choice of the name most recognized by
Westerners as the title for that book.23 Another common term for the outcasts from
Hinduism include Harijan (Gandhi's name for the “children of God”). “Scheduled Caste”
is the government classificatory term for any of the castes that have experienced
Untouchability in the jajmani village system. Thus, there are over 170 million SC Indians
whose ancestors' touch was thought to pollute. Despite appearances, one ought not assert
a false unity of the highly diverse Untouchable groups. Moreover, the unity of Hindu
belief often serves to bind former Untouchables often more to the rest of the Hindu
community than to other formerly Untouchable castes.
In contemporary parlance, “Dalit” has become the preferred term for this group.
The origin of the term “Dalit” is in a Sanskrit root meaning “broken” or “held down.”
Ambedkar generally referred to Dalits as Buddhist “Broken Men,” who had been
conquered in the past by Hindu invaders. An interesting claim has been made by Thomas
Massey of the National Commission on Dalit Human Rights, regarding an allegedly
common Hebrew origin of this root. While this common linkage is possible, there may
not be sufficient historical linguistic support to buttress this hypothesis.24 Of the three

Winston Churchill is known to have quipped that India is a mere geographic expression.
Mendelsohn, p. 5
Here are the two Hebrew root words and their definitions: 1. Dal (‫ )דל‬as an adjective means
either “poor, little, meager, paltry, inadequate” or “low, low-fat, low-income, poor.” As a verb in
Biblical Hebrew, it means “to weaken.” As a noun, it means a “pauper, indigent, mendicant.”
2. Dalit (‫ )דלית‬as a noun, it means a grapevine on posts, tendril, trailing branch, (esp.
grape vine) is therefore unrelated. So, connecting this root dal from a Semitic language (Hebrew)
to an Indo-Aryan language (Sanskrit) might be possible, but without a true understanding of the
historical linguistics, it is not a definite. The contemporary Hebrew first name "Dalit," which is
the only other actual use of the term, is the source of various ironic images found in a Google
Images search for “Dalit” - yielding "private property for Dalit" and "vote for Dalit." Regardless,
the primary meaning of dal in contemporary Hebrew has more to do with "low" as in "low-fat" or
“lightweight” and does not see much use as meaning poor or low-status.

general meanings of the Hebrew root word, the first is the most closely related to the
Sanskrit root meaning “broken.” Thus, in literary Hebrew, dal does have the sense of
being “poor, indigent, and low.”
The tendency towards sub-division, which is inherent in Indian society,
seems to have been set in motion by the fiction that mean who speak a
different language, dwell in a different district, who worship different
gods, who observe different social customs, who follow a different
profession or practically the same profession in a slightly different way,
must be of a fundamentally different race.25

As for the names of particular castes, the derivation of jati names is usually based
on occupation but is also based on other phenomena. While the etymology of jati names
ranges among a number of different sources, there are three main categories. First,
occupation-based names for various castes across India include: Bania and Chetti
(merchant), Kunbi (farmer), Lodha (clod-hopper), Sonar (goldsmith), Barhai Tarkhan
(carpenter), Tambat Kasar (metalworker), Bunkar Joria Tanti (weaver), Nai (barber), and
Lunia (salt-worker). Some other occupation-based names are: Bari (leaf-plate maker),
Tamodi (betel leaf dealer), Dharkar (rope-maker), Bansphor (basketmaker), Chamar
(leatherworker), Kahar (water carrier), Pasi (trapper), and Gadaria (shepherd).
Second, some jati names derive from peculiar nicknames for jobs: Musahar (rat-
eater), Bhangi (night-soil), Bhulia (forgetful weavers), Ramoshi (thief in Deccan), Kallon
(thief), Tiyan (southerner), and Pariyah (drum).26
There are also a number of ethnic or tribal-based names (this category includes
some groups presently recognized as Scheduled Tribes rather than castes): Arora, Gujjar,
Lohana, Bhatia, Meena, Bhil, Dom, Oraon, Munda, Santal, Kock, Ahir, Mahar, Nayar,
Maratha, Gond, and Khond. Lastly, there are religiously-based jati names: Bishnoi,
Sadhu, Jogi, Gosnin, and Manbhao.
Next, the derivation of sub-caste names can be grouped into seven categories,
according to Ghurye.27 Territorial separateness; mixed origin; divergent occupation;
peculiarity of vocational technique; sectarian difference; dissimilar customs; and
nicknames (resulting from odd circumstances).
Ghurye attributes this quotation to Herbert Risley on p. 183.
This jati name is the source of the English term “pariah,” meaning “one that is despised or
rejected, outcast,” according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
Ghurye p. 33

Firstly, the Marathas of Maharashtra generally use territorial sub-caste terms.
Next, the example of the Dhimars in Madhya Pradesh, who have the following sub-castes
based on divergent occupations: Singarias (cultivate Singara waternuts); Tankiwalas
(sharpen grindstones); Dhurias (sell parched rice), Sonjharas (wash for gold), and
Kasdhonias (wash sand for coins dropped by pilgrims). Additionally, the Dhangars are
subdivided into Mendhes (mendhi [sheep] herders) and Mhaskes (mhaski [buffalo]
herders). Some caste names involving peculiarity of vocational technique include:
Garpagari Jogi (whose name comes from using magic to avert hailstorms) and Manihari
Jogis (peddlers of beads).
Additionally, Ghurye mentions the Matang sub-caste of Mang-Garudi (snake
charmers); the Nhavi sub-castes of Vajantri (music players) and Mashalji (torch-bearers);
the Mahar sub-castes of Panya (leaf umbrellas), Bele (bamboo chip mats), Dharmik
(religious)28; the Pardhan sub-caste of Thothia (maimed)29; the Kumbhar sub-castes of
Hatghades (by hand), Thorchake (big wheel), and Lahanchake (small wheel); and the
Deshastha sub-castes of Rigvedis (Rig-Veda followers) and Yajurvedis (Yajur-Veda
followers). Lastly, there is the Berad caste, which has the Kale sub-caste (black, for
having allowed consumption of buffalo, bullock and pig, as well as prostitution) and Bile
(white, pure from these influences).
Another idiosyncrasy of this ostensibly inviolable and eternally ossified Indian
caste system is the many names of sub-castes that are the same as other castes. This is
likely evidence of intrusion by members of these other castes into the caste in question.
Sali (weavers) have Ahir, Maratha, and Chambhar sub-castes; Gaulis have sub-castes of
Ahir, Kunbi, Kuruba, and Maratha; Gondhali have sub-castes of Brahmin, Dhangar, and
Kumbhar; Shimpi (tailors) have Ahir and Maratha sub-castes; and Kunbi has a Nhavi
sub-caste. Moreover, Kori and Katia have amalgamated with Mahars in certain districts
where they have overlapped.30
Ghurye traces the timeline of caste development from the initial Vedic period
(until 600 B.C., loose Rigvedic varna system, mobility possible within 2-3 generations);
post-Vedic period (600 B.C. to 300 A.D., sacred Aryan laws, formation of dvijas,

This sub-caste name is alleged to be ironic, in response to this group's origin in illicit unions.
This sub-caste also apparently derives from having been illegitimately conceived.
Ghurye p. 34

Buddhist rebellion against hierarchy); Dharma-Shastras (300 A.D. to 1100 A.D., laws of
Manu and other chief varna exponents); and medieval-early modern (1100 A.D. to 1800
A.D.).31 Thus, this covers the gamut of the merger between jati and varna, as well as the
amalgamation of many different strains within the Hindu belief system.
Sociology of a Classificatory System
One definition of caste refers to a class system without a self-limiting
geographical scope, in which endogamy persists and where “inheritance of privilege has
become narrowly restricted to members of that ‘caste’ in perpetuity.”32 Theoretically,
caste was initially not inherited. Rather, it was merely based on layers of occupational
involvement that eventually congealed and ossified. However, this theory has been
debunked by several scholars who reject Durkheim functionalist sociology. One
conventional definition of caste renders it as inflexible and confined, as per Ambedkar’s
idea of caste as an “enclosed class.” While it is clear that there were always exceptions to
these caste rules, this subject necessarily deal with “tendencies rather than monolithic
“A caste system occurs where a society is made up of birth-ascribed groups which
are hierarchically ordered and culturally distinct…the groups comprising it are
differential, interacting, and interdependent parts of a larger society.”34 The sociology of
caste is such that members of a group view themselves and are viewed by others as a
relatively homogenous lot. These aggregate caste units are distinguished from tribes in
India, which are viewed as relatively separate, independent, and unranked with respect to
one another.35
Thus, castes exhibit corporate tendencies and are socially distinct units that are
discrete, bounded, and ranked. Some of the unifying markers are common surnames,
symbols of group membership, skin tone, dialect, occupation, dress, and location of
Ghurye, p. 74
De Reuck, p. 9
Mendelsohn, p. 13
De Reuck, p. 48
While some SCs likely started off as independent tribes completely outside the bounds of the
caste system as such, the SC and ST categories are fairly distinct in contemporary society. ST
people generally did not participate in settled, Hinduized village life in either the jati or varna
enterprise. This is more a question of original lifestyle, culture, and habitat than of ritual purity.
Division into SC or ST was a function of the original government classificatory scheme, but there
is some overlap with certain groups categorized in both classifications, depending on state.

residence. Generally, in the traditional anti-individualistic society, group affiliation
trumps the individual’s own attributes. Assignment of one's lifelong and unalterable caste
membership is thus a status that is wholly shared by fellow caste members and that is
reproduced by means of prescribed endogamous marriage. The web of caste connections
that individuals might employ is central to the familialism and the quasi-ethnicity that
encompass caste. The maximal limits of a caste's marriage network depend on the
particular group. Yet, the regional conception of caste around Mumbai is best expressed
by the Marathi expression roti-beti-vyavahar,36 which suggests that the “exchange of
bread and girls” has to be within one's caste.
Yet, sociological perspectives on caste can range from being static and literal to
being process-oriented, empirical, and contextual, thus revealing the nuances of
stratification. An overly static approach to the phenomenon of caste risks losing
perspective on the constant development that the enterprise has undergone throughout
history, despite the seemingly coagulated nature of the lingering Indian institution.

Figure 2

Figure 3
While we must be careful not to jump to the “assumption that any form of rigid
social hierarchy is a form of oppression,” it is also clear that upper castes have
historically engaged in the exploitation of “difference as a badge of social inferiority.”37
The traditional system of Indian ethics is based on a hierarchy of rights and duties that
function without a universal yardstick for right and wrong. The system instead defines
relative levels of servility and the various roles in performing polluting, menial work.
Under the jajmani system, the arrangement customarily involved some sort of reciprocal
deal in which low-caste labor would receive support from landlords, which is how
gawaki and other traditionally Untouchable occupations functioned. These roles perhaps
facilitated the ultimate politicization of lower caste demands for religious and economic
reform. While caste indubitably creates a closed system of social stratification, there is a
tension between structuro-functional analysis and conflict theory. The system can be
viewed as functional in both the ideological-ritual realm and in the political-economic

De Reuck, pg. 4

realm, and both involve competition for control over resources. “Ideology on the one
hand and hard fact on the other,” is one way of dichotomizing two divergent
hierarchies in traditional Hindu society.38
Castes of Mind piques with this line of thought, preferring to believe that both
became ingrained as a result of the colonial strategy employed by the British overlords.
And Klass, with his eclectic anthropological conception of caste, evokes the words of
E.R. Leach: “A caste does not exist by itself. A caste can only be recognized in contrast to
other castes with which its members are closely involved in a network or economic,
political, and ritual relationships.”39Both of these varna axes above are theoretical
constructs that date to the village realities of the pre-colonial period and do not represent
literal arrangements in every Hindu village in India.
Perhaps it is a problem to use just two axes, ignoring the other factors that play
into the village hierarchy? Is this bifurcation an oversimplification of the seemingly
infinite dimensions of caste? These standings shift over time, even in a limited
geographical range. Relative levels of prestige for Untouchable castes vary across
Maharashtra. Also, the variation in a particular set of locales at a given point in time can
be rather significant. Within a caste, certain sub-castes can be viewed as significantly
higher or lower than the other sub-castes. A more complex depiction of village reality
might involve political, economic, ritual, and social-prestige scales. One cannot always
reduce those four scales to just two.
The ritual hierarchy was perhaps much more consistent over time than the
economic hierarchy, which could shift due to the ebb of flow of prosperity in certain
trades and regions. So, the village hierarchy clearly contrasts with the so-called Western
conception of multiple, competing social classes. Yet, would this trump the Indian village
hierarchy, which is seen as unified, singular, multi-layered? Regardless, as class rather
than caste stratification becomes more pronounced in the urban setting, interaction in the
economic and ritual spheres is common (external relations); whereas interaction is still
rather exclusive in social matters (internal relations).40
So, the definitional logistics of classificatory systems can be divided into the
De Reuck, p. 32
Klass, p. 103
De Reuck, p. 128

political, legal, economic, ritual/immaterial/religious, and socio-cultural spheres and is
thus defined by multiple hierarchies. Perhaps this is true for all societies, regardless of
development level. It appears nearly universal to have some scale of value that ranks
persons, and every complex society enjoys a division of labor and the resultant hierarchy
of prestige, power, and wealth. Contemporary Indian society indubitably must juggle
with conflicting systems of socio-economic hierarchy: the Western capital-driven
stratification, with its focus on merit on the one hand, and the traditional emphasis on jati,
gotra, and following one’s traditional occupation on the other hand.
K. L. Sharma argues that caste is a pathology of the modern polity. To this extent,
he argues that there is no “unilinear hierarchy of caste.” He also contends that caste
comprises a normative system, as opposed to an actual system of socio-structural
relations. Thus, there are multiple hierarchies between which inorganic interaction takes
place. Therefore, ethno-sociological inquiry dictates that that there is a nexus, rather than
a dichotomy, of caste and class.41 Sharma also emphasizes that the two are inseparable
and that modern Dalitism is grounded in this incorporation of class and status. While
caste indeed could be seen as a false culturo-logical paradigm, class constitutes a more or
less objective rating based on certain attributes. The relative rigidities and fluidities of the
two scales are apparent. Berreman suggests that possibility of individual mobility is
greater in a class system than in a caste system.42
Thus, one ranking system deals with ritual purity and is topped by the Brahmins
and features the Untouchables at the bottom. A second village caste hierarchy deals with
the traditional feudal order and the relative socio-economic statuses of landlords, free
tenants, “tied tenants,” artisans and landless laborers. These two partially distinct
frameworks are not completely coincident, as it is clearly “easier for a group to raise its
economic status than to improve its ritual respectability.”43 Nonetheless, there is
undoubtedly much overlap between the two frameworks. The system is alternatively
presented in classical literature as being inflexible and in permanent flux. Generally,
institutionalized inequalities are a function of the power differential that governs inter-
caste relations.

Sharma, K. L.. p. 7
Berreman, p. 49
De Reuck, p. 11

Value judgments arise from one’s position in on the caste hierarchy, and the
accompanying treatment of persons of other castes is a function of that location. In the
traditional Hindu universe, intrinsic worth of an individual is a function of ritual purity
(as opposed to supposed genetic endowment or innate character traits in many other
traditional systems), but the question today is whether individual worth has become more
prominently expressed and understood using the notion of merit. It is also debatable
whether genetic endowment and innate character traits are not actually a part of the
traditional caste enterprise. Many theorists would argue that they too are central to how
ritual purity is exercised. The end result under the traditional caste system is that access
to goods, services, influence, food, shelter, medical care, education, esteem, and pleasure
were a direct function of caste position.
One example of the differential access to resources exists towards the bottom of
the caste hierarchy is how Nhavi (barber caste) and Dhobi (washer caste) do not
traditionally serve Untouchable classes lest they lose their clients. There are generally
other Untouchable classes who would fulfill the function of cutting hair and washing
clothes for Untouchables.
In addition to differential access to resources, differential association is a key
aspect of caste. The sociological role of symbolic interactionism, which stresses that
social gestures always have meaning, also manifests in how rank is continuously
expressed and validated. This is further manifest by way of the seemingly eternal truth
that every other individual in one’s social universe is either a superior, peer, or inferior –
depending on his/her caste. Not only does this system reinforce the caste hierarchy at
every turn, but it also imposes taboos upon any action that threatens the regulatory
framework of the hierarchy.
Ghurye takes the opposite perspective, arguing that there is a general problem
with this type of classificatory framework. “The order of social preference amongst the
individual castes of any class cannot be made definite, because not only is there no
ungrudging acceptance of such rank but also the ideas of the people [emphasis added] on
this point are very nebulous and uncertain.”44 His point is reinforced by what he sees as
tremendous variation in level of untouchability for certain groups, whether they are

Ghurye p. 6

located in Maharashtra or Haryana, for example.
Many groups cherish some sort of historical myth of their erstwhile privilege and
grandeur. While this has been part of a successful strategy for climbing up the caste
ladder for some, countless castes generally lacking in social prestige claim noble lineage
or descent from a particular king or rishi. Yet, strangely enough, other castes have
climbed down the ladder in order to be considered officially as either OBC or SC. More
on this is discussed in Chapter V with regards to the reservation system. Although the
Indian economic superstructure contained an extremely wide occupational range through
the years, the modern iterations of caste are taking this ancient vestige to another level.
In terms of the historical background, the Castes-Disabilities Removal Act of
1850 ensured rights of property irrespective of change in caste or religious status. The
1858 decision to allow Mahar pupils access to public schools in certain parts of
Maharashtra was a big step. In 1915, the colonial government ceased funding educational
institutions that segregated the Depressed Classes. Undoubtedly, the British were already
using caste names as a convenient way to describe persons. Moreover, the Bombay
Presidency's resources were allocated for the Hindu populace along the lines of three
categories: Brahmins and allied castes; intermediate classes formed by Marathas and
others; the backward classes, including the Untouchables.45
As for the divergent paradigms, Dirks' contention is about caste being more of a
holdover from colonial rule rather than an outgrowth of much earlier eras. Though he
proposes that caste was the most meaningful aspect of the India social system prior to the
British and that ossification of caste occurred under colonial rule, this falsity does not
hold water. Moreover, Mendelsohn and Vicziany argue in The Untouchables that, while
aspects of the system became more ingrained during the colonial period, the British also
imposed a number of reforms that later enabled the cohesion of various strains within the
Dalit liberation movement. “They helped create (whether consciously or not) the
conditions whereby an Untouchable leadership could attempt to assert an independent
political presence united across caste and region for the first time.”46 This does not imply
that the Dalit Panthers, BSP, and Ambedkar would not have arisen without the changes
that the British imposed, but it does suggest that there were certain key changes to
Ghurye, p. 277
Mendelsohn, p. 18

governance that later enabled the movement's coagulation.
It is in the context of some three millennia of caste history that discrimination
based on caste became illegal under the Indian Constitution of 1950. Article 17 abolishes
untouchability, and Article 46 promotes the educational and economic interests of
backward groups. Thus, equality as a policy became enshrined in the founding Indian
legal document. This legal articulation of anti-casteism paved the way for a number of
other statutes that struck down mistreatment of lower caste persons.
The legal history continues with the 1955 Protection of Civil Rights Act and the
1989 Prevention of Atrocities Act. Yet, the allegations persist that modern India does not
sufficiently respect Dalit human rights and actually fails to punish atrocities with the long
arm of the law. “But all the horrors of India's caste system persist at the grassroots;
attempts to defy this rigid social order invariably result in violence or economic
retaliation.”47 An estimated 26,000 incidents of caste atrocity occur per year, according to
human rights groups. The connotation of Dalit as one who is held down or broken is
borne out by harrowing statistics on atrocities carried out against them in rural areas.
Vimal Thorat, co-Convenor of National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights, says:
“According to official statistics, which themselves grossly underestimate the extent of the
violence, 13 Dalits are murdered and five Dalit homes are destroyed every week, and
three Dalit women are raped and 11 Dalits are assaulted every day. A crime is committed
against a Dalit every 18 minutes.” This indicates the ongoing problem faced by Dalits
across India but largely outside of the metropolitan cores.
The reality of metro India is moving past the practice of literal untouchability, but
many rural areas, especially in the most backward states, have seen quite an upsurge of
basic caste discrimination in recent years. Progress on the part of the lowest castes would
entail significant decrease in atrocities and significant movement into other occupations
besides the traditional set of degrading jobs performed by the lowest groups within the
Hindu village setup. The process of political mobilization and occupational shift will be
addressed more in depth in later chapters, but the focus will now shift to the issue of
varna and category composition.

Guru, Gopal and Sidhva, Shiraz. India's “hidden apartheid” - Caste System September 2001
UNESCO Courier.

Varna Culture

Although it is unknown how exactly the varna and jati systems coalesced, it is
often hypothesized that the jatis existed prior to Aryan arrival and that the Vedic
influence resulted in super-imposition of the varnas over the jatis, thus creating an
elaborate system of group ranking. It is thoroughly impossible to determine the exact all-
India breakdown of the classification categories, even though the National Sample
Survey attempts to do so. “Exact figures are nearly impossible to ascertain due to the
fuzziness of most population statistics in India,” suggested Rahul Srivastava, a prolific
Mumbai blogger.48 Additionally, the 1931 Census of India was the last that included
comprehensive data on caste affiliation. Nonetheless, there are approximately accurate
NSS figures that we can rely on for comprehending the percentages of broad caste
groupings of which Indian society is composed. Forward castes are the jatis that are
traditionally atop or close to the top of the caste hierarchy. Consisting of around one-third
of the present population of India, this classification includes most communities that
would be grouped into the three twice-born varnas: Brahmin, Kshatriya, and Vaishya.
There are also high status non-Hindus who are classified as forward castes under the NSS
classification scheme. Shudras are considered once-born, and Panchamas (former
Untouchables) are outside of the traditional varna scheme, even though they were
integrated into the Hindu village social system. States in India have a very wide variation
in the percentages of the different categories.
For the sake of the NSS data, open-general category for the reservation quotas is
essentially synonymous with forward caste. In Maharashtra, 50% of the population is
considered to be forward caste. Goa, Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana, and West Bengal also
have high relatively high percentages of forward caste persons.49 In contrast, just 12% of
Tamil Nadu’s population is considered as such. Bihar and Orissa also have relatively low
percentages of forward caste persons.50 Otherwise Backward Classes comprised 32% of
the Indian population, according to the National Sample Survey. As castes that have

Co-author of, a blog about all manner of avant-garde urban issues, Srivastava said
that population statistics are generally overestimated in the Indian context.
Source: National Sample Survey 1999-2000, p. 35-36

always corresponded to medium-to-low position on the traditional Hindu caste hierarchy,
OBCs are considered socially and educationally backward classes that are recognized as
needing additional reservation benefits. As per the National Sample Survey, in addition to
OBC Hindus, the following percentages of the various minority religious groups are also
considered OBC: 41% of Muslims, 66% of Christians, 6% of Jains, and 30% of Parsis.
The OBC lists were birthed in 1991 by the Mandal Commission in an effort to
extend the benefits previously given only to SCs and STs to around a third of Indian
society. Communities may somewhat frequently be added and subtracted from this list,
whereas the SC and ST lists are essentially static for each state. Thus, these OBC groups
are officially sanctioned by the National Commission on Backwards Castes (NCBC) for
the Central government's jobs and universities, but each state has its own list for state
government jobs and university seats. Agarwals, Bunts, Khatris, and Kayasthas are
examples of groups that never qualify for OBC status, regardless of state of residence.
Generally, any group that is not considered forward is considered backward.
The OBC list is a place-specific way of defining which communities are entitled
to reservation and other valuable government benefits. The Dhangar cow-herders are
listed as OBC in Maharashtra but as a forward caste in Karnataka. On the other hand,
Vishwakarmas are not listed as OBC in Maharashtra but are considered OBC in Uttar
Pradesh, Bihar, as well as other states.51 The inclusion of Jats in Rajasthan as OBC has
also been rather controversial. Finally, the Banjaras are one of many rather nomadic
communities that is listed by as many as four different categories, depending on the state!
They are grouped as Scheduled Caste in Karnataka, Scheduled Tribe in Andhra Pradesh,
OBC in Uttar Pradesh, and Denotified Tribe in Maharashtra.

Source: National Comission on Backward Castes list

Table 9: State-wise Classification of four Tribal Groups52
Banjara Vadar Kaikadi Pardhi
U.P. O.B.C. O.B.C. S.C. S.T.
H.P. S.C. S.C. S.C. S.T.

While this is somewhat tangential, it is important to explain briefly the status of
tribals within the Indian caste enterprise. Scheduled Tribes also were awarded a special
protected status in the Constitution, as they were generally impoverished and lived
completely separate from the traditional Hindu village system. However, the
classificatory schemes are not always consistent but generally elaborate, complex, and
fraught with idiosyncrasies, politically arbitrary placements, and a lack of objectively
verifiable standards determining what category a group becomes. With regards to
Adivasis, this is derived from the fact that the multi-variable continuum of 'tribalness' on
which language, place of residence, occupation, religion, and lifestyle are combined to
produce a sort of generalized verdict by the various levels of the government on whether
or not the group qualifies for this or that category.
Source: The Denotified and Nomadic Tribes Rights Action Group Newsletter,
April-June and July-September, 2000
DNT means Denotified Tribe and is a term applied by certain states that give preferential
treatment to certain tribal groups. The British labeled particular tribes “Criminal Tribes”
beginning in 1870. These groups ultimately became India's “Notified Tribes,” most of which
were later placed on the list of “Denotified Tribes” in 1952. However, this list does not
completely overlap with the Scheduled Tribes list.

There is also significant controversy with regards to categorization of most tribals
as Hindu. Although tribals can retain their ST status irrespective of their religion (unlike
Scheduled Castes), many tribal groups are marginally Hindu. Many tribal groups are also
marginally tribal, having essentially become mainstream ethnic groups rather than
isolated tribes living apart from the rest of Indian society. Historically, many tribes often
joined Hinduism en masse for political reasons. Regardless, there is perennial confusion
in the Indian system of classification because it involves so many layers and variables.
One famous anecdote regarding caste categorization is about former President
Narayanan's inability to select his proper Paravan SC caste in Delhi since his community
is not recognized as such on Delhi's list! The same ambiguity in categorization exists
with the massive amalgamation of castes currently recognized as being OBC.
As for being “other” and backward,” it must be clarified how many of these OBC
groups stand in relation to the SC communities. It is often alleged that this group plays
the most significant role in perpetuating casteism at the village level. “Current violence
against Dalits is largely at the hands of ex-Shudras known today as 'other backward
castes,’” states Gail Omvedt.54 These tend to be the middle caste groups whose resource
pool is potentially threatened by Dalit socioeconomic mobility. Omvedt elaborates: “No
longer Brahmins, Rajputs, Deshmukhs, Vellalas or high caste landlords, but [are] more
often the middle castes, the new rich farmers, those were were once middle peasants and
tenants fighting against landlords...those who were once allies of the Dalits in the anti-
feudal struggle now appear to be the main enemy.”55 It is thus generally seen that the
OBC category is the vast middle segment of India's population, quite near to the average,
whereas Dalits are viewed as rising up from the bottom rung.
While open-general/forward caste statistics, as well as OBC statistics, are taken
from the National Sample Survey, information about the SC and ST categories is
comprehensively enough included in the Census. As of the 2001 Census, Scheduled
Castes were 16.2% and Scheduled Tribes were 8.2%. The SC list is fixed and permanent,
determined by a series of legally binding Constitutional directives, starting with the

Book review of Jaffrelot’s Dr. Ambedkar and Untouchability
Omvedt, Gail Class, Caste and Land in India: An Introductory Essay, in Gail Omvedt, (ed.)
Land, Caste Politics in Indian States (Delhi: Authors' Guild Publications, 1982)., p. 20

particular Schedule of the Constitution of 1950.56 For all of India, 22.2% of Hindus,
89.5% of Buddhists, 30.7% of Sikhs, 9% of Christians, and 0.8% of Muslims are
recognized as SCs. However, Muslim and Christian Dalits are not entitled to legal
treatment as SC groups because the government considers them as belonging to religions
that do not formally recognize caste. Only Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh persons can avail of
governmental SC benefits and schemes. The complications involving caste demographics
in the Census run deep. The Indian census reflects a serious problem encountered by
demographers in classifying certain SC convert groups as Hindu, Buddhist, or Christian,
for example. While ST persons may be of any religion, this is not true for SC groups.
Also, one may only qualify for SC benefits if proof can be presented that one's Scheduled
Caste membership is legitimate. Even though caste benefits depend upon information
given on caste certificates, information reported to the Census and NSS might differ
significantly from what persons have listed on their caste certificates.57 So, the NSS
numbers might not reflect the correct percentages of people who currently fit into the
various groups.
Christian Dalit groups (with assistance from American groups such as the Dalit
Freedom Network) are currently petitioning the Indian Supreme Court for access to SC
benefits, rather than merely being grouped into the OBC category.58 These advocacy
groups have yet to affect a change in the existing Indian laws; DFN and other groups
such as the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) and Dalit Solidarity
have run into political trouble as critics allege that they are forcing Dalits to convert to

A list of the 59 Scheduled Castes of Maharashtra is included in the Appendix.
More on this topic of Census inaccuracy regarding Scheduled Caste groups is addressed in
Chapter IV.
The Dalit Freedom Network and other American Christian Evangelical groups have been very
actively involved in promoting controversial conversion of Dalits to Christianity and in providing
a number of crucial social services.

Moreover, not all members of the above-mentioned groups always qualify for
caste-based benefits. Persons with a household income over 400,000 rupees, depending
on the state, do not qualify for the various benefits, even if their caste certificate indicates
membership in a backward community. Above this income threshold, persons would be
classified as belonging to the infamous “creamy layer.” These “creamy layer” persons
would therefore constitute sub-categories of the broader categories.
Generally, all castes in
question necessarily have a
range of income levels that
comes with the variety of
occupations that the caste's
members follow. Since a solid
two-thirds of the labor force
in all of India is engaged in
agricultural labor and has
been for some thousands of
years, it can be said that caste
has never truly determined
the occupational activities of
the majority of the
population. However, there
are plenty of castes who
historically were faithful to a
singular occupation. While
there are fewer and fewer
Image 8: A man of the Nhavi caste cuts hair near
castes who remain so faithful
Mahalaxmi temple
to such a vocation, especially in places like Mumbai, there remain vocations mostly
occupied by persons of a particular caste. There also remain castes who are still mostly
identified with one job. For example, until one generation ago, men of the barber
(Nhavi/Nai caste) have generally followed their grandfather, great-great grandfather, and
great-great-great-grandfather into hair-cutting. Prior to urban migration, the Nhavi and

individuals from hundreds of other castes have been have been performing the same work
for countless upon countless generations. The exact number of generations is quite
impossible to pinpoint, but the number is likely rather high.
That being said, caste certificates do not indicate that the bearer might have mixed
caste heritage, since caste is traditionally inherited in a patrilineal manner. While one's
surname and caste certificate might indicate membership in this or that jati, multi-caste
ancestry is increasingly common in metropolitan India.
Thus, there are millions of Indians for whom traditionally defined caste monikers
do not quite make sense, due to their mixed-caste heritage. Their lack of “pure” caste and
the ever-increasing quantity of mixed marriages make it rather difficult to say that caste
remains intact as ever. It is not too surprising to come across someone in Mumbai who
has a Muslim name but is one-quarter Parsi Zoroastrian, one-quarter Punjabi Jat Sikh,
and one-half Gujarati Bania Hindu. Moreover, it is not exceptionally bizarre to have a
wide range of castes represented in one family.
One particular Assistant Professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in
Mumbai has a Kashmiri Pandit mother, an Oriya SC father, and a Malayalee husband of
the Nayar caste. Her children inherit their caste affiliation in a patrilineal way, so that
they would not report anything about their matrilineal caste heritage in the future. Thus,
both their Brahmin and Untouchable heritage would be missing from their legal caste
record. As in other multi-ethnic societies, it becomes quite hard to classify persons who
are so multi-caste. However, since caste is legally inherited through one's father's father's
father, there is a definitive classification scheme. Consequently, it is of course possible
for persons to be classified as SC or ST based on their patrilineal descent, even if only
one half, one quarter, or even one eighth of their family belongs to this particular group.
Before delving further into how exactly caste manifests itself in the city, it is first
necessary to see how caste operates at the village level; therefore, we may later see what
caste is not in the metros by nature of what it has evolved from and how much change the
system has undergone. More egalitarian states such as Kerala seem to have relatively less
caste-based problems. The film India Untouched provides some footage of how caste
discrimination is still alive and well at the village level in India of the 21st century.
While illuminating the history of how the Indian Constitution stands opposed to

the more negative aspects of the caste stratification outlined in the Vedas, the film depicts
casteism in drinking well access, primary school education, and temple worship, among
other arenas. Though rather propagandistic and one-sided, the film nonetheless provides a
window of understanding unto the world of various former Untouchable groups
throughout India: Valmikis in Punjab, Paraiyars in Tamil Nadu, and Musahari in Bihar.

Image 9: A Dalit in Varanasi at a chai stand after the chaiwallah dropped the
tea cup into his hand in order to avoid contact.

The footage also captures the discrimination that exists for Dalits even within the non-
Hindu faiths of Islam (with Ajlaf Muslims59), Sikhism (with Mazhabi and Ravdasi Sikhs),
and Christianity (with Tamil Dalit Christians).
India Untouched depicts the traditionalist, fundamentalist Brahmin in Varanasi
who literally follows every commandment of the Manusmriti as a horrendous demon,
leaving little chance for a more benign upper-caste perspective. This particular Brahmin
leader relates the mythology of varna origins in the story of how each was made from a
different part of Purusha, the original man – Brahmin (white) from the head, Kshatriya
(red) from the arms, Vaishya (yellow) from the thighs, and Shudra (black) from the feet.60
He proceeds by asking whether India should be turned upside down and then demands
rhetorically whether the filmmaker would stand on his head. Nonetheless, the viewer sees
concrete examples of blatant discrimination that significantly continues to effect Bhangis,
Doms, and Madigas in the villages of India, where around 70% of the nation’s population
continues to dwell. Does the urban environment completely turn this village scenario
around? Has Indian society truly transformed itself from being dominated by professional
status groups to being heralded by a whole new set of established controls over economic
While the Indological approach to history saw the lower castes and the tribes as
being the backward other with regards to caste Hindu society, it is now quite apparent
that this approach's primary shortcoming is the notion of fully cohesive castes, which are
not historical reality. While caste associations do play a significant role in local political
and social life in many parts of India, jatis are far from monolithic. Behind the religious
justifications for economic hierarchy and the Hindu-centric division of labor is a belief in
dharma and karma. The main idea that proper behavior now will improve future caste
position – and also that behavior in previous lives determined one's current caste position.
Hence the karmatic emphasis on an individual's volition in determining his status.
Not all Hindus embrace this view of karma since it ascribes low-caste status to

Ajlaf/Arzal Muslims are thought to be mainly native Hindus who were converted to Islam,
whereas Ashraf Muslims are presumed to be predominantly of Persian, Arab, Afghan, and Turkic
origin. However, it is clear that various groups of Muslims (Khojas, Rajput Muslims, Jat
Muslims) are Ashraf but are clearly descended from Hindu converts to Islam. Source:
Untouchables were left out of this human creation myth.

those who have demonstrated bad behavior – attributes in this life are function of past
and determinant of future. The Bhakti movement is perhaps much more influential in
low-caste Hindu evolution of belief. Yet, in so many parts of India, there is the
consistently overwhelming importance of caste-group identification in the individual’s
life (voting patterns, marriage, other sociopolitical expression).
The network of jatis and sub-castes is ultimately held together by the Brahmanical
tradition. The general acceptance of this common priesthood is the basis for the Hindu
social order, resulting in social and economic interdependence. There is indubitable
harmony characteristic of the parts which are “rigorously subordinated to one another.”61
Sanskritization62 has always been the optimal way to advance upwards on the caste
hierarchy. This consistently available option is a way of improving one’s caste’s rank
over several generations; upward mobility would be a function of cultural assimilation,
knowledge of Sanskritic literature, and assimilation of Vedic customs. Anthropologically
speaking, this is akin to the process of “passing.” A vegetarian diet, Sanskritized
vocabulary, and adoption of appropriate deities are the central facets of this process.
Brahmins are thought of as the gold standard of Hinduism, but the anti-Brahmin
discourse has played a counter-hegemonic role in the past two centuries.
This manifests as de-Sanskritization (as embodied by the Dravidian movement in
Tamil Nadu and by various other cultural tendencies in states such as Maharashtra).
Mahars and other SCs proudly eat beef to signify that they no longer feel stigmatized by
their a-Brahmin culture to the extent that they chauvinistically demonstrate their
carnivorous diets. It is a sign of status not to have to eat beef, but it is also a sign of status
to eat beef and show that you do not feel constrained by anti-beef rules. This means that
at least you have the resources to choose between the two.
Thus, examples such as the dietary assimilation are evidence that movement is
indeed possible on the scale of ritual purity, especially near the middle of the hierarchy.
Perhaps there is not as much rigidity in the maintenance of this system over time as many
people suggest. The fluidity of caste relations has indeed been possible in many regions.
when low-status groups gave up beef, integrated Sanskrit words into their vernacular, and
commenced worship of mainstream Hindu gods and goddesses.
Ghurye, p. 28
This term was coined by M.N. Srinivas.

Hinduization63 is said to be the process of being brought into the Hindu fold and is
especially relevant in the contemporary period with Adivasis. In parts of the tribal belt,
right-wing Hindu groups are known to encourage them to move out of the tribal setting
and mindset, often in direct competition with process of Christianization. In the past,
today’s Scheduled Castes likely underwent the same acculturation process.
According to Wikipedia, it is the process (coined by Srinivas) by which lower-
caste or tribal groups emulate higher-caste and "Hindu" cultural practices. Hinduizing
does not exist exactly in the same way that Islamizing and Christianizing exists, since
Hinduism is not generally considered a "proselytizing" religion (and has not been for all
intents and purposes)64 yet with regards to keeping SC and ST persons within the Hindu
fold, Hindutva groups take quite aggressive action by trying to reinforce caste hierarchy.65

Caste and Ethnicity

The anti-Brahmin movement's main contention is that, in addition to cultural
oppression, approximately 4% of the Indian population has the majority of good jobs in
politics, media, and business.66 Broadly speaking, the anti-Brahmin philosophy could be
ascribed to any number of extremely diverse movements, which all strove to undermine
the traditional dominance of the Brahmins within the Hindu hierarchy. Buddhism,
Sikhism, and Jainism, the three largest faiths that arose out of the Hindu fold, all more or
less represented largely North Indian Kshatriya attempts to establish a different sort of
religious and social order upon which Brahmins were not dominant. Among subaltern
movements, the Dalit liberation movement has also incorporated this anti-Brahminical

Term popularized by Gail Omvedt in Capitalism and Globalisation, Dalits and Adivasis in
Economic and Political Weekly, November 19, 2005.
While conversion to Hinduism is practically impossible, these other faiths routinely accept
converts into the mainstream of their faiths.
More links on this topic: on
Saffronization/ Brahminization; on Hinduization as
process of identity transformation; on the Hinduization of
6917(195111)11%3A1%3C17%3ATHOIR%3E2.0.CO%3B2-V on Hinduization in indonesia

heritage in its assertion of Dalit power and rights. While many previous anti-Brahmin
movements did not incorporate the ethnic argument, many of the Dalit components of
this movement (Ambedkar excluded) have stressed the racial divide.
Despite many of the conspiratorial theories about Brahmin domination and the
high-caste cabal's plot to hold down the lower castes, many Brahmins interviewed in this
study did not conform to the caricatures. Anuj Sharma is a Colaba resident and Bhojpuri-
speaking Brahmin employed with the Indian Navy. “Man made caste, not God. Since it's
generated by man, if you and me want to change it, we can. We of the new generation
believe in work and money, not caste.” Y.K. Nagar is a Gujarati Brahmin who retired
from being Regional Manager at English Electric. Though he married a woman of his
same caste, he does not mind if his children marry outside of their caste. “Caste is going
down day by day, due to inter-caste marriage.”
While Brahmins are potentially the most unique elite of any society, it is true that
Brahmins in many parts of India, Mumbai included, have had consistent involvement and
profound contributions to the anti-casteist “struggle.”67 Pro-Dalit, anti-caste Brahmin
reformers were even involved in the Dalit Panthers. The Dalit Panthers were established
in Mumbai in 1972 on a militant platform that advocated a lower caste supremacist line.68
Namdeo Dhasal and his friends founded the group along the lines of the Black Panthers.
This ideology essentially interprets caste competition to be a zero-sum game requiring a
radical solution to win. Their position is to maintain resistance to the established system
of caste and to continue the fight against the vested caste Hindu interests.
V.T. Rajshekar's Dalit Voice publication has popularized another version of
vociferous anti-Brahminism. Using pseudo-historical accounts that complement an
inflammatory, Dalitocentric perspective, articles often describe Brahmins as “grass-eaters
and “Zionist sympathizers.” It appears that such conspiratorial agitation might undermine

One example is Dr. Bindeswar Pathak of Sulabh International, the recently famous Bhangi
advocacy organization that organized an event at the United Nations that showcased their issues
and even included Bhangi women as runway models to celebrate 2008 as the year of sanitation.
Perhaps this militant Dalitist view can best be summarized by the lyrics of a well-known Dalit
musician from Andhra Pradesh: “We've cleaned up menstrual clothes...take back what's ours from
these thieves...they're the meritorious sons of drunk landlords...they drink of the toddy that comes
from our sweat...pick and clubs and let's chase away these thieves...if the air and Ganges are
clean, how can they be polluted by our touch...take back what's ours from these thieves.”

the strength of the genuine social justice movements. This line of thinking also seems not
to be too typical of Dalit publications. The irony is that Rajshekar is not a Dalit but
supposedly a member of the Bunt community.
Akin to pseudo-scientific racial theories of the Black Panther movement, many
proponents of the Aryan Invasion Theory thrive on pointing out that the ancestors of
Brahmins and other forward castes were very late arrivals in India and therefore do not
have any right to dictate the culture of the subcontinent. Even more, forward caste
oppression of the so-called native majority is seen as a heinous injustice. While the
Dravidian languages likely dominated the subcontinent before the arrival of the Aryans
and their languages, it is foolish to assume that the majority of the subcontinent's
inhabitants at that point were actually descended from the Dravidians, who had also
immigrated/invaded at some prior juncture. It is also a mistake to assume that Brahmins
are exclusively Aryan. Perhaps various Kshatriya groups are the most Aryan?
For Ambedkar's Hinduism “that excluded him not only from temples but also
from households, streets, water tanks, and the whole basis of public life...[an] ethnic
definition of religion was unacceptable.”69 Ambedkar said, “I was born a Hindu, but I will
not die a Hindu,” thereby showing his disdain for the notion of faith as being
automatically inherited. The genetics of faith, as opposed to actual belief, run contrary to
Ambedkarite philosophy. “Hindu” as an ethnic category did not make sense for
Ambedkar, seeing as people could not convert to Hinduism. Additionally, one also cannot
convert out of Hinduism so easily. Chapter IV below addresses the extent to which
converts can actually escape Hinduism.
Generally opposed to the ethnicization of caste and the racial interpretation of
caste distinctions, the Ambedkarian analysis of caste was thus non-racial.70 But then
again, why would Hinduism be immune from tribalism and ethnic rivalries? Since one
cannot convert into Hinduism, there is clearly some ethnic element to the faith.
Ambedkar and many historians have rejected the idea that the Vedic Aryans came from
outside of India and later invaded, conquered the native peoples (ostensibly darker races

Omvedt, Gail Hindutva and Ethnicity in The Hindu, February 25, 2003
Sharma, Arvind. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar on the Aryan Invasion and the Emergence of the Caste
System in India in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion September 2005. Vol. 73,
No. 3, pp. 843-870.

of Dasas and Dasyus) and turned them into Shudras. Thus is repudiated the belief in
chaturvarna as a means of color differentiation between the purest Aryans and the
conquered people. Is a post-racialization view on caste and culture feasible? Indeed, the
Indological discourse today has taken to seeing the various movements of peoples into
India as migrations rather than as invasions. And, the population groups are viewed as
Dravidian-speaking peoples or Austro-Asiatic-speaking peoples rather than as various
racially pure groups. Their linguistic affiliation, rather than racial stock, is emphasized.
Nonetheless, there are certainly extant racialized aspects of the analysis.
Ambedkar’s rejection of the Aryan Invasion Theory stems more from an
inclination towards egalitarianism and away from nationalism, as in the case of the Hindu
right’s rejection of such hypotheses. “The idea that a minority could vanish as a minority
is easier to conceive in a world marked by cultic or cultural differences than in one
marked by racial differences,” argues Sharma.71 For Ambedkar, the non-racial aspect of
Aryan identity absolved him of some of the problems in assimilating the Aryan-
influenced ideals of Buddhism, including the 4 Noble Truths (aryasatya) and also the
“Noble” Eightfold Path, even if he had qualms with the dogmatic nature of the
philosophies and the fact that he would have to remove “Arya” to create an acceptable
nomenclature for the neo-Buddhist faith.
Ghurye presents a scholarly analysis of anthropometric perspectives in the history
of the caste debate. Using nasal index (measuring nasal breadth), cephalic index
(measuring head length), and blood type, various academics have attempted to
characterize the multitudinous ethnic groups of India. Inspired by Nesfield and Risley,
Ghurye acknowledges a strong connection between race and caste in certain states,
notably those closest to the original Indo-Aryan homeland, located around Punjab. He
believes that the anthropometric data suggest the strongest link between racial type and
caste rank in Uttar Pradesh (with Brahmin, Kayastha, Kurmi, Pasi, Chamar being 5 of the
12 castes that he tested that essentially showed the correlation between anthropometric
features and caste). The most dolichocephalic (long-headed) and fine-nosed individuals
would correspond to the highest caste rank. However, Ghurye states that the correlation
diminishes somewhat in places such as West Bengal, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu,

Ibid, p. 860

where the Brahmins are composed of more mixed racial stock. There are no doubt
ethnological studies that reflect an anthropological obsession with racial classificatory
schemes in the early part of the 20th century.72 Especially since the 1960's, many
academics have completely refuted this racialization of caste.
The problem remains that race is not a strictly defined scientific property.
However, questions of ethnicity and physiognomy might enrich any comprehensive
articulation of both the origins of caste in South Asia and the enduring societal features of
the caste hierarchy. On the one hand, it is crucial not to understate the linkages between
the Brahmins and the cultural heritage of Vedic society in northwestern India, but it is not
appropriate to overemphasize the ethnic element due to the considerable admixture that
has occurred, in varying degrees, throughout India – but most of which most likely
happened rather early on in the development of the caste system. Thus, the prescribed
occupations, graded by prestige and assigned hierarchical arrangement of positions,
constitute the hereditary basis of social differentiation.73 What might be unique among the
graded hierarchical systems of the world is the extent to which the Indian version
imposed almost absolute Untouchability and unapproachability upon certain groups. A
common contention is that the Indo-Aryan immigrants had contempt for the native
inhabitants of Punjab and the Indo-Gangetic plain, with their up-turned noses, different
head shape, and relatively dark skin, and consequently imposed barriers to interaction and
the practice of hypergamy.74
Indian writers such as S.C. Roy, N.K. Dutta, and G.S. Ghurye have attributed the
caste structure to racial mixture and hybridization or lack thereof. Majumdar argues: “The
racial factor in the formation of the caste structure in a sense is admitted by most of the
scholars and yet in the development of the caste system cannot be explained wholly on
the basis of race.”75 The Indian melting pot was nevertheless always quite sensitive to
excessive dilution or alleged caste contamination, according to this line of analysis. “The
clash of culture and contacts of races crystallized social grouping in India, and
Ghurye, p. 114
Ghurye, p. 162
According to Wikipedia, hypergamy “refers to a system of practice of selecting a spouse of
higher socio-economic status than oneself. Specifically, it refers to a widespread tendency
amongst human cultures for females to seek or be encouraged to pursue male suitors that are
comparatively older, wealthier or otherwise more privileged than themselves.”
Mujumdar, D.N., p. 282

endogamous groups were formed which jealously guarded against wholesale admixture
and miscegenation,” concludes Majumdar.76
However, a functional interpretation of caste in India would always strike down this
type of logic that emphasizes the stark racial and occupational differences between castes,
for upwards of two-thirds of working individuals were always involved with agriculture,
perhaps rather irrespective of caste. Yet, it is quite reasonable that permanent formation
of groups of priests, warriors, and traders was possible once other individuals took care of
the agricultural needs of the population. Particular professions were retained, and there
were restrictions placed on the liberties of others with respect to means of livelihood. In
sum, this type of social stratification is characterized by stark differences of living
standards, as well as a set of privileges that are enjoyed along hierarchical lines,
“conveniently supported by visible differences.”77 Fundamentally agreeing with Risley's
thesis, Majumdar posits that anthropometry tells the significant differences between high
and low castes, throughout India. “The social order of castes follows the ethnic order.”78
It is quite a contentious point that there is a direct correlation between caste rank
and genetic similarity to European population groups, with proportionately higher castes
shower progressively more commonality.79 One particular study by Bamshad made use of
three broad caste categories: upper, middle, and lower. This new type of tripartite
stratification is derived from the varna classifications, placing both Kshatriyas and
Vaishyas in the upper caste category, rendering Shudras the middle castes, and the
Panchamas as lower castes. “There are examples in which a tribe dispersed over a large
geographical region, took up different occupation, and 'fitted' itself into the caste
hierarchy on different rungs...Thus, the origin of caste populations may not be uniform
over the entire India geographical space, and it is crucial to undertake studies to replicate
Bamshad et al.’s findings.”80The genetic-based theory of caste is further confirmed by the
work of Thanseem et al, who cite the “Presence of a higher frequency of west Eurasian-

Ibid, p. 291
De Reuck, p. 9
Majumdar, D.N., p. 306
Bamshad et al., Genetic Evidence on the Origins of Indian Caste Populations in Genome
Research Vol. 11, Issue 6, 994-1004, June 2001
Majumder, Partha P., Indian Caste Origins: Genomic Insights and Future Outlook in Genome
Research Vol. 11, Issue 6, 931-932, June 2001

specific haplogroups in the higher castes, mostly in the north western part of India.”81
This would suggest a clustering of persons in the higher castes whose phenotype is more
reminiscent of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and even Eastern European peoples.
Hence the common cultural tendency to stereotype higher caste individuals as being
relatively tall, fair-skinned, and long-nosed. It seems reasonable to correlate this
phenotype with relatively more recent migrations into India from the northwest, but it can
be perilous, politically and otherwise, to generalize excessively about the ethnic
component. However, it would be silly not to accept clear ethnic differences between the
various mega-diverse castes in India, and thus also in Mumbai, which represents a
massive confluence of so many thousands of different caste and tribal populations from
the subcontinent.
The valuable point to make with regards to the influence of genetics on caste is that
purity of race is not only an exaggeration but a huge fallacy. Yet, that does not preclude a
significant ethnic factor in caste formation. There are clearly certain particularly
dominant strains within many caste groups, with clusterings of Dravidian, Indo-Aryan,
proto-Australoid, Turkic, Scythian, Semitic, Tibetan Mundic, Bactrian, Kushan, Hun,
Shakya, and Burmese ethnic origin, to name just a few of the influences. But, it is falsely
polarizing simply to characterize groups as being either Dravidian or Aryan. While the
broader linguistic categories definitely do reflect ethnic differences to a certain extent, it
seems that today the boundaries of language families do not necessarily correlate with
People in India cannot simply be classified as Aryan non-native or Dravidian
native. This sort of bifurcation would be historically false and the currency of
propagandists. These two best-known umbrella groups appear to be mere fractions of the
human populations that have historically fed into the mega-diverse gene pool of the
Indian subcontinent. One ought not underestimate the Negrito, Veddoid, proto-
Australoid, Mongoloid, Semitic, and Central Asian elements of the modern Indian
population, the first four of which arrived in the subcontinent well before the Dravidians
and the Aryans had migrated from Iran and Central Asia, respectively.
According to a view put forward by geneticist Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza
Thanseem, I. et al, Genetic affinities among the lower castes and tribal groups of India:
inference from Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA in BMC Genetics August 7, 2006

in the book The History and Geography of Human Genes, the Dravidians
were preceded in the subcontinent by an Austro-Asiatic people, and
followed by Indo-European-speaking migrants sometime later. The
original inhabitants may be identified with the speakers of the Munda
languages, which are unrelated to either Indo-Aryan or Dravidian
languages. However, the Munda languages, as a subgroup of the larger
Austro-Asiatic language family, are presumed to have arrived in the Indian
subcontinent from the east, possibly from the area that is now
southwestern China.82

It appears likely that caste groups at neither end of the spectrum represents
genetically pure strains but rather clusterings of several ethnic sources who were placed
at the respective positions on the hierarchy. In addition, it is crucial to state the
discrepancy between genetic inheritance on the female line (mtDNA), which often is of
divergent sources than the male inheritance (yDNA). Genetic evidence shows much more
commonality with Western Eurasian genes in the yDNA (among 11 or so different yDNA
haplogroups that are found in South Asia), indicating a long history of hypergamous
relations. In sum, the ethnic element in caste cannot be discounted, although it certainly
cannot be relied on to give a comprehensive account of caste's origins. This subject is
revisited in Chapter V in the context of the internationalization of the Dalit movement.

Ambedkar, Egalitarianism, and the Bahujan Movement

This is an introduction to the Bahujan movement that will be addressed in more
depth in later chapters, but it is imperative to frame the academic and intellectual context
of the present research project.83 Without sufficient knowledge of the current socio-
political movement, it is quite difficult to perceive of the scope of the issues at hand.
Increased Western interest in these caste matters perhaps has been a function of the
increased visibility achieved within India herself. The game of caste politics is played
like never before, and Dalit activists are increasingly pressing for more radical changes to
the structure of Indian society. Political philosopher John Rawls' contributions to the
pursuit of social justice are exceptionally relevant to understanding the Bahujan agenda-

Source: Wikipedia entry on “Dravidian Peoples”
The Hindi word “Bahujan” translates to majority and generally carries the connotation
“deprived majority.”

at least on paper if not in practice. Thus, by that yardstick, government measures are only
justifiable to the extent that they aid the least well off members of society.
The majoritarian movement was jump-started just over a decade ago, in 1997,
when K. R. Narayanan became President, marking the first time that the “majority” had
truly attained a position of such power in the Indian government. Shortly thereafter,
“Brahmin ministers scrambled to touch his feet and ask for his blessings.”84Former
President K. R. Narayanan, current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court K. G.
Balakrishnan, and the current Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati Naina Kumari are
three prominent examples of Dalit figures within the Indian government, the latter of
whom has built her carer on her capacity to mobilize her fellow caste-men and caste-
women.85 Yet, even if the Bahujan discourse has not garnered the support of the majority
of the Indian population, “Dalits arrived on the scene with the advent of the BSP...created
a new identity, awareness, confidence, and self-respect...[which] brought them into
mainstream politics and society.”86
Much of the present cultural debate about development revolves around some
articulation of the India-versus-Bharat notion, which is one method of contextualizing
and dichotomizing the conflict between the more rural, agricultural, traditional Bharat87
of the Bahujan - and the Anglicized, urbanized, technological more affluent India. While
this certainly over-generalizes the split and implies that India is more demographically
polarized than it is in reality, there is much to appreciate from this concept. The
identitarian aspects of the anti-casteism crusade challenge the traditional assumptions
about Indian national identity and direction. But, the Bahujan is far from unified, and it is
considered doubtful that the Dalit-led political outfit will be able to mobilize the
variegated components of the Indian majority. Dalits likely are second only to the Tribals
of India in terms of overall level of backwardness88 - and thus the lack of absolute
socioeconomic progress.

Mehta, Sukesh. p. 70
India has had not only a Dalit president (K. R. Narayanan, 1997-2002), but also a Muslim
president (Abdul Kalam, 2002-2007), and a female president (Pratibha Patil, 2007-present)
Thul, Rajnish. “India's Silent Revolution. IPRA- Vol. 2, Issue 1, Jan-Mar 2008
Bharat in Hindi is the traditional name for the territory.
This term is not considered offensive or derogatory in the Indian context, as it is used both for
official and unofficial purposes to refer to the most underdeveloped sections of society.

Image 10: A Maharashtrian Buddhist family at Chaitya Bhoomi on December 6, 2007.

Modern India's most often cited Bahujan leader is Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar,
whose work throughout the first half of the 20th Century undoubtedly laid the groundwork
for the contemporary Bahujan movement. The principles of the Ambedkarite movement
can broadly be outlined by his oft-embraced tripartite slogan, “liberty, equality, and
fraternity,” borrowed by the French national motto that was engendered during the
French Revolution in 1789.89 The political reformer’s primary contributions to the Indian
polity were his crafting of the Constitution and the Hindu Code Bill, which ultimately
passed in 1955.
Ambedkar’s activism evolved far from initial attempts to assimilate into
mainstream Hinduism, participate in religious rites, and attempt to lead his followers into
what is often termed Sanskritization. His early Satyagraha experiences gave him the

“Liberté, égalité, fraternité” was not institutionalized as the official motto of France until the
end of the 19th century.

courage to lead his followers into drinking water from Chavdar Tale (Tasty Lake), during
which Ambedkar engaged in rejection of the traditional Hindu social code.
One of the many climaxes of Ambedkar’s condemnation of the Hindu hierarchy
occurred on March 19, 1927, when Ambedkar burned a copy of the Manusmriti, which is
historically considered to be the source book for caste ideology and which had
propagated untouchability. His followers subsequently designated him the “modern
Manu.” A Brahmin man actually accompanied Ambedkar during this holy book
immolation. Ambedkar's efforts to integrate his co-caste-men into the fabric of orthodox
Hindu religious practice ended in 1935, when he realized that it was not possible for them
to be accepted into the belly of the faith that had an entrenched notion of Untouchability.
Ambedkar's Buddha and Karl Marx speech in Nepal was the initiation of a long
process of integration of two intellectual movements: the Marxist concept of social
justice and the Buddhist framework for spiritual liberation. While enthralled by the
ideological framework of Marxist agitation and the movement’s wide-ranging formula for
liberation, Ambedkar nonetheless had trouble with the fact that Marxism truly did not
account for factors such as caste, gender, or race. The cultural and political existence of
the Dalits, Ambedkar realized, was beyond the pale of Marxist philosophy. However, the
emotional, as well as intellectual, allure of Marxism sought to solace the poor and
exploited.90 For an extremely uneducated and impoverished minority, Ambedkar knew
that the road to liberation involved urbanization, education, and ultimately, he realized,
repudiation of Hindu casteism. Ambedkar opted for a brand of Buddhism that eschewed
worldly renunciation, instead advocating the struggle for full socioeconomic equality.
In 1990, Ambedkar was posthumously given the Bharat Ratna Award for his
contributions to the uplift of India's impoverished citizens. His legacy is celebrated en
masse several times a year by the sizable community that venerates him. “We've come
here from all parts of India to pay tribute to our beloved leader on the anniversary of his
death. Jai Bhim!” said one proud attendee, a farmer from Madhya Pradesh who had
ridden the train free to reach Mumbai for Ambedkar's Mahaparinibbana on December 6,
2007. Critics allege that the hybrid Buddhist-Hindu Ambedkarite tradition borders on
monotheistic worship91 of the Columbia and London School of Economics educated
Jaffrelot, Christophe. Dr. Ambedkar and Untouchability
Timothy Fitzgerald interprets Ambedkar's Buddhism as “ritual, politics, and soteriology

political reformer, Constitutional architect, and religious philosopher. Nonetheless,
Ambedkar is “at the heart of the contest for public space” and “a symbol of confrontation
between the lower castes and the upper castes.”92
Dalit political mobilization has resulted in the increasing power of Bahujan
movement under the aegis of Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party. She is currently the
Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and has been trailblazing a new path towards increased
political power of the Scheduled Castes but has incorporated caste coalition politics into
her Dalit movement, such that it would not be possible to call the BSP a Dalit party per
se. The list of 403 candidates from the BSP who contested the Uttar Pradesh state
election in May 2007 included 86 Brahmins, 61 Muslims, 110 OBCs and 93 Dalits. The
unanticipated and successful BSP outcome (Dalits are 21% of the state population and
were only 50% of the aggregate party vote total) are a function of terms set by Dalits and
then floated to upper caste folk, according to supporters.
At the November 25, 2007, “Mayawati grand rally” in Mumbai's Shivaji Park, the
leader proclaimed, “After coming to power, [India's leaders] simply forget the poor, the
backward sections, minorities and the downtrodden of society who continue to suffer in
their misery." She added, just before the estimated 300,000-strong crowd's deafening
applause, “We shall not enrich the rich and affluent, but serve to bring a smile to the
poorest of the poor in the remotest corners of India.”
In deconstructing the Bahujan phenomenon, Gail Omvedt points out that almost
all political parties have made an effort to include Dalits in their lineups. But, would
much of this be considered mere token representation? Also, there remains much doubt as
to whether voting can truly be mobilized at the jati level. While caste-based politics
exists with regards to particular ethno-linguistic communities and religious groups, as far
as the castes, the functional units are more like aggregations (i.e. Dalit aggregation or
OBC amalgamation). Some of the best vote-bank politics are practiced by the Samajwadi
Party and Janata Dal in harnessing the OBC vote.

(salvation theology).” This theory holds that the linkage between salvation and democratic
political structures gives Ambedkarism an edge in combatting the alleged Brahminical cultural
hegemony that traditionally kept Dalits oppressed. Ambedkarite Buddhism is often not practiced
aniconically – that is to say that it generally does entail worship of an image in a deifying manner
against which Ambedkar himself forewarned.
Ibid Jaffrelot, p. 165.

Image 11: The BSP's flag hoisted during the November 25, 2007, mega-rally in
Mumbai's Shivaji Park.

Yet, on the other hand, Mayawati is representative of an inventive sort of caste
accommodationism that simultaneously is too conservative for radical Dalits and still too
radical for many Congress supporters, from whom BSP hopes to gain votes. Mayawati
epitomizes the political rise of the massive Indian underclass that is neither Cambridge-
educated nor Anglo-centric. To boot, she formerly embraced the following pet slogan:
“Tilak, tarazu, aur talwaar / Maro inko jootay chaar,” which loosely means “curse be
upon the Brahmin, Kshatriya, and Vaishya.”93 Suketu Mehta, author of Maximum City,
explains thusly the power of this gradual Indian political revolution: “The new inheritors
The literal meaning is “Tilak (Brahmin), Tarazu (Bania trader's weighing machine), Talwar
(Thakur's sword), beat them with your shoes!” This carries symbolic weight since the bulk of
Mayawati's Dalit support comes from her own Chamar leather-working caste who were
traditionally considered degraded because they worked with shoes. The BSP has since shifted its
strategy, and one of their current slogans is “Brahmin shank bajayega, haathi aagay jayega,”
which translates to “When the Brahmin blows the conch, the elephant will advance.”

of the country – and of the city- are very different from the ones who took over from the
British…Badly educated, unscrupulous, lack a metropolitan sensibility…but, above all,
Some of her political opponents say that BMW (Bahin Mayawati)95 is a typically
corrupt leader who purports to represent the people but who actually steals, bribes, and
cheats. For a government that is generally inefficient and that is based on a system of
corruption and patron-client relationships, her model has worked. While the private
sector tends to be much more efficient than the public sector in India, one should not
jump too hastily towards pro-neo-liberal conclusions. But, it is evident that private sector
is infinitely more competent in producing financially profitable results and modernizing
infrastructure. Moreover, the service sector of the Indian economy continues to be the
only sector whose growth is robust and continuous.
As of March 7, 2008, four of the world’s eight richest men were Indian citizens.
Although the economy and the stock market have since tanked significantly, the
inevitable rebound will ensure a similar result. the four of them alone possessing
approximately $160 billion.96 On that day, India had 53 billionaires – the most in India
and the fourth most in the world, behind the U.S. (469), Russia (87), and Germany (59).
Mumbaikars like to joke that when the city becomes the home of the world's richest man,
it will still be home to the world's poorest man as well. While the existence of crude class
inequalities are certainly not, in and of themselves, indicative of casteist injustice or
caste-based stratification, there is a clear correlation between class and caste that
ultimately suggests that the India is reflective not just of a wealth divide based upon
income and socioeconomic class - but of tremendous caste disparity.97

Mehta, Suketu. Pg. 81
Translated as “Sister Mayawati,” this is an affectionate term for the BSP leader.
Times of India, March 7, 2008 4 of world’s 8 richest are Indians. Times News Network
Guru, Gopal and Sidhva, Shiraz. India's Hidden Apartheid - Caste System in September 2001
UNESCO Courier

Image 12: A bust of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar with garlands in Shivaji Park, Mumbai

Caste and class largely one and the same, to the extent that forward castes are
much more heavily represented in good private sector jobs, while the bulk of the
backward castes are still simmering, agitating, vegetating at the bottom of the caste heap?
While India has more people than any other country in the top ten richest inhabitants of
this global civilization, India also has more people than any other country in the bottom 2
billion. 100,000 Indians are dollar millionaires,98 Lakshmi Mittal, Mukesh Ambani, Anil
Ambani, and K.P. Singh have a combined asset total that is greater than the sum-total
wealth of India’s several hundred million other Indians.99
Both the Human Development Index and Global Hunger Index figures for India
as a whole remain quite dismal, given the staggering rate of GDP growth over the past
two decades. Contemporary India is increasingly home to several layers of development,
characterized by extreme disparities in progress and modernization. Below is an excerpt
from Indexing inhumanity, Indian style:
It all happened around the same time. The day the Sensex crossed 19,000,
India clocked in 94th [out of 118 countries] in the Global Hunger Index —
behind Ethiopia. Both stories did make it to the front page (in one daily at
least). But, of course, the GHI ranking was mostly buried inside or not
carried at all that day. The joy over the stunning rise of the media’s most
loved index held on for a bit the next day. The same day, India clocked in
as the leading nation in the number of women dying in childbirth. In this
list, the second, third and fourth worst countries put together just about
matched India’s 1.17 lakh [117,000] deaths of women in childbirth. This
story appeared in single column just beneath the Sensex surge…If we
were to look at specific groups or communities, this would be even clearer.
Let alone on the hunger index, India’s rank in the U.N.’s Human
Development Index is anyway dismal. There, at 126, we are below
Bolivia, Guatemala and Gabon. Yet even that rank does not tell the full
story. If we were to isolate the rich and the better off as a group, they
might enter the top 10 nations. Efforts last year to look at adivasis as a
group led pretty much in the reverse direction. One study found that if we
were to derive the HDI for our tribes only, they would rank in the worst
off 25 nations of the world.”100

Considering the robust Indian economy, one would also expect for India's least
well-off citizens to derive increased prosperity from the shifting conditions and speedy
World Wealth Report by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini
4 of world’s 8 richest are Indians Times News Network Times of India March 7, 2008

development. It is true that the least wealthy quintile of Indians has increased its wealth
by approximately the same percentage as the general population. And, it is also certain
that there is a small but confident elite of urban Dalit professionals that has just reached
solid middle class status – however miniscule. Estimates of how many Dalits are part of
India's middle class range from 20,000 to 100,000.101 Even with one lakh in the middle
class, that would mean just 0.05% of the total Dalit population! However, aside from
politicians, the number of Dalit individuals having made it to the top in terms of wealth
accumulation is statistically insignificant.
There is a notable Dalit millionaire who has made it into the upper echelons of
wealth, but he does not believe that the gap in India is narrowing.102 Most ordinary Indian
Dalits are not like Mr. Pippal. He is an extremely rare example of considerable Dalit
financial success, yet his perspective must be examined all the more - precisely for this
reason. The vast majority are neither educated nor urban. The vast majority neither speak
English nor know how to use the internet. The Dalit place in the Hindu caste system is
not appreciable without some background information on the caste enterprise itself and
the parameters of the system with which Dalits contend with the almighty notion of
“caste.” What is this force of undeniable proportion? From whence did it become
ingrained in the Indian social universe? Through the prism of the Dalit experience, the
stigma of caste can best be grasped. But, undoubtedly, caste inquiries must surely
embrace the experiences of individuals from every nook and cranny of the caste
arrangement. Dalits and the framework of Dalitism103 are but one window of entry unto
the enigmatic world of caste consciousness, which is but one fundament among many
pillars of the enigmatic contemporary Indian society.
Rama Bijapurkar summarizes the Indian paradox thusly: “A farmer who
understands ecological balance and the power of the internet coexists with a nuclear
scientist who insists that he needs a son to light his funeral pyre so that he is not trapped
in yet another cycle of birth and death.”104 With real-time exposure to the developed
Source: Caste Away: India's high-tech revolution helps 'Untouchables' rise by Paul Beckett,
Wall Street Journal June 3, 2007
India's Untouchable Millionaire by Amelia Gentleman in the Guardian's The Observer, May 6,
This ideology can best be described as the movement towards increased Dalit assertiveness and
full Dalit participation in key areas of Indian political, economic, and social life.
Bijapurkar, Rama. We Are Like That Only

world and incomes growing fast, there are simultaneously several Indias. But, one must
define which India is being viewed. The omnipresent fear would be that certain aspects of
traditional India are limiting the promise of the elephant. Although heterogeneous and
plural are not sufficient to describe the variety of groups that coexist economically and
socially in the same country, some caste and tribal communities and their sub-economies
experience a disconnect from mainstream India that renders them considerably more
underdeveloped than some of the most backward groups of sub-Saharan Africa.

Chapter II: Geography of Caste-Class
Convergence in Mumbai

The engine of this culture has tended to be pragmatism rather than egalitarianism.
Either people do not care about the traditional values of purity and pollution in the
context of Untouchability, or at least they are prepared to go along with the prevailing
modern culture while in the city. The same people may revert to 'traditional,' more
discriminatory, culture during stays in their ancestral village. - The Untouchables105

Map 3: The state of Maharashtra

Mendelsohn, p. 125

Koliwada to Kitna Fayda: A Maharashtrian Village Scaled Upwards

Mumbai was once just a series of Koli fisher-caste hamlets strewn across seven
unconnected islands. There were no overcrowded suburban trains to crush unsuspecting
commuters, and there were no heart-shaped slums to house lakhs of lumpenproletarians.
While the geographic area that is now Mumbai was not originally diverse in terms of its
inhabitants, the early migrants from other parts of Maharashtra undoubtedly brought their
caste norms with them. While they encountered a diverse smattering of other populations
such as Portuguese, Siddhis, British, Parsis, Gujaratis, and Muslims, the early Marathi-
speaking migrants in the 19th century were not too far from the villages where caste
determined nearly everything about a person's life. Although there was then no such thing
as Maharashtra, Mumbai nonetheless was physically located within the Marathi-speaking
realm, in which a certain caste order prevailed in most locales. It is this ordering that
must be explored before moving on to contemporary Mumbai.
In a typical village, the Untouchables were generally placed on the outskirts of the
other settlements, away from the town center where the dominant castes lived. There are
two recent examples of physical barriers erected between the Dalit area and the rest of the
village that exemplify this sort of segregation. One occurred in the Satara district of
Maharashtra, where the 150-meter wall separating the Dalit village of Bhimnagar from
the Maratha village of Darre was destroyed on April 14, 2008, and the other was in the
village of Uthapuram, near Madurai, Tamil Nadu. In the case of the latter, the 600-meter
wall stood for three decades, until it was demolished on May 28, 2008. Uthapuram has a
long history of violent tension between Dalits and Pillaimar OBC villagers. After a clash
in the late 80's that killed nine villagers, Dalits were denied access to the local temple.
Even so, much of the expression of this type of separation is with unseen walls.
Residential segregation is one issue that should be significantly addressed in the rural and
urban contexts. While perhaps not as strict as states such as Gujarat, Bihar, and Andhra
Pradesh, it seems that Maharashtrian villages were historically organized along caste
lines, with the minimum separation being between Untouchables and everyone else.
Ghurye contends that, in the caste-ridden states, the entire village would be segregated
strictly along caste lines. Dalits generally lived on the periphery of villages, always on the

Map 4: Traditional Caste Geography of a Prototypical Village in Maharashtra, largely
based on data from the Matang report.

side where the wind would blow away from the village, so that their air would not
contaminate the rest of the village’s inhabitants.

In a Maharashtrian village, the mix of Brahmins could include any of the
following jatis: Chitpavan/Konkanasth (KoBra), Deshastha, Karhada, or Goud Saraswat
(GSB). Other pandar-peshe (Marathi for high-caste) included Marathas, Chandraseniya
Kayastha Prabhu (CKP), and often some immigrant merchant castes such as Wani.
In terms of local rules, certain parts of the state could be very harsh with respect
to Dalits. Around Pune, Ghurye states that Mahars and Matangs were not allowed into the
villages between 3:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. because they would cast too long of a shadow,
thereby potentially polluting an upper-caste person with their impure presence. Just as in
villages elsewhere in India, Untouchables in Maharashtra traditionally had to carry a
caste marker. In Punjab, sweepers were required always to carry their brooms with them.
Certain Untouchable castes in Gujarat were required to wear horns as distinguishing
markers. In other regions, Untouchables had to wear a black thread. Mahars in
Maharashtra were required to carry spittoons around their neck so that their spittle would
fall therein and not contaminate upper-caste persons passing nearby. Also, many villages
had a restriction on what Untouchables could and could not eat. Untouchables were
generally forbidden from fetching well water, cattle-grazing, walking on upper caste land,
and going to school. So, this era has most certainly passed for urban India, although much
caste discrimination is pervasive in villages in the more backward states.
There are some idiosyncrasies that defined caste in Maharashtra. Traditionally,
Mahar marriage rites were to be performed by Medhe-Mahars. Mahar weddings could
not be performed by Brahmins since Mahars were considered atishudras. Yet, certain
tasks were available to anyone to perform, regardless of caste, according to Ghurye.
Generally, pre-1800 linguistic boundaries set the limits to castes in particular
regions. It seems that there was a lack of hard and fast rules for caste interaction in
Mumbai. However, there are also many historical anomalies that exist within the
Maharashtrian village sphere. This antithetical historical trend of caste inclusion relates to
Hindu village activities. There were often local judicial panels on which sat members of
all communities, including Mahars and Matangs. There is the example of Vidarbha
(where the Untouchability of the Mahars was much more mild than in other parts of
Maharashtra),106 where Mahars traditionally lit the fire first during the Holi festival.
It is alleged that there was always considerable intra-Mahar discrimination in this region of
Maharashtra against sub-castes who perform the more degrading occupations. While

Another anomaly is how the Mahars fixed wedding dates for Telis (oil-pressers), Kunbis
(farmers), and Lohars (blacksmiths). One further status anomaly is how Mahars officiated
at the slaughter of Dassehra buffaloes. Additionally, a man of the Nhavi caste was often
the marriage assistant or matrimonial priest for the low castes. Generally, these outlets of
caste change alter the caste hierarchy at predetermined times, thereby essentially allowing
for some caste-flexible “holidays” throughout the year. They provided relief for low
castes and “gave zest to their life even in their degraded condition.”107
Below is an example of a Mumbaikar whose parents hail from a part of eastern
Maharashtra near Nagpur. The table is given in order to state the complexity of caste
inheritance and how there are numerous facets of caste identity. The individual belongs to
the Kunbi OBC caste, as further indicated by her caste certificate on the following page.
Furnishing a caste certificate and caste verification are necessary to avail of the benefits
conferred by the particular membership that is indicated on one’s caste certificate.

Table 10: A Young Mumbaikar's Lineage
Priyanka Wankhede's Mother: Father:
Caste Biography
Surname: Kohale Wankhede
Language: Marathi Marathi
Community: Maratha Maratha
Varna: Kshatriya Kshatriya
Caste (Jati): Kunbi Kunbi
Classification: OBC OBC
Sub-Caste: Tirar Tirar
Gotra: Kashyup Kashyup
Traditional Job: Farmer Farmer
Title: Patil Deshmukh
Special Function: Landlord Revenue

Untouchability was always more mild in eastern Maharashtra than in places such as Pune, one
ought not excessively generalize across different geographic regions.
Ghurye p. 27

Image 13: The caste certificate of Priyanka Wankhede, who belongs to the Kunbi caste,
which is entry #83 on Maharashtra's OBC list.

Map 5: Mumbai and its highlights

While the power of the caste certificate is indeed awesome, many families choose
not to avail of the benefits of backward class status. Additionally, many upper caste
persons seek to shed evidence of their caste status in their names. There are also
examples of lower caste people who change surnames in process of renouncing their
caste identities and attempting to adopt a more caste-neutral status. This involves
intentionally shedding the burden of an appellation that indicates the caste institution of
which one does not approve. To be sure, it is also highly illegal to forge caste
documentation. If someone gains a university seat with a fake caste certificate, he will be
expelled immediately if it is discovered that he had lied about his true caste. University
expulsions for this reason are a fairly common occurrence these days.

Residential Segregation

The following mother tongue breakdown of Mumbai is from the 1991 Census:
41.6% Marathi, 15.7% Hindi, 13.9% Gujarati, 12.1% Urdu, 2.8% Tamil, 2.4% Konkani,
2.2% Sindhi, 2.0% Kannada, 1.8% Telugu, 1.7% Malayalam, 1.2% Punjabi, .5% Bengali,
and 2.1% others (English, Nepali, Oriya, etc).
The following religious breakdown of Mumbai from the 2001 Census: 67.4%
Hindu, 18.5% Muslim, 5% Buddhist, 4% Christian, 4% Jain, .6% Sikh, .5% other
(Zoroastrian, Jewish, atheist, etc).
In addition to the ethno-religious communities depicted on the map below, there
are countless other ethno-religious concentrations in Mumbai such as: Tamil Brahmins
and Malayalees in Chembur, Mahars in Govandi/Chembur, Muslims in Shivaji Nagar,
Sindhis in Sindhi Camp, Gujaratis in Ghatkopar, and Tamils in Dharavi. In terms of the
overall level of segregation in Mumbai, there is not the same sort of residential
discrimination that existed in the villages, since the communities draw on migrants from
all over India. However, there are clear ghettoes where the population is more or less
determined by a set number of ethno-linguistic, religious, class, and caste groups. Many
respondents in this study reported that apartments in certain communities were very much
off limits to Muslims. Others stated how particular builders would only allow members
from the right community, i.e. Guju or Punjabi.

Map 6, modified version of map produced by Niall Kirkwood's Studio

There is a broad consensus among the city’s upper class that the city is no longer
run by Parsis, Gujaratis, Marwaris, Sindhis, and Punjabis. The keys of the city have been
transferred, at least partially, to a political class that draws from a far broader range of
Indian demographic groups, rather than an elite of economically dominant Mumbaikars
who trace their origins mainly to northwestern India and as a bloc are considered the
“mercantile communities.”108 So, perhaps it makes more sense in the context of Mumbai
to examine the role of these crucial communities, which are a bit different than the jati
groups that are the intended focus of this project. The unit of family business is perhaps
more central to the Mumbai experience, in the way that extended family is mobilized in
the process of a business creating value.109
There is the example of one building in Dadar, where non-Brahmins are generally
excluded from living, but where the building committee also discriminates against the
“wrong” type of Brahmins. Dominated by Deshastha Brahmins, the Konkanasth
Brahmins are not able to vote in the society’s meetings. Thus, there is even discrimination
amongst Brahmins!
A Bombay Brahmin cannot afford to be choosy about who is next
to him in a queue – whether it is in the post office, the bank or a fast-food
outlet...Beneath the cosmopolitan carelessness of Bombay, say, there are
deep-seated separations. The factor of class ensures that higher-status
people will come into no more than highly limited contact with
Untouchables, who tend to be at the bottom of both class and caste orders.
So as a matter of logic it is quite possible for public civility to coexist with
the maintenance of deep prejudice against Untouchables.110

The increasing need for huge quantities of unskilled and semi-skilled daily wage
laborers in Mumbai means that most rural Maharashtrian Dalits who have left their
villages have turned from being mostly landless agricultural laborers to being wage labor
on road crews, construction sites, etc. In order to categorize Mumbai-specific caste
relations, it is first necessary to frame the geographic distribution of castes/classes in
metro Mumbai. While it is clear that SC persons are largely concentrated in the slums and
chawls of the city, Mumbai does not quite mimic the patterns of geographical caste
distribution in rural Maharashtra, since there is often so little space between two
Mehta, p. 140
Bhiratri is the term for this sort of extended family network.
Mendelsohn, p. 40

communities of completely different composition. In a region where caste discrimination
is relatively not so pervasive, Mumbai is still not a well-integrated city. The pattern of
differential access and segregation for the various social strata is difficult to map, due
ultimately to the lack of proper database analysis software to comprehend more
comprehensively the numerical strength and exact geographical distribution of the
various SC groups. Regardless, ghettoism in Mumbai is a prominent factor.
As explained above in Chapter 1, Mumbai generally does not experience the sorts
of extreme caste violence and caste discrimination that plague a number of Indian states
such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Backward places with low HDI generally are correlated
also with higher levels of caste violence. While incidences of hate crimes based on caste
and the practice of untouchability exist in rural Maharashtra (though considerably less so
than in other much less prosperous states), the frequency of such events is rather low in
metropolitan Mumbai. To understand caste in Mumbai, one must clearly appreciate
subtleties of culture, language, and socialization.
The ongoing entrenchment of caste has much more of an impact other locales in
India. Again, it is therefore appropriate to focus on this institution in Mumbai because it
is so little discussed and because so many well-informed citizens believe that caste truly
is dead and gone. Caste is so complex and ingrained that it does not merely disappear
overnight. Is it only the lower-caste people who still believe that caste has an impact on
one’s life-chances? But, there is the realization that the importance of caste must always
be contextualized and be understood relative to other factors and relative to how caste
operates in other locales.
If Mahars migrate from Maharashtrian villages to Mumbai, Delhi, or Hyderabad,
then their caste identity becomes relatively ambiguous, such that perhaps only fellow
Maharashtrians understand how the caste enterprise pertains to such a particular local
Maharashtrian group. Leaving the village behind and taking advice of Ambedkar has
brought lakhs of former Untouchables to Mumbai, which is not just the capital of
Maharashtra but the largest metropolis in India. In reality, Mumbai is an all-Indian city,
but is only somewhat global compared to truly global world cities. Yet, relative to other
places in India, it is highly global. Is the city is more Maharashtrian than the other ethno-
linguistic components? Maharashtrians too had to migrate to Mumbai, as only the Kolis

were the original inhabitants. Of course, Maharashtrians might have migrated from only
several hundred kilometers away, rather than several thousand kilometers, as in the case
of migrants from Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, etc. Should Mumbai be viewed through a
Maharashtrian lens only, or should it be conceptualized as if it were a Union Territory?
The proper evolution from having been the Bombay Presidency and then until 1955 was
the capital of the Bombay State. It was not until further realignment of states along ethno-
linguistic lines in 1960, that it was made the capital of Maharashtra. Previously, Mumbai
was not as tied to the Maharasthrian context and therefore the Maharashtrian caste
Mapping out all of Mumbai's castes would be a massive undertaking. If the city
used a citywide caste certificate system – which would largely still not avoid much of the
classificatory problem encountered in the Census – then it could keep a database on the
geographical distribution of castes. Once you’ve put together a listing of all the castes in
Mumbai and how many members each has, then the task is yet incomplete. One would
also have to factor in mixed-caste individuals (though caste is generally inherited from
one’s father). The main classificatory problem dealing with conversions to non-Hindu
faiths and deciding whether castes of Sikhs and Buddhists,111 on the one hand, and
Muslims and Christians,112 on the other hand, would be grouped in these separate faiths or
whether they could still be counted among their former co-religionists as SC persons.
While fraud would probably be the biggest obstacle to reliable identification of
caste in such a scheme, this seems to be the only possible way to map out caste, barring
national re-adoption of the caste-based Census, which was halted after 1931. The
government does indeed keep records of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe persons
within highly specific geographic areas, but there is no central database of all city
residents along caste lines for this agglomeration. There are only census enumerations
that include not much more than the 10% of the city's population that is SC and ST.

The Supreme Court of India ruled in 1990 that Buddhists, as members of a religion native to
India, could be counted as SCs if they could prove membership in a Scheduled Caste.
The Supreme Court of India is continually grappling with the problematic of counting religious
minorities as members of their (former) Hindu castes or of their (new) non-Hindu faiths. Most
recently, the debate has centered on converts to Christianity and their desire to remain identifiable
as low-caste Hindus for legal purposes.

Transport, Slums, Literacy, and Density

Map 7: Mumbai Suburban Rail Network, courtesy of Wikipedia.

With the complete congestion, mayhem, and chaos that is the quotidian grind in
the Maximum City, how does the city not become over-stretched and overdone – is an
infrastructure collapse not imminent? Is there a breaking point? Critical mass?
Uppermost limit? The question of maximum extent does not even apply to so many facets
of Mumbai, since its residents are some of the most adaptable people on the planet.

Map 8: Slum Population, courtesy of the 2001 Census of India

Map 9: Slum Population with rail lines overlaid

The slumification of Mumbai, which began during the 1970's as real estate prices
started climbing, continues to mean that a majority of the city's inhabitants dwell in
slums. Many of the slums in Mumbai are concentrated along the Harbor Line and Central
Line of the rail network, in closer proximity to the eastern waterfront, where the
dockyards are located. Additionally, the western parts of the city that border on the
Arabian Sea are considered more desirable and generally have higher property values. To
its credit, Slum Studies is now a college-level degree program at the University of
Mumbai's Ramnarain Ruia College in Matunga.
The following quote from Shantaram captures the essence of Mumbai's majority
that lives in slums. “‘We are the not-people…And these are the not-houses, where we are
not-living…And now we have a not-school to go with it…’ They were simple people
from simple villages, most of them, but their view of the great city was unparalleled, for
they were building the tallest structures in Bombay.”113
Although no exact statistics were garnered from the largely qualitative data on
residential segregation, it seems that the segregation index would be quite high. An
overwhelming majority of SC respondents surveyed were in a residential situation that
was characterized by a prevalence of slum/chawl dwellings in close proximity to other
backward caste individuals. Despite the segregation of Dalits into slums, caste is highly
manifest even among slum dwellers. Mahars and Matangs largely do not interact in many
slums of Mumbai, much less Mahars and Matangs with Marathas.114 Does this facilitate
cumulative exploitation by means of intra-caste occupational networks? What are the
dynamics of caste in the slums? Below are some perspectives gathered in the fieldwork:
One fellow who lives in Malad's Malwani Camp slum is Ratiram Koli, a 40 year-
old member of the Koli fisherfolk caste who still fishes for a living, just as his parents
and grandparents have done. Educated up until the 8th Std., he is a Shiv Sena supporter
and believes the caste system will not change. Another Koli fisherman named Rajiv Koli
has the same political views. Educated up till the 12th Std., he is “enjoying his life with
his fishing business and a very happy man.”
Anwar Abdul Shaikh is a 43 year-old embroidery machinist in a predominantly

Roberts, Gregory David. Shantaram. Pg. 250- 251
Presentation given by Varsha Ayyar at the Critical Perspectives in Sociology Seminar at the
University of Mumbai on February 22, 2008.

Muslim area of Dharavi near Mahim. He too supports Shiv Sena and considers himself to
be a Dalit, despite his religion. As his religion is very important in all facets of his life in
Mumbai, Shaikh emanated pride in his faith. With a 10th Std. education and 4,000
Rupee/month income, he believes he has reached a higher standard of living than his
father, who was a farmer.
Anil Sandewal is a Kannada-speaking Christian who does not identify with any
caste. He works around Shetty caste persons at Shubash Shenoy Coffee Company in
Dharavi and lives in a mostly Muslim area near Matunga Labor Camp. His wife belongs
to the same community, and he hopes his children will also marry within the community.
He is illiterate and makes 2,000 Rupees/month, which is not much of an improvement
over his father, who was a sanitation worker for the BMC. However, Sandewal believes
that caste will not exist in 100 years, since “Humanity is more important than caste.”
Eighteen year-old Shaikh Saddam Hussain does not approve of inter-caste
marriage and fully intends to marry a fellow Muslim. He lives in a Muslim area of
Dharavi and considers this sense of community highly important in his life. His father is a
food vendor, and he anticipates not being better off economically than previous
generations. He thinks the caste system will dissolve sometime in the next 100 years in
Mumbai but that all Muslims will be united in a sanghatan (communal organization).
Puroshattam Sharma is 38 years old and is a homeless and illiterate marble
worker earning 3,500 Rupees/month in Dharavi's Indira Nagar. He considers himself to
be lower class, even though he is a Brahmin from Uttar Pradesh. He thinks his caste is of
some importance to his residence but not important to his work, where there are many
different castes represented. He is married to a woman of his own community and hopes
that his children do the same in the future. He feels good about his caste status in Mumbai
and does not believe that socioeconomic class is more important than caste. He supports
caste-based reservations but does not see himself as better off than previous generations.
The two maps and table that follow shed light on the population density and
literacy rates in the different sections of Mumbai. While it was initially assumed that
there would be a correlation between slum population, high density, and low literacy, this
theory does not prove to be true in many respects. Many highly dense areas, especially in
“town,” have high literacy rates and low slum populations.

Map 10: Greater Mumbai's population density per section, as per the 2001 Census.
Graphic courtesy of Dr. Dipti Mukherji at the University of Mumbai.

Map 11: Greater Mumbai's literacy rate by section, as per the 2001 Census. Graphic
courtesy of Dr. Dipti Mukherji at the University of Mumbai.

Table 11: Greater Mumbai Ward-wise Population, Area, Density, Literacy

Area Ward Ward Name Population Area Density Literate Literacy %
# (km) /sq. km Persons


Zone 1 Fort, Colaba 1 A 210847 12.5 16867 159110 75.5
Sandhurst Road 2 B 140633 2.5 56253 106492 75.7
Marine Lines 3 C 202922 1.8 112734 168997 83.3
Grant Road 4 D 382841 6.6 58006 315420 82.4
Byculla 5 E 440335 7.4 59504 330377 75.0

Zone 2 Parel 6 F South 396122 14.0 28294 317396 80.1
Matunga 7 F North 524393 13.0 40337 392542 74.9
Elphinstone Road 8 G South 457931 10.0 45793 362301 79.1
Dadar 9 G North 582007 9.1 63956 437978 75.2

Sub Totals 3338031 76.8 43463 2590613 77.6

Zone 3 Santa Cruz-Dharavi 10 H East 580835 13.5 43024 441272 76.0
BandraKharMahim 11 H West 337391 11.6 29085 273371 81.0
Andheri East 12 K East 810002 24.8 32661 645279 79.7
Andheri West 13 K West 700680 23.4 29943 545236 77.8

Zone 4 Goregaon 14 P South 437849 24.4 17944 337807 77.1
Malad 15 P North 798775 19.1 41820 601581 75.3
Kandivali 16 R South 589887 17.8 33139 447987 75.9
Borivali West 17 R Central 513077 50.0 10261 419602 81.8
Dahisar 18 R North 363827 18.0 20212 285824 78.6

Zone 5 Kurla 19 L 778218 15.9 48944 571775 73.5
Chembur East 20 M East 674850 32.5 20764 446213 66.1
Chembur West 21 M West 414050 19.5 21233 310671 75.0

Zone 6 Ghatkopar 22 N 619556 26.0 23829 480132 77.5
Bhandup 23 S 691227 64.0 10800 542745 78.5
Mulund 24 T 330195 45.0 7337 267769 81.1

Sub Totals 8638408 405.9 21282 6617264 76.6

Totals 11978450 482.7 24815 9207877 76.9

Source: Census of India 2001

Map 12

Table 12: Category and Socioeconomic Class Crosstabulation
Socio-economic class Total
Upper- Lower-
Category High Middle Middle Middle Low N/A
SC 0 3 64 129 45 2 243
.0% 1.2% 26.3% 53.1% 18.5% .8% 100.0%
ST 0 0 1 2 0 0 3
.0% .0% 33.3% 66.7% .0% .0% 100.0%
OBC 0 4 24 42 12 4 86
.0% 4.7% 27.9% 48.8% 14.0% 4.7% 100.0%
Open-General 7 41 112 16 5 4 185
3.8% 22.2% 60.5% 8.6% 2.7% 2.2% 100.0%
Total 7 48 201 189 62 10 517
1.4% 9.3% 38.9% 36.6% 12.0% 1.9% 100.0%

Table 13: Caste Rank and Socioeconomic Class Crosstabulation
Socio-economic Class
Caste Rank High Upper-Middle Middle Lower-Middle Low N/A
1 0 3 65 133 45 2 248
.0% 1.2% 26.2% 53.6% 18.1% .8% 100.0%
2 0 2 11 29 10 4 56
.0% 3.6% 19.6% 51.8% 17.9% 7.1% 100.0%
3 0 3 25 20 4 1 53
.0% 5.7% 47.2% 37.7% 7.5% 1.9% 100.0%
4 3 26 80 6 1 3 119
2.5% 21.8% 67.2% 5.0% .8% 2.5% 100.0%
5 4 14 20 1 2 0 41
9.8% 34.1% 48.8% 2.4% 4.9% .0% 100.0%
7 48 201 189 62 10 517
1.4% 9.3% 38.9% 36.6% 12.0% 1.9% 100.0%
In the tables above, it is clear that there is a very strong correlation between caste rank
and socioeconomic status. A majority (53.1%) of SC persons self-reported as being
Lower-Middle class, and 26.3% said they were Middle class, largely indicative of a
general affinity for claiming this status even if one does not truly fit in that category. Just
1.2% of SC persons self-reported as Upper-Middle or High class. On the other hand, 26%
of open-general persons reported to be Upper-Middle or High class, and 60.5% said they
were Middle class. Just 11.3% of open-general category said they were of lower classes.
As for caste rank, the same phenomenon is present, as persons of high caste rank are
clustered in the upper socioeconomic brackets. As one goes up in caste rank, there are
progressively more persons in the higher class categories, and less persons in the lower
class brackets. Caste rank 5 had the most High class persons, and caste rank 1 had the
most Low class persons. Caste rank 4 was the most likely to self-report as Middle Class.

Table 14: Category and Education Level Crosstabulation
Education Level Total
Category Less than SSC SSC HSC Bachelor's Advanced Degree
SC 112 50 49 25 7 243
46.1% 20.6% 20.2% 10.3% 2.9% 100.0%
ST 0 0 2 1 0 3
.0% .0% 66.7% 33.3% .0% 100.0%
OBC 30 18 19 11 8 86
34.9% 20.9% 22.1% 12.8% 9.3% 100.0%
Open-General 26 14 22 65 58 185
14.1% 7.6% 11.9% 35.1% 31.4% 100.0%
Total 168 82 92 102 73 517
32.5% 15.9% 17.8% 19.7% 14.1% 100.0%

Table 15: Caste Rank and Education Level Crosstabulation
Education Level
Less than SSC SSC HSC Bachelor's Advanced Degree
Caste Rank 1.00 112 50 53 26 7 248
45.2% 20.2% 21.4% 10.5% 2.8% 100.0%
2.00 25 15 9 5 2 56
44.6% 26.8% 16.1% 8.9% 3.6% 100.0%
3.00 15 8 10 12 8 53
28.3% 15.1% 18.9% 22.6% 15.1% 100.0%
4.00 13 8 16 41 41 119
10.9% 6.7% 13.4% 34.5% 34.5% 100.0%
5.00 3 1 4 18 15 41
7.3% 2.4% 9.8% 43.9% 36.6% 100.0%
Total 168 82 92 102 73 517
32.5% 15.9% 17.8% 19.7% 14.1% 100.0%

These two tables above show that caste rank and education level are inextricably
linked. While 45.2% of Caste Rank 1 respondents had less than SSC, just 7.3% of Caste
Rank 5 respondents were in this educational category. Only 13.3% of Caste Rank 1
persons had at least a Bachelor's, while 80.5% of Caste Rank 5 persons did. Over one-
third of Caste Ranks 4 and and 5 had an advanced degree, while a mere 2.8% of Caste
Rank 1 persons had any such degree. Contrary to the trend, there more Caste Rank 1 than
Caste Rank 2 respondents who had HSC and Bachelor's. Thus persons of Caste Rank 5
were by far the best educated, proving the correlation between caste and schooling.

Table 16: Residence Type and Caste Relevance Crosstabulation
Type of residence Arrangement Work Marriage Public Sphere

Bungalow Mean 4.56 3.22 4.56 3.11

N 9 9 9 9

Apartment Mean 3.33 2.29 5.61 3.13

N 159 161 160 159

Chawl Mean 5.29 4.28 8.48 5.09

N 255 222 257 252

Zopadpatti Mean 5.66 4.74 8.08 4.68

N 38 38 39 40

Pukka Mean 4.86 3.05 7.91 3.96

N 22 22 23 23

Homeless Mean 3.75 2.36 6.18 3.73

N 12 11 11 11

Total Mean 4.62 3.50 7.38 4.31

N 495 463 499 494
Moving on to the question of caste relevance, it was seen that persons living in
zopadpatti and chawl situations were much more likely to view caste as being important
in every aspect of their lives. Those respondents residing in chawl and zopadpatti ranked
caste as being of 8.08 and 8.48 relevance to marriage, respectively. Chawl, zopadpatti,
and pukka residents said that caste was considerably more important in their residential
arrangement than respondents who reside in a bungalow or apartment. Apartment
dwellers had an average relevance of 3.33 for residential arrangement. Chawl and
zopadpatti dwellers also ranked caste as being relatively more important in the public
sphere (5.09 and 4.68, respectively) and at work (4.28 and 4.74, respectively). Work was
seen as the area in which caste was of least importance, with an overall rating of 3.50 out
of 10. Still Chawl and zopadpatti residents were most likely to ascribe more importance
to their caste at work (4.28 and 4.74, respectively). It is quite apparent that persons of
lower castes were more likely to be of the lower socioeconomic classes and were much
more likely to be living in chawl and zopadpatti dwellings. It is perhaps not so surprising
that lower caste persons are more likely to lend caste high importance in Mumbai.

Urban Space, Social Change, and Critical Theory

As India eventually follows the rest of the world into passing the threshold of a
majority urban population (which will take a few more decades), it confronts the
assumption that people are better off in cities than in villages. This might very well be
supremely true for lower caste persons for whom village life is replete with tremendous
social obstacles and for whom the big city offers opportunities simply not found
elsewhere. Nonetheless, aside from the decreased relevance of caste in the city, there is an
overall livability factor that should ultimately drive migration to the urban cores.
However, the declining preservation of public space, failed facilitation of transport, and
acceleration of overcrowding seriously threaten the livability level in the long term.
These urban ills are quite pronounced in Mumbai and thus make daily tribulations highly
taxing for the wretched of the earth and for other inhabitants who cannot insulate
themselves from the city's perils. While there is a huge pull factor drawing in these lower
caste migrants, there is the push factor emitted by the villages that cannot support their
quest for greater socioeconomic mobility. Yet, in truth, the lower castes experience the
grittiness of Mumbai in a much more visceral and constant way than the higher castes
who can generally provide somewhat of a comfort level for themselves amidst the
Mumbai mayhem.
Urban social change is accelerating, as is the strife that is associated with
gentrification and the accentuation of the polarization in cities like Mumbai. Neoliberal
urbanism's effect on lower caste issues has been to provide slightly increased job
opportunities as well as to threaten some of their beloved historic neighborhoods with
rehabilitation schemes. State power and the accumulation of capital in particular nodes of
the city has a boomerang effect, ultimately meaning that the new social relations force the
Dalit lifestyle to adapt to postmodern urban conditions. Progressive movements that
utilizes the decidedly positive aspects of the capitalistic framework such as individual
rights and participatory democracy encourage urban dwellers to develop viable
alternatives to the current arrangement.115 The space of Mumbai can become host to a
newer set of progressive urban conceptions, yet there is a huge amount of development
This analysis draws on the speech delivered by geographer David Harvey at the conclusion of
the 5th International Conference on Critical Geography on December 6, 2007.

that would need to take place for Mumbai to reach that point.
Mumbai is a city that has experienced a 37-fold increase in the number of cars
and a mere doubling in the amount of roadway. Is Mumbai being crowded out of the
Asian urban club by Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, and Shanghai - the latter of which is
often cited as being the most closely analogous? As the Chinese financial capital with
relatively stellar infrastructure, it is often held up as a model city to chaotic Mumbai.
Mumbai has an estimated 100,000 sex workers, for whom the concepts of
inclusive growth and participation might not mean much . Nonetheless, these are
necessary in all arenas by marginalized segments of the population. Their collective
community recognition could countervail against inequalities, or will these masses of
people remain invisible to those who have real power? As in the conventional Marxist
narrative, control over means of production and concentration of industrial, educational,
and political resources is still key. Class consciousness is bound together with caste
consciousness if one is to believe the precepts of conflict theory. In Mumbai, is it a better
strategy to embrace complacency or functionality on a daily basis? Does complacency
rather than insistence on change imply the humility or deference of the subaltern groups.
As in Homi Bhabha’s theories of ideology, there is an implication that caste struggle is
imperative for a critical geography to maintain its critical edge. Far from the official or
popular geographies on the subject, it is nevertheless crucial to move eventually from
academic theory to a mainstream realm where the reforms can be realized.
Partha Chatterjee's “history from below” proposes some of the most current
solutions in subaltern studies. Although some discussion of this line of analysis is in this
chapter, more is addressed in Chapter V, which links up the social movements dealing
with caste to a broader subaltern cosmopolitanism. Next, it is the culturo-logical and
Indological frameworks that emphasize the centrality of cultural forms rather than just the
coarse formulas of social relations. Structuralism as defined by Claude-Levi Strauss
could sharpen the lens unto the type of fragmented economic processes that take place in
megalopolitan Mumbai. What would be the Weberian explanation for the urban Dalit
movement? Gail Omvedt suggests that the post-colonial theories of yesteryear might be
too outdated, by stating how Indian capitalist elites are surely not being eaten up by

colonial capitalist elites, but that they are doing their own eating!116 Her critique is
informed by an emphasis on the same sort of multinational biopower analysis that Hardt
and Negri embrace. With globalization, comes the globalization of the Dalit struggle. She
argues this using a hybrid theory of Marxist-Ambedkarite thought that emphasizes the
historical dialectics and takes the Dalits to be the proletarians. Yet, Omvedt also takes
cues from dependency theory in this syncretic doctrine that renders feudal localism on the
out and out for Mumbai's hodgepodge of culturo-logical forces.
A superstructure analysis leads to the conclusion that globalization is either
adding to or subtracting from the layers of exclusion that exist for the underprivileged
classes. Yet, ambivalence is the consequence of a complex set of social phenomena that
govern whether or not globalization is good for Dalits. But, it is utterly inane to assume
that there should be either a yes or no answer to this nuanced question. Much of the
discourse on Dalits, however, frames complicated philosophical questions in such a
binary world-view, preventing more realistic accounts from taking shape, as the extensive
positives and negatives of globalization are articulated with regards to what could be
labeled the movement or the struggle. Suketu Mehta's responds to this problematic:
There is a sense that the barbarians have been let into the city gates and
are sleeping on the footpath outside their palaces. There is resentment that
Bombay has to deal with the country’s detritus. The only consolation is
that the huddled masses are also the talent pool for south Bombay’s
maids, drivers, peons. That is part of the attraction of living here: you can
find a maid and pay her a monthly salary smaller than the cost of
breakfast at the Taj.”117

To reiterate what was mentioned above, there is a clear concentration of
Scheduled Castes in the undesirable parts of the city. Many of these areas have incredibly
squalid conditions for habitation, where hundreds of residents often have to share one
toilet. The current context of rehabilitation is the struggle against massive redevelopment
plans for many slum areas of Mumbai, notably the neighborhood of Dharavi - which has
almost 1 million inhabitants.118 Often dubbed the largest slum in Asia, this part of the city
cannot reasonably be labeled a slum because it is so immense and productive. “They

Source: Gail Omvedt delivered the Ambedkar Memorial Lecture at TISS on January 4, 2008
Mehta, Suketu. Pg. 82
Dharavi's disputed population figure cannot be verified but is somewhere between a half
million and a million.

want to convert Dharavi into Manhattan,” said Jockin Arputham, leader of the National
Slum Dweller Foundation.119 There are upwards of 12,000 small industrial units located
in Dharavi, mostly active in pottery, food processing, tanning, recycling, and
metalwork.120 The redevelopment effort is largely being spearheaded by developer
Mukesh Mehta, who lends himself populist credibility by saying that his father “comes
from a chawl in a Gujarati village.” Up against the bulldozer, slum dweller advocacy
groups have long argued for increased popular participation and sufficient surveying of
their demographic, residential, economic, and social needs.
Although it is also a liability with all its misery, Dharavi is a tremendous asset to
the throngs of its residents who live in close proximity to their jobs within Dharavi's
boundaries. The neighborhood is also very well-connected to the two main north-south
train lines. The ex-mayor of Bogota, Colombia, offered some advice to the redevelopers
of Dharavi, “Free markets do not work when it comes to slums; this is like a rabbit at the
dog races.”121 However, the growth in the slum-dwelling population continues unabated,
and the effort to make slum-dwelling a part of the formal and legal economy is not
progressing. Most of the activity that transpires within the urban agglomeration of
Mumbai operates outside of the legal, professional, procedural, and governmental
framework. However, much of the resistance to redevelopment plans comes from small
business owners who fear having to pay taxes and submit to environmental and labor
The slums are therefore waging war against private developers for the right to
control the future of extremely valuable property, fully cognizant that 55% of the city's
inhabitants live on approximately 8% of the land. Current real estate prices merit such
attention to redevelopment, even though the process is taking years and years to move
forward. Preserving their sense of community and employment arrangements are the
main priorities of the slum dwellers. Concerted efforts by any interest group are often
frustrated by one intractable issue: overall, the level of premeditated planning in Mumbai

Comments from a discussion at the Urban Age Conference in Mumbai on November 3, 2007.
The lifelong advocate added, “Dharavi is a place where you can sell shit and survive. How are we
going to replace that?”
Source: National Slum Dweller Federation information
Comments from a presentation to the Urban Age Conference in Mumbai on November 2,

is very low for the cityscape and infrastructure. Perhaps there is excessive deference and
genuflection to the private sector, which dismantles public sector's capacity for change
and leaves the city in a state of developmental paralysis. It is somewhat inane, however,
to suggest, as some redevelopment critics have, that the private sector is hacking at the
notion of a city for all of its people. Clearly the stake-holders in the city of Mumbai are
all its citizens. But is there a more optimal governmental structure that would be more
efficient in realizing public policy and development goals?
Mumbai is sprawling but organic, having expanding from its original colonial
core. Its urban typology and the general attraction of the expanding urban nodes is
undeniable. But, Mumbai has 1 car for every 1.92 meters of road length. Of the six
million individuals who take the train every day, an average of 13 do not make it home to
their families due to accidents. Every day, the increasingly neo-liberal metropolis
generates scores of jobs, feels the strain of 250 new cars on its streets,122 and welcomes
300 new permanent resident families.123
It is a city that has experienced alternatively incremental and spasmodic growth.
The desire to commence work on a master planning process for much of the heart of the
city is unprecedented. The static, gradually crumbling aspects of the city are
overshadowed by the increasingly kinetic movement of goods, people, and ideas.
Mumbai’s physical landscape exhibits a stark contrast between the informal and formal
universes that exist side-by-side in the Island City. The built environment for the majority
(about 55%) of Mumbaikars that lives in slums, especially the most haphazard dwellings,
workshops, and public spaces, emanate a thorough lack of ostentation, compared to the
mélange of styles that characterize the aesthetically significant edifices, the older of
which are generally built in the Gothic, Indo-Saracenic, and classical styles. Mumbai
exists at different levels, prices, and eases of transport. This is true such that differential
circles do not much overlap and that communities can remain essentially separate and
distinct despite their seemingly proximate co-existence. The assortment of specialized
nodes that comprise Mumbai allows for networks to coalesce and for the urban
interactions to take on a multitudinous range of textures, hues, and odors.


Chapter III: Analysis of Caste Relevance in
Contemporary Mumbai

The Dalit belongs to Bombay and Bombay belongs to the Dalit. He is the anti-hero who
strides on the metropolitan stage turned upside down. - Vidyut Bhagwat

Generally, caste has shifted gears in the metropolitan setting. But, the question
remains as pivotal as ever: are modern Mumbaikars are too busy consuming, vending,
grooming, transporting, downloading, and encoding to concern themselves with caste? Or
is caste still a useful way to organize employment networks by connecting the right
individuals with the right jobs in efficient ways via the marketplace? This chapter
addresses the manifestations of caste in several key workplaces. Can profit-seeking
corporations benefit from using caste to their advantage? Also, have Indian matrimonials
remained caste-based, or are urban dwellers seeking out inter-caste marriage?
Mumbai has a unique role at the juncture of Western commodification of labor in
entertainment, BPO and financial industries. Its shifting norms can alternatively be
conducive to caste denial, caste-blindness, and genuine tolerance. Its stock exchange is
the stomach of Indian elephant. Bollywood is its heart. At the same time as it is a
commercial capital, Mumbai is also the gateway to traditional Hindu caste structures. Yet,
one cannot possibly overstate the tremendously Westernized components of
contemporary Mumbai society. The city is juxtaposed with rural, village life as it is
experienced by some 70% of India's population that is mostly engaged in agricultural
labor. The value of studying caste structure where it is attenuating becomes increasingly
necessary to understand a potential model for the rest of the country. It is impossible to
calculate the exact percentage of people who are not in caste-prescribed occupations, but
various other statistics on relevance are displayed below.
Cyrus Guzder, Chairman and Managing Director of the AFL Group124 says that
there is no question that caste has mostly disappeared in Mumbai, especially given the

Guzder is also a trustee at the Urban Design Research Institute in Mumbai and Governor of the
Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Heritage Society.

opportunity to leave caste behind in corporate India, where chances are that caste just
does not matter. “We aren't in the business of asking for caste affiliation since we're a
Parsi company,” says Guzder. However, Guzder acknowledges the lingering socio-
cultural dimension of caste: “But, I have had times where employees have asked me to
intercede on behalf of family members to prevent them from marrying outside of their
caste and thus being ostracized in their native village.”
It can be seen from the tables in Chapter II that caste is subsumed into a larger
socioeconomic class, especially for the upper echelons of Mumbai society. While the
lower castes still largely identify with their particular castes, upper caste persons often
seem to identify rather with the broader group of upper class people, regardless of caste
or creed. Education and status appear to allow people to belong to the so-called middle-
class rather than simply to their individual caste. Since 88.6% of open-general persons
thought that class was more important than caste, it is clear that significantly more of
them believe in the higher importance of class than OBC persons (69.8%) and SC
persons (60.9%). While under a tenth of open-general persons said that caste was still
more important than caste, over a third of SC persons were of this opinion. In Mumbai,
the intensity of caste consciousness is definitely a function of caste rank. As for the
relationship of the city authorities to caste, the BMC officials contacted were reluctant to
engage on the subject, as it is the state which handles such matters.
“Caste is not under our purview,” said Saudagar Jadhav, Public Relations Officer
for the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai. “The Bombay Municipal Corporation
merely provides services to the city and does not deal with social issues such as this. It is
the Ministry of Social Justice for Maharashtra that handles such social policy involving
caste and class issues. We do not concern ourselves with this,” he added.
Maharashtra's Secretary of Social Justice N. Arumugam is the highest ranking
unelected official in the state ministry assigned to dealing with caste issues. When asked
about the contemporary importance of caste in Mumbai, he said that he “generally just
deals with caste verification issues” and other bureaucratic tasks related to assessing
eligibility for availing reservation benefits. Thus, there is a tendency on the part of some
governmental agencies to defer to the particular legal protocol that frames their work.
Notable Mumbai architect Charles Correa is also the former Chairman of the

National Commission on Urbanism. He believes that city life in Mumbai offers
unprecedented and redemptive change in the day-to-day amount of interaction between
different castes in the public sphere. He cites an example is of a moneylender and Dhobi
who sit side-by-side on the BEST bus. “While they do not speak, they rub shoulders –
which would never happen in a village,” says Correa. Perhaps the traditional hierarchy of
ritual purity has lost its luster in contemporary India, just as academics Dipankar Gupta
and Ramahindra Guha allege. Below are comments from some politically conservative
fieldwork respondents who generally agreed with this viewpoint on caste:
Kahayia Kavedi is a 37 year-old civil engineer with Hafeez Contractor whose
father was a mill worker. An avid Shiv Sainik, Kavedi is confident that “in 100 years
caste in Mumbai will have completely disappeared, since it is not even important now.”
Dadar resident Sagar Khatale is a 26 year-old software developer with a Bandra IT firm
and MNS supporter. He partially agreed with Kavedi, “Some people will still be
concerned with caste, and the majority will always care - especially those rural people
who are not broad-minded.” Mahesh Kamble is a junior officer with the Anushakti
(Nuclear Research) wing of the Central Government. His father was also a government
employee, and as a Yadav, Kamble believes that “in a cosmo city with a fast life, one
does not have time to ask for other people's caste since work is more important.”
Nilesh Wadke is a 31 year-old Maratha and Shiv Sainik from Dombivali who is a
Senior Accounts Executive at ULA, which is a shipping company. “Caste is still there
with old people. They still observe caste differences, while young people are more
concerned with educational and financial standing. It is now truly a secondary issue, but
the old generation and orthodox give caste much importance, especially in political
Not everyone agrees with this somewhat naïve perspective. “Caste is highly
prevalent in Mumbai, even until today,” says Pratima Joshi, principal correspondent for
the Maharashtra Times. She argues that as a trading city and India's gateway, the mix of
many castes and creeds in Mumbai has allowed for increased occupational flexibility.
However, she maintains that caste has not fully withered in the city. She states how the
lower castes experienced “having come to the urban area for more bread, if not butter
also. She then adds, “If a Brahmin works in a shoe factory, he is still not considered a

Chamar.” Are accomplished individuals mostly being recognized as a credit just to their
caste or to the whole society? Joshi points out the example of the University of Pune
Vice-Chancellor Narendra Jadhav. She questions whether, in the informal social contexts,
he is indirectly referred to simply as the “Vice-Chancellor” or as the “Dalit Vice-
Chancellor.” She concludes her analysis by saying, “All due respect is given in public
sphere, but with any social transactions, the truth is exposed. The social hierarchy is still
in every person's mind, especially when it comes to marriage.”
Joshi highlights what she considers a major example of casteism, “The BMC's
drainage and sewage units are still staffed by Dalits, since no one else would be willing to
accept such a job.” She cites that the theme of separationism also exists in the residential
sphere and is highlighted in the Ambedkar statue incident on July 11, 1997, in which
vandals placed a garland of sandals around Ambedkar's neck on a statue located in
Ghatkopar's Ramabai Ambedkar Colony. The resulting protest by Dalits from the
neighborhood incurred a police response that resulting in indiscriminate police firing into
the crowds that had gathered. Ten persons died, and a rash of riots and political instability
were set off across the state.
Joshi continues, “If you just scratch the surface, it's there – everywhere – cultural
life, social life. Everyone is acknowledge that there is casteism. Hypocrisy of the caste
denial. How will India become a true superpower if there is not basic equality as Indians
first? People are judged first by their caste, then by their religion, then as Indians. So,
what's left? Dalits are harassed in many ways. It is mere high-caste propaganda that caste
does not matter. This is borne out of a desire to rule over the political, economic, social,
and cultural spheres of society.”
Next, Joshi tells an anecdote involving a fellow reporter at the Maharashtra Times
who is married to a Dalit. Their landlady evicted the mixed-caste tenant couple from her
apartment upon realizing that the husband was a Dalit. At the dinner during which the
landlady learned of the husband's caste background, she rose abrasively, remarking that
she would never have “drank water and eaten food if [she] had known he was a Jai Bhim
Joshi emphasizes the importance of accent, habit, lifestyle, look, skin tone, English
skills – all of which are the trappings of socioeconomic class membership. Sometimes,

these are very nuanced, subtle caste distinctions. It is clear that there are parallel worlds
in Mumbai, reminiscent of 'separate but equal.' The many faces of Mumbai offer different
realities, but some people accuse the city of cosmopolitan hypocrisy once they become
aware of the glass ceiling. Joshi said that she believes even talented people often cannot
go beyond the caste stigmatization.
Suhas Phadke, Senior Assistant Editor of the Maharashtra Times, also enjoys
discussing the Dalit discourse and the vocabulary of the caste struggle in Mumbai. He
emphasizes how the subjectivity of caste experience colors the discourse. “Folks see
reservation as a birthright – the entitlement to extra rights by virtue of an inherited trait,”
he said. Phadke then discussed how caste deniers still give the 'son-in-law treatment,' so
to speak. He also lamented that the Dalit leadership has been so strictly political, leaving
the Dalit community without solid apolitical leaders. “In the city, a Dalit man is not
treated as a Dalit. Others do not know whether the man is Dalit or Maratha,” he said.
Phadke also suggests that the low quality of education in municipal schools results in
churning out many poorly educated Dalits, who ultimately attribute their failures to their
caste rather than to their unfortunate schooling.
While the cartoon on the following page is an ironic depiction of a long-standing
rivalry between India's national icons, there is an ongoing cricket rivalry between India
and Australia that was culminated in an exchange of insults between players. Due to the
apparent racial element of the Harbhajan Singh's insult towards Andrew Symonds, an the
Australian journalist decided to probe into the issue of caste for the Indian starting squad.
His list was published with his article in the Sydney Morning Herald.125
 Brahmin: Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav
Ganguly, R.P. Singh,126 Ishant Sharma
 Jat: Yuvraj Singh
 Rajput: Mahendra Dhoni
 Muslim: Wasim Jaffer
 Sikh: Harbhajan Singh

It appears that the author of this article mistakenly placed R.P. Singh in the Brahmin category.
It is likely, though not completely certain, that his caste is Rajput.

Image 14: Ambedkar (bowler) and Gandhi (batsman) on the cricket pitch.
Image courtesy of World Sikh News, July 4, 2008.

There were divergent views presented in the Indian media on whether or not this
story was appropriate for having called attention to the lack of low-caste players on the
Indian team. Some thought it was justified since Harbhajan Singh had allegedly called
Australian player Andrew Symonds “monkey.” Some folks contended that Singh had in
fact used another Hindi derogatory term that is not suitable for publication. While many
Indians did not understand why this monkey appellation was so insulting (since after all
the monkey is one of the holiest animals in the animal kingdom), the racially motivated
insult (Symonds is of African origin) perhaps was impetus enough for an Australian
journalist to inquire about the caste origins of the Indian players. “Why should an
Australian journalist have the right to divulge such private information about the Indian
players?” many commentators remarked. Even if there were a less than ideal quantity of
lower caste players on the team, did that mean the government needed to impose
reservation quotas upon the national cricket squad?
“Choose someone for reasons other than merit and the wrath of a billion people
visits the selection committee,” responded writer Salil Tripathi, who saw

the grouping as mere coincidental, even praising the record number of Muslims on the
team (even though they were undoubtedly high-caste Muslims). Clearly, cricket
competition is ultimately about generating money from marketing. So, it seems that no
reservation would be in the works for this industry. While there is a lack of low-caste
people in most good jobs, is it politically suggestive even to broach the subject and
indicate what the caste distribution is in certain sectors? In this or that Bollywood film or
a given boutique investment firm? Before moving into the three private sector
occupational sectors, the discussion will move to matrimonials and the relevance of caste
in the marriage industry.

Marriage & Matrimony

Is caste still highly regarded when it comes to the primary reason for its original
existence? Does endogamous perpetuation of a caste group's stock through an elaborate
system of in-group mating rituals still reinforce the definitions of caste? By creating a
negative dichotomy between the caste itself and every Other, is there a resultant
strengthening of matrimonial tribalism? Inter-caste marriage is dramatically more likely
to occur with younger, more affluent, and urban Indians. Data from this study's fieldwork
confirms that as education levels rise, it becomes less likely that individuals will marry
within their caste. However, there is still a serious conflict between the old generation's
desire to impose caste-based arranged marriage over the new generation's wish to have
love marriage outside the bounds of caste. claims that 58% of matches
made on its site were inter-caste.127
Nowadays, it is possible to quick search your soul mate by gender, religion, caste,
age, and hundreds of other tailored traits. Browsing matrimonial sites such as and (the eldest of these sites, which celebrated its
millionth match in late 2007) seems like one of the most enthralling ways to use the
internet, especially if one is interested in finding out about caste.128 Overall, matrimonials
are the 13th most popular mainstream online activity in India. Online Indian matrimonial
With Reservations in The Economist, October 4th, 2007
Bharat is the Hindi term for “India,” and shaadi means “marriage.”

sites are worth an estimated Rs. 140 crore. While the Indian newspapers always had their
matrimonial pages to woo potential mates all along caste and religious lines, now the
various matrimonial websites have replicated this capacity. Yet, as a mate-seeker, one's
powers are infinitely enhanced by taking the search to the virtual world of profiles with
extensive demographic data, family history summaries, and pictures galore. These sites
truly empower the most picky, but first and foremost, they reproduce the framework of
being able to find a mate from one's own community. seems to be the most intriguing of the matrimonial
websites. There are a whopping 12 million profiles therein, as well as 15 different sub-
sites for the various linguistic communities, including MarwadiMatrimony,
ParsiMatrimony, UrduMatrimony, and SindhiMatrimony. While there are even centers located in all of the major Indian cities to handle the
massive volume of matchmaking that takes place, the paid memberships include quite a
range of perks. Membership deals include Classic, Classic Plus, and Classic Super, to
ensure that users find what they are looking for. Of India's 38.5 million internet users,
around 60% are below 25 years old and a whopping 48% are registered with matrimonial
sites, 51% with dating a friendship sites, and 37% with both. conducted a survey Changing Preferences of the Indian Youth on
2,000 urban dwellers, which reveals a great deal about the phenomenon. The findings
show that 61% of men and 41% of women favor inter-caste marriage. While 37% of
Mumbai women said they were open to inter-caste marriage, this was also true for 64%
of Delhi men and 24% of Chennai men. The percentage was not given for men in
Mumbai. 50% of the members of marriage portals live in the five major Indian metros.
According to the India Today article: “Mix biology and economy in equal measure; add a
dash of family values; omit romance; overcook the base of practicality; thicken it with
religion and caste; stir in stars and planets – that was always the short and sweet recipe
for arranged marriages in India.”129 Internet matrimonials represent a sea change by
bringing down caste barriers.
A sampling of the castes within which one can conduct a search on
BharatMatrimony's MarathiMatrimony include: Banjara, Brahmin–Rigvedi, Otari, Shimi,

Datta, Damayanti, Netrimony in India Today March 24, 2008

Swakula Sali, Malik, Memon, Born Again, Knanaya Jacobite, Ahluwalia, Khandelwal,
Sindhi-Sahiti, Irani and lastly, Intercaste and “caste no bar.” The list of available castes is
quite a tremendous resource for someone seeking more information about castes in any
part of India, for each caste includes a huge number of demographic profiles from which
to glean an endless amount of information on mother's job, cousin's hobby, and secret
fantasies. As a database of rather reliable demographic data, the netrimonials are an
excellent resource for any curious scholar of caste or Indian demography. As for the
earnest netrimonial users, the service offered is also tremendous.
The netrimonials open up not just other locales in India but places across the
world for one's potential marriage partner. For example, a member of the Tamil Brahmin
Iyer community residing in San Francisco could search for a husband of her caste,
drawing potential suitors from Malaysia, South Africa, Britain, and Canada. One's
options are quite open, and perhaps matrimonial searchers are indeed increasingly
searching for loving, good-humored, intelligent, and sensitive partners, rather than just
those who fit the mechanical, formulaic mold for a life-partner that is established by their
community. The globalization of matrimonials and of caste matrimonials is fascinating.
What is even more interesting and ironic is that the above-mentioned India Today
article on netrimonials and the modernization of the matrimonial business was followed
up by a two-page advertisement towards the back of the magazine
that features the same type of listings as the newspaper matrimonials, with caste in bold
type. So, although a rising percentage of urban Indians are marrying outside of their
caste, the matrimonials will always been organized along caste lines. While caste is
ultimately of decreased importance among modern city dwellers in their search for mates,
they are still searching by caste.
Thus, through these marriage portals, the Indian middle class is amalgamating
from thousands of discrete castes into a generic Indian class, composed primarily of
forward caste individuals but also drawing from backward castes. The Heera Panna tale,
usually thought of as the Indian Romeo and Juliet, is one iteration on this inter-caste
marriage theme. “Marriage is the last manifestation of caste in the city, but this too has to
break down,” said esteemed Mumbai architect Charles Correa.130

Comments taken from an interview during the Urban Age conference on November 2, 2007.

In a sampling of various Maharashtrian Scheduled Caste groups such as Mahars
and Matangs on, it was surprising how many profiles were found.
Even though it was expected that very few, if any, Matangs would be discovered in online
matrimonials, 212 females and 581 males between 18 and 60 years of age were
discovered, for a community that is presumed to be highly backward and deprived of
information technology. In comparison, around 11,500 Mahar and/or neo-Buddhist
profiles were found, showing this group (with about four times the overall population of
Matangs) is relatively more exposed to netrimonials. Accounting for difference in
population, neo-Buddhists were still almost four times more likely to have a
MarathiMatrimony profile than Matangs.
According to a study reported on in the Times of India, 31% of Dalit women in
Mumbai who knew English had inter-caste marriages, compared to 9% for those who did
not know English.131 This basically means that more educated Dalits are more likely to
have inter-caste marriages. Knowing English in and of itself English might not cause
these women to marry out, but their knowledge of English is a function of their education
level, which is a very dominant factor in determining likelihood of inter-caste marriage.
But Dalits in rural Maharashtra still sometimes have their eyes gouged out for
trying to marry Maratha girls. While this sort of inter-caste marriage would not constitute
anti-caste crusading, it might simply be about desire to have an innocent inter-caste love
marriage. While many Buddhist Dalits praise the opportunity to be able to marry outside
of their caste, many view marrying out of the community as being marriage into the caste
Hindu ritualism towards which they are ideologically opposed.
One such neo-Buddhist is Kailash Lokhande, who is not your typical Dalit. His
wife is a Konkanasth Brahmin. Although he earns just 3,500 Rupees/month doing mobile
phone sales for Reliance Communications, he believes caste is not at all a factor in his
work. However, he thinks his caste is very important to his housing arrangement in a
predominantly Buddhist chawl of Matunga Labor Camp. “Caste will not exist in 100
years because dollars will be everything.”


Table 17: Marital Status and Partner's Caste/Community Crosstabulation
Whether partner is of same
caste/community Total

Marital Status Yes No N/A
Married 277 20 9 306
90.5% 6.5% 2.9% 100.0%
Single 8 5 179 192
4.2% 2.6% 93.2% 100.0%
Divorced 1 2 0 3
33.3% 66.7% .0% 100.0%
Widowed 10 2 4 16
62.5% 12.5% 25.0% 100.0%
Total 296 29 192 517
57.3% 5.6% 37.1% 100.0%

From Table 17 above, it is clear that over 90% of married respondents had a spouse of the
same caste/community. Thus, an overwhelming majority of couples were intra-caste.
However, the younger, single respondents were undoubtedly much more in favor of inter-
caste marriage, given the increasing trend towards such unions. N/A respondents are
those without a partner, for whom the question was obviously not valid.

Table 18: Caste Rank and Partner's Caste/Community Crosstabulation

Partner is of same caste/community Total

Caste Rank Yes No N/A Yes
1.00 174 8 66 248
70.2% 3.2% 26.6% 100.0%
2.00 37 1 18 56
66.1% 1.8% 32.1% 100.0%
3.00 28 1 24 53
52.8% 1.9% 45.3% 100.0%
4.00 43 14 62 119
36.1% 11.8% 52.1% 100.0%
5.00 14 5 22 41
34.1% 12.2% 53.7% 100.0%
Total 296 29 192 517
57.3% 5.6% 37.1% 100.0%

Table 19: Education Level and Partner's Caste/Community Crosstabulation

Partner is of same caste/community Total

Education Level Yes No N/A Yes
Less than SSC 138 5 25 168
82.1% 3.0% 14.9% 100.0%
SSC 57 3 22 82
69.5% 3.7% 26.8% 100.0%
HSC 41 3 48 92
44.6% 3.3% 52.2% 100.0%
Bachelor's 39 10 53 102
38.2% 9.8% 52.0% 100.0%
Advanced Degree 21 8 44 73
28.8% 11.0% 60.3% 100.0%
296 29 192 517

57.3% 5.6% 37.1% 100.0%

There was a direct and positive correlation between Caste Rank/Education Level and
likelihood of inter-marriage. The respondents of higher castes and education levels are
progressively more likely to marry someone from outside their caste. While Caste Rank 1
respondents were about 23 times more likely to marry within their caste than out of their
caste, Caste Rank 5 respondents were only about 3 times more likely to marry within. Of
forward caste persons, about one-fourth of married persons were with a partner of the
same group. Overall respondents were 10 times more likely to be married within their
community than outside of it. Respondents with less than SSC education were 27 times
more likely to be married to someone within their community than outside of their
community. On the other hand, respondents with an advanced degree were just 2.5 times
more likely to be married within their community. Thus, as education is strongly
correlated with caste rank, individuals of higher castes and educational attainment were
much more likely to be married outside of their communities.

Table 20: Marital Status and Caste Relevance Crosstabulation
Marital Status Residential Arrangement Work Marriage Public Sphere
Married Mean 4.88 3.91 8.23 4.57
N 296 277 305 295
Single Mean 4.17 2.88 6.01 3.89
N 186 173 182 187
Divorced Mean 3.33 1.33 6.00 4.67
N 3 3 3 3
Widowed Mean 5.50 3.75 7.38 4.38
N 16 16 16 16
Total Mean 4.62 3.51 7.39 4.31
N 501 469 506 501

As for Table 20's depiction of the relationship between marital status and
perception of caste relevance, it appears that married respondents were significantly more
likely to report that caste was a relevant factor in all four areas. Married respondents, who
are older and more settled than the single respondents, are thus inclined to view caste a
bit more traditionally. The biggest differential between married and single respondents
was on the relevance of caste in marriage (+2.22), followed by work (+1.03), residential
arrangement (+.71), and public sphere (+.68). To conclude, inter-caste marriage is most
likely to occur with young, educated, forward caste, and urban respondents, who view
caste as having decreasing relevance in every factor of their lives. On the other hand,
older, less educated and lower caster respondents were more likely to ascribe higher
importance to caste and thus to view inter-caste marriage in a negative light.

Private Sector Access

Given that caste barriers decline with increased education and urbanization, it is
worthwhile to explore further the implications of skill levels, English ability, and
technological literacy on the status of the urban lower castes. As private sector employers
are increasingly taking note of the potential upside in diversification of their workforce,
there is also considerable political chatter about the possibility of private sector
reservation, which nonetheless, is not terribly likely to materialize anytime soon. It is

interesting to note how one of the largest job search websites in India, began
using reservation categories as part of its profiling system. While nowhere near as
extensive as the jati-based profiling on matrimonial sites, does ask users to
self-identify as General, SC, ST, OBC non-creamy, or OBC creamy. In its first several
months of operation in 2007, 1% of all members (38,000) identified as SC or ST.
While this may seem low, most private sector enterprises are quite used to having
SC workers in only the most menial capacities. Thus, this is a step towards increased
inclusion, caste categories become useful knowledge even for the private sector folks
who generally prefer to stick to the caste-blind approach. The Confederation of Indian
Industry has started up scholarships for talented low-caste students, and the Federation of
Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry’s program supports entrepreneurs in some of
the country’s poorest regions.

Table 21: Area Type and Education Level Crosstabulation
Education-code Total
Less than Advanced
Area Type SSC SSC HSC Bachelor's Degree
152 69 65 28 11 325
46.8% 21.2% 20.0% 8.6% 3.4% 100.0%
Private Sector
16 13 27 74 62 192
8.3% 6.8% 14.1% 38.5% 32.3% 100.0%
Total 168 82 92 102 73 517
32.5% 15.9% 17.8% 19.7% 14.1% 100.0%

The fieldwork sites in this study had a complete polarization of education levels.
46.8% of the respondents in low-income neighborhoods had less than SSC, while 70.8%
of private sector workplace respondents had at least a Bachelor's degree.

Table 22: Area Type and Category Crosstabulation
Category Total
Area Type SC ST OBC General
Urban 239 2 61 23 325
73.5% .6% 18.8% 7.1% 100.0%
Sector 4 1 25 162 192
2.1% .5% 13.0% 84.4% 100.0%
Total 243 3 86 185 517
47.0% .6% 16.6% 35.8% 100.0%

In order to frame the discussions below, it is important to reiterate the category
composition of the respondents, bifurcated into the two area types. An overwhelming
84.4% of private sector workplace respondents were open-general, while just 13% were
OBC, and only 2.6% were either SC or ST. On the other hand, since Dalits were sought
ought in the low-income pockets, SC respondents comprised almost three-quarters. For
that area type, just 7.1% were open-general category. Hence the polarization of the
sample by caste category, as well as by education, class, and residential situation.

Table 23: Education Level and Caste Relevance Crosstabulation
Education Level Arrangement Work Marriage Public Sphere
Less than SSC Mean 5.17 4.37 8.48 4.82
N 162 150 167 165
SSC Mean 5.60 4.46 8.43 5.51
N 78 74 81 81
HSC Mean 4.65 3.41 7.23 4.27
N 91 82 90 88
Bachelor's Mean 4.09 2.66 6.56 3.59
N 100 94 98 96
Advanced Degree Mean 3.01 1.90 4.94 2.76
N 70 69 70 71
Total Mean 4.62 3.51 7.39 4.31
N 501 469 506 501

In Table 23, it is evident that higher education levels reduce the relevance in
caste in respondents' lives. While caste was considered to be the least relevant at work
overall (a mean of 3.51 out of 10), respondents with an advanced degree had a mean of
1.90, which was -1.61. The different between the overall average and respondents with an
advanced degree was also -1.61 for residential arrangement, -2.45 for marriage, and -1.55
for the public sphere. Thus, higher education was seen to shift respondents' perspective
on caste most significantly in the area of marriage. However, it is also clear that the very
low importance that respondents with an advanced degree gave to caste in the workplace
is evidence of how increased education frees people from the confines of caste-based
occupation to pursue a broader range of vocations in which caste would be relatively less
relevant. Respondents with less than an SSC were significantly more likely to attribute
more importance to caste in these four arenas.

Table 24: Sector and Caste Relevance Crosstabulation
Residential Public
Sector Arrangement Work Marriage Sphere
Finance Mean
3.12 2.27 6.63 3.04

N 51 51 51 51
Entertainment Mean
3.97 2.67 6.08 3.84

N 64 64 64 62
BPO Mean
4.51 2.31 5.71 2.88

N 41 42 41 41
Other Mean
4.89 3.98 7.98 4.62

N 303 298 309 309
Not Employed Mean
5.67 5.43 7.63 5.88

N 42 14 41 42
Total Mean
4.62 3.51 7.39 4.33

N 501 469 506 505

As per Table 24 above, respondents who were employed in the three key private
sector areas all ranked caste as being about the same level of importance to the work
environment: 2.27 (finance), 2.31 (BPO) and 2.67 (entertainment). Those employed in
other fields (generally the low-income respondents' informal sector jobs, some of which
are traditional caste-based occupations) had a mean caste at work relevance of 3.98.
Those unemployed or employed in other fields were also more likely to view caste as
being relatively more important to marriage. BPO respondents rated caste as being lease
relevant in the public sphere (2.88), and respondents in the finance sector reported caste
to be least significant in residential arrangement (3.12).
The importance of caste naturally varies across different work environments.
However, the importance of social exclusion in hiring, promotions, and general employee
favoritism is explored in greater depth by other studies. One such effort was conducted
by Sukhadeo Thorat and Paul Attewell: The Legacy of Social Exclusion: A
Correspondence Study of Job Discrimination in India. They determined a clear bias at the
very beginning of the hiring interview process that overwhelmingly favored high-caste
Hindu applicants.
We study what happens when highly educated Indians from different
castes and religious backgrounds apply for jobs in the modern urban
private sector, encompassing multinational corporations as well as
prominent Indian companies. This is that part of the Indian economy
where supposedly caste and communal discrimination are things of the
past. Yet our findings document a pattern of decision-making by private
sector employers that repeatedly advantages job applicants from Hindu
higher caste backgrounds and disadvantages low-caste and Muslim job
applicants with equal qualifications.132

Given the clear bias in the employment process, it is apparent that Indian
corporations do not see much need in fostering increased caste diversity. While more on
this will be addressed in Chapter V, the topic is introduced herein. One example of
practical uses of caste diversity is in hiring persons of particular low-caste backgrounds
for corporate jobs that involve marketing and distributing certain goods and services to
particular low-caste communities. This type of access might only be acquired by

Sukhadeo Thorat and Paul Attewell in The Legacy of Social Exclusion: A Correspondence
Study of Job Discrimination in India:

welcoming these individuals into the corporate fold and thereby opening up new markets.
An extension of this is the need to fill Human Resources with folks from these
communities to ensure that there is access to that particular segment of the labor force.
One further potentially beneficial aspect of hiring based on caste is the implementation of
pro-social corporate initiatives that are of mutual benefit to the corporation’s public
relations and to the community in question. Reaching out to potential employees from
that concerned underprivileged community would help in this case as well. Yet, much of
this is not terribly common and seems to be the substance of mere pipe dreams at this
As revealed in Harish Damodaran's book India's New Capitalists: Caste, Business
and Industry in Modern Nation-State, there is not a single significant Dalit industrialist.
Commentators often attribute political tension to this fact that Dalits simply have not
amassed much wealth in the tremendous economic boom of the past one and a half
decades.133 An example of one rather successful Dalit-run company is Visaka Industries
Limited, a manufacturer based in Hyderabad.134 Yet, it seems true that Dalits in business
seem to be interested in downplaying their caste status for fear of it negatively impacting
upon their image. This is a common theme across India, according to many Dalits. There
is a perennial fear on the part of some Dalit businessmen that the wrong person will find
out about his caste and it will be a business disaster.
Though there are a significant number of Dalits active in the informal economy as
small traders, they have generally not broken into the organized private sector. The
Economist dichotomizes the population thusly: “Upper class Indians, who tend also to be
high-caste Hindus” and “low-caste Hindus also tend to be low class”135

With Reservations from The Economist October 4, 2007

Dalal Street and the Financial Sector

The Bombay Stock Exchange is the
locus of India's business universe. In its
hallowed halls, hurried traders, analysts, and
bankers make decisions about equity value
that impact hugely upon investors across the
world. What role does caste play in this
contemporary work environment, Mumbai's
volatile gem?
In assessing caste issues in the
finance sector, Arun Kejriwal is interested in
hearing about better strategies for inclusion
in a space dominated by various key
industrial sensibilities and ideologies. As the
Director of Kejriwal Research & Investment
Image 15: The view of Bombay Stock
Services, he said he would like to widen the Exchange (BSE) from Mumbai's Hutatma
scope of involvement by demographic Chowk (Martyr's Square, formerly Flora
segments that historically lack the resources
to influence the course of events in this sector. He explains how financial markets used to
depend upon a system of in-group trustworthiness amongst the Gujarati and Marwari
communities, which involved the recommendation of a friend or relative in every hire or
fire – to be assured of the person's honesty. Indeed, with transactions hinging on oral
agreements, this type of trust was fundamental to the market.
According to Kejriwal, Marwaris from Falodi (near Jodhpur, Rajasthan) have
historically been connected to the stock market in Bombay. “Skill level was not even
necessary previously – it was just numbers and trust. But now, it's no longer verbal since
everything is done through a machine.” The 1995 switch to a paperless stock trading
system opened up the job market to a wider range of communities to anyone who had the
“speed, intelligence, and talent to execute the right communication.” Kejriwal said that
previously women only had a role in his industry on Diwali but now are omnipresent in

the trading firms. He said that the bulk of jobs in the finance sector are back office jobs
scarcely different from most BPO jobs – just that they are not at odd hours.
“This is one place where caste doesn't matter, as long as someone can speak well
of [a potential employee].” He said that an employee should be able to understand Hindi,
English, and Gujarati. He then mentions the story of a leather-worker who works across
the street from the Bombay Stock Exchange, whose son is now a competent bank
employee with solid English skills. Kejriwal explicitly stated that the Hindu-Muslim
divide is much more severe than the caste divide. He attributed this religious gulf to a
lack of trust, which results in discrimination and violence. “But in Bombay, this feeling is
reducing. It's all about jobs and efficiency.”
There is the conspicuous and auspicious presence of Lord Ganesh at the entrance
to the Bombay Stock Exchange. The deity brings good fortune and prosperity to those
with whom he is in good graces. A very high percentage of the most successful
businessmen and financiers in India do belong to these two Vaishya communities:
Marwari (Bajaj, Birla, Mittal) and Gujarati Bania (Ambani). Membership in a caste
provides businessmen with practical networks that facilitate doing business and prevent
the dilution of wealth. Minimizing risk and maximizing accountability are a part of this
same caste limitation.
Ajay Mittal, of the Agarwal caste, believes that caste is somewhat important at his
work. He is a manager at a firm in the Bombay Stock Exchange, where most of the
employees are Marwari and Gujarati. He does not support caste-based reservations but
also says that the caste system should not be preserved.
Sashank Chaturvedi is a 26 year-old Assistant Manager at the Bombay Stock
Exchange, Ltd., where most of the employees are Gujaratis. “Caste will prevail,
irrespective of all the talk of so-called revolution. Yet, this is a truly cosmopolitan city
with a lot of opportunities for everyone.” Ruchita Maheshwari, a 24 year-old research
associate at Niramal Bang Securities Private Ltd., said “Apart from political parties, no
one really bothers with caste here.”
However, there are certainly members of other communities being more involved
in finance these days. Kamlesh Mahajan is a 29 year-old acquisition manager at Deutsche
Bank who belongs to the Mali caste. He identifies himself as middle class and a Shiv

Sena supporter whose father was a policeman in Mumbai. Mahajan's wife is a Goud
Saraswat Brahmin, and he does not ascribe much importance to caste in his or anyone
else's marriage. “It's just that people seek to marry within their religion,” he says. He does
not support caste-based reservations and thinks that caste will disappear from Mumbai
sometime during the next 10 years. 27 year-old Sachin Shetty from Borivali is a manager
at Deutsche Bank. His father is an accountant, and Shetty believes he is better off than
previous generations. He said he feels good about his Bunt caste, “despite the Shetty
infamy in the Mumbai underground.” Hiren Parmer, a colleague of Shetty's, said that
“Caste is a tradition in India, and it'll dilute but ultimately remain due to our family
Bhandup resident Avinash Navale is an investment banker at JP Morgan Chase,
who ascribes very little importance to his Maratha caste. He does not support caste-based
reservations and said, “Caste will continue to exist because of caste discrimination and
fighting that is ongoing. Political people discriminate based on caste.”
Thirty year-old Mihir Vora, of the Vaishnav caste, is a manager of Business
Development at the New India Assurance Co. “I wish it would dissolve, and I think it
will in Mumbai because it's cosmo. But for all over India, it won't because Indian politics
are based on caste.”
Yogesh Kumar Singh is an 18 year-old migrant from Uttar Pradesh who lives in
Goregaon and works as a watchman for a bank. Though he cannot come up with the
name his own caste, he self-identifies as an OBC supporter of the Samajwadi Party. His
father was a farmer, and he believes that he has become economically better off than
previous generations in his family. He said, “Har jati ek hai. Ham sab log pehle
hindustani hai. Jati mein bedh bhav karna zaruri nahi hoga, kyonki hum sab log bhai
hain” (All jatis are the same. We're all basically just Hindustani, and the caste divide
won't matter because we're all brothers).
Sheena Seldan is the assistant to the President of Human Resources at Mahindra
and Mahindra. As a Roman Catholic, she said that caste is never on her mind. A
colleague of hers disagreed somewhat: “Caste will prevail as it has for many years. 100
years is too short for it just to go away. It's amazing, the kinds of things you hear on the
news. There are so many communities that won't take you in if you're not vegetarian.

This happens for both Gujarati and Tamil vegetarians, as well as for some Maharashtrian
Brahmins and Jains who don't allow members of other communities into their housing
societies,” said Deepti Sharma, manager of Corporate Human Resources at Mahindra and
Mahindra. A Thane resident whose father was a senior manager in a cement company,
Sharma said that she is better off than previous generations in her family but that lower
caste people do not generally have the opportunity to succeed in Mumbai.
Shilpa George, a Syrian Christian of Malayalee origin who works at Mahindra
and Mahindra, believes that “We should preserve the more benign aspects of caste based
culture and discard the discriminatory parts of the caste system. The parts worth saving
are intangible, but we won't be allowed to forget about it entirely. So at least as a
historical reference, it'll be there.” George, 25 years old, reported significant parental
pressure to marry within her particular Keralan community.
Ananta Ambedkar is a security guard at Mahindra Finance who resides at Bharat
Nagar chawl in Bandra East. He said that his Mahar caste identity is not important to his
work but that it was very important to his marriage. He is opposed to inter-caste marriage
and hopes his children eventually also marry within his caste. Unlike many of the white-
collar employees at Mahindra, he supports caste-based reservations. He is the son of
agricultural laborers, and with his 8,000 Rupee/month salary, he said he considers himself
better off than previous generations.
Amit Sharma, a Deputy Manager of Human Resources at Mahindra and
Mahindra, said that caste is not at all important in his work. As a Brahmin, he said that he
felt neutral about his caste in Mumbai. “I believe that caste-based, socio-political
situations would continue to exist in the near future. However, with the steady and fast
economic progress - through not inclusive - we may be faced with some economic
stratification of the society.”
Sameer Tamhane, a member of the CKP community whose wife is a Karade
Brahmin, said, “Caste and religion should be restricted to the house. Once you're in
public, nationality may be looked at. Maybe after 50 years, even nationality may not
matter.” P. Nanda Kumar is the Vice President of Learning and Development at Mahindra
and Mahindra who doubles as the Dean of the Management Development Centre. A
Powai resident and member of the Iyengar community who believes caste is of no

importance to housing and work, he said, “Caste is crumbling for sure. As the physics
says, nothing can be completely destroyed, so how can anything just disappear. Caste will
be very isolated and weakened; that's the way it should happen. It can never be 'zero.'
Somewhere in India it will still be practiced, but it's losing its steam. It's taken 21
centuries, and it's still not abolished, so why would it be gone in another 100 years?
Someone will need to conduct another survey on this in 100 more years!”
Shivaram Balan is a 40 year-old manager of Operations at Mahindra Finance. He
believes that caste has absolutely no importance at his work and residence. “If the
reservation policy [continues to] go through, then higher caste people would be denied
access to education based on merit. Education should not be based on caste or class but
only on merit.” A colleague of his named V. Jayakumar, of the Nair community, said
“Without a political will, casteism cannot be routed out in India.” Also opposed to caste-
based reservations, he said that while he was better off income-wise than previous
generations, but that his ancestors had greater assets.
Sonali Bhave is a Konkanasth Brahmin from Andheri who is an Associate
Manager at Mahindra Finance. She ascribes no relevance to caste at work “because
people here are work-oriented, and people want to be away from religion and politics.
They're more comfortable with cheerful people around...A person should be educated and
ethical, that's what matters in Mumbai. On the other hand, village-level discrimination in
temples is pathetic. Why should people be deprived of having a glimpse of the murti?
Sharad Kotian is an administrative officer at Mahindra Finance who lives in
Jogeshwari and is a member of the Ezhava community, which is considered OBC. This
particular community from Kerala was uplifted in the late 19th century from mild
Untouchability by Narayana Guru. Kotian said, “Today, Mumbai is a very good place for
people from my caste.” Shraddha Thakkar, a summer trainee at Mahindra Finance said
“It'll exist because politicians won't let it die; its beneficial for them, so they keep it
alive.” Anglo-Indian Glenn Briggs is a collections agent at a firm in Andheri East's
Logitech Park. He said, “To be open-minded is important in having global thought
processes. There has been a sea change in the the thought processes of the younger
generations. They realize that they caste system is antithetical to their progress in life. I
do hope God comes down before then and shakes up the world and all its nonsense.”

MyBoom and the BPO Sector
India has become world famous for its call centers, which are largely concentrated
around Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, and Pune. However, Mumbai certainly has
plenty of BPO offices. The growth of the call center industries cannot be viewed as
completely separate from the IT sector, since many parts of the industry are
interconnected. India had $50 billion worth of software exports in 2007, which continues
to rise. The sources of the country's IT success lie in government liberalization, the
engineering infrastructure, venture capital, and business/technology parks. According to
experts, the institutional determinants of this industry's international success can partially
be attributed to a loosening of the caste restrictions on which communities can enter
business. While only Vaishyas went into business previously, software and BPO is about
brain power and not just selling. Since the community advantage disappeared, non-
traditional business communities have proven more significant in the development of the
software business. Indeed, many of the biggest IT businesses have been run by Brahmin
entrepreneurs. Additionally, the entrepreneurial effects of massive NRI investment cannot
be understated.136
The hip young Indians working inside this country's multinational call
centers have one thing in common: Almost all hail from India's upper and
middle castes, elites in this highly stratified society. India may be
booming, but not for those who occupy the lowest rung of society. The
Dalits, once known as untouchables, continue to live in grinding poverty
and suffer discrimination in education, jobs, and healthcare. For them,
status and often occupation are still predetermined in the womb.137

Many call center employees have no problem with current workforce
composition. On is R.G. Radheshyan, who has a rather negative opinion about the
intellectual capacity of the lower castes. A Hoysala Brahmin from Karnataka who works
at Sitel call center, he said, “The higher castes are concerned with education and culture,
rather than the lower castes who don't think about intangibles like thinking and a higher
order of pleasure. Lower castes are only interested in money, food, sleeping. This is
ingrained.” Radheshyan went to school up to the 12th Std., and he earns 15,000
These aspects of the development of the Indian IT sector were articulated by Fulbright
Researcher Ram Tenkasi during a presentation at the March 2008 Fulbright Conference in Jaipur.
'Untouchables' Left Behind in Booming Nation by Emily Wax in the Washington Post, July 5,

Rupees/month. He opposes caste-based reservations and believes that he is better off than
his father's generation. A Jain fellow named Dhavesh Sanghvi is a software engineer at
Accenture. He said that “people are becoming more open-minded as globalization means
that people don't think about these things – even if our parents still focus on this.”
Sanghvi is 24 years old and is the son of a diamond merchant who prefers that his future
children will marry within his community.
Ricky Xavier is a 24 year-old Roman Catholic who said that his ancestors were
Brahmins before they converted to Christianity. A team leader at Tata Consultancy
Services at the Godrej-Boyce Complex in Vikhroli East, he said caste plays no role at his
office. With regards to metropolitan Mumbai, Xavier said, “My community has minority
status, and Hinduism will always be very strong.” Deepak Nema, a senior research
assistant at Tata Consultancy Services, who ascribed zero relevance to his Vaishnav caste,
said, “Some people will [always] continue to be casteist.” Vijay Khake is a 26 year-old
member of the Kunbi caste who owns the chai stall across the street from the entrance to
the Godrej-Boyce Complex. Adjacent vendors were a motley crew of Mumbaikars from
Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, both Hindu and Muslim. “We're all in this together,
despite our differences,” said Khake, who thought he had not achieved upward economic
mobility with his average monthly earnings of 5,000 Rupees.
Amit Shah, a 26 year-old Shwetambaram Jain who resides in Kandivali, says that
the only prejudice he feels is when people stereotype Gujaratis as being too money-
minded. Although his father is a successful businessman, Shah's job as a PhoneBanking
officer at Deutschebank earns him 25,000 Rupees/month, enough to convince him that he
is now better off than his father was at his same age.
Mrinal Sinha is a 26 year-old software engineer of the Kayastha caste who says
that caste is of no import to his job at Accenture. While he would probably like to marry
within his community, he said he would let his future children decide for themselves
about the community of their spouses. “Caste won't be there [in the future], but
regionalism will be. This already manifests itself as pro-Marathi feeling at my
workplace,” said Sinha. “But, as for caste, I really never thought about that before, in
terms of the public sphere in Mumbai.”

Ketan Durve is a 34 year-old
from Thane who works as a
senior customer service
professional at Sitel in Saki
Naka's Logitech Park. “I have
some pride in my [CKP] caste,
since this is Bal Thackeray's city
– and I'm the same caste as him.”
Although he married a woman of
his same caste, he does not mind
if his future children marry into
another caste.
S.R. Ragu is an Iyer Brahmin
who used to work as a customer
service representative at WNS,
one of the biggest BPOs in
Mumbai. He ascribes no
relevance to caste at WNS but
Image 16: Employees leaving the high-security Godrej- said that it was a big determinant
Boyce Complex in Vikhroli East, where Godrej, WNS, in terms of his housing, as he
and Tata Consultancy Services have major offices. Data
theft has been a major security concern with call centers resided in a predominantly Tamil
in recent years. Brahmin building in Chembur.
However, he said there was a chance he would eventually marry someone of a different
caste. Speaking frankly about the caste system, he declared, “It doesn't work!” A former
co-worker of the Sonar caste, Manoj Shah, disagreed with Ragu's assessment: “Caste
should be preserved, or else it'll all come to hell.” “We're all equal at WNS,” said Yogesh
Kamath, also a customer service associate at WNS, and a self-described proud, middle-
class Goud Saraswat Brahmin.
Mangesh Joshi is a Konkanasth Brahmin from Thane who does not think much
about caste. However, as an avid Shiv Sainik, the mutual fund accountant believes
“Biharis are coming and occupying our places, taking our jobs – so I agree with Raj

Thackeray. Our Maharashtrian identity is most important.”
“Being a metropolitan city, caste does not hold that much importance here. It's on
the people of a particular caste who will decided the future of their own caste,” said
Pranil Bandodkar, a supervisor at JP Morgan at Mindspace, Malad.
“Caste as a whole has a minimal impact an average person staying in Mumbai. It's
a tool used by few people for their own benefit. If we build a system in which these
people are penalized, then caste will not play any role,” said Abhijit Shetty, a team coach
at 3 Global.
“It should be abolished. I hope and pray it is,” said Asha Desai, a 48 year-old
owner of a hair salon located inside the Mindspace call center complex. While her caste
is Rajput, she married a Parsi. “It's the downfall of our country. I don't believe in this
nonsense. Life is too short for this rubbish. [Caste] is a man-made system to suit people's
desires. I myself will walk into any temple, church, or dargah. We should take each other
as individuals, but politics is such a dirty thing. It's misguided and brainwashed people
who pay other people to riot for them.”
Sunil Gaikwad is a Hindu Mahar SC who works in Silgate's call center, where he
said his caste is mostly irrelevant. Gaikwad resides in a chawl in the Bharat Nagar area of
Bandra East and considers himself middle class. Unlike many lower caste persons
employed in the private sector, he still favors caste-based reservations. He believes lower
caste people can succeed in Mumbai as he has with his 12,000 Rupees/month salary and
college degree.
Jason D'Souza, a training manager at First Source BPO, a Roman Catholic
without a caste, said: “I don't believe in the caste system. The lower classes and castes
should stop fighting and start working to help the economy and make India better for the
future. Reservation was once a good thing but now it's gone to the other extreme, and the
qualified are not getting seats.”

Bollywood: Pop Entertainment Sector

Mumbai is largely renown as India's tinsel town and the seat of the Bollywood
film industry. Although there is entertainment beyond Bollywood, the name essentially
encompasses all of the Hindi-language pop culture that is produced. As for the caste
breakdown in Bollywood, it is mostly dominated by both Muslims and Hindus of high
caste origin, namely of the following communities: Khan (Shah Rukh Khan, Salman
Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Aamir Khan, etc), Brahmin (Sanjay Dutt), Khatri (the Kapoor
dynasty), Kayastha (the Bachchan dynasty), Rajput (Preity Zinta), and Bunt (Aishwarya
Rai, Shilpa Shetty, Deepika Padukone).

Image 17: Bollywood rapper Ishq on the set of his music video for Aye Hip Hopper.

In Bollywood, as in the finance sector, family dynasties are largely the units of success:
Despite enormous changes in recent years, the Hindi film industry is still
influenced tremendously by society’s most basic unit. A snap survey of
today’s noteworthy actors reveals that many of them were either born into

a film family or married into one. Hrithik Roshan? The son of actor-
turned-filmmaker Rakesh Roshan and the grandson of filmmaker J Om
Prakash. Salman Khan? The son of scriptwriter Salim Khan. Aamir Khan?
The son of filmmaker Tahir Hussain, the nephew of producer Nasir
Hussain, and the cousin of director Mansoor Khan. Abhishek Bachchan?
The son of Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bhaduri. Saif Ali Khan? The son
of Sharmila Tagore. Kareena Kapoor? A member of the Kapoor clan.
Kajol? The daughter of actor Tanuja and director Shomu Mukherjee. Rani
Mukerji? A member of the Mukherjee clan and the niece of Bengali actor
Debashree Roy. The only outsider to have made it in recent times without
family connections is Shah Rukh Khan.138

Those who work in the industry love Bollywood for all its splendor and
bombastic histrionics. The general consensus is also that anyone can make it to the silver
screen if they simply put in enough hard work. “This industry is unique because it
provides jobs paying anywhere from Rs. 100 to 1 crore and it's for all castes,” said
Omveer Saini, Public Relations officer at Film City.
An aspiring model who was in Film City for a quick photo shoot, 18 year-old
Shilpa Verma said, “ Caste will vanish pretty soon because the next generation is very
open-minded. Though I'm of the Khatri caste, I feel completely neutral about it when I'm
in Bombay.” Verma's friend is a fellow aspiring model named Dimple Jethwa, who
belongs to an OBC from Gujarat. “Caste should remain because people like me easily get
admission with a caste certificate instead of in the open category,” said Jethwa. This
sense of entitlement with regards to reservation benefits will be addressed more in the
Chapter V.
Jaya Prakash, a sound engineer, was in Film City for the day. A Christian from
Andhra Pradesh, he said, “Being a democracy, there is not supposed to be caste, and
everyone should be equal. But, you can educate [the people] even if you can't change the
system. It'll take generations.”
“They used to destroy the vessel that an SC person had touched in the Rajasthani
village. But now people drink tea from the same glasses, so where does that leave caste?
It'll be extinguished, and no one will know about castes in 10-20 years,” said Sopali
Sharma, a 26 year-old Brahmin assistant director who was filming at Film City.
Yusuf Khan is a 28 year-old Muslim of the Pathan community who was acting as

Family Value by Aashit Singh in TimeOut Mumbai, April 17, 2008

an extra at Kamal Amrohi Studios in Jogeshwari East. With his 6th Std. education and
10,000 Rupees/month income, he said he had achieved economic progress. When asked
about the future of the caste system, he replied, “Only Muslims will exist in 100 years.”
Hair stylist and Kurla resident Saba Ansari agreed: “Caste kahan jaega? People who are
educated and intelligent should get their due. But, only Muslims will remain at the end of
the world...we believe in Allah and not caste, that's all.”
Spot boy Shambhajan Mandal of the Dhanu caste said he thought caste was only
important to marriage. The son of a North Indian farmer, Mandal said with his 10,000
Rupee/month income in Mumbai, he was not better off than his father was. Freelance
photographer of the Mali caste Gopal Singh said, “It's very bad for our [collective] future.
In every caste, everyone tries to pull others down, and nobody wants to support their own
people.” A contrary opinion was offered by assistant director Dongre Shankar, of the
Kunbi OBC who supports MNS. “Caste must be preserved, but it should not overtake
humanity in any case. India is standing tall just because of caste norms, but it has
overtaken us. That's the reason I feel sad.”
“Caste is slowly disappearing, as people are getting educated and realizing that
the reservation is just politically motivated for vote-banks,” said Zee TV's Asia Pacific
Creative Group Head, Javed Hasan. Co-worker Rony D'Costa agreed: “Because this is a
stronghold of people who use caste for their own purposes, caste will remain unless it is
overpowered by others.” That scenario will come true in Ganesh Chavan's vision. Chavan
is a video editor at Zee TV who said facetiously, “There will possibly be just one caste:
Another Zee TV employee, Manish Pahuja, of the Sonar caste within the Sindhi
community, said caste was not at all important in his life. He is married to a Karhade
Brahmin, and he said caste should not be preserved. “It should be abolished. We'll make
sure this will happen. We can make the whole world a global village so that caste and
creed don't matter. I've named my son Swaraj, after Bhagat Singh, who didn't believe in
Priyanka Datta is a 36 year-old sales manager at Zee TV who resides in a mostly
Christian part of Bandra West. She said caste was of zero importance in her life and that
she does not know much of anything about it. “Because there aren't a lot of people like

me, caste will continue to exist. Most people in India really believe in caste.” Datta's
father is a retired colonel in the Indian army's infantry division. She said that with her
advanced degree and 100,000 Rupees/month salary, she had achieved significant
economic mobility.
Fellow Bandra West resident Shaina Hasan is a 25 year-old marketing executive
at Zee TV. “A lot of importance is placed on caste in India – so there is always going to
be an awareness of caste and religious identity,” said Hasan.
Neera Bhat is a promotions director for Zee Network. His family are Kashmiri
Pandits, and he said, “Caste will be there even after 200 years because of reasons like
caste reservation, political propaganda, and the wishes of the people.” A co-worker
disagreed respectfully: “It's Mumbai, it's India, and there are political parties, which
means [caste] is going to be there. This assumes Mumbai is still going to be here in 100
years. Mumbai might disappear, since what builders are doing is problematic. Mumbai
will crash!” said Aniket Patil, video editor at Zee TV and resident of Kelve.
Shubhraj Mukherjee is a producer at Zee TV and resident of Mira Road who said
that caste is more important in Mumbai than in his native Kolkata. “Young people just
don't discriminate much based on caste, but elders do. We cannot just do away with it.”
Promotions producer Averi Banerjee is also a Bengali Brahmin who said it helps to be of
a higher caste in securing employment and finding housing. She also said that religion
was very important in finding housing, as Muslims are not allowed in many buildings
where she resides in Parel. She said, “My grandparents might have an issue with me
marrying a person from an SC or OBC community, and my parents wouldn't love it
either. But, Bombay is much more cosmo than Kolkata...Socioeconomic status is what
matters more, but people are rooted in particular [caste] communities, and this won't
Another fellow Bengali Brahmin Amrita Chakravorty is an executive programmer
at Zee. “Everyone should be equal, but to eradicate it from all-India will take much time.
But, caste is much stronger in Pune [than Mumbai] with regards to residential
arrangements,” said Chakravorty. Another executive programmer at Zee is Paulomi
Dutta, who belongs to the Kayastha community. She earns 30,000 Rupees/month and
considers herself middle-class. “I've never been asked about my caste before. I don't think

it should be preserved, but it will remain because it's already existed for some 3,000
Archna Aggarwal is the Deputy Vice President of Zee Gujarati. “This is such an
open culture – my kids interact with children of all other faiths, and they like Western
culture. Bombay itself is very cosmopolitan and Western. Casteism matters in rural areas
but in levels determine caste awareness. While many laborers marry
within their caste, the people who work [in my department] are all in inter-caste
marriages...But, Bangalore is ahead of Mumbai in this.”
Actress Aditi Shirwadkar is a 24 year-old Goud Saraswat Brahmin who ascribed
no importance to caste in any domain of her life. “I don't think these things really matter,
and [they] have no future,” she said, just before a shoot at Kamal Amrohi Studios.
Avaarika Saliar belongs to the same caste and profession as Shirwadkar. “Being a good
human matters the most, but this city is cosmopolitan. Marriage is about two people
coming together, not about their communities. In the future, there is going to be only one
caste of humanity.”
Sushil Thakur is a poor Bhoomihar Brahmin from Bihar who resides in Andheri.
A driver for Bollywood actors, he said that his caste is very important to him in Mumbai.
With his 9th Std. education and 6,000 Rupee/month income, he thought he was no better
off than his father's generation. “But, caste will all be finished in 100 years because all
jatis will be mixed up by then.”
“Everywhere I look, people are becoming more sentimental about caste. As
people grow old they become more passionate about these things,” said Jogendra Panda,
a 43 year-old Brahmin from Orissa who is a Director of Photography on film sets. While
he describes himself as a “non-practicing Pandit,” he said that the 1992 riots made him
more aware that he carries the Hindu identity. He claimed not to know his ex-wife's caste
name. With a monthly income of 125,000 Rupees, he said that he was better off than his
father's generation.
Babu Sheikh is a Sunni Muslim from Andheri West who works as a freelance
prop assistant in the movie business. Although he only stayed in his Urdu medium
school until the 7th Std., he makes around 12,000 Rupees/month. “Humanity is the most
important. Nobody asks about caste in Mumbai. When people meet each other, they

should just see their common humanity and friendship.”
Sonali Chowdhary is a 33 year-old set decorator in Bollywood who believes that
caste has never been relevant to her housing, work, or future marriage. Though her family
was engaged in agriculture prior to moving to the big city, she does not believe that she is
economically better off than previous generations. “It's sad but if used for the benefit of
the lower classes and the under-privileged, caste can unify the world political system. Or
it could only help the rich get richer. In general I think we relate to classes as we do to
blood bonds.” Sonali knows her parents and the rest of her Jat community would not be
happy if she decided to marry her current partner, a Muslim art director from
Lakshadweep named T.P Abid. The latter seems to corroborate his partner's opinion on
caste: “The caste system runs parallel to the economy and therefore [is correlated] in
terms of status.” Abid said that his religion is not relevant to his choice of partner, but
that it posed a serious problem while finding housing in Mumbai.
Shakti Singh is middle-class Rajput who works as a freelance art assistant on film
sets. His father was an army officer in the JCO, and he ascribes no importance to his caste
in housing, work, and marriage. “In the rest of India, it will take a lot of time to
disappear, but Mumbai, at least mentally, is a lot like New York. But, the rest of India
will take many generations to change. After 100 years, India will be benchmark for the
world (rather than USA), but caste will have no part in this.”
Sarita Vishwakarma is a 21 year-old deaf art student who came to Mumbai from
Madhya Pradesh with her brother's family to seek surgery on her ears. Members of the
Sutar OBC caste, the family was staying temporarily in a Jain temple in Borivali. Sarita
ascribed mediocre importance to her caste in her residential and employment situations.
Additionally, she said that it was not necessary for her to marry within her caste.
Hasurat Ali Betageri is a Syed Muslim who works as a cook at the canteen inside
Bandra's Mehboob Studios. He believes that Islam is highly important to his housing,
work, and marriage – though he was quick to point out that “All Indians are one” and that
he believed in “cooperating with all Mumbaikars in the public sphere.” Though educated
up till the 10th Std. and earning 6,000 Rupees/month, he believes that he is not much
better off than his farmer father. He stated that caste will not exist in Mumbai in 100
years “because there will simply be more Muslims, so caste won't matter.”

“It depends on the time frame, but caste cannot be changed. Men die, but caste
remains,” said Raju Barkade, a driver for Bollywood actors who makes 5,000
Rupees/month. Barkade stated that his caste was only important in Mumbai with regards
to his marriage, adding that in his native village, his Dhangar caste is the majority.
One article from the Washington Post, Bollywood No Longer A Dream Too Far
for India's Lower Castes, hyperbolically suggests that Dalits are now gradually making
their way into Bollywood.139 Although the author makes a few reasonable claims, this
perspective is not terribly believable. This is one way of looking at Bollywood, but one
can count on one hand the number of true Dalit success stories in this industry. Despite
many of the these views to the contrary, it seems that lineage is of supreme importance in
Bollywood. “But at least for now, film families enjoy the same advantage that an
established company has on the stock market. Pedigree has become paramount...your
chances...are 100 times more if you're a star kid that if you're average Joe.”140
Table 25: Socioeconomic Class and Caste Relevance Crosstabulation
Socio-economic Class Arrangement Work Marriage Public Sphere
High Mean 2.14 1.29 5.29 3.29
N 7 7 7 7
Upper-Middle Mean 3.15 2.00 5.25 3.36
N 48 47 48 47
Middle Mean 4.37 2.93 7.10 3.73
N 198 194 200 199
Lower-Middle Mean 4.95 4.17 8.14 5.19
N 179 154 181 179
Low Mean 6.00 4.92 8.47 4.31
N 59 59 62 61
N/A Mean 4.50 5.38 4.12 5.38
N 10 8 8 8
Total Mean 4.62 3.51 7.39 4.31
N 501 469 506 501

Table 25 above, as well as Tables 26 and 27 below, show the correlation between the
class-caste-category nexus and the perceived relevance of caste in the four arenas. They
are analyzed further below, at the beginning of the next chapter.
Bollywood No Longer A Dream Too Far for India's Lower Castes by Emily Wax in the
Washington Post from April 27, 2008
Family Value by Aashit Singh in TimeOut Mumbai, April 17, 2008

Chapter IV: Comparative Analysis of Two
Scheduled Castes

Johar maybap johar / I am your Mahar's Mahar / I am hungry / for your leftovers / I am
hopeful / I am the servant of your slaves / For your leavings / I've brought my basket.

It's all one skin and bone / one piss and shit / one blood, one meat. / From one drop, a
universe. / Who's Brahmin? Who's Shudra?141

Table 26: Category and Caste Relevance Crosstabulation
Category Residential Arrangement Work Marriage Public Sphere

SC Mean 5.44 4.55 8.08 4.71

N 233 203 235 231

ST Mean 3.00 3.00 7.67 5.33

N 3 3 3 3

OBC Mean 3.82 2.79 7.95 4.45

N 83 82 84 85

Open-General Mean 3.97 2.68 6.24 3.72
N 182 181 184 182

Total Mean 4.62 3.51 7.39 4.31

N 501 469 506 501

The correlation is borne out further between category and caste relevance. Those
respondents in the SC category viewed caste as being relatively more relevant than open-
general persons in all four domains. OBC persons were generally in between SC and
open-general, the exception being in residential arrangement, in which OBC respondents
on average said that caste was even less relevant than open-general reported.
Both of these quotations are by Chokhamela and reflect Kabir's notion of flattening caste
distinctions and neutralizing upper-caste cultural hegemony.

Table 27: Caste Rank and Caste Relevance Crosstabulation
Caste Rank Residential Arrangement Work Marriage Public Sphere

1 Mean 5.38 4.50 8.06 4.71

N 238 208 240 236

2 Mean 4.54 3.36 8.74 5.56

N 54 50 54 55

3 Mean 4.40 3.37 7.21 4.42

N 50 52 53 53

4 Mean 3.59 2.27 5.88 3.23

N 118 118 119 117

5 Mean 3.59 2.44 6.25 3.22

N 41 41 40 40

Total Mean 4.62 3.51 7.39 4.31

N 501 469 506 501

As with the categories, respondents generally saw that caste was less relevant higher
up on the caste ladder. Caste rank 5 persons considered caste slightly more relevant to
work and to marriage than did caste rank 4 persons, meaning that Brahmins saw slightly
more importance in their caste in these two of four domains. Caste rank 1 respondents
thought caste was much more important to residential arrangement than the other caste
ranks, presumably because their neighborhoods are a bit more segregated along caste
lines. Also, caste rank 2 respondents gave caste in the public sphere much importance.
As for the analysis herein of two particular Scheduled Castes, it is necessary to
explain why two Marathi-speaking Maharashtrian SCs were selected, especially since
Mumbai is not limited to the Maharashtrian regional sphere. Although the city is actually
only 41.7% Marathi-speaking, it was determined that the typical Maharashtrian village
would be the nearest model of caste comparison, and Marathi-speaking Scheduled Castes
are certainly the most numerous Dalits to be found in Mumbai.
Marathi-speaking SCs comprise approximately two-thirds of the city’s total SC
population, according to Shailesh Darokar, Assistant Professor of Dalit Studies at the Tata
Institute of Social Sciences. In addition, there are SCs in Mumbai who originate in Uttar
Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and various other states.

Demographic Assessment
Look at the Mangs. How obedient and submissive they are to the villagers. They follow
the traditions of our village society better. Their behaviour is also restrained. They are
not defiant like the Mahars.142

The dynamics of mobility along the class ladder vary tremendously for the SC
communities, and this demographic assessment of development will further show their
heterogeneous nature. This is typical for an SC category which varies tremendously from
state to state, region to region. The traditional occupational range for SCs in India is quite
vast. While the Matangs were traditionally rope-makers and the Mang Garudi snake-
charmers who also removed hair from buffaloes, the professions get a bit more bizarre
and specialized than this. There are Scheduled Caste communities that were traditionally
singers, actors, acrobats, magicians, exorcists, genealogists, bards, soothsayers,
midwives, horse-traders, animal breeders, and ferrymen.143
As we begin to look at the development of SC communities, a major issue
emerges once again pertaining to counting problems in the Census. Most of the current
statistics used for the Mahar community do not accurately capture demographic reality
because of the nature of the conversion process and how the Census works. More on this
will be addressed below in the section on Census undercount.
According to the 2001 Census, the largest four Scheduled Castes in Maharashtra
(out of 59 total) were the Mahar, Matang, Chambhar, and Bhangi. These four groups
comprised 89% of the state’s SC population. SCs were supposedly 10.2% (9,881,656) of
the state population, which is less than the 16.2% that SCs comprise of India’s
population. The Mahar population in Maharashtra is debatable (see below on Census
Undercount), given in the Census as 5,678,912 but is estimated at 8,197,756, (which
would be two-thirds of the state’s total Scheduled Caste population and would be 8% of
the state’s overall population).144 Matangs are reported to be 2,003,996, which is 27% of
the state's SC population.145 Chambhars (1,234,874) were about 12% of the SC
A caste Hindu in a Maharashtrian village is quoted in Mendelsohn, p. 74.
Singh, p. 405
Mahars are also listed as Mehra, Taral, and Dhegu Megu and as serial # 37 on the National
Commission of Scheduled Castes list for Maharashtra.
Matangs are also known as Mang, Minimadiga, Dankhni Mang, Mang Mahashi Madari,

population,146 and Bhangis (186, 776), though only 2% of the state SC population, were
the most urbanized.147 The Dhor were only the fifth most numerous group, with a
population of 90,226.148
Thus, while caste is ostensibly dissolving to the extent that is not a sure-fire
predictor of socioeconomic well-being, there is still a solid correlation with development
levels, given that a disproportionately high percentage of SCs are still BPL (below the
poverty line) and illiterate. In Greater Mumbai, literacy among SCs was 45.93% as
recently as 1991. Yet, certain communities have climbed appreciably since then, as will
be revealed later in this chapter.
As for these most numerous SCs in Maharashtra, the Mahars have by far the most
clout, socially, culturally, and politically. This does not mean the group has joined the
middle class en masse. One need only visit a Dalit gathering such as that which occurs in
Shivaji Park every December 6th to encounter the overall poverty and desperation that
exists among the Untouchable masses to this day. Thus, just because Bhangis have
moved on from being night soil carriers in the large villages to being Mumbai municipal
employees, it does not imply that Bhangis have suddenly become to top-level
government technocrats or corporate brass. They are still very much limited to a
particular position on the class hierarchy. Additionally, sanitation workers allege that it is
usually a young Bhangi who would be compelled to go into the open sewage drain if
there was some sort of blockage that required human intervention.
These observations are borne out by this project's fieldwork, which reveals a
rather strong correlation between caste background and presence in top-level jobs, both in
the public and private sectors. Therefore there is often a reaction of disbelief when
looking for members of such SCs in the most rapidly growing sectors of the economy.
Garudi, and Radhe Mang at serial # 46 on the National Commission of Scheduled Castes list for
Chambhars are also known as Bhambi, Bhambhi, Asadaru, Asodi, Chamadia, Chamar
Chamari, Chamgar, Haralayya, Harali, Khalpa, Machigar, Mochigar, Madar, Madig, Mochi,
Telegu Mochi, Kamati Mochi, Ranigar, Rohidas, Nona, Ramnami, Rohit, Samgar, Samagara,
Satnami, Surjyabanshi, and Surjyaramnamiand at serial # 11 on the National Commission of
Schedule Castes list for Maharashtra.
Bhangis are also known as Mehtar, Olgana, Rukhi, Malkana, Halalkhor, Lalbegi, Balmiki,
Korar, and Zadmalli at serial # 12 on the National Commission of Schedule Castes list for
Dhors are also known as Kakkayya, Kankayya, and Dohor at serial # 18 on the National
Commission of Schedule Castes list for Maharashtra.

Image 18: Chamar leatherworkers waiting for business in Mumbai's Churchgate station.

The rankings of these 5 groups were fairly consistent according to the village-
level caste system, which is also depicted in Figure 3 in Chapter 1. The Chamar and Dhor
are towards the top because they are furthest from the most basic impurities. Although
they are leatherworkers, they make, mend, and polish shoes long after the animal hide has
been part of a living animal. So, while contact with shoes still merits qualification as an
outcast, and then Mahars, who were “inferior village servants” according to Zelliot - but
who were also involved in various types of degrading contact with dead animals. Then
come the Matangs, who were even more involved than Matangs in impure professions,
such as broom-making, rope-making, and drum-beating. The Bhangis were traditionally
considered the lowest among these Maharashtrian castes because they removed the night
soil. However, Mahars were never involved with human excreta, and besides, manual
scavenging never took root in Maharashtra. As expressed in Chapter 2, this order of ritual
purity does not correspond to the current socioeconomic hierarchy, even though it
formerly did correspond somewhat to the village socioeconomic hierarchy. Some of these

castes continue to perform their traditional occupations in the city to a limited degree:
Harish Parmar is a janitor in a residential building who said about his Wadiyar
Gujarati Scheduled Caste “If I revealed my caste to the world, I would be treated terribly.
This makes me sad about my caste.”
Kiran Padlekar is a 30 year-old man of the Chamar caste, who like his father and
grandfather before him is a leather worker at his own shoe shop. He lives in Bandra East's
Bharat Nagar in a mostly Muslim slum. He thinks caste is still more relevant than
socioeconomic class in Mumbai, and he earns 6,000 Rupees/month with his 10th Std.
Pratap Jadhav is a 50 year-old telephone booth manager of the Chamar caste who
lives in Bharat Nagar. While his parents and the rest of his ancestors were shoe-makers,
he believes that his 4,000 Rupee/month income and 6th Std. education are a significant
improvement over the lives of previous generations in his family. “There will be no
changes to the caste system, but either way, today wealth is much more important that
caste.” Dharavi resident Arun Mahale also continues to follow the same Chamar
occupation as his ancestors. With the same salary as Jadhav, he too believes himself
better off than previous generations.
Baban Mahale, also Chamar, is a 32 year-old customer caste representative at
Airtel who lives in the Kumbharwada area of the Dharavi slums. A college graduate with
a 8,500 Rupees/month salary, he believes that he is better off than his father, who was a
BMC worker. Harish Kachave is a 29 year-old Hindu Chamar SC who lives in a mostly
Muslim area of Malwani Camp in Malad. He makes 10,000 Rupees/month as a freelance
photographer and reports that caste is not very relevant in his work. He thinks he would
like to marry a woman of his caste, however. His father worked for the BMC, and
Kachave does not believe that the caste system in Mumbai will change much in the
coming years.
Sixty-five year-old Sinniah Perumal is an electrical worker in Dharavi's
predominantly Tamilian Ganesh Chawl area. He belongs to the Pillewal OBC and thinks
this is somewhat relevant to his residential arrangement. Although he approves of inter-
caste marriage, he has never been married. With his 8th Std. education and 2,500
Rs./month income, he did not believe that he was better off than previous generations.

Image 19: Several hundred thousand Dalits descend upon Mumbai's Shivaji Park during
a Bahujan Samaj Party mega-rally on November 25, 2007.
Nainar Devendra is a 45 year-old self-employed tailor in the Dharavi slums.
Devendra thinks that his SC status has little to no relevance in his residential arrangement
(he lives in a mostly Muslim area), employment, and marriage (though his wife is of his
same Scheduled Caste). He generally feels proud of his caste status, even though he
concludes that lower caste persons cannot succeed in Mumbai. He has a 10th Std.
education, earns 8,000 Rupees/month, and is the son of a farmer in Tamil Nadu.
Kavita Kori, a 25 year-old housewife from Shivaji Nagar in Govandi of the Kori
SC said that her caste was highly relevant in her residential arrangement, potential job,
and marriage. Citing some communal tensions in her area, the North Indian migrant with
a 10th Std. education professed: “The caste system is not everything [in this city].” Her
brother Kamlesh Kumar is a taxi driver making 4,000 Rupees/month who believes that
caste discrimination is preventing lower caste people from succeeding in Mumbai.
Monikamma Sonpak is a 40 year-old housewife and vegetable vendor who sees
caste as being highly important to her housing situation in Matunga Labor Camp and to

her work life. Her father was a Bombay Dyes worker, and she deemed that her average
income of 2,000 Rupees/month does not make her better off than her father.
Venkatesh Sonpak is a Telugu-speaking member of the Sonpak SC community
who lives in Matunga Labour Camp. He estimates that caste is only of mild importance in
his community of Catholics, Muslims, and Buddhists. He works at a shop called Ambika
Kirana Store with a mixed-caste group of co-workers and believes that caste is of
minimal importance during his work day. However, he does not approve of inter-caste
marriage and prefers that his children will marry within their caste just as he has done. He
believes that with his 2,500 Rupee monthly wage and 10th Std. education, he has made
economic progress from his father's job as a BMC worker. “In the future, the caste system
will remain the same as it is today.”
Harkishan Yadav is a member of the Gopal caste who lives and works at the
Dhobi Ghat at Mahalaxmi. His wife belongs to his same caste, and he also prefers that his
children marry within his community. He remains illiterate but believes he is
economically better off than his farmer parents. 35 year-old Roshan Kanojiya is also
employed at the Dhobi Ghat, but he happens to be of the Dhobi caste. Everyone in his
family has always worked as a Dhobi, and he currently makes 6,000 Rupees/month with
his 6th Std. education and said he is better off than previous generations.
Darshan Bramane is a Gujarati-speaking 32 year-old of the Valmiki (Bhangi)
caste who lives in Bandra East's Valmiki Nagar slum. Just like his parents, he is
employed in the sanitation department of the BMC. With his 7th Std. education and 5,000
Rupee/month salary, he said he is not better off than his parents. Most of his co-workers
belong to the Mahar caste, but he says caste is not terribly important to his work - though
he views it as being central to his marriage and that of his children in the future. Bramane
said he thought the caste system would and should be preserved.

Mahar Neo-Buddhist Summary

Jethe gao, tethe Maharwada.149
Edward Luce contends that around one tenth of one percent of the Untouchable
community was literate at the beginning of the Twentieth Century; the Mahars are now
widely regarded as significantly educated and urban, and their revered savior was the first
Untouchable ever to receive a Ph.D. (from Columbia University in 1916).150 Arguably,
members of the Mahar caste have put forth the most sustained and compelling challenge
to conventional Hindu wisdom on caste. Not only is this Scheduled Caste among the
most numerous Dalit groups in India, but the followers of Ambedkar have left a lasting
mark on the cultural and political life at the national level. Moreover, the Mahar stance is
evaluated in so many academic accounts of caste because Mahars wholeheartedly
immerse themselves in the nuances of this topic ad infinitum. Many of the urban middle-
class members of the community do not so strongly identify with Dalit status, especially
with regards to the overarching assumption of Buddhist identity. Yet, the vast majority of
the members of even this relatively developed Scheduled Caste are still rural and working
in agriculture.
Having heeded Ambedkar's call, most Mahars long ago ceased doing any sort of
traditional Mahar work. A huge proportion of Mahars also have indeed left the Mahar
watan for the city, as Ambedkar urged. This was how Ambedkar proposed they would
avoid caste-based discrimination and seek the increased education and development
opportunities of the city. Firstly, they flocked to jobs in the military and railways early
on. Additionally, they were a core part of the workers who filled the mills of Mumbai and
Pune during India's early years of industrialization. It is evident that Mahars have
achieved a marked and momentous push towards education and literacy in a short time.
However, it is exceedingly difficult to determine the true percentage of Mahar
urbanization due to a statistical problem involving the Mahars, which is addressed below.
Currently, they are also involved in petty business, wage labor, government and private
services. Traditionally, they also weaved coarse cloth and made basketry.

This Marathi saying roughly translates to “Wherever there is a village, there are Mahars,” but
Zelliot contends that the saying equates to “There's a black sheep in every flock.” p. 60
Luce, Edward. In Spite of the Gods p. 110

There were historically 53 privileges of the Mahar in the village, even if he was
not considered a good omen (in contradistinction to the Matang). In addition to
processing dead animals, Mahars also served traditionally as watchmen (yeskar),
messenger, surveyor, and 64-odd other occupations which comprised Maharki (Mahar's
work). Due to the fact that their professions were not too polluting, the Mahars generally
were seen as being ranked higher than Matangs on the scale of ritual purity. Yet, he had
no fixed occupation, and his flexible job involved him in any different aspects of village
life. Assistant to the revenue inspector or surveyor were common Mahar vocations,
making this caste similar to the Mala caste of Andhra Pradesh. Even with the multiplicity
of the tasks that they performed, they still sometimes engaged in the ritually degrading
work. While no hard and fast rule ever existed for their exist spot on the Untouchable
section of the caste hierarchy, it is key to look not just at the caste as a whole but at
individuals and regions, holistically. Mahars are often thought to be a martial race, as
they fought with the British against the Peshwas, defeating these Brahmin-led Marathi-
speaking rulers.
The Marathi-speaking Mahars are notified as Mahars in Maharashtra and in Goa
are considered to be Maharashtrian migrants. In Karnataka, they are instead referred to as
Halaf, Taral, and Dhegu Megu. In Madhya Pradesh, they are known as Tigda. In Orissa,
they are called Mehras.151 Some common Mahar surnames are Dongre, Kamble, Godbole,
Waghmare, Suryawanshi, Meshram, Lanjewar, Khandekar, Barmate, and Nandeshwar. In
2001 Census for Maharashtra, Buddhist Dalits had a birth rate of 2.24 child per woman
while Dalits of any religion had a birth rate of 2.42. As for the Mahar community, there
are somewhere between ten and twenty sub-castes between which members traditionally
do not inter-marry.
After the mass conversion to Ambedkarite neo-Buddhism in 1956, the group
fostered a sense of solidarity that has been rare among Indian SC communities. Perhaps
various toddy-tapper castes of South India (Ezhavas in Kerala and Nadars in Tamil Nadu)
have similar experiences with untouchability, as they were considered mildly
Untouchable in the mid 19th century and had ceased to be considered Untouchable by
1930, when the British enumerated one of the first comprehensive lists of the SC
Caste information from the Atlas of Scheduled Castes, published in 1991 by the
Anthropological Survey of India

communities. Around Nagpur in eastern Maharashtra, it seems that the Mahars also were
only considered mildly Untouchable. At this historical juncture, these formerly mild
Untouchables of South India do not avail reservation and other SC benefits since they
avoided being classified as SCs over 70 years ago. Gopal Guru and other intellectuals
have suggested that Mahars could do the same at some point in the future.

Image 20: Chaitya Bhoomi, the site of Ambedkar's cremation and Mumbai's holiest
Buddhist site.

Mahars have become somewhat of the dominant group within Buddhism in India
(considering there are around 7.95 million Indian Buddhists), but they originally took
issue with the Mahabodhi Society. There are other significant Buddhist communities in
Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Sikkim, as well as converted SCs in
Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh (mostly Jatavas around Agra). As for
why he undertook the deeksha (vows) of Buddhism, “Ambedkar was less swayed by the

metaphysics of religious belief than the down-to-earth considerations of realpolitik.”152
Yet, the Pali-ization of the Mahars is still ongoing.153 Owen Lynch, a sociologist who
deals with Dalit conversion issues, refers to the religiofication process, which refers to
the act of turning practical purposes into holy causes: saintly politics.
Many Mahars currently disdain even the term “Mahar,” believing this to be a
demeaning way of limiting them to the dregs of Hinduism and a past of suffering rather
than “Boudha,” which would be considered more forward-thinking and respectful.154 The
level of Buddhist observance appears to be much heightened in the city, according to
Luce's depiction of post-conversion Mahar history. Similarly, perhaps urban Mahars are
much farther from identifying with their Mahar caste appellation, which many will claim
was shed once and for all in 1956 at Deekshabhoomi. However, Buddhism has not
significantly penetrated the spiritual life of Mahars in many rural areas of Maharashtra.
Prakash Ambedkar, B.R. Ambedkar's grandson and leader of the Bharatiya
Bahujan Mahasangh (BBMS), said, “Caste consciousness is always there, but the
intensity has diminished. Some of the old dogmas are help up by migrants from UP and
Bihar. But, in Mumbai, caste consciousness has not developed into a hatred of other
castes.” He then discusses the contributions of his grandfather and the resultant successes
that have been achieved by the neo-Buddhist community. “Mahars have made a mark in
this society – in terms of intellectual progress and self-respect attained...and as the
external manifestations of caste have withered, the inner manifestations are in the process
of withering. But, at the end of the day, it's about recognition and validation of identity.”
Sudharak Olwe is a photographer for the Bombay Times, which is part of the
Times of India. Although he sometimes has qualms with being a “Page 3” photographer,
he says half-jokingly that he “has to make a living somehow.” He says that his work life
is completely unrelated to being a Dalit. Given that he's accepted very easily in the photo
world, caste just is not an issue. “I work in the private sector because it pays better and
because the public sector holds you back. People there are obsessed with caste. There's
nothing like that in private sector.” He mentions one Bombay Times shoot that took place

Srinivas, M.N. Caste: Its 20th Century Avatar, p. 154
Zelliot uses this term, a reference to Buddhism's holy language, Pali, in contradistinction to the
Sanskritization process.
This means “Buddhist” in Marathi.

a few months ago on Ram Navmi in Matunga's Ram Mandir. Taking photos from the
sanctum sanctorum, “If they had come to know that I'm a Dalit, I'm not sure what they
would have thought!” Generally, he believes that his camera provides him with access
and a strong weapon. He claims that he never hesitates to say Jai Bhim. “As a
photographer, I let my work speak for me,” says Olwe. As for the more political aspects
of caste, “It's not a curse as I see it, because we don't take the SC benefits. This was a
decision we made very early on for my children.”
Next to Olwe's flat in Tilak Nagar neighbor lives an elderly Jain woman from a
rural background who wouldn't touch Olwe's family, literally. Ironically, Olwe helped her
husband to the hospital when he recently suffered a heart attack. Thus, caste seems more
relevant in Olwe's residential arrangement than in his work life. “Nobody bothers with
caste in Bollywood. We don't wear castes on our sleeve” he says. However, he did used to
do more political work, such as a project on the sweeper community. “People would say
to me, 'you have to be in that caste to be able to take photos like them!'”
These days, Olwe believes that much of the neo-Buddhist gospel is about the
name. He sees it as somewhat of a played out issue and thinks that Dalit Buddhism
ultimately does not get recognition for its status. As Olwe has been to Bodhgaya many
times and felt the authenticity therein, he has concluded that Buddhist practice in Bombay
is “more politicized, with people wearing politically-motivated religion on their sleeve.”
Socioeconomic mobility, as it has been attained by Mahars, is nonetheless
sessentially limited to the creamy layer. Indubitably, their migration to the cities of
Maharashtra in large numbers have distanced them from village-level caste atrocities and
facilitated their access to government benefits associated with reservation. Discrimination
is still a serious issue for this increasingly middle-class section of the Mahars. The rapid
rise of this section has occurred, despite continuing impoverishment of vast Mahar
majority. Just as in the broader Indian population, which also has experienced the rapid
rise of a solid middle class, there is continuing deprivation of vast majority of the
Many Mahars have indeed moved into solid working class jobs and some into
middle class government and teaching positions. But very few have taken up upper-
middle class private sector jobs. Yet, there are some notable success stories from this

community. The first Indian Idol winner (of Season 1 in 2005) was a 23 year-old Mahar
Buddhist from Dharavi named Abhijeet Sawant, who allegedly had to go into hiding after

Image 21: Mumbai's sanitation workers are often of the Mahar caste.

his victory because so many anxious mothers were hunting him down for marriage

proposals. Another recent community success is Sridhar Kamble, a 17 year-old from
Kolhapur who won an offer to join NASA and study astronomy in the United States.
These are just two examples of young members of this community attaining successful
results in the contemporary period.
Mahars have advocated for strategic policies through political action, concerted
mobilization, use of the reservation system, and assertive uplift via Buddhism. There is
one main problem with the Mahar Dalit example as the main dalit group investigated in
this research, for they are exceptional in India. They are not representative of any sum-
total of Dalit success. They are just one jati among over a thousand former Untouchable
jatis, each with its own socioeconomic trajectory. In fact, the Mahars should be viewed as
rather distinct for the above-mentioned reasons that point to ongoing uplift. Thus, the
role of the unique Mahar struggle is exemplary and should also shed light on the
experiences of other Dalit groups who aspire to copy their example. This paper does not
intend to suggest either that 1) all Dalit groups should aspire to be like the Mahars or that
2) higher castes have something to fear in the Mahar example. This summary of Mahar
socioeconomic mobility merely serves to underline the specific socio-economic
consequences of an organized group effort to achieve class mobility in Mumbai, as well
as in other urban locales.
One major problematic involving Mahar caste identification pertains to the
logistics of caste certificates and reservation. For example, if a man indicates Mahar on
his caste certificate, he will be allowed to take advantage of reservations in any state
where Mahars are on the SC list (Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, etc). However, if he marks
down Buddhist, he will not be able to avail SC benefits in Uttar Pradesh and other states
that do not recognize all Buddhists as being SC. He would have to compete in the open
category in these other states. Yet, Maharashtra does indeed extend SC benefits to its
Buddhist population, which is almost entirely Mahar neo-Buddhist. Regardless, there will
always be inconsistencies between what people report on the Census and how they
identify themselves on their caste certificates, since people fear losing sought-after
government benefits for especially backward castes.

Image 22: Prakash Gaikwad's caste certificate, showing that he belongs to the Mahar
Scheduled Caste, serial #37 on the state list.
2001 Census Undercount: Mahars of Mumbai

According to the 2001 Census of India, there are 585,038 SC persons in Greater
Mumbai (city + suburban), which amounts to 4.88% of the city's total population. This
number is amazingly low, for reasons that are elucidated herein. The unintentional
trifurcation of the Mahar population of Maharashtra in the Census of 2001 (into groups
that are labeled below as Group 1, Group 2, and Group 3 for the purposes of explaining
this demographic phenomenon) and the resultant non-inclusion of Group 3 in the SC
total, is seen to be the primary reason for this SC miscount.
First, the Census SC totals include 131,362 Mahars in District 22 (suburban
Mumbai) and 31,611 Mahars in District 23 (Mumbai city). These figures add up to
162,973 Mahar SC persons in Greater Mumbai. Mahar Hindu SC persons (Group 1,
having identified their religion as Hindu and their caste as Mahar) and Mahar Buddhist
SC persons (Group 2, having identified their religion as Buddhist and their caste as
Mahar) are indeed both counted in this 162,973 figure. However, individuals whose
ancestral caste is Mahar but who identified both their religion and their caste simply as
Buddhist to the Census enumerators were not counted as Mahar in the 2001 Census.
These Undercover Mahars (Group 3, having identified their religion as Buddhist and
their caste as Buddhist) are the reason for the Census mistake. It is indeed considered a
mistake because of the considerable clamor on the part of Dalit groups alleging that their
numbers were severely under-estimated in the 2001 Census. Most, although not all, of the
Undercover Mahars probably wish to be counted as SC. One needed to identify one's
caste strictly as Mahar (or as any of the 58 other Scheduled Castes on the SC list for
Maharashtra) in order to be enumerated as SC. Common terms of self-identification
employed by Undercover Mahars in Group 3 that are more or less synonymous include:
Buddhist (Boudha in Marathi), neo-Buddhist (nav-Boudha in Marathi), and Jai Bhim.155
So, while there are 162,973 Mahar SC persons in Greater Mumbai according to
the 2001 Census, the number of Buddhists listed in the religion table for Greater Mumbai
is 625,771. This statistic reflects merely religious breakdown and is irrespective of caste.
It can be assumed that approximately 600,000 of these are Mahars, rather than Buddhists
This salutation/valediction is considered by the Ambedkarite community to be superior to the
more Hindu Maharashtrian namaskar.

of other origins.156 However, it is also assumed that some of these 600,000 Mahar
Buddhists were actually “double-counted” as Mahar SCs. Assuming that, of the 162,973
persons already counted as Mahar SC, 75% were also counted as Buddhist (a relatively
reasonable percentage of Census-identified Mahar SCs who reported their religion as
Buddhism rather than Sikhism or Hinduism157): there would be a “double-count” of
122,230. It is necessary to subtract this from 600,000 to get the number of Undercover
Mahars (Group 3) who are counted neither as SC nor as Mahar: 477,770. Thus, 40,743 +
122,230 + 477,770 = 640,743 would be a more accurate tally of the city's Mahar
So, these 477,770 Undercover Mahars in Group 3 comprise a separate category of
neo-Buddhist Ambedkarites who did not fall into the SC classification. Just as with the
Maharashtrian Mahar numbers that are given below, there is a trifurcation of the Mumbai
Mahar community into three groups. This would mean that the true quantity of SC
persons for Mumbai would be approximately 585,038 (Census SC total) + 477,770
(Undercover Mahars) = 1,062,808. This comes to 8.87% of the total Mumbai population,
almost double what the Census actually considers to be the SC contingent of the city.
This much more closely represents the true SC percentage, considering the clout and
visibility of SCs in Mumbai.

2001 Census Undercount: Mahars of Maharashtra

In the 2001 Census, 6% of the Maharashtra state population was counted as
Buddhist (5,838,710), it appears that this number includes 3.3% of the state population
(3,193,622) who are counted as Mahar Buddhist SC (Group 2) and a wholly separate
Group 3 Undercover Mahar who are counted simply as Buddhists and not as Mahar SC.
It is reasonable to assume that .1% of the state population (96,878) is Buddhist of non-
Mahar origin, which includes persons of SC, ST, and other castes. This results in a Group
3 Undercover Mahar figure of (2,518,844), which is 2.6% of the state population. This
Prakash Ambedkar of the Bharatiya Bahujan Mahasangh said that the city's Buddhist
population is at least 96% Mahar.
Justification for assuming this??!??!! Of those actually counted as Mahars in the Census, the
statewide Buddhist percentage is supposed to be 56%. So, this calculation assumes a higher
number in city.

would mean that some 43% of Maharashtrian Buddhists were not actually counted as SC,
even though they technically qualify for SC status. Anyhow, the 2% of the state
population who are Group 1 Mahar Hindu SC (2,481,971) would not be counted as
“Buddhist” in the religious breakdown. Next, the Census number for Mahars SCs of any
religion (5,678,912) is considered to be less than the true percentage of Mahars, since
approximately 2,518,844 are counted as Undercover Mahar Buddhists. 2,481,971 +
3,193,622 + 2,518,844 = 8,197,756 would be a more accurate tally of the state Mahar
population. The Encyclopedia Britannica also estimates that in the 1980's Mahars
constituted 9% of Maharashtra's population.158 Other authors quote Zelliot as having
given this figure as well in a 1969 publication.159
The 10.2% SC number for the state is therefore not accurate since it does not
include the 2.6% of the population which is Undercover Mahar (Buddhist, converted SC:
2,518,844), which is not counted in the Census as SC. Thus, the Mahar population is
under-reported by nearly a third (32.5%) - even if eligibility for reservation is affirmed by
the 13% (SC + converted SC Buddhist) figure for reservation. Nonetheless, 10.2% +
2.6% comes to 12.8%, which essentially equals the percentage reservation that SC +
converted Buddhist SCs are entitled to in Maharashtra according to the state's reservation
breakdown, which is given in Chapter V. Again, this tripartite division (Group 1 Mahar
Hindus + Group 2 Mahar Buddhists + Group 3 Undercover Mahar Buddhists) of the
state’s Mahar population makes it exceedingly difficult to figure out the true population
statistics necessary for any reliable demographic, political, or sociological exercise.
Table 28: Census SC Undercount Statistics
Mahar Mahar Hindu Mahar Buddhist Census Mahar Undercover Real Mahar
Stats SC (Group 1) SC (Group 2) Total Mahar (Group 3) Total

Mumbai > 40,743 122,230 162,973 477,770 640,743
Maharashtra > 2,481,971 3,193,622 5,678,912 2,518,844 8,197,756

SC Census SC Census SC Undercover Undercover Real SC Real SC
Stats Total % Mahar (Group 3) Mahar % Total %

Mumbai > 585,038 4.9% 477,770 4.0% 1,062,808 8.9%
Maharashtra > 9,881,656 10.2% 2,518,844 2.6% 12,400,500 12.8%

Dr. Ambedkar, Hero of the Mahars, Ex-Untouchables of India by Indira Junghare in Asian
Folklore Studies, Volume 47 1988, p. 93

However, the most forward, progressive part of this community is kept out of the
statistics for the Mahars because they do not identify as Mahars in the Census. The most
well-off of the community are likely not included in the Census, since the more urban and
educated are most likely to be among the 30% who are so-called Undercover Mahar
according to the calculations below. The Mahar statistics are based solely on this
5,678,912 million figure for total Mahars, which is thus only 70% of the 8.1 million
Mahar population. The literacy rate, urbanization rate, and other statistics given for this
population are not so accurate for the whole 8.1 million Mahar population because those
who identify as being solely Buddhist are more urban, literate, and affluent. Therefore,
there is highly questionable usefulness of employing the Census data on the Mahar
population, when the group's most upwardly mobile members are likely left out of the
If one seeks to track Mahar progress and socioeconomic mobility from 1961 to
2001, how one produce meaningful data for the whole group when the Census messed up
these number for 2001 so badly? The community is significantly more urban and literate
than the numbers relate. 65.5% rural? This seems a bit too low. 74.1% literacy? This
number could easily be a bit higher! How does one use the Mahar community as a
yardstick for measuring the progress of other communities (such as Matangs or other
groups) if the statistics are likely at least a few percentage point off?
This calls into question the effectiveness of the statistics cited in the official
Census write-ups and also therefore the comparisons used to put the Matang Samaj in
perspective in the Matang report. The gap between the Mahars and Matangs could thus
be significantly wider than these numbers have revealed. Would that change government
perceptions on community uplift? Amongst members of this community, the more
educated and urban folks tend to be more Buddhist and thus identify less with their
erstwhile Hindu caste name. Therefore, the task of measuring this caste's development
and thus the extent to which it still can be considered a backward community is
compromised because 30% of the caste that is not included in the statistics.
It has been theorized above that, for Census purposes, the community was
unintentionally divided into three distinct groups: Mahar Hindu SC, Mahar Buddhist SC,
and Undercover Mahar (Buddhist but counted neither as Mahar nor as SC). Perhaps these

different strains are somewhat reflective of internal community divisions that exist
regardless of what Census exercise is taking place. Generally, for the Mahars it seems
that there are concurrent impulses: one is to remain considered more backward and thus
deserving of the state's continued generosity; the other is to appear more developed and
assume higher status. Hence the community's vested interest in having cake (conversion
out of Hinduism into Buddhism) and eating it too (availing of reservation and other
This Undercover Mahar population can also explain why Maharashtra's SC
population was seen to decrease from 1991 to 2001. As mentioned above, the Undercover
Mahar total boosts real state SC population to 12.8%, which is very close to the 13%
reservation allotted to the SC community in Maharashtra. Is this really the intention of
the state - to maintain the reservation at the real percentage of the SC community? Or, do
the numbers simply reflect SC proportions from an old Census count? This question
remains unanswered.
Regardless, bureaucrats have been scratching their craniums trying to figure out
why the SC population would have grown at a much slower 12.8% than the overall
population growth rate of 22.7%, between 1991 and 2001. It is clear that this would not
have been possible without some numbers tricks. The perception of lesser growth is
based on fact that most (but not all) Mahar Buddhist SCs were counted as such in 1991,
and then almost half of Mahar Buddhists (Undercover Mahars) were not counted as SC in
The reasons for why the above Census error arose are complex, but there
continues to be a tremendous counting problem, which was supposed to disappear in the
Census of 1991, after the 1990 Supreme Court decision that allowed for Buddhists to
recognized as SC if they had indeed converted from any Hindu Scheduled Caste. The
group for which this decision was most relevant was most definitely the Ambedkarites,
but also for one million other converted SC Buddhists in Uttar Pradesh and several other
states. At this point, it is unknown whether this Census problem will be repeated once
more in the 2011 Census.
According to S. S. Hiremath, Assistant Director of Census Operations in
Maharashtra, the Census has learned from its mistakes in 2001 and does not intend for

this statistical error to manifest itself so prominently next time around. “The Home
Minister has acknowledged this problem,” said Hiremath. However, Hiremath also said
that it is not fair to blame the Census for abiding by the law and conforming to
government protocol in carrying out its duties. “In the state of Maharashtra's Census, one
must report membership in any one of 59 recognized Scheduled Castes in order to be
included as such. On Question #8 (“If Scheduled Caste, write name of the Scheduled
Caste from the list supplied”), an answer such as “Buddhist” or “neo-Buddhist” would
not merit enumeration as an SC individual,” said Hiremath. He added, “Last time they
were under the false impression that they could say “Buddhist” [to indicate caste] and
would still be counted as SC. Next time, the government, the public, and the Buddhists
will be careful not to repeat this.”
In terms of the consequences of the significantly incorrect tallies, he said that
inaccurately low Census numbers most certainly have a negative impact on the political
reservation (delimiting apportionment) in the state legislature and in receiving funding
for certain government schemes designated for SC communities. However, it must be
reiterated that Census information has no impact upon one's caste certificate and therefore
does not affect one's capacity to avail of university and public sector job reservations.
“The Census might not have been done properly, since they didn't ask the SC question
correctly,” said Mangesh Mohite, Assistant Commissioner of the Maharashtra Election
One other conclusion is also certain: the all-India percentage of SC persons would
be slightly higher if all of the Buddhists were properly counted under their original Mahar
caste. Given the calculations above, this national SC number would rise about 0.3%. But,
this cuts to the heart of the debate on conversion of the Scheduled Caste communities.
Perhaps one of the fundamental goals of conversion is to truly escape being categorized
by Indian society as a former Untouchable. But, if an ex-Hindu individual can still avail
of reservation benefits on the assumption of the Untouchability of one's Hindu ancestors,
then conversion does not truly provide a break with the past.
Religious conversion and subsequent use of reservations is viewed by some critics
as contradictory and hypocritical “Most Christians and Buddhists in India were
Untouchables in the Hindu fold. They embraced non-Hindu religions mainly to get rid of

the humiliating practices of caste discrimination meted out to them by the high caste
people. If this is the main cause of embracing non-Hindu religions, then why should the
government insist on caste identities in non-Hindu religions?”160
One definite problem with the theory outlined above is that there are Buddhist
persons whose original caste is Mahar who simply do not identify with being from a
Scheduled Caste in any sphere of their lives. Should the Census be forced to count as
Mahar Buddhist SC those persons who purposefully do not avail of the SC reservation
and who neither live nor work mostly with persons from their “original caste?”
Undoubtedly, there are plenty of neo-Buddhists who would emphatically object to their
inclusion in the Census as Mahar SC. Thus, this counting problem cannot be solved
Ven. Bhadant Viratna is a Buddhist monk whose original caste is Mahar. He said
that neither he nor any future children he bears will take advantage of reservation.
Mumbai General Secretary for Pradesh Bhikku Sangh, a Buddhist organization. Though
he strongly identifies with members of his caste, he states that “caste is an artificial
construct that I work to abolish. Because of county-wide efforts dedicated to the
annihilation of caste, I expect caste to be eradicated in a matter of time. Caste and caste
discrimination are synonymous. Where there is caste, there is discrimination.”
So, creating a section-wise map of the Mahar population distribution in Mumbai
was originally desirable. However, this is impossible, given the problems with the SC
information in Maharashtra. The District Census Handbook for the 2001 Census of India
gives highly detailed information about Mumbai's Scheduled Caste persons (population
at the urban block level, which is even more specific than section-wise). However, as
described above, these SC totals exclude most of the Mahar population (because most of
Mumbai's Mahars are Undercover Mahars in the Census) and thus are practically useless.
Therefore, the extensive SC data provided by the Census also cannot be harnessed to
attain greater geographical understanding of the Mahar population distribution in
Mumbai. In addition, even if the Census data were correct, the most specific data on the
Mahar community is by Census district. This means we would not be able to get more
specific than stating the total population for Districts 22 and 23. In any event, while we
A. Ramaiah, Identifying Other Backward Classes in Economic and Political Weekly, June 6,
1992: 1203-1207

may estimate the total population of greater Mumbai, we cannot present a more specific
ward-wise or section-wise depiction of the community's geographic distribution.
“The Census will not release this ward-specific information for fear of potential
communal violence,” according to S.S Hiremath, Deputy Director of Census Operations
in Maharashtra. Such caste information might set off potentially explosive communal
tension due to the feeling evoked merely by the release of highly specific section-wise
statistics on caste, religion, and mother tongue.
According to Census cartographer for Maharashtra Ainsley Braganza, “This is a
very diverse society and due to potential political tensions...information on the local
geographic distribution of particular caste, religious, and linguistic communities is not
released by the Census. But we do keep this data.” Another state government official
corroborated this long-standing policy. “Since voting is done based on caste, the Census
can't reveal these numbers so as not to mess up voting and allow people to rig the Census.
There is no verification process,” said C. B. Aurangabadkar, Joint Director of the Bureau
of Economics and Statistics.
In the Census, the only groups for whom caste caste information is given are SC
and ST. This means that three-quarters of the Indian population do not report their caste
in the census, since that practice stopped in 1931. But, for the SC and ST persons, the
Census does not release very specific caste information. Although it does give a
breakdown by urban block of the number of SC and ST persons, it does not specify
which SC and ST groups beyond the district level. Similarly, religion and mother tongue
statistics are not given beyond the district level.
Thus, a section-wise map of the Matang population distribution also is not
possible, even though the Matang population does not have the same inherent counting
difficulty as the Mahars, since the vast majority of Matangs are still within the Hindu
fold. It is the Mahar caste's on-the-fence status which creates the tremendous
demographic confusion.
The section-wise SC population distribution map for Mumbai that was also
desirable in this study can thus not be generated, given the above-cited issues with the
Census statistics available. Even with the estimates that are produced herein, they cannot
be replicated at either the ward or section level for Mumbai. Hence the impossibility of

this task. In any even, the SC communities together face grim challenges on other fronts
beside the Census enumeration.
“Once the private sector started to take off in the 90's, forward castes fled from
government jobs to the newly blossoming private companies,” said Vikas Jambhulkar,
lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Nagpur University. “In addition, they
vacated the social sciences and humanities departments, which became filled with lower
and middle caste people. Thus, those subjects soon lost their luster. At Nagpur University,
we have mostly lower caste people who plan to take government jobs and have little to no
chance of acquiring the communication and personality skills necessary for private sector
employment. Moreover, much of the university itself seems to have become rather
downtrodden and short of funds, as it is unfortunately a bastion of poor students doing
relatively unpopular subjects.”
Balasaheb Yeshwante is a Tata Institute of Social Sciences student of the Mahar
caste whose parents and grandparents were farmers. He feels proud of his caste when in
Mumbai and says that caste will be eradicated in cities. “But, caste will take much more
time to be eradicated in villages, because the social order and lack of education help to
nourish the caste system.” He adds, “Even in the city, caste discrimination is still very
important in the private sector.”
Suresh Mane is the Head of the Law Department at the University of Mumbai as
well as National General Secretary of the Bahujan Samaj Party. Mane goes by the
philosophy embraced by social reformer Swami Vivekananda: “If the Brahmin has more
aptitude for learning on the grounds of heredity then the Pariah, spend no more money on
the Brahmin's education but spend all on the Pariah.”161 Whether known as outcast,
panchama, chandal, avarna, or antyaja “Caste remains an integral part of Indian life –
whether urban or rural – guiding, dominating factor – even if urbanization has weakened
caste structure to a certain extent. It has not vanished psychologically, even if the material
conditions in Mumbai are not conducive to the practice of caste [discrimination],” said
Man. He also suggests that caste still predominates in organizing social life, despite
cosmetic changes to the arrangement he also rejects differentiation based on caste and
defining worth based on group membership.

Suresh Mane uses this quote in his book Glimpses of Socio-Cultural Revolts in India

However, Mane acknowledges that Mumbai has more social mixing, inter-
caste marriage, and diversity in political leadership than ever before. He believes that the
fundamental structure of caste has weakened in Mumbai, and he rejects the notion that
pro-reservation advocates have made caste more important than it was previously, saying
that this is a fallacy propagated by anti-reservation groups. One of Mane's favorite
historical anecdotes is about his caste's venerated leader. In 1936, Ambedkar could not
drink water at the High Court of Bombay and resorted to fetching beverages at a Parsi
hotel. Now, there are hundreds of Scheduled Caste lawyers in Mumbai. To Mane, this is
proof of colossal change. Yet, he concludes, “A rich, well-placed man does not view his
caste as a barrier, but for a low-status, poor man, caste is viewed as a stumbling block.”
“You will not see this type of overt casteism in Mumbai,” said Y.B. Jadhav,
former principal of the Government College of Arts and Sciences in Aurangabad.
“Generally, I would say that Marathas are the engine of caste discrimination in
Maharashtra,” he added. When asked about inter-marriage, he responded that it was
almost always a question of lower-caste men marrying upper-caste women, rather than
vice versa. Indeed, it seems that many Dalit men generally believe a 1 lakh per month
salary entitles them to marry any desirable Brahmin or Rajput woman. “Life in India
begins and ends with caste. It's like an octopus because it reaches its tentacles into all
aspects of life in this country,” concluded the ex-principal.
For Mukesh Khetre, a clerk at a financial services firm called PAMAC, “In the
city, especially Bombay, people are interested in income so caste is less of an issue than
one would imagine. Caste pales in comparison to the livelihood issue in rural areas,
where caste will become stronger and discrimination will increase as dominant castes
accumulate more money and have more capacity to control villages and exact violence on
SCs and other lower castes.”
Vinod Jadhav, a conservancy worker living in Chembur's Ambedkar Nagar chawl,
said: “India is more divided into [ethno-linguistic] communities. All workers are thrown
together into the same job, even if from different communities. Caste will exist in 100
years, but will dilute a bit. For now I don't feel the stigma of caste, save for a few adverse
comments here and there.” Sachin Rao is a 26 year-old Mahar Buddhist peon at Shreyas,
a shipping company. Although he has not encountered any discrimination, he says he is

not sure about the future of the caste system, since “This is the 1st generation to have this
level of opportunity in the city.”
Rohit Lade, a 16 year-old Mahar Buddhist from Chembur said that caste was not
important in determining friends, but that it was crucial for getting government benefits
and preferential treatment by other city agencies. Though his parents are conservancy
workers for the Bombay Municipal Corporation, he said, “I want to become a software
engineer.” He also suggests precociously that, as people become more educated they will
select marriage partners based on common education levels rather than caste. Also from
Ambedkar Nagar, Mohan Dhage is a Mahar Christian and conservancy worker who states
that economic conditions are changing very fast in the city. “If one works very hard, he
can succeed. I am open about my caste and have no problem revealing it to people.
However, my religious identity is more important to me.”
One prime example of upward mobility is Kunal Jadhav, another Mahar Buddhist
from Chembur's Ambedkar Nagar. An insurance consultant with 4 Wheel World, his co-
workers are mostly Sindhi, Marwari, and Punjabi. His dad was a clerical worker at the
dockyard, but he says there has been significant economic mobility between the
generations. “It's been 60 years since independence, so therefore caste will disappear in
another 100 years.”
However, there are many other folks who believe that caste will not disappear.
“No matter how much the rest of the world changes, everything has caste at its base. It
will always be present, “ says Rajani Kadam, a 30 year-old Mahar Buddhist private-
school teacher. Sunil Lokhande is a Mahar Buddhist auto-rickshaw driver whose father
was a railway worker and whose mother was a vegetable vendor. “It's impossible for
caste to disappear because everyone is proud of his caste. There will be progress, but the
lower castes will progress less than the higher castes,” said Lokhande. Ghatkopar resident
Ram Bhaji Gaikwad is a 70 year-old Mahar Buddhist and illiterate, retired conservancy
worker. His parents were agricultural laborers, yet his grandchildren are successful, since
he says caste has been “partially eradicated and weakened by the Ambedkarite
A Mahar Buddhist insurance agent with the Life Insurance Corp. of India says,
“The social order is such that caste will persist because people have blind faith in God

and the divinely sanctioned system of caste. They use the weapon of caste as weapon to
compete, destroy follow man's prospects in life. It's unlikely that caste will ever be
eradicated.” Bhim Rao Sagare is a forest guard in Sanjay Gandhi Park. He sees
Hinduism as becoming “even more assertive, religious practice is becoming more public
and chauvinistic and traditions are becoming stronger.”
Sunil Jadhav is a private security guard, but he has a distinct vision for his
fatherland. A Mahar Buddhist, he believes that “all of India will turn Buddhist.” Even
son, he also thinks that “caste distinctions should be preserved so that SCs can be
identified as such and claim their due benefits.”
The son of factory workers, construction worker and Powai resident Sandeep
Maghade said, “The coming generations will inter-marry and thus destroy caste.
Regardless of what we prefer, our children will still marry as they wish. Love marriages
will predominate,” said Madhade, who has long been married to a woman of his same
Mahar Buddhist community.
Siddharth Ughade is a 29 year-old from Wadala East who works as a social
worker for Yuva, an NGO. Ughade, a Mahar Buddhist and son of a BMC sanitation
worker, does not lend any importance to caste in his life. He believes that “the lower
castes have not gotten justice, but when we follow Babasaheb and Buddha we'll get [it]!”
Jayawant Joshi, his co-worker at Yuva, agrees: “We have Manu's consciousness, but
when we break through this, the caste system will break absolutely.” Madhukar Shinde,
another social worker living nearby, chimed in: “Caste is not the full extent of existence,
rather humanity is at the heart of existence.”
Megha Kalatme is a 22 year-old Hindu Mahar who considers herself to be lower-
middle class with the 6,000 Rupee/month salary that she earns as an x-ray technician at
M.G.M. Hospital in Vashi. She thinks her caste is not relevant to her occupational life.
However, she thinks caste is somewhat important in her housing arrangement, as most of
her neighbors are fellow Mahars. While she approves of inter-caste marriage, she is
almost certain that she will marry a man from her own community. She believes that
caste should be preserved and that it will definitely still exist in Mumbai 100 years down
the road.
Amol Bagul is a 40 year-old BEST bus conductor who also does not believe caste

is relevant to his work, since his co-workers are of mixed caste. Identifying as middle-
class, he also thinks his children should marry within his Mahar Buddhist community. He
generally feels proud of his caste status but still considers caste to be more relevant than
socioeconomic class. He stated that his salary of 7,000 Rupees/month and 12th Std.
education made him better off than his construction worker father. In addition, he
believes caste should be preserved and that “it will remain as it is.”
Meena Jagtap is a 40 year-old Hindu Mahar divorcee from the slums of Wadala
East who makes 8,500 Rupees/month cleaning houses fifteen hours per day. Her ex-
husband left her when her son was only eight days old. Educated only up until the 4th
Std., she believes she is better off than her parents, who worked in the Tata Mills.
However, she insists that lower caste people cannot truly succeed in Mumbai and that she
generally feels negatively about her caste.
Twenty-eight year-old Sanjay Pawar owns a paan stall around Santosh Nagar in
Santa Cruz East and considers himself lower-middle class and is a supporter of the BSP.
While he approves of inter-caste marriage in general, he would prefer that his children
marry within his Mahar Buddhist community. Although he has only an 8th Std. education
and an income of 5,500/month, he estimates that he is better off than his father, who was
a BMC worker. While he favored the preservation of caste, he stated that “Only the future
will decide what will happen to caste.” Just down the street, chai shop owner Dayananda
Anchan has many of the same views. However, Anchan believes that lower caste people
cannot succeed in Mumbai and that he is not better off than his farmer father with his
current 6,000 Rupee/month income.
Dharavi resident Narhari Jadhav said, “Our Constitution is the best solution to the
caste system.” A 45 year-old conservancy worker for the BMC who supports the BSP,
Jadhav is proud of his Mahar Buddhist caste. Since he makes 10,000 Rupees/month and
is educated to the 10th Std., he said his much is much improved over the life of his father
who was a farmer. Avinash Gangurde is from the same neighborhood as Jadhav, works in
the same municipal department, and he also belongs to the same caste. However, he still
identifies with his Hindu heritage. Unlike Jadhav, he only stayed in school until the 8th
Std., and he does not believe that his current salary level makes him better off than his
farmer parents.

Gautham Bansode is a 40 year-old Mahar Buddhist lift-man in a residential
building inhabited predominantly by Gujaratis, Sindhis and Christians. His father was a
railway supervisor, and he stated, “Caste will be demolished when oppressed caste people
come together.” Bhaskar Kamble lives in BDD Chawl and is 37 year-old activist with the
Phule Shahu Ambedkar Social Equality Forum. A passionate BSP supporter, Kamble said
that he feels oppressed and exploited in Mumbai, due to his Mahar caste status. “I am not
better off than previous generations, and the Brahmins will remain in power.” Ravindra
Kamble is a 62 year-old resident of BDD Chawl in Worli. A clerical superintendent for
the state's Public Works Department, Kamble 's father was a Class 4 government railway
worker. “Forward castes think caste even if they don't talk explicitly about it. In
matrimonials, caste is very important. People marry only within their caste. Yet, God did
not make castes; it's a human invention!”
Jitendra Dodke is a 39 year-old resident of BDD Chawl in Worli who works as a
cashier. He is proud that he is now economically better off than his father, who was a mill
worker. “The caste system can never be demolished. It'll remain because political parties
have an interest in maintaining the status quo of caste for their own personal benefit.
Therefore, it will not disappear. I fear of divide and rule of the SCs, [so our] strategy
should be to unite and create strength for all oppressed classes.” This fear is echoed in the
comments of Kashinath Salve, an Air India Security assistant, who worries that other
lower castes will take the government benefits due to him.
Mangesh Kamble is a Mahar Buddhist and Shiv Sainik who is employed as a
sandwich artist at Subway in the Phoenix Mills Mall. Married to a Gujarati woman,
Kamble thinks “caste will get better, as the process of upliftment of the so-called lower
castes within the caste system is accelerated.” Amol Kamble agrees. A social worker with
a Catholic NGO called Karunya Trust, he said “I'm optimistic that [casteism] will go
away. We'll have a more equal society. Humanity is more important [than caste
distinctions] due to globalization. Racism and casteism are fading.”
Manoj Shelake, an Air India storage assistant and Dalit said, “Forty kilometers
outside of Mumbai, one can feel the scourge of casteism. Yet, in another 50 years, caste
will be completely gone from Mumbai.” B.M. Katare is a retired postman who believes
that caste affiliation is instrumental in his community's development. However, he

suggested, “We will not be victims of casteism in Mumbai over the next 100 years.”
Shankar Kandekar is a retired assistant meteorologist for the government. He said
that though his father was just a mill worker, he himself was upwardly mobile due to the
reservation policy. Having retired as a gazetted officer, he had a serious critique of
government inaction in filling vacant seats. “Government job vacancies have not been
filled for 10-15 years because the government is currently casteist and does not take an
interest in downtrodden people. There is no effort to uplift them. Due to their avoidance
strategy, caste is slowly vanishing, but downtrodden people don't want to live and die
within their caste. Buddhism doesn't believe in caste.”
“India is still not independent because the caste system is still strong,” said
Karash Bagul, whose father was a Bombay Port worker. Bagul earns 4000 Rupees/month
as a supervisor at a courier company. Sachin Shinde, a 26 year-old Mahar Buddhist who
lives in the Central Railway Colony of Matunga, is not interested in politics. However, he
does think about caste empowerment. Believing that caste is of high importance to his
housing, to his work as a collection boy at a BPL phone store, and to his future marriage.
Since he makes just 3,000 Rupees/month, he believes he is not better off than his father,
who was a railway employee. “Caste is not important but talent is,” said Shinde, who was
seeking to emigrate to the U.S. for better employment opportunities.
Tushar Sohani is a 29 year-old Mahar Buddhist who sees caste as being integral to
his work and housing arrangements. Currently unemployed, Sohani is a former call center
employee who said that “caste is simply the root of everything in India, and we are a very
poor, helpless community.” While Sohani's father was a railway employee, Sohani only
made it through 12th Std. and was most recently making 5,000 Rupees/month.
Suhas Bhagat is a 38 year-old Mahar Buddhist who resides in Kurla's Buddha
Colony. Having attended school only until the 9th Std., he makes 3,000 Rupees/month as a
courier for a company in Bandra and is generally proud of his caste affiliation. His father
was a mill worker, but Bhagat believes lower caste people cannot succeed in Mumbai.
Therefore, he supports caste-based reservations and is opposed to inter-caste marriage.
Sandeep Pawar is a Buddhist Mahar who lives in the Mogarapada area of Andheri
East. A self-employed computer hardware mechanic, he does not view caste as being
very meaningful in any area of his life, except marriage. Although currently single at 29

years old, he intends on marrying a Mahar woman. He does not even support caste-based
reservation, although he also believes lower caste persons cannot genuinely succeed in
Mumbai. With his B. Tech degree and 10,000 Rupee/month income, he views himself as
slightly better off than his father, who was a manual laborer. He hopes caste distinctions
will wither but is afraid they will simply remain.
Most of the persons described and quoted above were a part of the fieldwork
conducted as an integral part of this study. Their comments (usually translated from
Marathi) are viewed as the essence of the caste analysis contained herein. While the
viewpoints of the Mahar community have been fully explored, it is time to move onto the
other Scheduled Caste whose culture, mobility, and development will be examined.

Matang Summary

It is generally argued that the Mahar community is far more advanced than the
Matangs, by nature of the fact that the Mahars exhibit significant political strength and
have moved into a number of decent government jobs in the IAS. The Ambedkarite
emphasis on urbanization, education, and advancement has paid off noticeably for the
creamy layer of Mahars who have had the drive to transcend their erstwhile low-caste
identity. “When the animal died in the village, it used to be pre-determined as to which
part of the body was to go to Mang and Mahar,” according to T.N. Atre in Gao-Gada.
So taken as a whole, the Matangs appear to be very much reliant upon their
traditional customs, in terms of occupation, endogamy, and residential segregation.
Matangs have also largely remained orthodox Hindus, with a small percentage having
Christianized in recent years. Matangs generally reject the Ambedkarite call to spurn
Hindu superstitions, and they can still be found begging and playing in traditional
orchestras. In addition, there are a significant number of Matang devadasi and potraj in
villages in certain parts of Maharashtra, where Matangs perpetuate demeaning cultural
practices. Consequently, having been considered as a good omen to Brahmins in the
traditional Hindu village, Matangs remain well within the Hindu cultural fold.
Mangwadas are found in a great number of villages throughout the southern and central
parts of Maharashtra.

When dealing with the Matang population in this report, both SC list entries #46
and #47 are included. Thus, there are 49,954 + 1,935 = 51,889 Matangs in suburban
Mumbai. And, there are 11,862 + 465 = 12,327 Matangs in Mumbai city. This comes to
64,216 total for Greater Mumbai, which is 0.5% of the overall population. While these
two particular groups' percentages of Mumbai’s population are given below, one must
understand that these two Marathi-speaking Scheduled Castes are a part of the minority
of Mumbaikars who are Maharashtrian in origin. To grasp the differential experiences of
the various Scheduled Castes in Mumbai, it is imperative also to note the other SCs in
Greater Mumbai that were alluded to above.
First off, while Mahars are 5.4% of Mumbai's population, the Matang population
is over ten times less. Also, unlike the Mahars, Matangs have largely not abandoned their
traditional occupations. Does this mean that the average Matang is more prone to feeling
a sort of culture shock upon leaving his comfortable, albeit caste-ridden traditional
village behind for the chaos and uncertainty of the city?
Some common Matang surnames are Admane, Kathale, Jogdand, Lokhande,
Diwate, and More. Largely a landless community, Matangs traditionally prepared ropes
from hemp and brooms from date palm. Perhaps the Mahars had much more flexible
occupational definition historically, but even so, Matangs have largely retained many of
their erstwhile vocational pursuits, including the sort of rope-making that has been
negatively impacted by the mechanization of the industry. The nylon rope business is
driving them into severe economic distress. They are an example of a caste whose
traditional occupation has not generally brought tremendous benefit in the modern era.
On the other hand, Chambhars in many parts of the state (including the leather hub of
Bhandara, where the industry has made the SC population there relatively prosperous)
have used their leather-working skills to make them integral parts of urban economies
across Maharashtra, and indeed across India – as the Chamars are the largest Dalit group
in all-India. The Matangs have not been able to achieve this with their broom-making
skills, especially when synthetic ropes are driving them out of business.
As for the Census confusion regarding SC tallies and the Hindu fold, would
Christian Matangs not be counted together with the vast majority of their Hindu co-caste-
men? The answer is that SC converts to Christianity cannot be counted as SCs in the

Census or on caste certificate. While Dalit Christians can usually take advantage of OBC
quotas, they most certainly never quality for SC benefits. However, it must be clarified
that there is no guarantee of consistency between an individual's given Census identity,
caste certificate, and actual identity. A Matang who practices Christianity might report to
the Census as a proud Christian but still keep a caste certificate that shows his
membership in the Matang community so that his children might one day be able to avail
of SC reservation in gaining admission to a decent university.
The Matang report162 revealed a tremendous amount about the development of the
Matang community. Firstly, as suggested above, most Matangs retain deeply Hindu
beliefs, including many superstitions and practices that ostensibly date to pre-Hindu
times. Khandoba was reported to be the most popular deity amongst them, and they
continue to be a very carnivorous community, which is apparently one of the major
reasons for their having been relegated to Untouchable status. Next, 6% of the survey's
respondents suggested that their parents had enjoyed special status as either yeskar,
potraj, kotwal, or other community leader. However, 81% of these respondents did not
continue with their parents' position.
Just 10.4% of the Matang report respondents said that their communities had a
positive view of inter-caste marriage. Urban Matangs married into other castes just 3.7%
of the time, while rural Matangs did so just 0.5%.
About half the respondents lived in a one-room house. Just 11 percent had a toilet
in their residence. Almost nine out of ten respondents lived outside of the main area of
their town/city in a separate Mangwada. 31.7% had a television. 13.6% had a mobile
phone. Only 0.3% owned a four-wheel vehicle. A tiny 0.08% owned a computer. 2.9%
owned a refrigerator. 17% owned some land. 0.9% had a family member in bonded labor.
Next, 53.2% of respondents were literate, which is 9% lower than the literacy
number for the Matang community in the 2001 Census, even though the survey was
conducted 6 years later. Thus, there is a methodological problem in the Matang report
that may have also been repeated in this project's fieldwork. The issue is that respondents
from Scheduled Caste communities were sought out primarily in neighborhoods where

Study on the Socio-Economic, Educational, and Cultural Development of the Matang

Samaj in Maharashtra produced by the Center for the Study of Social Exclusion and
Inclusive Policy (CSEIP) at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

they are known to be clustered. There was likely not enough effort made to include some
more of the members of the caste who neither live, work, nor associate with their
community. It is unclear if there is even a large group of this sort of Matang, but
regardless of the size, there might have been a more concerted effort to include them and
the sample would probably have come out more urban and literate.
The most common occupation performed by respondents' grandparents was
baluta/gawaki, which is essentially involves the barter of agricultural labor for food and
other goods/services. 77% of respondents said their family members were primarily
involved in daily wage labor. About 58% of respondents had an income of less than
25,000 Rupees/year. Only 6.9% had family members who had secured a job through
reservation. 17% alleged that they had been prevented from accessing wells in caste
Hindu areas. 23% did not have access to the garbha griha of the local Hindu temple, and
30% were not allowed to do puja in the temple. Yet, almost 90% said they liked to visit
temple nonetheless. While 30% were not aware of the Protection of Civil Rights Act,
1955, 64% were not aware of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of
Atrocities) Act, 1989. 3.1% said a family member had experienced caste atrocities of any
kind. 85.8% said political parties did nothing except during election season. 65.7%
reported a negative self-image of being Matang and just 20.5% were proud of their caste.
Yet, 94% said caste was a not a barrier to increasing income. Over 99% said the SC
political reservation had not helped the Matang community.
Eknath Awad is a Dalit activist from the Matang community of Beed in central
Maharashtra.163 He recounts how the commonly held belief in the auspicious Matang
resulted in the practice of burying the bravest Matang youth alive in the village boundary
fortification. “The youth chosen for such a ceremony was first paraded in the village with
sindoor (red powder) on [his] face and then buried. Every village having a buruz
(boundary fortification) indicates [this practice]. It is from this practice that the Marathi
proverb arose, “Every time you see or kill a Mang, you'll be successful in your task.”
It is apparent that the Matang community has a very different opinion on caste
relations than the Mahar community. Some examples follow which emerged from the
fieldwork conducted in low-income neighborhoods of Mumbai. Ganesh Jadhav, a janitor

Eknath Awad is the Executive Director of Manvi Hakka Abhiyan in Beed.

for a private company, has two family members employed as city sanitation workers. He
is of the Matang caste but states indifference about his caste affiliation – though he said
he might feel bad if teased about his caste. Jai Singh Kamble is an unemployed 26 year-
old Matang who was formerly an office peon at JVK. Currently the 126th Ward President
for the National Congress Party, he says that “caste is the basis of all social relations. If
caste vanishes, then there will be social instability.”
Laxmi Landge is a 63 year-old Matang widow from Shivaji Nagar slum who
supports the BSP. While she attributes some importance to caste in her residential
arrangement, she is staunchly opposed to inter-caste marriage. She feels proud of her
Matang caste identity but believes that lower caste people have no chance of success in
Mumbai. Although she is illiterate, she believes herself to be better off than previous
generations. Landge also believes that the caste system should be preserved.
Balu Aaran is a hawker of the Matang caste who lives in Annabhau Sathe Nagar.
He feels very impoverished in Mumbai, and his 9th Std. education has not helped him get
a better job. “Caste will remain the same as today. I am not worried about my future,
because I just think about today and being happy in the present.” 45 year-old Ganesh
Khandare is also of the Matang caste. A daily wage laborer with an income of 1,000
Rupees/month, Khandare's parents were farmers. “Caste will remain as it is, and our caste
will remain at the lower level.” Living in self-described horrible housing conditions in
Mankhurd's Annabhau Sathe Nagar, Aasaram Sathe is an illiterate construction worker of
the Matang caste who makes 2,000 Rupees/month. “Caste is not important, but having a
good job and food are. So many Dalits are employed by Brahmins and upper caste
people, but they do not give us the opportunity for social and economic development.”
Vishnu Jadhav is a 20 year-old member of the Matang caste who makes 1,500
Rupees/month, also as a construction worker. “I don't know about the caste system, but I
know that the Matang Samaj is illiterate and lacking in opportunity.” Jadhav lives in a
house made of plastic and bamboo and believes that lower caste people cannot succeed in
Mumbai. Shantabhai Shinde is an illiterate 30 year-old Matang woman with a monthly
income of 2,000 Rupees who believes that caste is very important to her housing and
employment situations. As a fruit vendor in her community around Matang Rishi Nagar
in Mankhurd, she said that caste plays a large role in roz ka lena-dena.

Table 29: Mean Education Level and Socioeconomic Class Crosstabulation

1=Less than SSC 2=SSC 3=HSC 4=Bachelor's 5=Advanced Degree

Mahar Caste:
Socio-economic class N Mean
Upper-Middle 3 2.67
Middle 50 2.52
Lower-Middle 107 2.13
Low 10 1.50
N/A 1 4.00
Total 171 2.23

Matang Caste:
Socioeconomic class N Mean
Middle 3 2.00
Lower-Middle 1 2.00
Low 27 1.22
Total 31 1.32

All Scheduled Castes:
Socioeconomic class N Mean
Upper-Middle 3 2.67
Middle 64 2.47
Lower-Middle 129 2.06
Low 45 1.24
N/A 2 3.00
Total 243 2.03

Brahmin Castes:
Socio-economic class N Mean
High 4 4.50
Upper-Middle 14 4.57
Middle 20 3.85
Lower-Middle 1 1.00
Low 2 2.00
Total 41 4.00

All respondents:
Socio-economic class N Mean
High 7 4.43
Upper-Middle 48 4.19
Middle 201 3.22
Lower-Middle 189 2.03
Low 62 1.45
N/A 10 2.90
Total 517 2.67
The table above shows the mean education levels (5 being the highest) being
cross-tabulated with socioeconomic class. The numbers show that the Mahars surveyed
had a much higher mean education level than the Matangs (2.23 and 1.32). This

difference is hugely significant and is indicative of the fact that Mahars have been in
Mumbai much longer, having gotten into army, mill, and other government jobs early on
such that many live in government chawls, while most of the Matangs surveyed seem to
be more recent immigrants living in zopadpattis and working as hawkers, conservancy
employees, or construction workers. While Mahars comprised 70% of the total SC
sample in the survey, the overall SC education level was 2.03. In reality they comprise
around 60% of Mumbai's SC population and most likely do have an overall education
level that is higher than that of the city's other SC groups.
The average educational level in the whole of the study was 2.67, which is .44
higher than the Mahar average. That seems to be a reasonable assertion for Mumbai in
general. The average for Brahmin castes was exactly 4.00, which was far higher than the
average for all respondents.

Upward Mobility

Table 30: Literacy of the general population, SCs, Mahars, and Matangs (%)164
Year: General Population: Scheduled Castes: Mahar Matang
1901 5.35 *0.10
1931 9.50 *1.00
1961 24.02 10.27 15.68 9.88
1971 29.45 14.67 26.47 16.94
1981 36.23 21.38 38.37 23.73
1991 52.10 37.41 48.58 32.48
2001 65.38 54.69 74.10 62.20

Note: * Before Independence there was no attempt to aggregate the literacy of the
different Scheduled Castes into a national average. The figures given for 1901 and 1931
are literacy rate for the Chamars, the largest ex-Untouchable Caste in India.

From Table 30 above, one can see how Matang literacy climbed from 9.88% in
1961 to 23.73% in 1981, and then to 32.48% in 1991 and finally 62.20% in 2001. This is
dramatic improvement, especially compared to the general population's progression over
that period. However, the Mahar literacy leap was even more dramatic, having eclipsed

Source: Mendelsohn; Census of India; Educational Inequalities Among Scheduled Castes in
Maharashtra by G.G. Wankhede in Economic and Political Weekly May 5, 2001.

the general population's literacy rate at some point in the mid 1990's. Having climbed
from 38.37% in 1981 to 48.58% in 1991 and then to 74.10% in 2001 is rather impressive.
Maharashtra generally is a relatively industrialized and educated state, and this clearly
has something to do with the dramatic increases for these two Maharashtrian SCs.
However, the Mahar cultural focus on literacy and education was a major factor in the
community's stellar climb. As the Mahar number does not even include the most urban,
educated, and literate part of the Mahar community (due to their Undercover Mahar
status in the Census 2001), it is quite apparent that the Mahar figure ought to be several
percentage points higher. Additionally, it is worth noting that the population of illiterates
in India is approximately equal to the population of the United States.165
Next, the 2001 Matang female literacy rate in Maharashtra is equivalent to the
literacy of the 5th most illiterate district in all of India - Shravasti, Uttar Pradesh (34.25%)
- and just behind four other highly illiterate districts in Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar,
and Orissa.166 Bihar, the most illiterate state in India (overall literacy of 47.53%).167 But,
to put this into perspective with other female literacy rates, the most illiterate females are
in Kishangan, Bihar (18.49%) Shravasti, Uttar Pradesh (18.75%). Suburban Mumbai had
a female literacy rate of 82.71%. In comparison, the districts with the most literate
females were Aizawl, Mizoram (96.1%); Erchhip, Mizoram (95.0%); Kottayam, Kerala
(94.5%); and Mahe, Pondicherry (94.2%).168
In Maharashtra, the SC development levels are relatively higher in the Konkan
and Nagpur divisions, as compared with the central parts of the state. There is
undoubtedly a positive correlation between urbanization and well-being, evidenced by
the relative status of SC persons in Mumbai, Pune, Bhandara and Nagpur. This
geographic variation in SC well-being means that Mahars have a very low percentage of
people still doing traditional work in the city. However, one might say that certain city

India's illiterate population equals all the people in USA by Subodh Varma in The Times of
India, July 6, 2008
These states are considered to constitute the eastern tribal belt of India, and not coincidentally,
they have a strong Naxalite presence.
Bihar is not only known for its utter lack of literacy. The state is also plagued by near total lack
of law and order. On April 10, 2008, citing fears of Bihari lawlessness, the Japanese government
withdrew its pledge to invest in a new Indian Institute of Technology in Bihar’s capital, Patna,
instead seeking to help fund a new IIT in Andhra Pradesh.
Source: Census of India 2001

jobs (such as sanitation worker and morgue worker) are still manned primarily by
Mahars. In the same way, many rag-pickers are Matangs, leatherworkers are Chamars,
and crematorium workers are Dhors. Additionally, many Bhangis are still sanitation
workers, as well.
The Mahar-Matang divide shines through with regards to development strategies.
Some critics of neo-Buddhism call the movement exaggerated and allege that it is not
actually a viable counter-culture. “Though the movement self-proclaims its Buddhism, it
still practices with a split personality and hybridization,” said B.S. Waghmare, chair of
the Ambedkar Marathwada University Political Science Department. Waghmare also
concedes that one reason his Matang community remains backward is its insistence on
remaining within the Hindu fold. “Mahars are at the forefront, taking advantage of the
benefits of reservation. Since the different SC groups are clubbed together as a
homogenous category, the Matangs cannot mobilize,” added Waghmare.
Nanak Ramteke, the retired Mumbai IAS officer from Nagpur mentioned the
surprise that many Maharashtrians have felt with regards to the Mahar caste's upward
mobility. “I used to hear this sort of thing a lot: 'That fellow who didn't wear shoes before
is now my boss.' Our community has proved its mettle to Mumbai.” Even at the village
level, it appears that Mahars traditionally commanded a bit more respect than the
Matangs. While Mahars were always more widespread across Maharashtra, they were
also generally allowed into more advanced occupations involving land demarcation and
revenue collection. Gail Omvedt suggests that Mahars had a head-start over Matangs in
the typical village set-up, possessing considerably more status and economic resources.169
With regards to the perpetuation of endogamy, she also estimates that over 98% of
marriages in Maharashtra are still between members of the same caste.
Yet, comparing the mobility of the two SC groups is not complete, since it is not
possible to show the average household income of Mahar and Matang SCs from 1961 to
2001. Such a comparison would not be possible, as this type of income data is not
gathered by the Census or by the National Sample Survey, since it is believed that
respondents consistently tend to report income too inaccurately to make such statistics
In an interview on March 10, 2008, Omvedt suggested that there is a clear disparity in terms of
the “starting points” of the two largest Scheduled Castes in Maharashtra.

C.B. Aurangabadkar, Joint Director of Maharashtra's Directorate of Economics
and Statistics, said that the National Sample Survey does not have income data per se,
such as income quintile percentages. While it furnishes information on state-wide income
per capita, as well as district domestic product figures, there is not any household-level
income information. Income reporting is seen as too unreliable, since individuals
generally do not honestly give income numbers. “Since such an overwhelmingly majority
of persons earn their money from the informal economy, there is no paper trail or tax
receipt that can certify someone's word,” said Aurangabadkar. Since over 93% of the
Indian labor force is employed in the informal sector, this is quite understandable.170
There are statistics on consumption and expenditures, however. For 2006-2007, Greater
Mumbai's per capita income was Rs. 65,361 per annum, and average monthly
expenditures were Rs. 1179.

I may not be born again, but if that happens I will like to be born into a family of
scavengers, so that i may relieve them of the inhuman, unhealthy, and hateful practice of
carrying night soil. - Mahatma Gandhi


There is consistent, ongoing conversion of lower castes to non-Hindu faiths:
mainly Christianity, Sikhism, Islam, and Buddhism. Ambedkar's neo-Buddhism among
Mahar people, sometimes referred to as Navayana Buddhism,171 set the standard for
conspicuous departures from the Hind fold. While there are some “original” Buddhists in
India, such as Tibetans, Lepchas, and Sikkimese, the vast majority of the contemporary
Indian Buddhist population is recently converted. Mahar Buddhists in Maharashtra
constitute over two-thirds of India's Buddhist population, and there are several hundred
thousand Buddhists each in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, and West

In Buddhism in India, Gail Omvedt labels the Ambedkarite tradition Navayana (नवयान) “new

way/vehicle,” in contradistinction to Mahayana - “big vehicle.”

Image 24: Ashoka Chakra
Image 23: The Emblem of India

Bengal. While Ambedkar drew on the atheist example of Periyar, he was most
significantly inspired by the early 20th century Dalit Buddhism of Pandit Iyothee Thass
and P. Laxmi Narasu. While maintaining some mistrust for the Therevada and Mahayana
Buddhist traditions, Ambedkar also was not terribly fond of the primary manifestation of
Indian Buddhism in the Mahabodhi Society.
For Ambedkar, Buddhism was universalist, egalitarian, and rationalist. Ambedkar
produced a hybrid philosophy of Buddha and social reform.
It is true that in denouncing the caste system, the Buddha fought a battle
royale for the good and welfare of the oppressed people. In doing so, the
Buddha attacked the traditions supporting the same. But then he did not set
one class against the other by whopping up passions and feelings of the
under-privileged as against the privileged. It is also true that the Buddha
wanted to bring about a radical change in the social order and that by a
peaceful revolution, a revolution of thought.172

With big plans for the future of Buddhism in Indian society, Ambedkar was

Dhammaratna, U., Buddha & Caste System (Jalandhar: Bheem Patrika Publications, 1995).

buttressed by the notion that Buddhism was stronger than Hinduism for its first
millennium on the subcontinent. According to Amartya Sen, Buddhism was truly
dominant until it was vanquished by what is now referred to as Hinduism. Caste perhaps
did not become hegemonic as it is in today's rural India until the ostensible defeat of
Buddhism and the eventual establishment of the jajmani system.
Additionally, there is something to be said for the fact that Ambedkar picked the
religion of Ashoka for his people, thus showing reverence for the one ruler who had ruled
over an area virtually equivalent to the territory of modern India. Moreover, the modern
nation-state of India picked as its primary symbols the Buddhist Ashoka chakra and the
emblem of this Buddhist emperor Ashoka, which is based on a frieze with three lions
atop, with a galloping horse, dharma chakra, and bull just below.173
In Buddhism, Ambedkar sought to capitalize on a robust culture of defiance with
regards to traditional Hindu dogma. This combined an “iconoclastic maharjatika image,
an elite stance, and...incendiary, explosive, inspiring, protest.”174 Buddhism for Ambedkar
could function as an avenue to end his caste's historical suffering, attempting to resolve
the tension between karma, anatta (non-eternal soul), and trishna (unending desire).
Ambedkarites generally disdain the classic Indian political hero Mohandas “Mahatma”
Gandhi for his refusal to shake the economic and political roots of untouchability. They
typically argue that Gandhi was too much of a pacifist to push for real changes that would
ameliorate Dalit suffering. While they generally realize that Gandhi supported the
expression of human dignity for the work that all Indians perform, it is commonly
believed that he was too accommodating to the upper castes to reform the profound ills of
Hindu society.
The Dalit movement has historically offered an alternative vision, and
Ambedkar's strong advocacy pushed for a cultural revolution of sorts. He championed
radical social democracy and an anti-caste, not merely caste reform, agenda.175 While
Ambedkar was not a faithful Buddhist in the traditional sense, he was the most earnest
Sen, Amartya. Argumentative Indian, p. 17
Zelliot, p. 61
Ambedkar attributed much of his faith in social democracy to his three years at Columbia
University in New York, where he saw the benefits of open intellectual discourse between Dewey
and others. After non-aligned India began to restrict its ties with the United States at the start of
the Cold War, Ambedkar reportedly was not happy that his American contacts such as Edwin
Seligman would be more difficult to reach.

practical reformer. Though he also radically challenged all aspects of fundamental
Buddhism, his critique served to pave the way for a deification of his life and ideology
via Buddhism in the years after his death.
Next, Mahars are generally much more strongly Buddhist in the cities but still
largely Hindu in the village, despite Ambedkar's violent disposal of Hindu idols from
Maharwadas across Maharashtra. Nowadays, in a typical rural Mahar household,
Ambedkar is seen as one deity in the household pantheon, though perhaps in a
henotheistic or monolatrous way, whereby his likeness is considered more sacred than the
rest. Luce reports in In Spite of the Gods that some households remove the Ambedkar
statue from their pantheon when the woman of the house is menstruating, so as not to
pollute his memory.176
“The devotion to Dr. Ambedkar would seem to assume the nature of a cult, except
that its entire direction is to lead the Buddhist into the westernized, educated, secular
world,” comments Zelliot.177 Ambedkarite Buddhism transcends mere religion, however.
The Dalitocentric discourse proposes, in opposition to Brahminocentric discourse, an
anti-hegemonic project yet alternative hegemony. This sort of community formation
accounts for the homogenization of what had been heterogeneous castes and sub-castes
within the Dalit community. This parallel process of Dalit nation-building within the
Indian nation-state runs into direct conflict with the Hindutva movement, which
coincidentally also has a major locus of activity in Nagpur. Hence the symbolic value of
the site for the declaration of Dalit independence from Brahminocentric India. Nagpur is
a major RSS hub; the alleged site of Nag battles against the Aryans; and the geographic
center of India, i.e. equidistant between the Bay of Bengal and the Arabia Sea. Thus,
Nagpur was an ideal location to secede from Hindu society. This Dalit nation's
independence is celebrated most vociferously every year on Dussehra (late October),
Ambedkar Mahaparinibbana (December 6th), and Ambedkar Jayanti (April 14th). “We are
because he was,” said dhoti-clad Abhimanyu Rajguru from Pimpri.”178
As for Mumbai, the annual culmination of the worship of Ambedkar as a quasi-
deity is on the December 6th Mahaparinibbana, when his followers converge upon

Luce, Henry. In Spite of the Gods, p. 108
Zelliot, p. 145
Lighting Learning's Lamp: Lakhs throng Shivaji Park in The Times of India December 7, 2007

Mumbai's Shivaji Park to mark their leader's lifework and proclaim to the rest of Indian
society: “Jai Bhim!” The celebration of his birth anniversary on April 14th – Ambedkar
Jayanti – is another annual rite of tremendous significance for the Mumbai community,
when events and talks commemorate the legendary leader. However, the most significant
yearly celebration for the neo-Buddhists is on Dussehra at Nagpur's Deekshabhoomi, at
the site of the 1956 conversion to Buddhism. The triumphant deeds of that day are
exalted in the emboldened words of prominent Buddhist intellectual Shankarrao Kharat:
I have accepted the Buddhist Dhamma. I am a Buddhist now. I am not a
Mahar, nor an Untouchable, nor even a Hindu. I have become a human
being. I have now become equal with caste-Hindus. I am not low-born or
inferior now. With my becoming a Buddhist my Untouchability has been
erased. The chains of Untouchability which shackled my feet have now
been smashed. Now I am a human being like all others...I have become
independent. I have become free. I have become a free citizen of
independent India.179

Ambedkar planned the conversion day in 1956 to fall on Dussehra, so even
though Dussehra does not fall on the same Gregorian day every year, this is the major
commemoration day for the community. Yet, one can be sure that the Ambedkarite
Buddhist experience is constantly balancing the need to embrace the type of god-head
that is necessary for worshippers to revere and to chart out a brazen new course. For
example, Buddhists recreate the Hindu Holi to be more of a Buddhist holiday - instead
doing Buddha puja. Some neo-Buddhist women have also begun to place blue, rather
than the conventional red Hindu bindi, on their foreheads. There is an effort to
reconstruct Hindu rituals in the neo-Buddhist context. Creating new cultural idioms and
rejecting old cognitive paradigms is an integral part of this process. The counter-
hegemonic force, reaction, oppositional side come together in creating new “meanings,
contexts, agenda, social order...caste war against entrenched
hierarchies.” Thus this attempt at emancipation has been launched for a vast constellation
of castes.
According to Gail Omvedt's theory, Ambedkarism can best be defined by the
following six points:

Gokhale, Jayashree B., The Sociopolitical Effects of Ideological Change: The Buddhist
Conversion of Maharashtrian Untouchables in The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 45, No. 2 (Feb.,
1986), p. 269-292

 Uncompromising dedication to the needs of the Dalits, which requires total
annihilation of the system of Brahminic superiority.
 An almost equally strong dedication to the reality of India and a denial of the
imposition of Hindu identity.
 The conviction that the eradication of caste requires the repudiation of Hinduism
and the adoption of Buddhism.
 Broad economic radicalism.
 Fierce rationalism.
 Fiercely autonomous Dali movement of exploited workers which forms an
alternative political front to Congress - which Ambedkar saw as representing
Brahminism and capitalism.

Thus, the alternative, explosive, and revolutionary language of Ambedkarite
protest is framed by a caste/class struggle for rights.180 It seems like Ambedkar's
somewhat premature death just after the conversion also hurt the growth of the
movement. Kanshi Ram, the BSP founder from Punjab, died in 2007, also just before he
was supposed to convert a huge number of people to Buddhism.
Regardless, the movement generally seeks more emotional and effectual appeal
that mere logical message. For Ambedkar, the choice of Buddhism was natural; the
comfort that neo-Buddhists feel is snug in the breast of Buddhism, a native Indian faith.
But, there is a somewhat of an evangelical stream within neo-Buddhism as part of the
competition for Dalit uplift. The fieldwork in this study revealed that many Buddhists
seek to Pali-ize all-India in 100 years time. This effort to counter-proselytize indeed
contradicts certain fundaments of Buddhist thought, namely the tolerance and
encouragement of multiple paths to truth.
Moreover, Ambedkar's Buddha and His Dhamma proposes reworking the 4 Noble
(Aryan) Truths at the heart of Buddhist doctrine. Perhaps his objection was partially
along the lines of opposition to Aryan identity, but it seems definite that Siddhartha
Gautama, the revered spiritual founder of the Buddhist tradition, was an “Aryan,” since
he was all known as Shakyamuni (sage of the Shakyas).181 Ambedkar, in a rather
Omvedt, Gail. Buddhism in India, p. 96
The Shakyas were an Indo-Aryan speaking Kshatriya group living in present-day Nepal at the

Image 25: Nagpur's Deekshabhoomi, the site of the massive 1956 conversion of
Ambedkar's followers to Buddhism
ambivalent fashion, does not accept the racialization of caste. Given Buddha's Aryan
heritage, it is perhaps somewhat bizarre how many Buddhist groups could take such issue
with the Aryan peoples whom they accuse of forcing Brahminism upon India. However,
it is clear that Ambedkar sought to remove the term arya (noble) from Buddhism's Four
Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path.
Much of the Ambedkarite gospel seeks to create dramatic distance between the
Mahar past and the neo-Buddhist future, but the true socioeconomic mobility attained by
the median member of this group might not be quite as impressive as some might believe.
Reservations can only accomplish so much, for a segment of the community, and the
reality for a large part of the group is either agricultural landless labor or urban proletariat
– even if experiencing literal Untouchability is a thing of the past.
Regardless, Gandhi's position that Untouchables should reform their own religion
and remain within the Hindu fold was clearly not acceptable to the neo-Buddhists.
foothills of the Himalayas; they are thought to be related to the Scythians.

However, there are other faiths besides Buddhism that have been attracting Untouchables
for hundreds of years. While a flexible and comprehensive view of the divine is typical of
the Dharmic faiths, on the other hand, the Western, Abrahamic religions see man and God
as separate and also see man and nature as separate. A monotheistic, sectarian,
individualistic world view is not generally considered to be within the Hindu mainstream.
However, the Brahmo Samaj movement did embrace somewhat of a monist alternative to
the traditional Hindu view, which entailed embrace of some Abrahamic practice and the
rejection of the perceived problems of idolatry, child marriage, polygamy, and casteism.
The non-Hindu faiths below offer alternatives to the ritual degradation
experienced within the Hindu fold, but, in violation of their supposedly egalitarian
theologies, they ultimately have their own hierarchical structures. Perhaps Buddhism
truly is the most earnest in its practice of genuinely egalitarian religion.182 As for the other
faiths, each has archetypal members who are considered most pure and noble, in some
way descending from the true founders of the faith – juxtaposed with those who are
viewed as being either mixed or converts. Islam has its purest of pure Arabs who are
direct descendants of the prophet Mohammed; Sikhism has its Jat descendants of the
founding clans. and Judaism has its Cohen and Levite priestly groups who ostensibly
embody the links to ancient Hebraic ritual.
Therefore, Hinduism is far from unique in prescribing a strictly hierarchical code
that spells out extensively how groups should interact and exercise inter-dependence, as
per the jajmani system. However, due to the sheer volume of different groups that
blended into the fabric of Hindu society over time - over the vast expanse of territory
upon which the inhabitants are said to have been practicing Hindu religion for thousands
of years - a systematic ranking mechanism arose. Having possibly existed well before the
formative stages of what is now known as Hinduism, perhaps it is not even just to
attribute this practice originally to the Hindu code. However, the basic doctrine of
Hinduism indubitably lays out the optimal framework for the Vedic ideal. For all
religions, it seems that a fundamentally egalitarian creed clashes with the human
tendency to revert to tribal identities and the ethno-preferential ranking systems that
ultimately define the relationships between the various groups that comprise society.
However, it is alleged that the Baekjeong of South Korea are considered ritually polluting due
to certain Buddhist prohibitions. Thus, it is alleged that Buddhism is not perfectly egalitarian.

Christian groups in India have long been providing helpful social services to the
poor and disenfranchised. It is also true that a rather high percentage of Indian Christians
are of Dalit background, although it cannot be determined how many due to the fuzziness
of the demographic issues involved. Many closet Christians do not wish to profess their
faith for fear that they will lose government benefits. This was confirmed in the Matang
report. As for the particular denominations that are most active in the sub-continent
currently, the evangelical movement is growingly rapidly in India. In some places, the
Christian presence might under-reported for fear that Christianized populations will be
targeted in waves of Hindutva-inspired violence. It is clear that many international groups
have become involved in proselytizing and have thus provoked the ire and the saber-
rattling of conservative Hindus. The Dalit Freedom Network is one such organization that
has been lobbying hard for social reform, recognition of Dalit Christians, and bringing
American-style evangelism to the ghats of Bharat.
As far as caste divisions within the Christian communities of India, the Syrian
Christians of Kerala (Mar Thoma/St. Thomas, Malabar Nasrani, Knanaya), in addition to
various other high caste converts from Goa, Mangalore, Mumbai, and other parts of
South India are typically considered to be the cream of the Christian community in India.
While the Syrian community is certainly the oldest of the Christian groups, they have
also joined many of the other established Christian communities in emigrating abroad.
The Christian populations in India have demonstrably always had close relations with
Europe and continue to perpetuate those ties via either Anglo-Indian heritage or the
Catholic Church. Nonetheless, the bulk of the Indian Christian population is descended
from SC and ST convert communities, especially in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, as well as
various tribal areas of eastern India. Although historically there was some discrimination,
for example, by Syrian Christians against Kerala's lower-caste Roman Catholics, there
was still significant Christian solidarity amongst the various denominations.

The world's second most popular faith is theoretically one of the most egalitarian
faiths. However, in practice, there are thousands of groups into which South Asian

Muslims are born that ultimately define the traditional social limits of their communities.
The existence of endogamous groups called baradari or qaum are integral to how
Muslim society is organized throughout the parts of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh,
where the majority of Muslims are converts from a wide range of Hindu castes all
throughout the hierarchy.
Today's so-called high-caste Muslims claim predominant descent from foreign
groups such as Arabs, Persians, Afghans, and Turks, while the majority of those deemed
to be low-caste tend to descend from various lower Hindu castes. However, there are also
Muslims originally from the Rajput, Jat, and many Hindu Gujarati forward castes. The
dichotomy within South Asian Islam is generally considered to be between Ashraf183
(Syed, Sheikh, Pathan, Khan) and Ajlaf184 (sometimes referred to as Arzal, which means
Islam today does indeed seek to offer low-caste Hindus an answer to their
oppression by engaging in some proselytizing. Some groups are inclined to engage in
evangelize low-caste Hindus, which has been ongoing for many centuries. It is
abundantly clear that low-caste Muslims enjoy lesser status in terms of occupation,
residence, marriage, and religious affairs. Yet, perhaps over time the Muslim social
structure was not as rigid as the typical Hindu village's hierarchy. Dalit Muslims form a
small chunk of the overall Dalit community but cannot avail SC benefits from the
government. However, they typically do qualify as OBC, even if the definition of Muslim
OBC is far from clear-cut. Yet, as if to clarify the big picture, Omvedt emphasizes the
fact that there was neither an all-India Hindu nor all-India Muslim community as such, in
the pre-Colonial period. “Indian culture was complex, syncretic, pluralistic. It was this
that changed radically during British rule,” she argues.185
Thus, the South Asian Muslim community coalesced in that period and eventually
resulted in the formation of Pakistan. India still retains the third largest Muslim
population of any country in the world. As for the uplift of Scheduled Castes, Ambedkar
ultimately decided that Islam simply sugarcoated the caste and class distinctions from
which he sought to escape. "Within these groups there are castes with social precedence

Ashraf (‫ )ﺃﺷﺮﻑ‬means 'noble' in Arabic.
Ajlaf (‫ )ﺍﻏﻠﻒ‬means 'rough' in Arabic.
Muslim-Dalit Relations Omvedt, Gail. May 22, 2005.

of exactly the same nature as one finds among the Hindus,” he observed.186 Moreover,
Ambedkar sought a religion that was less literalist and rigid in its spiritual framework. At
the end of the day, Ambedkar also realized that he needed to select a religion that was
native to India. Although Ambedkar's judgment should not be taken as impeccable, his
understanding of Dalit realpolitik was quite refined. If he could not be the arbiter of the
religious destiny of all of India's ex-Untouchables, at least he could shepherd his people
to the Buddhist land of milk and honey.

The Sikh faith also has castes that emerge directly from the various Hindu groups
that have converted to Sikhism since the religion's founding by Guru Nanak in the early
16th century. The dominant Sikh community is of the Jat caste (generally considered to be
a prototypical martial group), while the lower caste Sikhs are mostly descended from
Chamar/Ramdasi/Ravdasi/Ad-Dharma caste persons. While caste is formally not a part of
the Sikh religion, there are indeed different temples for the different parts of the
community, both in India and abroad. It is apparent that the different communities within
Sikhism are indicative of a huge cultural, ethnic, and economic rift between the main
contingents. The Ramdasi Sikhs even had their own army battalion under the British
called the Sikh Light Infantry. Recent controversies have been engendered by Ram
Rahim's Dera Sacha Sauda, which has a large Dalit Sikh following but has run into
conflict with the mainstream Sikh federations.

Of the five primary groups of Jews in India, three present meaningful interactions
with the caste system. The Baghdadi Jews remained largely outside the caste system and
did not intermarry much either with other Jewish groups or non-Jews. The Bene Menashe
of the Northeast have not had much interaction with caste, having been more under the
influence of Christianity over the years. That leaves three groups of Indian Jews who
have been examples of how caste operates: the Telugu Jews, the Bene Israel, and the
Cochin Jews.

Ambedkar, B.R. Pakistan or the Partition of India. Thackers Publishers.

Image 26: A vendor on Jew Town Road in Kochi, Kerala
First, the Telugu Jews, also known as Bene Ephraim, are Untouchable Hindus of
the Madiga caste who have been very interested in American-style Baptist Christianity
for many years. Their community is located in two small villages near Guntur in Andhra

Pradesh. Their version of Jewish liberation theology is a unique path out of Hindu low-
caste status. With only a few hundred members, their leader Shamuel Yacobi (real name
Sunder Raju) tried to assert that all 170 million Untouchables were lost Jews (yudulu in
Telugu),187 and then sought to relocate the Untouchables en masse to Israel! Thus, the link
between historical oppression of Jewish people and Untouchables - and the resultant hope
for salvation in the Promised Land - has motivated this group's religious practices.
Second, it cannot even be said that Judaism in India is immune from caste, for one
Jewish group has actually participated in the Hindu caste order. The historical record
shows that the Marathi-speaking Jews were generally treated as a Shudra caste.188 The
Bene Israel of Maharashtra largely blended into the Hindu caste framework as a caste of
oil-pressers (somwar telis)189and thusly maintained endogamous practices. However, it is
well known that Baghdadi Jews in Bombay would not mix with the Bene Israel, viewing
themselves as being ritually superior to the more secular and assimilated Bene Israel.
Third, the Cochin Jews of Kerala practiced a sort of caste discrimination between
the White/Paradesi190 Jews (presumably descendants of Sephardic Jewish traders from
Spain, Holland, Goa, and the Middle East), Brown/Meshuharari191 Jews (persons of
mixed Jewish and servant origin), and Black/Malabar/Meyuhassi192 Jews (thought to be
the mixed descendants of Jewish migrants who arrived during the time of King Solomon
and Malayalee converts to Judaism). Thus, the multi-layered Jewish community in Kerala
maintained strict social rules, and the three communities did not intermarry with the other
communities, whom they viewed as being separate and distinct.
It is patently obvious that the Indian version of caste rubs off on the different
religious communities that have come to live in the sub-continent. For whatever complex
evolutionary reason, the notion of caste difference seems indefatigable throughout the
ebb and flow of reform movements that held the potential to alter permanently the type of
caste arrangement that existed.

They were known as Monday oil-pressers because they did not work on Saturday, the Jewish
Paradesi (पारCशी) means 'foreigner' in a number of Indian languages.
Meshuharari (‫ )משוחררי‬means 'released' in Hebrew.
Meyuhassi (‫ )מיוחסי‬means 'privileged' in Hebrew.

Chapter V: Caste & Subaltern Cosmopolitan

In that country the laws of religion, the laws of the land, and the laws of honour, are all
united and consolidated in one, and bind a man eternally to the rules of what is called his
caste. - Edmond Burke

Having withstood Buddhist, Islamic, and European influences, caste prevails. All
outsiders and many insiders criticize it. Is this basic form of Indian society viewed
internationally as a threat to modernity? Perhaps the West's excessive individualism is the
biggest impediment to understanding how caste operates in a highly group-oriented
society. “Caste, whether valorized or despised, is fundamental to India.”193 With the
increasing exposure of Indian social, economic, and political moeurs to the scrutiny of a
globalized and interdependent world community, what range of responses are provoked?
Is the lower caste movement in India seen as being unified with other movements by
similarly ethnically and racially marginalized groups? Or, is the caste struggle seen more
by the international community and a socioeconomic problem capable of being solved by
the proper dose of international aid and celebrity attention?
While the allure of the movement to liberate the erstwhile Untouchables has
attracted many academics and NGOs, various Western governments are beginning to take
more of an interest in the issue. The European Union held a hearing on June 4, 2008, in
Brussels regarding caste injustice that was sponsored by a Danish organization, the
International Dalit Solidarity Network.194 The U.S. Congress has caught wind of the issue
as well and passed a motion in July 2007 that called for India to work together with the
United States in addressing Untouchability and creating viable social and economic
inclusion programs.195 While the Pennsylvania state legislature also passed such a

Dirks, p. 4
India's Lower Castes Seek Social Progress In Global Job Market by Emily Wax in the
Washington Post August 20, 2007

measure,196 it was at the behest of a fellow named Michael Thevar, who has very actively
been running a business that brings Dalits to the U.S. for three year job stints doing temp
agency work. He also runs a foundation that seeks to address Dalit issues in the non-
profit sector. His efforts are discussed in more depth below.
The Hindustan Times published a story on May 15, 2008, that described the
participation of former manual scavengers in a United Nations fashion show that was
scheduled to take place on July 2, 2008, in honor of the International Year of Sanitation.
The vestments of these Rajasthani scavenger women were to be designed by Michael
Jackson's fashionista, Abdul Haldar. Fifteen years after legislation banning manual
scavenging (Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines
Prohibition Act 1993) was passed, rural Dalit women are still forced into the degrading
practice of carrying night soil in containers on their heads, mostly in rural areas where
sanitation facilities are not developed. The international publicity stunt promoted
awareness of the estimated several hundred thousand Indians performing this traditional
occupation. While the government places the figure at 342,000, advocacy groups estimate
that the real number is at least four times higher.
Thus, the theory of subaltern cosmopolitanism proposes an anti-hegemonic
understanding of the world struggle against oppressive elites that are said to be in
collusion with the Indian higher castes. Beyond the national struggle, the subalterns have
the potential to be as cosmopolitan as the elites in the so-called export of the struggle.
Beyond these revolutionary geographies of connection, there can be truth found in
universal appreciation of the various subaltern identities and linkages to the different
lineages of radical politics. There is tremendous utility of resistance found at multiple
layers of the ideological framework. The unity of the cosmos polity, so to speak,
promotes the coordination of simultaneous subaltern movements.
Yet there are aspects of this revolutionary fervor that appear just as casteist as the
cultural forces that they seek to combat. Low-caste supremacists argue with as much

HR0383-PN2405 was sponsored by State Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland, D-Chester. The resolution
calls the caste system a discriminatory institution and demands that local leaders seek out ways to
join together with groups in India who are involved in fighting against caste-based
discrimination: “WHEREAS, the caste system, a powerful tool for social segregation, runs deep
in the mind of Indians and has implications in everyday life...and encourage the Commonwealth
to work with India to find new approaches to this age-old problem.”

ardor as high-caste supremacists, that their coalition of tribal-ethnic groups is entitled to
rule and has a monopoly on historical claims to power. The counter-hegemonic discourse
on exclusion contains much of the hatred that it claims to despise. Thus, the caste
chauvinism of the lower castes is no more attractive than the caste chauvinism of the high
Milind W. is the head of the SC/ST cell of the Air India employees union. He also
runs weekly meetings for an umbrella organization called the Republican Panthers for the
Annihilation of Caste. The group, inspired by the Dalit Panthers and Bhagat Singh,
originally splintered off from the Ambedkar's Republican Party of India, which Milind
deems as a “useless party nowadays.” The group seeks to reform Indian society to
become more caste-less and effectively “caste-blind” civilization. Milind said, “No, caste
hasn't gone, it's just that the level has changed. There's no fear of contamination, and no
one practices Untouchability in the city. But discrimination takes on other forms.” He
contends that the government's reservation policy has not succeeded due to management's
reluctance to ensure compliance and proper implementation of the reservation quotas. He
says that SC folks always get Class IV or even lesser jobs. He also alleges, dubiously, that
there are tens of thousands of fake ST people occupying government jobs. While he
admits that inter-caste marriage occurs more and more, he said this only happens amongst
the tiny middle class minority of urban dwellers.
The reality is that the so-called annihilation of caste is disingenuous, since many
of the folks who seek to combat the right-wing Hindutva forces (whose interest is in
solidifying the age-old caste enterprise) are not truly interested in ending caste as we
know it. The counter-hegemonic low-caste radical politics still seeks to emphasize caste
as a political weapon, does not radically seek to end endogamous marriage practices, and
often, but not always, is happy to continue receiving caste-based benefits from the
government. They might be interested in the elimination of what they perceive as the
negative expressions of caste (i.e. casteism), but they are not truly interested in ending all
manifestations of caste. This is not necessarily jati reform but overhaul of an ostensibly
Brahmin-dominated society. Yet, Ambedkar firmly believes that the imposition of the
caste system on the non-Brahmin population was “beyond their mettle.” Some of his
theory is a bit untenable, but many of his assumptions are well-founded. “The Brahmin is

a semi-god and very dearly a demi-god. He sets up a mode and moulds the rest. His
prestige is unquestionable and he is the fountain-head of bliss and good...idolized by
scriptures and venerated by the priest-ridden multitude.”197This sort of anti-Brahmin
sentiment is typified by the argument that Brahmins have superior ideological freedom,
while those who are branded anti-Brahmin are doomed to pay the price for their ill will
towards the source of the sanatana dharma.198

Comparison with the American Situation

There are commonplace comparisons with the contemporary American racial
divide. Some propose that caste also a proxy for race/ethnicity in India, and that the
Indian problem is actually very similar to America's. Is the ostensible projection of Vedic
power over the rival tribes reminiscent of any process that took place in American
history? How has the historical differentiation of the Untouchable masses impacted upon
the vestiges of the sub-continent's inhabitants. What is the validity of the standard
racialist narrative? Ethnic affiliations and the drive to self-segregate plays parallel roles in
the U.S. and in India.
The separationist/segregationist strain within the Dalit movement also carries
some of the same tunes as the more militant aspects of the Civil Rights struggle. At heart,
there are certain themes that strike a chord in almost the exact same way as the African-
American experience. Yet, there are some crucial differences that must be articulated.
The holism of this caste stratification system is diametrically opposed to the
individualism that is so characteristic of the American model. Additionally, there is a
clear amelioration of living conditions in India that mirrors some of the material gains
that have taken place in the United States, even if the level of poverty and material
despair is so much greater in India.
There are some definite signs of economic progress. The proportion of SC
persons living below the poverty line went from almost 50% in 1993-94 to 37% in 1999-
2000, according to the National Sample Survey. In addition, the number of Dalit
households with electricity jumped from 29% in 1991 to 44% in 2001. These advances
Ambedkar, B.R., p. 18
Brahmin As a Sociological Wonder by V.T. Rajshekar Dalit Voice December 16-31 1996.

are praised by Chandrabhan Prasad, the only Dalit columnist for a major English
newspaper in India, The Pioneer. Prasad points out key parallels with the African-
American experience in the 1950s: “The emerging black bourgeoisie not only made
blacks and other minorities more confident, it made America more of a nation of
all...Similar things can happen in India, if there is a significant Dalit bourgeoisie.”199
In multiracial secondary schools in the United States, there is the tendency for
African-American students to self-segregate in the lunch room once past a certain age.
Amongst Dalit students in India, the same tendency is observed. At universities
throughout Maharashtra, one can plainly see the social segregation that exists in dining
halls and beyond. In India, however, it seems that there is more limited scope for
friendships between persons at opposite ends of the caste spectrum than there is in the
U.S. between the various racial groups.
Dalits are similarly marginalized as African-Americans, but the differences are
numerous. While the cultural role of Dalits in the village sometimes involved music,
dance, poetry, and theater, it seems unlikely that Dalits have as central a position in
Indian culture as African-Americans do in American culture, with their dominance in
certain cultural milieu. In addition to the entertainment industry, sports are another
industry in which the participation of African-Americans is disproportionately high.
Dalits have not figured so prominently in the Indian athletic tradition. Thus, the formula
for the sports and entertainment successes of black Americans is not mimicked by Dalits.
However, especially in Maharashtra, many of the most renown contemporary poets seem
to be Dalits; much Marathi-language Dalit poetry is phenomenal, according to experts.
Moreover, the budding African-American middle class appears to have made
considerably more headway than the rising middle class of Dalits. Perhaps this is a
function of the number of generations necessary to achieve significant progress, as per
Prasad's suggestion above. While black Americans were liberated from slavery in 1865,
the Civil Rights movement did not put an end to Jim Crow segregation until the 1960's.
Although the Dalits were in many ways liberated by India's Constitution of 1950, in the
villages, they are still very much subjected to the same hardships as before. Additionally,
black Americans did not face the scourge of literal Untouchability. They could take care
Economic boom blurs lines among India's castes by Ken Moritsugu in USA Today November
22, 2006

of white babies and serve as cooks, which would have been absolutely unthinkable for
Untouchables for centuries. There are certain types of contact that Dalits could never
initiate, lest serious punishments be incurred.
In a general sense, there is much overlap with regards to the general alienation
and the relatively disadvantaged nature of large segments of both populations in the
respective societies. There is also the racial element that cannot be ignored. This will be
addressed in more depth below, but there is some danger in using pseudo-scientific
theories of race to link up the struggles of Indian Dalits and African-Americans. And, as
with blacks in America, Dalits are far from monolithic. Considering the range of
languages and cultural practices contained in Dalit communities throughout India, the
Dalit population could be seen to be far more variegated than the black American
population. Yet, there have been many attempts at linking the movements in an effort to
emphasize the common push for human rights and political empowerment.200 A
demographer highlights the overlap between the two nation-states: “Indian and American
societies are strikingly similar in terms of racial and ethnic diversity, although each has
evolved under different historical and geographical context. The evolution of India's
racial and ethnic diversity has a long history (more than 5,000 years) compared with a
very short history of American society confined to the latter half of the second
“Castes closely resemble cultural, ethnic, and racial minorities in other societies,”
posits Marvin Harris.202 India exists as a mixed race continuum zone, where the methods
of classifying according to ethnic difference is excruciatingly complex. Perhaps caste
exists most prominently in parts of the world that are characterized by extremes of racial
difference – the most appropriate parallel being Latin America, in which lighter-skinned
persons of European descent have traditionally tended to dominate politics, business, and
media. Only in recent years has there been active assertion of the rights of indigenous,
mestizo people there. India has the same sort of caste hierarchy, because the ethnically

Caste in India and the United States by Gerald D. Berreman The American Journal of Soci-
ology, Vol. 66, No. 2 (Sep., 1960), pp. 120-127
Role of Census in Racial and Ethnic Construction by R.B. Bhagat in Economic and Political
Weekly, February 22, 2003
Klass, p. xxiii, in quoting Harris from p. 249 his Cultural Anthropology text, Second Edition of

mixed middle castes are the majority.
Besides India, other nations have similar castes of Untouchables. Japan’s
Burakumin have existed for hundreds of years doing undesirable work. The Baekjeong in
South Korea have been butchers and other polluting professions, due largely to the stigma
of Buddhist prohibitions. In addition, the Akhdam in Yemen, descendants of Sudanese or
Ethiopians who migrated countless generations ago, also live as Untouchables in urban
areas of the country. Their role as sweepers is similar to that of the Bhangis, and they
tend to be the poorest segment of Yemenite society.203 Other Arab societies have similar
groups of Afro-Arabs who form a marginalized segment (Palestine, Iraq). Even African
nations such as Somalia and Cameroon have groups that are considered outcast.204
Suresh Mane, Head of the Law Department at the University of Mumbai, points
to how the Dalit experience is parallel to that in not just other South Asian nations but
also in African countries. In Guinea, there was a refusal to pick a president who had
allegedly descended from a slave lineage. The Osu, Oru, Ume, and Omani of Nigeria are
groups who have also been stung by a caste-like stigma. Also, the Badi, Dad, Kolhi,
Meghwal, and Bhil in Pakistan and the Mehtar in Bangladesh face the same issues as
Dalits in India.
The Dalit liberation movement enjoys countless similarities with the other civil
rights movements that have arisen in the 20th century. The emphasis on caste
consciousness and awareness of “otherness” are central to the expansion of this
movement. One way to export Dalitism to the international ideological marketplace is to
racialize it and take it to the supranational level, as was done at Durban for the Third UN
World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related
Intolerance (WCAR) in 2001. The argument was put forth that social practices that divide
up human beings along caste lines are also a form of descent-based discrimination. The
Indian government vehemently resisted the inclusion of Dalits at Durban. Beteille argued
it was scientifically nonsensical and political mischievous to entangle caste with race.205
While many Dalit Christians seem happy to take the caste issue to the world stage, many

The Ethnicity of Caste by Deepa Reddy in Anthropological Quarterly, Summer 2005, Vol. 78,
Issue 3

Buddhist Dalits seem to prefer to keep the issue on Indian soil, much to the delight of the
BJP. In providing a “springboard toward internationalization,” Durban highlights some
issues regarding the definitions of backwardness that tend towards the ethnic. While caste
was inherently fuzzy in the pre-colonial period, ethnic distinctions also seem to be
constantly in flux. Yet, Reddy posits that the contemporary period has seen the
emergence of highly complex classificatory schemes to divide up the population along
caste lines. “Its emphasis on enumeration categorized them into discrete types,” says
Reddy. The erstwhile fluidity of caste and the malleability of its contours lost out to more
concrete definitional categories. Even so, as with the paradox of ethnicity, it seems that
caste too can be refashioned from time to time according to historical context and need.

Reservation System

There are three general types of caste-based preferences that exist under the
framework supplied by the Constitution: reservations, programs involving the provision
of services, and special protections. Just as there were and are degrees of ritual pollution,
there are levels of relative social exclusion and inclusion. Compensatory discrimination
policies are becoming the norm in the world today, but depending on how they are dished
out on a communal basis, it is are alleged by some critics to be a systematic departure
from the norms of secular equality.
Lord Meghnad Desai, a British NRI economist, writer, and politician said quite
simply, “Hindu society has always been based on the caste bottom it is also
the most oppressive society as well, even it it is knowledgeable, philosophical,
tolerant.”206 He pointed out that social democracy prides itself on judging individuals for
their unique characteristics but that the current method of positive discrimination is based
on dates premises. “Over the course of Indian democracy, it has provided another route
for inclusion. I have great doubts that this is the right way to go.”
What Desai termed the “rich morphology of caste” feeds into distinctions based
on birth and not on achievement. His fundamental point was that basing India's inclusive
strategy on the jati system is a paradoxical straightjacket. In the spirit of many other
Excerpted from Desai's address at the May 7, 2008, convocation ceremony of the Tata Institute
of Social Sciences.

passionate reservation critics, he lashed out against creating a vested interest in clinging
to these descent-based labels. Essentially, he rejects the illiberal nature of redistributive
justice based on the same differential attributes that led to the injustice in the first place.
At the same time, Desai applauds those who can say 'thanks, but no thanks' in refusing to
avail of the reservation benefits. Yet, in honestly assessing the history of reservation,
Desai admits that the creamy layer would not exist without reservation based on jati-
based categories. But then he proceeds to lament the impossibility of defining the creamy
layer and effectively enforcing the official policy. Thus, the infinitely divisive nature of
the spoils system dictates that those who earn privileges are the last to give them up.
While he acknowledged that the injustices of the Hindu system have been immense, he
stated that the injustice could have been and should have been attacked based on
individual deprivation – even if caste is indeed generally a good indicator of an
individual's relative level of deprivation. Although Desai lauded the increased group
mobility via urbanization and education, he criticized the “cellular schedulist structures.”
Ultimately, Desai's goal was to encourage examination of how the SC and ST
reservations have helped and whom exactly they have helped. All this would be useful in
order to construct a viable policy alternative to the existing reservation structure. In
working with the powers that be, Desai said he thought Indian society could find a better
way that is “less divisive and that is compatible with inclusive development.”
It is a paradox constructed upon a paradox that is able to declare the inclusiveness
needs to be more inclusive. For Desai it is preferable if caste/race blind liberal ideals
govern allocation of good jobs rather than assigning benefits based on inherited traits.
Perhaps more arguments should be examined. “Social movements all over the world, in
essence, despite their varying forms, aim at the delegitimization of the in-egalitarian
distributive processes and the establishment of a desired type of society which can ensure
an egalitarian and humanitarian social order.”207
Since 1950, the Indian government has applied quotas in education and
government for Dalits and tribal people. 22.5% of government jobs and university slots
have been “reserved” for these groups. Additionally, since the Mandal Commission
ruling, 27% of government jobs (and more recently, as per the Supreme Court’s ruling,

Sharma, K. L., p. 75

Centre government-run university slots) have been reserved for OBCs.
When India’s socialism was a living reality rather than vestigial, government
hiring was a much more crucial area for large-scale change. However, given the booming
private sector, the policy for promoting the so-called wretched of the Hindu caste
hierarchy has become outdated. The specter of a 30% private sector quota integrated into
the government-contracted hiring process in Uttar Pradesh looms over all of India. Yet,
privately-generated affirmative action schemes are being used to pre-empt potential
government-mandated action. Companies see the government’s intrusiveness and
incompetence as further proof that caste-based hiring, at the end of the day, would simply
add to the burden on private enterprise.
“As India's dynamism migrates from the public to the private sector, from
ministries to software parks, there is pressure for caste quotas to follow. Lower castes,
increasingly unsatisfied with being bureaucrats and errand boys, want a slice of
globalisation's cake,” said an International Herald Tribune article dated April 22, 2006.208
There are indeed a few Indian companies that have recognized the need for
reform in their hiring and training programs. Bajaj is known for having a minimum SC
quota in his company. Infosys is another such corporation, having launched a charitable
7-month training scheme for Dalits in collaboration with the Bangalore International
Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) in 2006. The program focuses on improving
the often dismal state of Dalit recruits’ English, self-presentation, and etiquette. Bharti
Enterprises has also announced that it is setting aside jobs for backward castes.
Yet, ultimately, the Dalits who are entering such programs are largely middle-
class and urban, many of whom place no special emphasis on their caste origins.209
Admittedly, some do not have to work as hard in the slots that they have automatically
been rewarded.
It is speculated that several programs have been born out of Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh’s threat that the government would be forced to take “strong
measures,” if corporations did not more proactively seek out SC and ST employees.
Thus, if companies do not wish to face government-imposed private sector reservations,

What’s caste got to do with it? by Ramananda Sengupta on June 25, 2008
Business and Caste in India: With Reservations in The Economist, October 4, 2007

then they are left to self-impose more inclusive hiring practices.210
But, the reality remains that only about 2% of the Indian labor force is employed in
the “organized” private sector - where any new reservation would be applied.211
Moreover, lower castes are already well-represented in the private sector, albeit in low-
skilled jobs therein. Thus, the relatively tiny percentage of urban, middle-class members
of lower castes have the most at stake in the debate over the establishment of such private
sector reservations. This is generally the case with the reservation issue, since only a
small fraction of total SC and ST people have the wherewithal to take advantage of
reserved quotas.
Even so, it must be acknowledged that approximately 93% of India's labor force is
employed in the unorganized sector of the economy, according to the Arjun Sengupta
Committee Report of 2007. This would mean that at least nine out of ten working Dalits
are employed in the informal parts of the Indian economy where there is no social
security, regulatory framework, or minimum wage. As farm labor, domestic help,
hawkers, industrial workers – there are no safeguards to ensure job security. And, to be
sure, the informal sector is well beyond the pale of reservation.
The spending power of SC's increased by approximately the same percentage as of
the rest of the population (26.7% and 27.7%), over the past decade, according to the
National Sample Survey. Some critics believe that reservations would seem to have
minimal impact on this type of measure, and so long-term impact is difficult to ascertain.
Thorny issues remain about efficiency and job readiness. English skills are quite
lackadaisical among many low-caste persons. Many socially biased upper caste persons
see them as dirty and lacking in dignity, and therefore not suitable for the types of private
sector employment that are coveted. Critics point to the often poor performance of those
who fill university reservations, as well as the huge number of vacancies in reserved slots
that remain, well, vacant. Of course, there is the issue of unfairness to those who are
(positively) discriminated against and the alleged inefficiency of the quota hires.
Despite the self-motivation of groups like the Mahars in Maharashtra, there is
definite clustering of SCs in Class III/Class IV services, with a dearth in Class I/Class II.
So, the reservation has not been able to avail these superior government positions so
Business and Caste in India: With Reservations in The Economist, October 4, 2007
A firm must have over ten employees to be considered as such.

easily, even for Mahars.
“In contemporary times, caste as a whole reflects an ethnic group that competes
with other such groups. The paradox of modern transformation is that while different
caste groups become increasingly alike and are in competition with each other, there is a
greater differentiation within each group.”212
Resource-based conflict might be at the heart of caste competition in certain
states, but is this the main source of caste rivalries in the city? Obviously there is a
tremendous amount at stake in the reservation issue, in terms of control over finite well-
paying jobs and seats in quality universities. But, the limitations of infrastructure and the
restrained pace of capacity-building become ignored if everything else is bowled over by
caste politics, as politicians dangle the prospect of increased reservation in front of the
voters' faces. This constitutes reservation inflation, an exacerbation of caste-based
politics, and an infuriation of the losers who do not get more reservations. Subsequent
rioting and further polarization along caste lines can be the unfortunate result.
“In the political system, protection is granted, but in the open market scenario, it's
dog-eat-dog. A minimum standard must be met as profit and efficiency cannot be
compromised. Companies wouldn't place such a restriction on themselves. Businesses
don't want their hands tied,” said Maharashtra Directorate of Economics and Statistics
Joint Director C.B. Aurangabadkar, on the subject of slapping reservation on the private
sector. With regards to businesses owned and managed by lower caste persons, “If there
were a backward class call center, who would invest? Would anyone buy a product just
because it were made by a backward caste?” asked Aurangabadkar.
Aurangabadkar also fears that caste has become too important to politics, as
politicians focus excessively on promising reservations to their constituents. Yet,
Aurangabadkar sees some hope in classrooms where the teacher keeps secret students'
surnames in order to minimize the relevance of caste to classroom dynamics. “Generally,
caste is the biggest hurdle to India's growth. Every Indian feels proud of his caste. While
this competition can vanish in urban areas to the extent that there is no casteism there,
overall, caste cannot vanish,” he said.

Rashmi Rekha Shah's 2003 Geography Masters' Dissertation at the University of Mumbai -
Socio-Economic Status of Scheduled Castes in Maharashtra and West Bengal: A Study of Space-
Society Convergence

Is true socioeconomic mobility achieved by a caste's creamy layer or by the
caste's median member? Must mobility be measured with individuals or whole jati
groups? Is it not best to measure caste mobility using general tendencies rather than
isolated cases and exceptions? It could take several to half a dozen generations for the
vestiges of untouchability to be removed and for real mobility to be possible for certain
especially disadvantaged groups. While these aspects of community upliftment are
digested, it is still not necessarily the case that a caste which has escaped all practice of
untouchability will truly attain economic progress. This is due to the massive number of
individuals that must be taken into account and the scale of Indian society. Upward
mobility of a caste (i.e. all of the group's members and thus the median member) can
involve a truly staggering number of individuals. The scope of this development is
sometimes too great to fathom.

Table 31: Category and Economically Better Off Crosstabulation
Are you economically better off than previous generations? Total
Category Yes No 99
SC 142 89 12 243
58.4% 36.6% 4.9% 100.0%
ST 2 1 0 3
66.7% 33.3% .0% 100.0%
OBC 66 20 0 86
76.7% 23.3% .0% 100.0%
Open-General 144 36 5 185
77.8% 19.5% 2.7% 100.0%
Total 354 146 17 517
68.5% 28.2% 3.3% 100.0%

In the table above, it can be seen that respondents belonging to the Scheduled
Caste category were least likely (58.4%) to report being economically better off than
previous generations. On the other hand, 77.8% of open-general category respondents
said they they were better off.
A further question is to what extent is development not desirable? Do some low-
caste groups desire neither to improve their position on the hierarchy of ritual purity nor
their economic well-being? Are some castes content with their degraded Hindu status and
with their material deprivation? What if some segment of India's population seeks never

to enter the mainstream? To be left alone in the village, remain excluded, invisible,
unaccountable to the global economy?
One bizarre iteration of this possibility is the phenomenon of groups who seek to
lower their official caste status in order to receive more government benefits. It is
possible to lower one's social standing in order to increase material gain. The Gujjar caste
of Rajasthan is the primary example of this in recent times, having requested that the
group be downgraded from OBC to ST status in order to increase the amount of
reservation received by the group. The Gujjars began to riot in late May 2008 against
what their perceived as injustice by the state and Centre governments, which were
reluctant to include them as an ST.
A recent example which runs counter to the Gujjar example is of Christians in
Tamil Nadu, who had been awarded a separate 3.5% reservation. After one year of this
set-aside, Tamil Christian leaders decided to ask the state to annul the separate
reservation and instead include Tamil Christians (largely of Scheduled Caste origin) in
the 30% OBC reservation. They had found that the separate reservation capped their seats
and a lesser number than they had previously been accustomed. As a restored part of the
OBC's 30%, they wished to regain their prior number of seats.
With some 4,000 castes in the country, when will it be time to delete groups from
the list if they have progressed? When the “gradual realization of demographic strength
cropped up to promote self-interested collective action” occurs for groups like the
Gujjars, can they just snap into action?213 But at the same time, is it not appropriate to
delete some groups from the reserved list? The Ezhava caste of Kerala is seen as a model
of a caste's upward movement on the socioeconomic ladder, for their escape from
Untouchability, even if they were only considered mildly polluting. Theirs might be more
impressive than that attained by the Mahars of Maharashtra or the Pallans of Tamil Nadu.
While the Ezhavas have not been considered Untouchable for a century, they are still in
the OBC category and are quite likely to remain there.
Perhaps it most is a function of how the Ezhavas were considered only mildly
Untouchable and that they live in a state where even the most wretched of groups are
generally much better off than in other states where the government has been much less
Caste Census: Looking Back, Looking Forward by R.B. Bhagat in Economic and Political
Weekly May 26, 2007

involved in social justice. The progressive Communist tradition of Kerala, as well as the
relatively high rates of industrialization in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, have helped
these formerly Untouchable groups escape more rapidly from their formerly stigmatized
position. It is still a question of how many generations it will take not just for a creamy
layer to emerge, but for the median member of the caste to experience relatively more
socioeconomic mobility than the median member of other backward castes that had
previously been considered comparable.
Would this number simply be irrelevant in light of the foundations of caste injustice
and discrimination upon which that accumulation of social, economic, and intellectual
took place? So, is this simply another externally imposed ideological notion that at heart
simply seeks to maintain the status quo in order to keep the lower castes in their current
position? Is it suggestive of a social Darwinism that seeks to let the caste system work
itself out rather than trying to meddle with some externally imposed caste ordering?
SCs are disproportionately rural, poor, illiterate, jobless, and unhealthy. The reality
is that over 75% of SC workers are connected with rural agriculture and the vast majority
of urban SC persons are employed in the unorganized sector. Of the total SC population
in 2001, around 1.1 million are said to have benefited directly from reservation
policies.214 Perhaps this is because reservation is an issue mainly for the very small
creamy layer, and so it is not even part of the relevant debate for so many people who
could never see the benefit or a reserved job or university seat. One must have passed (or
in Indian English, “passed out of”) the 12th Std. in order to even enter the realm of
reservation. And this would only apply to a relatively small section of their population.
Another argument against quotas posits that urban, middle-class people are less
likely to marry within their caste than the rural poor and are also less likely to be casteist
towards Dalits. Therefore, quotas are bad if they impede growth in the economy and the
resultant mushrooming of the middle class. Thus, there is the possibility of the uplift of
the downtrodden (at least partially) of their own accord.

Rashmi Rekha Shah's dissertation

Table 32: Caste-Based Reservations and Economic Mobility Crosstabulation
Are you economically better off
than previous generations?
do you
policies? Yes No N/A Total
Yes 215 120 10 345
62.3% 34.8% 2.9% 100.0%
No 136 23 2 161
84.5% 14.3% 1.2% 100.0%
N/A 3 3 5 11
27.3% 27.3% 45.5% 100.0%
Total 354 146 17 517
68.5% 28.2% 3.3% 100.0%

The table above shows that persons who support caste-based reservations are less
likely to believe that they are economically better off than previous generations in their
family. While 84.5% of those who are opposed to caste-based reservations said that they
were better off than previous generations, just 62.3% of those who support caste-based
reservations said they were better off than previous generations. While it must be taken
into account that persons of the lowest caste rank were almost half of the survey
respondents, this finding is nonetheless significant. Individuals who view reservations as
unnecessary are more likely to believe that their mobility was a function of their own
efforts and therefore do not see this policy as being worthwhile.

“The reservation serves to restrict their ability to maintain the struggle [against upper
castes], since their urge to fight is hindered,” suggested on Maharashtra state government
official who wished to remain anonymous. “Yet, it will take generations to have a real

Table 33: Caste Rank and Reservation

Generally, do you support caste-based
reservation policies?

Rank Yes No N/A Total

1 228 13 7 248

91.9% 5.2% 2.8% 100.0%

2 44 12 0 56

78.6% 21.4% .0% 100.0%

3 35 16 2 53

66.0% 30.2% 3.8% 100.0%

4 30 88 1 119

25.2% 73.9% .8% 100.0%

5 8 32 1 41

19.5% 78.0% 2.4% 100.0%

Total 345 161 11 517

66.7% 31.1% 2.1% 100.0%

In the table above, it is clear that support for caste-based reservations falls with
every successive step up the caste ladder. While 91.9% of respondents with a caste rank
of 1 supported caste-based reservations, that number declined to 78.6% and 66.0% for
caste rank 2 and 3, respectively. Moreover, the forward caste persons expressed
overwhelming opposition to caste-based reservation: 25.2% of caste rank 4 respondents
and just 19.5% of caste rank 5 respondents said that they were in favor of caste-based
reservation. This confirms the pervasive belief that forward caste persons are rather
adamantly opposed to the reservation system on the whole.

Table 34: Support for Reservation and Caste Relevance Crosstabulation
Support Caste-Based Residential
Reservation Policies? Arrangement Work Marriage Public Sphere

Yes Mean 5.22 4.15 8.12 4.78

N 331 305 335 334

No Mean 3.31 2.11 5.82 3.28

N 159 155 160 158

N/A Mean 5.55 5.89 8.09 5.11

N 11 9 11 9

Total Mean 4.62 3.51 7.39 4.31

N 501 469 506 501

This table further reinforces that there is a direction correlation between support
for reservation and belief in the continue importance of caste in availing of life's bounty.
Being in favor of reservation is a function of a firm belief that caste can be a barrier.
Aparna Rege is a Goud Saraswat Brahmin interior designer residing in Mahim
who believes that lower castes take “unfair advantage of reservations.” She adds, “People
who believe in religion follow caste, but secular folk don't embrace caste. This is
something that parents must inculcate.” Sachin Sawant, a Maratha from Dombivali who
is Senior Executive at Cox and Kings said: “There is a negative future for reservation,
which prevents us from getting access to government jobs, college seats, etc. Quotas are
There is a major problem of low economic status for many forward caste people,
especially in rural areas across states such as Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, which now
both have some accommodation for this demographic of forward caste people who are
economically weaker. Does Mayawati's solution in Uttar Pradesh fully remedy this?
Having awarded low-income (non-creamy layer) forward caste persons 10%, she has
played successful coalition politics that would not work in Maharashtra, since Brahmins
and Dalits are combined much less of the overall population than in Uttar Pradesh. While
backward castes decry the over-representation of forward castes in certain sectors, some
might argue the contrary, that forward castes are under-represented in places like Tamil
Nadu or in other places where they represent a high percentage of the population (West

Bengal 63%, Goa 92%, and Assam 55%). While the reservation arrangement differs in
each state (which would be used for state-run universities and state government offices),
the center's reservation policy is used for centre-controlled universities and all federal
government offices. For example, the Tamil Nadu reservation policy has a 69% cap on
the reservation, since OBCs have a high reservation, due to the massive OBC population
and resultant political clout.
Thus, the reservation is also seen as especially helpful for already well-positioned
low-caste individuals, while not beneficial for high-caste individuals who are not
economically endowed. It is quite difficult for average middle-class Indians who must
work even harder to beat quota. But, is it worth this socioeconomic tradeoff for the
achievement of social justice? A more flexible job market is in line with the Ambedkarian
notion of a mobile society. The economics of caste affiliation are a never-ending race to
avail, especially now with talk of more “reservation within the reservation.”
Moving towards a perfectly jati-wise system of proportional spoils would be a
demographic nightmare, but it could make for a more just utilitarian arrangement.215
Another alternative is to make reservation more income-based. Rajasthan took both of
these steps with its decision about the Gujjars. Thusly, rather than adding to the ST list,
the Rajasthani government merely added a special 5% reservation primarily for Gujjars
(but also for Banjara and three other OBC groups), who will also benefit from being
upgraded/downgraded from OBC, to OBC with specially reserved separate quota. This is
somewhat different from reservation within a reservation, but Rajasthan also decided to
give low-income forward caste persons a 14% special quota, thereby raising the total
number of reserved seats to 68%. This addresses one major criticism of the reservation
system in general – that middle-class, lower caste individuals are preferenced over low-
income forward caste people. Thus, this moves in the direction of having reservations
more on the basis of economic status rather than merely on the basis of caste status and
assumption of historically disadvantaged status.
However, this move by Rajasthan could create Constitutional problems, seeing as
the Supreme Court capped the overall reservation at 50%. Maharashtra has a similar

Population-wise reservation to each jati will end Dalit sub-caste rivalry by K. Jamanadas Dalit
Voice, December 16-31, 1996

special 2% reservation set aside for Vanjaris.216 Set aside reservation and reservation
within the reservation are two ways of making available seats for a particularly
disadvantaged group or for a group that has managed to lobby the government (often via
violence) in favor of such a set aside reservation. The Matangs have also long been
considered for such a set aside in Maharashtra. This reservation system is the bottom line
when it comes to caste politics, since special treatment in this regard is coveted by
backward groups jockeying for the right to be considered more backward. Hence the
politics of showing that you are relatively more underdeveloped than other groups.

Table 35: Maharashtra Reservation Composition
Category of Reservation Percentage of
Scheduled Castes and 13.0%
Scheduled Caste converts
to Buddhism (SC)
Scheduled Tribes (ST) 7.0%
De-notified Tribes (DT) 2.5%
Vimukta Jati (VJ) 3.0%
Nomadic Tribes (NT) 3.5%
Vanjari 2.0%
Other Backward Classes 19.0%
General (including 3% for 50%
Other quota)
Total 100%

Peering at the table above, one can see how SC converts to Buddhism can still avail
of reservation benefits in Maharashtra. Yet, there are voices who class or need-based
reservation would better suit Indian society. “We can take the case of neo-Buddhists.
Most of them are those who were once Untouchables,” states A. Ramaiah. He continues,
“They need to identify themselves as SC to take advantage of any government assistance
although they have embraced Buddhism…this seems to defeat the very purpose of

This group is distinct from Vanjara, Banjara, etc, which is on the OBC list, while Vanjari is
considered an NT.

Untouchables renouncing Hinduism and embracing non-Hindu religions. The better way
of helping them all will be that they all should be treated as part of the religious
minorities, and among them we should identify the educationally and economically
backward families.”217
The Buddhist is also caught in a situation in which he rejects the idea of
his untouchability and yet does not reject the benefits conferred upon
untouchables by government, which he feels Dr. Ambedkar won for him
and which are recompense for the ill-treatment of the past. Some
Buddhists would prefer to cut all links, helpful and unhelpful, with their
former status; most do not see why they should lost benefits which attempt
to correct former injustice, economic and educational, because they
themselves reject social injustice by conversion. Many have hope that the
problem will be resolved for their children, who will be “true Buddhists”
without caste.218

Self-identification of a Mahar as a Hindu Mahar on one's caste certificate thus
reinforces his traditional position on the caste hierarchy, which does not allows him to
enjoy socio-cultural and psychological escape from the stigma of the Hindu caste
structure. However, with reservation being available for SC Buddhists since 1990,
Buddhist Mahars can continue to benefit from the positive discrimination based on Hindu
caste categories. Is this approach to Mahar self-assertion at all hypocritical?
One counter-example is the approach of certain groups such as the Nayars, who
were formerly considered shudra in some parts of Kerala but moved up the caste
hierarchy without the help of the reservation system. While they were considered a
martial race (and thus accorded Kshatriya status in many circles) by the British up until
the Nayars picked a fight against the British themselves, they were not an upper caste per
se. However, nowadays, Nayars most definitely must compete for open category spots
and are accordingly rewarded in the socio-cultural sphere with the sort of prestige
accorded to other forward castes. Would this also be the ultimate result if Mahars
renounced their claim to SC benefits and more completely ditched their erstwhile
Untouchable status? Or does this SC status live on whether voluntarily or involuntarily?
Pratima Joshi of the Maharashtra Times, believes that the number of Dalits in the
public sector and universities would decrease drastically if the reservation system were
A. Ramaiah, Identifying Other Backward Classes in Economic and Political Weekly, June 6,
1992: 1203-1207
Zelliot, p. 140

withdrawn. A parallel situation might be the that in the state of California, where the
enrollment of black and Hispanic students declined dramatically after affirmative action
was unceremoniously ended after a controversial state ballot referendum.
One active anti-caste crusader who offer preferential boosts of his own is a man
named Michael Thevar, who hails from Tamil Nadu but currently resides in Philadelphia.
He runs a staffing agency in Philadelphia that brings almost all of its employees from
India. This is no ordinary outsourcing scheme. The Indian employees actually immigrate
temporarily to the U.S. and are placed in office jobs in the Philadelphia area.
Additionally, the men whom Thevar recruits are all Dalits from underprivileged
backgrounds. Thevar, though himself from the Thevar caste known for its troubled
relationship with particular Tamil Dalit groups, to say the least, has successfully
combined a human resources business with earnest anti-caste activism.
While he takes 30% of each recruit's American earnings as the fee for his
services, Thevar also takes care of the visa processing, accommodations, and other basic
amenities in the U.S. His non-profit NGO is also dedicated to Dalit advocacy and uplift
in India. Atman, whose brother is waiting to hear back from Thevar for a recruitment
beginning in August 2008, says, “Thevar is doing a tremendous job giving Dalits an
opportunity to experience life in the United States and come back with skills and ideas
that bring prestige to their families and communities and increase their capacity to
become successful in India.” Thus, the globalization of the Dalit struggle now sees uplift
of lower caste persons as a for-profit business venture in the West, where stigmas towards
lower caste persons are not an issue for a start-up company. At the same time, there is the
reality that most Americans only come into contact with forward caste immigrants from
India. This part of the more affluent Indian demographic is likely more Western in
orientation, while Untouchables are just entering into the debate and acquaint themselves
with the situation of emigration and exposure to the American way of life.

Affirmative Action and Positive Discrimination
“A significant number of American corporate leaders see diversity among their
employees and CEOs as necessary for understanding the market” argues Gail Omvedt in
a piece on inclusion of Dalits in the IT sector. “Though the current government in India is

projecting a feel-good factor about India – its catchy phrase is 'India shining,'” Omvedt
believes that more has to be done to coerce companies to be inclusive.219 An estimated
86% of employees at BPO and IT firms come from upper castes or wealthy middle
castes, according to a study mentioned in India's Lower Castes Seek Social Progress In
Global Job Market.220
The influence of caste on the free market in general is not yet fully understood.
Capitalism's own ability to capitalize on caste distinctions while conducting market
segmentation could be in the consumers' interest. Discerning caste differences in
consumption warrants further psycho-graphic research to explain where the market can
become more successful at this task. Is this a clash of caste and capital? Will capitalism
erode caste, or will caste impede capitalism's advance? Given the precedent, it is likely
that the two will learn how to better co-exist.
William Darity's article Affirmative Action in Comparative Perspective:
Strategies to Combat Ethnic and Racial Exclusion Internationally explains the difference
between the preferential boosts given in the US and South Africa and the quotas in India,
Malaysia, Northern Ireland, and most recently, Brazil. “India has the longest modern
history of affirmative action of any of the countries now practicing the policy. As early as
the start of the twentieth century, while India still was subjected to British colonial rule,
three southern states of India established a policy of reserving positions in the state level
civil bureaucracy for the untouchables,” explains Darity. The American history with
affirmative action started in 1971 under Richard Nixon. As in India, the debate on race-
based versus class-based programs is ongoing South Africa, as well as in the U.S. Many
of the original schemes have long been expanded beyond the original most worthy targets
to include other disadvantaged groups like “minorities” in the U.S. and OBCs in India.
In comparing the different affirmative action systems, certain key differences
emerge between South Africa and India, on the one hand, and the U.S. on the other. The
American experience is different because whites have traditionally been in the majority,
unlike the power-wielding groups in South Africa, India, Malaysia and much of Latin
America. Yet the role of explicitly defined racial hierarchies mirrors the significant racial

Untouchables in the World of IT by Gail Omvedt in Contemporary Review, May 2004
India's Lower Castes Seek Social Progress In Global Job Market by Emily Wax in the
Washington Post August 20, 2007

and ethnic element that has always existed at the vortex of the debate on caste in India.
Although the application of affirmative action policies differs in
[India, Brazil, and the United States], the challenges and opposition
encountered by each country are remarkably similar. Each government
conceived their policies originally as a vehicle to rectify the historical
injustices encountered as a result of racial or caste status. Now those same
countries are experiencing Supreme Court challenges to their legality. For
this reason, a comparison of the experiences in the three countries is very

Is there a need for swadeshi-inspired change, or can change come from outside of
India? Unlike how companies in the United States keep extensive records of the racial
composition of employees, corporations in India do not keep tabs on the caste
composition of their workforce. The American model has been shown to provide training
and employment opportunities in the corporate sector for disadvantaged minority groups,
in such a manner that Indian corporations are highly unlikely to do of their own accord.
Thus, corporate monitoring of labor force demographics could be required by the
government in a future scenario in which there is political pressure to increase the
representation of backward castes.
It is quite clear that the percentage of SC and ST persons in many corporate
outfits is staggeringly low. The benefits of fostering a more diverse private sector labor
force and the trickle-down benefits of global capitalism are under examination. Does
significant and enduring growth of the service sector ensure a successful trickle all the
way down to the bottom of the socioeconomic hierarchy? With regards to the
globalization debate, the relevance to aspects of labor economics might constitute a
critique of how the rapid changes in Mumbai might be widening the gap and accentuating
the preexisting divisions. There is a huge stake in whether Dalit communities are
benefiting from these processes. Leveling the playing field even more is due to the huge
disparity in starting point. How many generations does it take to get from farmer to mid-
level corporate management?
The fear on the part of many upper caste persons is that increased reservation
would sacrifice tremendous efficiency and productivity for the sake of social justice. This

Affirmative Action: Perspectives from the United States, India and Brazil. Thomas Boston,
Usha Nair-Reichert; The Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 27, 2003

juggling of meritocracy and the obligations of social justice is undoubtedly a balancing
act. While some people allege that the backward classes lack the cultural, academic, and
financial aptitude to be given a free ride into the private sector, many Dalits blame
blocked opportunity channels for their shortcomings. It is a clear case of 'access denied'
to marginalized groups – inclusion of the excluded who have been free for a mere 61
years.222 Would a Dalitocratic society or governing regime turn Indian civilization on its
head? Would this be regressive or truly revolutionary? With Mayawati's pronouncement
regarding her party's desire to rule from the Centre, there is no doubt that mere utterance
of this wish for proletarianization stirs up serious fears of an impending Dalitocracy.
Without the growth of the often perniciously caste-based politics of UP and Bihar,
would North India be facing Naxalite mutinies throughout its densest population belt? To
what extent would private sector concessions be politically necessary to ensure the
longevity of the state and the security of the private sector that it defends? It may be only
a matter of time before the Congress Party incorporates a significant amount of the BSP’s
program into its own agenda in order to co-opt the majority party’s strategy and to fulfill
its erstwhile slogan: “Garibi hatao!”

Drawn from comments made during an 'Academic Round Table' at the Tribal Assembly that
took place at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences on April 5, 2008.

Chapter VI: Conclusion

Transforming India into an egalitarian society and strengthening its unity and
integrity will remain a myth as long as the widening gap between the attitude of the rich
and the poor, the high castes and the low castes, and the religious and ethnic majorities
and the minorities towards each other is not changed significantly for the better. Such
change in the people’s attitude cannot be brought about overnight. Centuries old caste
and religious practices which have got ingrained in their social-cultural milieu cannot be
uprooted so easily. It is a long-term process, but it is imperative.223

The quote above involves certain assumptions about the possibilities for change.
For Debjani Ganguly, the issue in conceptualizing caste boils down to the capacity to
grasp a non-Western type of modernity without being nativist and reductive. While there
is of course a culturally variable tendency to valorize certain ways of belonging over
others, it is important to sidestep the totalizing tendency to label all expressions of caste
as oppressive, antiquated, backward, or feudal. Ganguly seeks to hone “a sensibility that
is not bent on making caste as merely an aberration that modern India needs to be
educated out of.”224 In shifting from the ideological to the phenomenological, one may
adjust the crucial theoretical perspective from simply viewing caste as being in
opposition to modern ways of organizing society. This notion of plural and alternative
modernities therefore rejects “the template of modernization that cannot but display caste
in a retrogressive light.” This type of postcolonial-cum-deconstructionist hermeneutics
that looks into the liminal position of caste echoes M.N. Srinivas' famous
pronouncement: “And I must tell you bluntly that if you are thinking that you can get rid
of caste easily, you are seriously mistaken.”
At the same time that Ganguly argues that caste and modernity are not mutually
exclusive, she also rejects Dumont's contention that caste is the essence of India.225 On
the one hand, the modern and the traditional are far from distinct, as they meld together in
A. Ramaiah, Identifying Other Backward Classes in Economic and Political Weekly, June 6,
1992: 1203-1207
Ganguly, Debjani Caste, Colonialism, and Counter-Modernity p. 89
Ganguly, p. 51

a postmodern sort of pastiche. While Ganguly definitely bemoans the fact that upper
caste superiority based on ritual purity dies hard, she acknowledges its integral, if not
essential, role in contemporary Indian political, economic, and social life.
In contrast to Dirks, Ghurye contends that the Britishers did not give much thought
to caste and therefore that “Their measures generally have been promulgated piecemeal
and with due regard to the safety of British domination.”226 Dirks, on the other hand,
believes the British did indeed foster the solidification of caste. While the influx of
people into cities with mixed caste populations brought them “away from the influence of
their homes and unobserved by their caste or village people.”227 However, from the
beginning of the British presence in Bombay, courts were not allowed to interfere with
questions of caste unless “complainant alleges that a legal right either of property or of
office is violated by his exclusion from the caste.”228
Thus, viewing caste as a constellation of social practices and essential cultural traits
that differ from the West, it often just seems like a bizarre vestige of the past. “Examined
as a Derridean trace...caste unsettles the programmatic certitudes of the Indian nation-
state.”229 Caste has actually been enabled and allowed to mutate into forms that are
conducive to its articulation and practice in modern India. According to Ganguly, famed
cinematographer Subrata Mitra points to the three primary modern manifestations of
caste: the emergence of caste-based parties in competitive electoral politics; the
mobilization of caste within the state policy of positive discrimination; and associations
that use caste identity to promote collective economic well-being within the framework
of market economics.
When in the city, it is clear that the vast majority of people in the upper and upper
middle class are also of forward castes, whereas the vast majority of those in the low and
very low classes are from backward castes. The middle class is mostly forward caste
persons, with perhaps one hundred thousand most backward caste persons having joined
their ranks in the last several decades. But again, over two-thirds of India’s population
would be considered backward.

Ghurye, p. 284
Ghurye, p. 270
Ghurye, p. 271
Ganguly, p. 7

Yet, the incipient system of Indian stratification indeed is more based on what is
“alienable, acquirable, transferable” and “draws no such permanent lines of cleavage as
does birth.”230 However, that stark contrast that exists between slums and skyscrapers,
though cliché, evinces the fluidity of the urban landscape and embodies how the city
space of Mumbai is shared by the different layers of the population. The unseen walls
between socio-economic classes produce genuine cleavages between divergent cells that
exist in wholly separate civilizational and psychological realms. While some might
contend that gone are the days when caste councils would enforce justice by out-casting,
fining, beating, or requiring religious expiation, there are more modern ways of so doing.
What conclusions can be drawn about the philosophical problems of empirical
description versus normative claims of social justice or lack thereof. “In reality, social
man can never be absolutely free and the age-old core of all political arguments is the
problem of how to decide just how much un-freedom he must be prepared to accept.”231
One is left with the option of considering Gandhi's famous statement regarding
reincarnation as a Bhangi. A relevant quote is take from Wikipedia: "I am a Bhangi, but I
also do the work of a Brahmin. A Brahmin is one who spreads knowledge, sanskara; so I
too am a Brahmin. I go on Bhakti pheris to spread the liberating message of Svadhyaya.
So I am a Bhangi-Brahmin."232 This reversal of identities is complemented by the
opposite of that statement. “Bole Pandit bhi khud ko mehtar hai,”233 which decidedly
turns the caste dynamic the other way. This was quoted from an article criticizing
Mayawati's decision to boycott the film in which a song lyric declared “What is all the
commotion in the neighborhood / there's a leatherworker claiming to be a goldsmith?'”
Dalit Brahmin is actually the term used by Dalits to denote a member of their
community who has assimilated into higher caste society. It is essentially synonymous to
“Uncle Tom” in the United States. Perhaps Uncle Ram would be an appropriate
equivalent appellation for someone who is mainstream, apolitical, and does not identify
with the Dalit movement. Is assimilation and integration into urban, middle-class Indian
society the goal, or is it traitorous? Integrationists often catch ire from fellow Dalits who

Ghurye, p. 2
De Reuck, p. 12
Castes of the mind by Jyoti Punwani, Times of India, December 12, 2007

see them as having turned their back on progress. “In India, there is no such thing as
being human, there is only caste,” said a Dalit professor of Sociology at the University of
Nagpur. “Are accomplished people recognized as being great Dalits or as great humans?”
he asked. Should successful assimilationist Scheduys234 be viewed as a credit to their
caste for their strides in the private sector workplace or in upper-crust socialite circles?
De-emphasis of caste and the emergence of a more caste-neutral attitude is
conducive to the minimization of communalism in India. Seeing Indians first as Indians
rather than as belonging to this or that caste is part of the nation-building exercise, for
India is just 61 years of age. Those trapped within the caste-box fall prey to the demons
of communal tension. As for the relevant aspects of Ambedkar's nation-building ideas,
the multiple strains of Ambedkarism demonstrate a highly ambivalent philosophical
system. The universalist strains are robust, but so are the facets that limited much of
Ambedkar's appeal to those persons born of his caste.235 The caste solidarity that seeks to
maintain a caste's economic resources was labeled “caste patriotism” by Ghurye. The
social barriers erected by the perpetuation of caste-based matrimonial practice reinforce
this caste patriotism. Perhaps participation as a true individual in many aspects of Indian
life is not possible, since membership in broader social groups is such a key feature of
how society is structured. Is transcendence of these communal barriers, caste-based and
other-wise, a mere temporary illusion in the metros? Is it only possible for the narrow
segment of Indian society that has the affluence not to depend upon a particular
Perhaps one example of the future of caste is 22 year-old aviation student named
Rahul. The product of an inter-caste marriage, Rahul's mother is a Punjabi Jat and his
father is a Mahar Buddhist from Nagpur. While his family appears to be typical of the
affluent Bandra West neighborhood around Carter Road where they reside, Rahul says
that not many people know about his father's caste background. Although his father is
active in promoting engineering skills among the Dalit community through his civic
organization, his mother prefers to downplay the fact that his father is from this
This is a derogatory term for lower-caste persons and derives from “Scheduled,” as in
Scheduled Caste.
Dirks compares Ambedkar's charisma to Nehru's, although he states that Ambedkar ultimately
restricted himself too much to his own community, likely a result of the sting of Untouchability
that stuck with him until his death.

community. Moreover, his father even prefers that people believe that his wife is some
sort of Maharashtrian. It seems that perhaps there are quite a few people from the Mahar
community who are like Rahul's father in that they feel the need to play down their caste
origins in Bombay bourgeois society.
Rahul himself does not identify with the Dalit community, although he does take
pride in his Buddhist religious heritage on his paternal side. While he is eligible for
Scheduled Caste reservation, he says his family does not believe in taking advantage of
this due to their privileged socioeconomic position. One might say that Rahul betrays no
indication that his family was once considered Untouchable in the Hindu village system.
This can very well be considered a relic in his family that, more often than not, his family
has chosen to de-emphasize. There is clearly some potential loss of social status
associated with revealing one's lower caste heritage in polite company. While his dad
continues to be a successful real estate developer, his brother in Brooklyn, New York,
plans to marry his Japanese girlfriend. “My dad's family's caste does not mean that much
in my life. It's not something we ever really talk about,” said Rahul.
Downplaying one's caste need not be seen as being ashamed. It many cases it is
better to be inconspicuous if unsure how the information would be received, in either
professional or social circumstances. As far as individuals who wear caste on their sleeve,
it need not even be a matter of pride but simply an acceptance of how caste is ascribed
and a frank attitude about its importance in society. There are ways that individuals have
of masking their identities and 'passing,' and there are other ways that people may avoid
discussion on the topic by saying “That's in the past,” “I never think about that,” or
simply “This is Mumbai, and we don't have anything like that here.” There is definitely a
strong dose of political correctness in the common reluctance to discuss caste issues. It is
also clear that wearing caste on one's sleeve can have a negative impact upon business if
done imprudently. Although if trying to capitalize on a particular market segment, caste
identification could also help one's business.
“Yet this was not always so. At the time of independence, many well-meaning
Indians looked forward to a future that would be different from the past. ...a new social
order that would free Indians from the shackles of caste,”236 argues Beteille, who adds, “If

The Paradox of Democracy by Andre Beteille in The Times of India June 27, 2008

this sounds like a paradox, let me say that it will be native to expect democracy in India
to be free from paradox.” Caste has surely strengthened in Indian politics, unlike in most
other sectors of Indian life.
As far as the Island City goes, clearly Mumbai is not much like most of the rest of
India - but rather a portent of India's future. With its consumerism and new means of
interaction, it is setting the stage for the new India. Open identification of one's caste in
Mumbai's public sphere is unnecessary. Is it a disservice to bring caste more into the
public sphere when it should be kept private? Or is caste not really such a dirty word?
When demonized, it can imply one's disgust for Brahminical oppression or one's
disapproval of lower caste political mobilization based on this factor. Thus, it can be very
ambiguous when people discuss their feelings on caste, and one must interpret comments
on this issue based on someone's place on the hierarchy. Thus, if a person denigrates
“caste,” it could suggest a negative disposition towards either Brahminical supremacy or
the lower caste supremacy movement.
Furthermore, people who seek to move away from expressions of caste power
could be hinting at their aversion to one or both of these phenomena. The decline of caste
is thus not expedited by an increase in the intensity of either Hindu fundamentalist forces
who strive to accentuate traditional caste distinctions or of Dalitocratic politicians who
capitalize on caste difference in attaining their political power. Nagpur is one city that has
seen a sharp increase in the intensity of both movements, as it is home to a strong RSS
chapter and an empowered Dalit community - but has surprisingly avoided communal
strife. Simultaneous, causative growth in oppositional social and ideological movements
is central to the antithetical components of a Hegelian dialectic.
Dalit greatness looms just over the horizon. Cultural, ethical, and economic
accomplishment can all occur as part of the legacy of India's most famous Dalit and
Constitutional author. While people still theorize about the true source of their
contamination capacity, it is more important to determine how the integration of the
former Untouchables can contribute to improved infrastructure, efficiency, standard of
living, and cutting edge services for all-India. Or, is this a mere hollow pipe dream? Is the
inclination to augment Dalit inclusion a function of egalitarian principles, theoretical
scales of justice, or a practical plan to for India's future?

It is also a central question whether religious and communal tensions are more
serious than caste divisions. Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray reminded his audience of
several hundred thousand, the city, and the nation in his annual Dussehra speech at
Shivaji Park on October 21, 2007, that Hindutva should be revived to the fullest extent.
April 9th, 2008, his nephew Raj Thackeray demanded that Ambani, Birla, and Tata
employ a minimum of 80% Maharashtrians in their production facilities. While not quite
akin to Texans demanding that 80% of jobs in particular factories are reserved for Texan-
born (since American states are not determined by ethno-linguistic divisions in the same
manner than Indian states are), a more apt parallel would be a far-right politician in
French such as Jean-Marie Le Pen demanding that 80% of jobs be reserved for French-
born rather than Polish, Serb, or Romanian guest workers.
Although this is not a caste issue, this example shows the convergence of ethno-
linguistic identity and labor politics. Carving out space in the political sphere is part and
parcel of the global discourse of caste. Gopal Guru poses a query about a fancy housing
development privately designated for one particular linguistic group, caste, or other sort
of market niche. Is this a pro-market niche, or is it anti-market? In viewing capital control
rather than the ritual purity paradigm, the unity of the body politic has shifted to a
common quest for capital rather than solidarity under a common priesthood. This was
formerly the unifying feature that bound together the multitudinous castes. Nowadays, is
the impurity of caste converted into impurity of capitalistic usefulness? The immaterial
worth of the Brahmin has been superseded by the tangible worth of capitalist and pursuit
of material goals governed by a profit-seeking tendency. With uneven access to resources,
perhaps this is a neo-liberal myth of the urban polity, as Gopal Guru cites how Dalit
doctors and advocates ending up less successful in private practice due to caste
Is there a universal target for emancipatory, ontological reality? What alternatives
to the limitations of finite local space are created by globalization? Guru's suggestion is
that reservation delays reaching this more advanced space, prolonging the wallowing in
subaltern status. The contrarianism of the resistance is accompanied by crass exploitation
or Machiavellian cooperation? The conscientization of power structure can assimilate the
pedagogy of the oppressed or of the oppressors, but still the politics of identity and

victimization reign supreme. A challenge to the dominant ideology is explained in how
Gramsci analyzes asymmetrical relationships that belie objectification.237
The symbolic concept of Dalitstan would imply a conceptual dissolution of India's
oneness and more than just a revolution of the mind and its syncretic systems of
thought.238 The revolutions that have taken place in India (religious, bourgeoisie, anti-
colonial, and most recently, of the lower castes) have sought fundamentally to change the
social order and working conditions. Vested caste interests are defined by the prospect of
direct material and/or ideological gain from change. Placement into the caste hierarchy
and power structure determines who votes in what vote-bank and how must this
corresponds to caste lines. Yet, caste cannot be reduced to a static phenomenon, as the
reality of the multi-dimensional dynamic, systemic, and layered approach is honed.
The continued use of ingrained notions about boundaries and caste placement
make these jati distinctions much more significant, since they are central in one's
relationship with the public sphere. Through an attachment to a broader social network or
group whose resources, prestige, and luck can rise and fall - just as individual's resources,
prestige, and luck can rise and fall within the set of relatively finite outcomes that exist.
These are a function of traditional caste affiliation when one is limited to conventional
means of earning a living in the village, but the city completely changes up the game.
No longer do caste-oriented shastras ensure prevention of inter-dining and inter-
marrying. While the ethnology of caste in the pages above explores the origins and
functions of caste, it is worth reiterating how the common caste culture superseded
various heterogeneous cultures. India maintains this strange paradox of solidly unified
culture and extremely fragmented groups. One may recall Risley's definition: “A caste
may be defined as a collection of families or groups of families bearing a common name
which usually denotes or is associated with a specific occupation, claiming common
descent from a mythical ancestor, human or divine, professing to follow the same
professional callings and are regarded by those who are competent to give an opinion as
forming a single homogenous community.”
The fixed, permanent, and definite units forbidden from fusing with each other
made Indian society different from Western society because it was not just an atomistic
Themes that emerged from a conversation with Gopal Guru on February 12, 2008.
From Sociologist T.K. Ooman's speech at the TISS 2007 Sameeksha.

collection of individuals. While Ambedkar thought that caste in India was inevitable,
class was a universal and natural sub-division. A flexible class system that might have
existed ad incipio but the “infection of imitation” followed certain higher castes' lead.
Outcasts as recalcitrant members who violated the ethical, religious, and social aspects of
the communal code is one of way of looking at the origins of Untouchability. Ambedkar
saw this as causing ill treatment that became a “matter of systemic principle.” For
Ambedkar, consciousness of Hinduism was better than mere caste consciousness, which
would motivate caste patriotism of the sort that Ambedkar demonized. “Virtue has
become caste-ridden, and morality has become caste-bound,”239 Ambedkar posited. His
distaste for varna-guna vyavastha (system of worth based on birth) was a function of his
urge to remove the hereditary aspects of social status. “Political constitutions have value
and permanence only when they accurately express those conditions of force, which exist
in practice within a society,” Ambedkar quotes Marx's friend Ferdinand Lassalle.240
Ambedkar saw Gandhi's activism as a vindication of caste and as worship of the
past. Ambedkar's criticism of Gandhi's idea of “ancestral calling” hinged upon his disgust
for Gandhi's alleged hypocrisy, since he was a Bania political leader doing a job that
theoretically was for a Kshatriya. However, Gandhi was certainly no caste
fundamentalist, even if he demonstrated needful respect for Hindu tradition. Ambedkar
also responded by claiming that “the number of Brahmins who sell shoes is far greater
than those who practice the priesthood.”241For Ambedkar, the Manuwadi tradition that
had been imposed upon his people was a disgrace, for he had his eyes set on the prize.
The prospects of long term socioeconomic mobility were very much on Ambedkar's
mind, and he refused to compromise on cultural points where he felt the traditional
assumptions needed to be wholly thrown out for fear of being intellectually polluted by
antiquated notions of purity and caste-based occupation. While sharply focused on
ideological goals, the end game for Ambedkar was in material success for his people.

Ambedkar, B.R., p. 56
Ambedkar, B.R., p. 42
Ambedkar, B.R., p. 95

Table 36: Category and Opportunity to Succeed Crosstabulation
Whether lower caste people have
the opportunity to succeed in
Mumbai? Total
Category Yes No 99
SC 148 91 4 243
60.9% 37.4% 1.6% 100.0%
ST 3 0 0 3
100.0% .0% .0% 100.0%
OBC 64 22 0 86
74.4% 25.6% .0% 100.0%
161 23 1 185
87.0% 12.4% .5% 100.0%
Total 376 136 5 517
72.7% 26.3% 1.0% 100.0%

This table suggests that forward caste people are a bit more optimistic about the
prospects of lower caste uplift than are the lower caste persons themselves. While just
12.4% of open-general category respondents thought lower caste people do not have the
opportunity to succeed in Mumbai, 37.4% of lower caste respondents thought this way.
This pessimism is indicative of a rather realistic attitude towards economic facts and the
actual likelihood of significant betterment of one's well-being in the medium-term.

“While castes might still exist, the caste system was dying. Caste groups were
moving away from their more traditional relationships of socioeconomic
interdependence, and toward more competitive models of social interaction,” argues C.J.
Fuller in Caste Today. Thus, the “vertically integrated hierarchy” has been dissolving into
a “horizontally disconnected ethnic array,” which makes it even more relevant to seek to
“demythologize the rigid and closed hypersymbolizations, typifications, and binary
oppositions of Louis Dumont.”242 What follows is a general summary of the points
outlined in this report.

Sharma, K. L. p. 10

10-Point Summary

1. Caste's metamorphosis into class: Within metropolitan Mumbai, caste as it was
known in the village has largely metamorphosed into class, such that the upper
socioeconomic classes are peopled nearly completely by forward caste persons
(persons of caste rank 4 and 5). Additionally, the vast majority of the urban poor
and slum-bound are of lower and middle castes (persons of caste rank 1, 2, and 3).
Lower caste people attribute various types of injustice that they experience to
caste, while forward caste people are less likely to attribute shortcomings in their
lives to their caste identity. In general, significant wealth allows one to escape the
confines of one's caste-universe and become a part of urban middle class samaj.
But, there are structural forces preventing lower caste people from joining this
segment of society. There is surely a very small but quickly growing number of
lower caste persons in the urban middle class. Conversely, there are also poor
forward caste persons, however rare in the big city. Yet, in the Island City, the
correlation is generally strong between caste rank and socioeconomic class. Thus,
the groups with the lowest caste rank in the village continue disproportionately to
experience poverty, malnutrition, disease, and mis-education in the city. Fact:
caste rank correlates very strongly with actual education levels and with self-
reported socioeconomic class status.

2. Matrimonial relevance: In Mumbai, caste remains highly important in the
domain of marriage, although its significance decreases dramatically with
education and affluence. While just 4.4% of married SC respondents were in an
inter-caste marriage, this was true for 25% of married forward caste respondents.
Young people often express their openness to inter-caste marriage, but the actual
decision is a function of parental willingness not to impose a relatively arranged
marriage upon their offspring. Thus, inter-caste marriage would always constitute
love marriage, since this sort of marriage is not pre-meditated by parents. Fact: of
the four areas in which respondents were asked to rank the relevance of their
caste, marriage was the highest, at 7.39 out of 10.

3. Occupational relevance: Certain groups in Mumbai are still largely engaged in
their traditional occupation: Dhobis (washer-men), Matangs (rag-pickers), and
Mahars (sanitation, morgue, and slaughterhouse workers) still commonly engage
in the urban equivalents of their traditional work. Some forward caste
communities also still engage in approximately what was expected of their varna.
Plentiful examples of this are Bania stockbrokers and Shetty shopkeepers, Rajput
military brass and Maratha police, Iyer professors and Radhi writers. There are
definite cultural tendencies that influence occupational selection and networks,
and these tendencies are a function of caste, religious, and ethno-linguistic
communities. Yet, many Brahmins are involved in financial services, and some
Vaishyas are intellectuals. However, it is clear is that there is very scarce
representation of the lower castes in the three key private sector work
environments that were explored. Even so, the extent to which caste actually
determines one's job in Mumbai is undoubtedly at a historical low in India.
Although there is definite correlation between caste rank and socioeconomic
class, which therefore determines one's job possibilities, it is not without
exception. Fact: of the four areas in which respondents were asked to rank the
relevance of their caste identity, work was the lowest, at 3.51 out of 10.

4. Residential relevance: In terms of housing, increasing ghettoization and
residential segregation are quite acute in certain slum areas of Mumbai. Also,
some caste-based communities (Jains and Tamil Brahmins) do self-segregate on
the basis of dietary and cultural needs. Yet, class, religion, and ethno-linguistic
differences seem more important in determining where one resides, as some
housing societies are exclusively Parsi, Gujarati, Christian, or Muslim. However,
the predominantly Dalit slums in Mumbai are undoubtedly some of the most
dreadful, overcrowded, and unsanitary shantytowns in the city. Generally, very
few forward caste persons reside therein. Yet, with housing, the most significant
division by far appears along the Hindu-Muslim divide. Fact: of the four areas in
which respondents were asked to rank the relevance of their caste, residential
arrangement was the in the middle, at 4.62 out of 10.

5. Caste atrocities: Abuse and violence based on caste are more severe in rural
India (where 79% of India's Scheduled Caste persons live) than in metropolitan
Mumbai. Caste-based violence has not often been a significant issue in Mumbai,
although there have been several notable incidents in recent years. Generally, in
the public sphere – at the cinema, on the bus/train, and at the beach, religion and
class are of more import than caste in determining differential association. In this
regard, while the religious and class divides were much more pronounced, caste is
relevant to the extent that it is usually a reliable indicator of socioeconomic class.
Fact: of the four areas in which respondents were asked to rank the relevance of
their caste, the public sphere was the in the middle, at 4.31 out of 10.

6. Caste-based politics: There are no surprises in this category. The highly
politicized issue of caste is characterized by endless cliches expressed in each and
every vote-bank, morcha, and bandh. The debate on relative levels of caste
backwardness and injustice is an unrelenting political game. Maneuvering within
the caste competition and jockeying for increased recognition (see below) plays
into a giant numbers battle over demographic strength. Therein, significant
discrepancies in demographic information and unintended bureaucratic loopholes
are often used for unfair advantage. At heart, caste can be viewed as a battle for
maximizing group resources, and political mobilization can be used effectively to
garner better socioeconomic position. Fact: political leaders are ever more
inclined to use caste loyalty to their advantage. Also, government agencies often
cannot find an effective and unbiased way out of the abyss of caste classification,
categorization, and verification.

7. Reservation: It is indeed plausible that the Indian economy is negatively
impacted by discrimination going in both directions. There are surely lower caste
people who are prevented from getting jobs, promotions, and other opportunities
due to both overt and subtle acts of casteism. Within Mumbai, there are a daily
instances that involve exclusion based on caste. However, there are also forward
caste persons who are passed over for jobs and university seats in the interest of

promoting compensatory policies (reverse casteism) on behalf of the lower castes.
This can involve propping up individuals who are not as skilled as the forward
caste alternatives. Thus, the inefficiencies go both ways, and true merit can be lost
at either extreme of discrimination. Reservation is a highly political matter that
polarizes public opinion based on which force is perceived as more causative of
gross injustice - that of the established economic interests keeping lower castes
out or that of the lower castes crowding out ostensibly more talented forward
caste individuals. Fact: it is abundantly clear that support for caste-based
reservations falls with every successive step up along the caste ladder.

8. Cultural sphere: While Mumbaikars often express incredible tolerance for the
city's mega-diversity and pluralism, there is stark cultural separation between the
different spheres and nodes of the city. Due to the politics of heritage and the role
of political correctness, there is not much genuine appreciation of caste diversity.
While caste categories will play their due role, more empathy is needed. Fact:
Mumbaikars often assume that they know everything there is to know about other
castes, but they could benefit from further education about caste diversity.

9. Moral judgment: The caste system and expressions of casteism are extremely
complex and multi-layered. Truths about caste are relative to one's experiences
and to one's position within the hierarchy. There is a lack of singular, objective
certainty in caste studies. Definitive truth about this phenomenon can be very
elusive, even though social science generally seeks to attain scientific certainty in
assessing cultural and social issues. Fact: it is ethically very sound to condemn the
legacy of severe caste-based injustice, but it especially tough in the context of a
society that is typically reluctant to impose certainties on issues that lack one clear
answer or absolute belief in the logical superiority of one truth over another.

10. Policy recommendation: Fact: while addressing key questions and ideas about
caste identity and social change, one goal of this research was to remain divorced
from activism or political participation of any sort.

Despite the rapidity of change taking place in urban India, there is an underbelly
of conservative sensibilities that continues to define the life-chances of most Indians:
If I had remained in India, I would probably have lived most of my life
within a five-mile radius of where I was born. I would undoubtedly have
married a woman of my identical religious, socioeconomic, and cultural
background. I would almost certainly have become a medical doctor, an
engineer, or a software programmer. I would have socialized within my
ethnic community and had cordial relations but few friends outside this
group. I would have had a whole set of opinions that could be predicted;
indeed, they would not have been very different from what my father
believed, or his father before him. In sum, my destiny would, to a large
degree, have been given to me.243
Does this view undermine the current climate of speedy economic and social
change, or does it simply state a conventional assumption about the stubbornness of
Indian ways, in spite of the onslaught of so-called Western modernity? Even from within
the cultural sphere of India and the Indian diaspora, it is quite dangerous simply to
reinforce and perpetuate existing stereotypes based on caste or community. However,
given the group-oriented structure of Indian society, it is also sociologically honest to
reveal statistical truths about particular group tendencies and patterns. Measuring caste
behavior across the cityscape is no exception to this.
In the current era, there is undoubtedly increased Dalit assertiveness being
expressed as claims to what is rightfully theirs. With limited economic growth from 1950
to 1991, the past 17 years are the litmus test for how much trickle down has occurred.
Private sector jobs are an increasing percentage of the dynamic part of India's economy
and thus real power and resources. While public sector jobs, university seats, and
legislative posts are just 3 pieces of the pie, they do not entitle lower castes to the real
treasure trove of latter-day India. Political power and government jobs keep the fat cats
happy but often do little good for the masses. Though 2% of India's labor force work in
the organized private sector, this rapidly growing 1 crore of jobs is where the future lies.

Quote from Dinesh D'Souza, an American citizen who emigrated from India. He is the Robert
and Karen Rishwain Scholar at the Hoover Institution and author of the New York Times best-
seller What’s So Great About America.

There are many angles to caste and a multiplicity of valid perspectives that
depend not only on caste names but also on socioeconomic needs, physical location, and
ideological bent. There is a sense that some neighborhoods and types of people just do
not wish to talk about caste and bring it into the open. In some social and professional
situations, caste does not need to be brought into question, just as one might not want to
bring up other potentially sensitive issues that call attention to explosive or controversial
debates that lie at the heart of Indian society. Perhaps there is also not much room for
subaltern or significantly alternative views on caste in the mainstream due to the potential
for violence and other social disruptions. But, when would radical means become
necessary to shed light on crucial problems?
Generally, the geographic component of caste cannot be emphasized enough.
Caste identity is very much a function of the cultural geography that defines the role of
space in social milieu, the allocation of economic resources, and the ideological forces
that govern the types of activity that transpire therein. Cities have indubitably given much
hope to poor folks from all over India and from all rungs on the caste ladder. Mumbai
does so by providing an avenue for earning a living, even if is necessary to tolerate
wretched conditions of sanitation, overcrowding, and depravity. The space of Mumbai's
urban core is conducive to the transformation of caste into a form that is not always
discernible. Yet, certain fundamentals may never change, even in the maya nagari.
Despite the human impulse to engage the subject, it is of course true that many
people simply do not want to talk about caste in polite company – just as they might be
disinclined to discuss touchy aspects of politics, sex, or religion. Motivated not by a
sense of caste shame but by a politically correct urge not to offend certain taboos, kick a
sleeping dog, or offend the dinner guests. There is something crude and uninviting about
the issue that makes it unworthy of discussion in certain circles.
But, is it not possible to be proud of one's caste without being chauvinistic,
supremacist, or belligerent? It should be palpable to have a healthy dose of pride –
regardless of one's caste. There should be a way to embrace the historical truth about
caste without being stigmatized, ridiculed, or pigeonholed. “India has always existed for
humanity and not for herself, and it is for humanity...that she must be great.”244

Quotation attributed to Sri Aurobindo.

Image 27: Looking westward towards the Arabian Sea from Mumbai's Dadar sea-face at


Table 37: Fieldwork Locales, mean education, and caste rank:
Locale Locale Education Mean Caste
Number Respondents Level Rank
Ambedkar Nagar, Chembur 1.00 15 1.80 1.2667
Mogarapada, Andheri East 2.00 20 2.60 1.2000
Annabhau Sathe Nagar, Mankhurd 3.00 20 1.30 1.0000
BDD Chawl, Worli 4.00 15 2.53 1.0000
Bharat Nagar, Bandra East 5.00 22 2.41 1.3636
Bombay Stock Exchange, Fort 6.00 40 4.03 3.8250
Buddha Colony, Kurla 7.00 20 2.15 1.0000
Dharavi 8.00 58 2.05 1.9138
Film City, Goregaon East 9.00 20 3.15 3.7000
Godrej-Boyce Complex, Vikhroli East 10.00 20 4.10 3.9000
Kamal Amrohi Studios, Jogeshwari East 11.00 11 2.64 4.0909
Labour Camp, Matunga 12.00 23 2.30 1.1739
Logitech Park, Andheri East 13.00 20 4.10 3.9000
Mahalaxmi Railway Station, Mahalaxmi 14.00 20 1.45 2.2000
Mahindra Towers, Worli 15.00 20 4.55 4.3000
Malwani Camp, Malad West 16.00 21 1.95 2.0476
Matang Rishi Nagar, Mankhurd 17.00 19 1.11 1.0526
Mehboob Studios, Bandra West 18.00 20 2.30 3.6000
Mindspace, Malad West 19.00 20 4.25 3.9500
Ramabai Colony, Ghatkopar 20.00 15 1.87 1.0000
Santosh Nagar, Santra Cruz East 21.00 20 1.65 1.0000
Shivaji Nagar, Govandi 22.00 18 1.61 1.0000
Wadala Police Station, Wadala East 23.00 19 3.16 1.1053
Zee TV, Worli 24.00 21 4.29 4.1905
Total 517 2.67 2.3211

Table 38: Area Type and Means Crosstabulation
Mean Mean
Education Caste
Area Type N Level Rank
325 2.01 1.38
Private Sector Workplace 192 3.80 3.92
Total 517 2.67 2.32

Table 39: Castes, Quantity, and Caste Rank

Caste Quantity Percent Rank
No Caste 40 7.7 N/A
Adi Dravida 1 .2 1
Agri 2 .4 3
Ansari 5 1.0 2
Bairagi 2 .4 2
Bania 1 .2 4
Banjara 3 .6 2
Bhandari 1 .2 4
Bharati 1 .4 1
Bhatia 1 .2 4
Bhilla 1 .2 1
Bohra 1 .2 4
Brahmin 41 7.9 5
Bunt 3 .6 4
Chamar 12 2.3 1
CKP 3 .6 4
CSI 1 .2 4
Dantani 2 .4 3
Dhangar 2 .4 3
Dhawan 1 .2 4
Dhobi 3 .6 1
Dhori 1 .2 2
Dhuriya 1 .2 1
Ezhava 2 .4 3
Gabit 2 .4 3
Garhwali 1 .2 4
Gopal 1 .2 2
Jaiswar 3 .6 1
Jat 3 .6 4
Kaikadi 1 .2 1
Kapu 2 .4 3
Kayastha 4 .8 4
Khan 4 .8 4
Khatri 2 .4 4
Koli 4 .8 3
Kori 2 .4 1
Kshatriya 1 .2 4
Kumbhar 1 .2 2
Kunbi 5 1.0 3
Kutchi 1 .2 4
Leva 1 .2 4
Lingayat 1 .2 3
Lohana 1 .2 4
Madessiya 1 .2 3

Mahar 167 32.3 1
Mali 2 .4 3
Mar Thoma 1 .2 4
Maratha 24 4.6 3-4
Matang 31 6.0 1
Meghwal 1 .2 1
Mittal 1 .2 4
Moghaveera 1 .2 4
Naidu 1 .2 4
Naik 1 .2 4
Nair 2 .4 4
Namashudra 1 .2 1
Nhavi 2 .4 3
Nishad 1 .2 2
Padsali 1 .2 2
Pal 1 .2 3
Panchal 1 .2 3
Patel 2 .4 4
Pathan 4 .8 4
Pariah 2 .4 1
Pillai 1 .2 1
Pillewal 1 .2 2
Pujari 1 .2 3
Rajput 8 1.5 4
Roman Catholic 4 .8 2-4
Sahookar 1 .2 4
Saini 1 .2 4
Shaikh 36 7.0 2-4
Shwetambaram 2 .4 4
Siddiqi 1 .2 4
Soni 3 .6 4
Sonpak 4 .8 1
Subba 1 .2 1
Sunni 9 1.7 2-4
Suryavanshi 1 .2 4
Sutar 3 .6 2
Syed 3 .6 4
Teli 1 .2 3
Thakur 1 .2 4
Thevar 1 .2 3
Vaishnav 3 .6 4
Vaishya 2 .4 4
Valmiki 1 .2 1
Wadiyar 1 .2 1
Waghari 2 .4 2
Yadav 1 .2 3
Total 517 100.0 2.32

Images 28-29

Interview Form: Dynamics of Class/Caste Mobility in Mumbai #______Date:___/___ Ini:_____

Part A: Personal Locale: __________________
1. Name: ________________________________________________________________
2. Age: _________________________________________________________________
3. Gender: _______________________________________________________________
4. Language(s): __________________________________________________________
5. Religion: ______________________________________________________________
6. Caste: ________________________________________________________________
7. Sub-caste + gotra: ______________________________________________________
8. Socio-economic class: Upper / Upper-Middle / Middle / Lower-Middle / Lower
9. Eligibility for reservation in Maharashtra: SC / ST / OBC / Other / Open-General
10. Most favored political party: _____________________________________________

Part B: Residential
1. Current place/neighborhood of residence: ____________________________________
2. Type of residence: Bungalow / Apartment / Chawl / Zopadpatti / Pukka / Homeless
3. Most numerous castes/communities in vicinity of residence: _____________________
4. Comments on housing conditions, transport access, and proximity: ________________
5. From 1 (least relevant) to 10 (most relevant), how important is your caste identity in
your residential arrangement:________________________________________________

Part C: Employment
1. Profession/Job Title: ____________________________________________________
2. Company/Employer: ____________________________________________________
3. Sector: Finance / Entertainment / BPO / Other: _________________________
4. Most numerous castes/communities at workplace: _____________________________
5. From 1 (least relevant) to 10 (most relevant), how important is your caste identity at
your work: ______________________________________________________________

Part D: Marriage
1. Status: Married / Single / Divorced / Widowed / Other
2. Is your partner’s caste/community the same as yours? Yes / No
If not, what is his/her caste/community: ____________________________________
3. Do you prefer that your children marry within your caste/community? Yes / No
4. In general, do you approve of inter-caste marriage? Yes / No
5. From 1 (least relevant) to 10 (most relevant), how important is your caste identity to
your marriage: ___________________________________________________________

Part E: Mumbai
1. From 1 (least relevant) to 10 (most relevant), how important is your caste identity in
Mumbai generally: ________________________________________________________
2. How do you feel about your caste status when in Mumbai: ______________________
3. Is socio-economic class more relevant than caste in Mumbai? Yes / No
4. Do lower caste people have the opportunity to succeed in Mumbai? Yes / No
5. Generally, do you support caste-based reservation policies? Yes / No
6. Are you economically better off than previous generations? Yes / No
7. Mobility: a) Parents’ occupations: _________________________________________
b) Your monthly income: ______________ c) Education level: _____________________
8. Do you believe that the caste system should be preserved? Yes / No
9. In 100 years, will caste still exist in Mumbai? Yes / No
10. What is the future of the caste system? _____________________________________
Benjamin K. Piven’s Fulbright research is conducted in affiliation with the Tata Institute of Social
Sciences, and all of the responses to this survey questionnaire are for academic purposes only.


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Institute, 1982).

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(New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2007)

Davis, Mike, Planet of Slums (New York: Verso, 2006)

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Comparative Approaches. (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1967)

Dias, Patrick (ed.), Multiple Languages, Literacies, and Technologies: Mapping out
Concepts, Analysing Practices and Defining Positions (New Delhi: Books for
Change, 2004)

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(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).

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University of Chicago Press, 1981)

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Delhi: Oxford, 1992).

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Hermeneutics of Caste (New York: Routledge, 2005).

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Ghurye, G.S., Caste and Race in India (Mumbai: Popular Prakashan, 1969)

Gupta, Dipankar, Interrogating Caste (New Delhi: Penguin, 2001).

Harris-White, Barbara, India Working (New York: Foundation Book, 2005)

Jaffrelot, Christophe, ed., Hindu Nationalism: A Reader (Princeton, Princeton University
Press, 2007)

Jaffrelot, Christophe, Dr. Ambedkar and Untouchability: Analysing and Fighting Caste
(New York: Columbia University Press, 2005).

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Manohar Publishers, 1980).

Kumar, Ashok, Dalitisation of Dalits (New Delhi: Adyayan Publishers, 2004).

Kumar, Sangeet, Changing Role of the Caste System: A Critique (New Delhi: Rawat,

Lonely Planet, India (Oakland: Lonely Planet Publications, 2007).

Luce, Edward, In Spite of the Gods: the Strange Rise of Modern India (London:
Doubleday, 2007)

Majumdar, D.N., Races and Cultures of India (Bombay, Asia Publishing House, 1958).

Mehta, Suketu, Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found (New Delhi: Penguin, 2004).

Mendelsohn, Oliver and Vicziany, Marika, The Untouchables: Subordination, Poverty
and the State in Modern India (New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

Malle, Louis, Phantom India (L'Inde Fantôme) 1969 documentary film.

Michael, S.M., ed., Dalits in Modern India (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2007).

Neuwirth, Robert, Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World (New York,
Routledge, 2006).

Omvedt, Gail, Buddhism in India: Challenging Brahminism (New Delhi: Sage, 2004).

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Press, 2008)

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Identity (London: Penguin Books, 2005).

Sharma, K.L., Reconceptualising Caste, Class, and Tribe (New Delhi: Rawat, 2001).

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Penguin, 2001)

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Development of the Matang Samaj in Maharashtra (Mumbai: Tata Institute of
Social Sciences, 2008)

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Nadu (Jaipur: Rawat Publications, 2007).

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Delhi: Manohar Publishers, 1996).


I would like to thank all the dear citizens of Mera Bharat Mahan, residents of
Mumbai, and the inhabitants of our splendid village of Bandra for their tolerance,
kindness, and hospitality during the course of my research project.
The students, faculty, and staff of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences have been
exceptionally helpful to me during my nine-month stay in Mumbai. Their generosity in
sharing knowledge and perspective is greatly appreciated, as I am extremely grateful for
all of the guidance that I have received from TISS people. Thanks to the staff of the
Center for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy for being both affable and
thought-provoking: A. Ramaiah (chairperson and my advisor), Bharat Thombre, Shailesh
Darokar, Madhushree Shekhar, A. Rambabu, Sai Thakur. Many thanks to my Hindi
teacher Bharathi Wankhede and her most kind family. Without her tuitions, my Hindi
would not have progressed much. Other TISS people to whom I owe a tremendous
amount of thanks include Manoj Wahane, Neela Dabir, Atman, Manohar, and Daniel.
Those who helped in my research include my fieldwork assistants and translators:
Valchand Aher, Arti Ware, Valmik Gaikwad, Suhit Kelkar, and Rahul Bhandare. Prakash
Gaikwad was most supremely helpful with his statistical expertise in the data entry
process. In addition, the subjects of the research – respondents, informants, or otherwise
– have been more cooperative than was expected. Ultimately, this research has been
about understanding people, and I'm grateful that I've had this opportunity to connect
with such a staggering number of colorful and curious human beings.
The Geography Department of the University of Mumbai has been most helpful in
assisting me on the cartographic aspects of my research. I thank Dr. Ambadas Jadhav for
having aided me since the early stages of the Fulbright application process. Dr. Dipti
Mukherji has been gracious in generating some maps and visual guides for the project.
The intellectual wallahs whom I must thank for their inspiration include but are
not limited to: Gopal Guru, Gail Omvedt, Oliver Mendelsohn, Suketu Mehta, Gregory
David Roberts, David Harvey, and Eleanor Zelliot. Since this is the most spiritual land in
the world, I am also inclined to thank the spiritual wallahs for their inspiration.

Thanks to my family for being supportive of my Indian adventure, as well as my
intellectual pursuits. Thanks also to my friends in both hemispheres, especially those who
visited me from the Western Hemisphere.
The United States Educational Foundation in India (USEFI) staff have been most
helpful to me during my time in Mumbai. In the Mumbai office, I owe special thanks to
K. Shankar, Shanta, Sucharita Narayanan, and Rekha Kalle. At the USEFI headquarters
in Delhi, I thank Varrtika Mudaliar, S.K. Bharathi, and Girish Kaul. Additionally, I would
like to thank former USEFI Executive Director Jane Schukoske and current Executive
Director Adam Grotsky. Mumbai Fulbrighters who have been exceptionally friendly
include Adam Klein, Karin Ann Schierhold, and Taiyaba Husain.
I thank the International Institute of Education (IIE) and the public diplomacy
section of the U.S. State Department for funding my project via the Fulbright
Commission. I am honored to have had the opportunity to participate in this cross-
cultural research and educational exchange. I thank Cheryl Shipman at the University of
Pennsylvania Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, for her help in the
initial application process.
In sum, this research was the primary product of a nine month Fulbright grant in
India, which was spent mostly in Mumbai gathering information and sorting through fact,
fiction, and everything in between. I must be clear about the ultimate role of the Fulbright
research in promoting common cultural understanding between the United States and
India. The goal of the Fulbright program is to provide avenues for cross-cultural research
and educational exchange, and I have earnestly sought to fulfill this task. At the same
time, academic rigor has been necessary to evaluate the topics at hand with all due
consideration and candor.
Generally, public opinion in both the United States and India is currently
favorable towards the other country. According to a Gallup poll from 2007, Americans
ranked India as being the 6th most well-liked (70% favorability rating) of 22 selected
nations. Moreover, Indians ranked the U.S. well ahead of 6 other nations. Even if the U.S.
was viewed by Indians as being aggressive and uncooperative in international affairs,
there was reported to be widespread warmth towards the U.S. Thus, the context of this
research is a period of unprecedented rapport between the two nation-states. During the

final drafting of this report, the N-Deal is on the table, and its outcome is entirely
unpredictable yet pivotal in the relationship between the world's lone superpower and the
rising South Asian juggernaut.
During the course of this research, it was discovered that India is not quite as
global as the United States in several respects. While India is comprised of an
amalgamation of multitudinous ethno-linguistic units, the U.S. is a veritable poly-ethnic
state. As with Americanness, there are iterations upon iterations on what it means to be
Indian. I arrived in India rather ignorant of the range of sects, ethnicities, and geographic
loyalties. I had very limited knowledge of the more peripheral aspects of Indian identity,
which would be considered rather far off from the “typical Indian” even in a relatively
educated American's imagination. The extent of difference between Naga chieftains,
Kashmiri pandits, Tamilian peasants, and Bihari Muslims is staggering. Perhaps
Americans and Indians both have much to learn about the range of backgrounds that exist
in both societies. Specifically, this report probes caste enigmas that are quite foreign to
virgin intellects that have not been priorly exposed to these sorts of extensive
classification schemes.
Regardless, this research was conducted with the goal of building awareness of
Indian cultural issues and adding to the dialogue regarding South Asian affairs.
Americans are incredibly lucky to have access to virtually all walks of Indian social and
political life via the conduit of English within the multilingual Indian society. While
many initial aspects of this report were conducted in Hindi and Marathi, the final product
is almost completely in English. India's linguistic diversity is ashcharyajanak245 and
sometimes renders Americans spoiled for being endowed with natural English skills.
This research involved tremendous conceptual leaps that were necessary in doing
research on some groups that had just 0.08% computer ownership. The cultural challenge
of comprehending the extent of human difference that exists in the world is awesome, and
the differential experiences that come with this disparity are unthinkable. This type of
awareness is but one prerequisite in grasping the intricacies of the multitudes in India.
Ultimately, the Fulbright program has inspired the construction of a cross-cultural conduit
within which this research is just one nugget among many.

“Astounding,” “amazing,” or “surprising.”

List of Tables, Figures, Images, and Maps
Tables: Page #
Table 1: Fieldwork Sites 25
Table 2: Employment Sector 27
Table 3: Age 29
Table 4: Sex Ratio 29
Table 5: Religious Composition 30
Table 6: Area Type and Caste Rank Crosstabulation 30
Table 7: Socioeconomic Class 32
Table 8: Political Preference 32
Table 9: State-wise Classification of four Tribal Groups 55
Table 10: A Young Mumbaikar's Lineage 85
Table 11: Greater Mumbai Ward-wise Population, Area, Density, Literacy 100
Table 12: Category and Socioeconomic Class Crosstabulation 102
Table 13: Caste Rank and Socioeconomic Class Crosstabulation 102
Table 14: Category and Education Level Crosstabulation 103
Table 15: Caste Rank and Education Level Crosstabulation 103
Table 16: Residence Type and Caste Relevance Crosstabulation 104
Table 17: Marital Status and Partner's Caste/Community Crosstabulation 120
Table 18: Caste Rank and Partner's Caste/Community Crosstabulation 120
Table 19: Education Level and Partner's Caste/Community Crosstabulation 121
Table 20: Marital Status and Caste Relevance Crosstabulation 122
Table 21: Area Type and Education Level Crosstabulation 123
Table 22: Area Type and Category Crosstabulation 124
Table 23: Sector and Caste Relevance Crosstabulation 124
Table 24: Education Level and Caste Relevance Crosstabulation 125
Table 25: Socioeconomic Class and Caste Relevance Crosstabulation 143
Table 26: Category and Caste Relevance Crosstabulation 144
Table 27: Caste Rank and Caste Relevance Crosstabulation 145
Table 28: Census SC Undercount Statistics 162
Table 29: Mean Education Level and Socioeconomic Class Crosstabulation 180
Table 30: Literacy of the General Population, SCs, Mahars, and Matangs 181
Table 31: Category and Economically Better Off Crosstabulation 209
Table 32: Caste-Based Reservations and Economic Mobility Crosstabulation 212
Table 33: Caste Rank and Reservation Support 213
Table 34: Support for Reservation and Caste Relevance Crosstabulation 214
Table 35: Maharashtra Reservation Composition 216
Table 36: Category and Opportunity to Succeed Crosstabulation 231
Table 37: Fieldwork Locales, Mean Education and Caste Rank 239
Table 38: Area Type Education Level & Caste Rank Means Crosstabulation 239
Table 38: Castes, Quantity, and Caste Rank 240

Figure 1: Category Composition of Sample 28
Figure 2: Varna Axis 46
Figure 3: Varna Axis: Typical Maharashtrian village 47

Image 1: Indian Buddhist icons: Ashoka emblem, chakras, flags, etc 1
Image 2: Dr. B.R. Ambedkar as a young man 1
Image 3: Keralan social reformer Narayana Guru and famed Kerala backwaters 1
Image 4: A potter of the Kumbhar caste in Dharavi's Kumbharwada 2
Image 5: Rag-pickers search through waste in Dharavi 2
Image 6: A woman of the Kunchi-Karve community making brooms in Dharavi 2
Image 7: Dhobi at the Dhobi ghat next to Mahalaxmi Railway Station in Mumbai 18
Image 8: A man of the Nhavi caste cuts another man's hair next at Mahalaxmi 58
Image 9: A Dalit in Varanasi at chai stand after the chaiwallah did not touch him 60
Image 10: Maharashtrian Buddhist family on December 6, 2007, Chaitya Bhoomi 72
Image 11: The BSP's flag hoisted during the November 25, 2007 mega rally 75
Image 12: A bust of Ambedkar with garlands in Shivaji Park, Mumbai 77
Image 13: The caste certificate of Priyanka Wankhede 86
Image 14: Ambedkar (bowler) and Gandhi (batsman) on the cricket pitch 115
Image 15: The view of Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) Hutatma Chowk 128
Image 16: Entrance to Godrej-Boyce Complex 135
Image 17: Bollywood rapper Ishq on the set of his video for Aye Hip Hopper 137
Image 18: Chamar leatherworkers waiting for business in Churchgate Station 148
Image 19: Dalits at Shivaji Park for BSP Rally 150
Image 20: Chaitya Bhoomi 154
Image 21: Mahar sweeper in Mumbai 157
Image 22: Prakash Gaikwad's caste certificate 159
Image 23: Emblem of India 185
Image 24: Ashoka Chakra 185
Image 25: Deekshabhoomi 190
Image 26: A Street Vendor in Cochin's Jew Town 195
Image 27: Dadar Seaface 238
Image 28: List of Scheduled Castes in Maharashtra 242-3

Map 1: Fieldwork Sites 26
Map 2: India's States and Union Territories 39
Map 3: Maharashtra 81
Map 4: Traditional Caste Geography of a Prototypical Village in Maharashtra 83
Map 5: Mumbai and Its Highlights 87
Map 6: Ethno-Religious Concentrations 89
Map 7: Mumbai Suburban Rail Network 93
Map 8: Greater Mumbai's Slum Population 94
Map 9: Railway Lines Overlaid on Slum Population 95
Map 10: Greater Mumbai's Population Density 98
Map 11: Greater Mumbai's Literacy Rate 99
Map 12: Fieldwork Sites and Education Level/Caste Rank 101