Rediscovering India by Dharampal

Census 1881          

Friends this chapter gives the Index of Caste prepared by the British in 1831, sub divisions of 15-selected Punjab caste, effect of Conversions & Islamic conquest on caste and excerpts from the Punjab Census.

Census India 1831 – 1931 - Though each census begins with a description of land area and topography of province and region to which it pertains, and in the later decades, especially in 1921 and 1931 to the decay of indigenous Indian industries, etc., or to the extent of the spread of the modern power driven industry, or even census of cattle, the main concern of each census was to gather information on the number of people inhabiting India and the racial, cultural and social characteristics of the people of India, as well as their economic divisions and activities. Till about 1911 there was major speculation and exploration about Indian religion and religious sects, and even more so about Indian social divisions described, listed, enumerated, and variously tabulated under the term “caste”.

The interest in caste seems to be highest around 1891 when the census, especially for Punjab, NWP and Oudh (the present Uttar Pradesh), the Madras Presidency and the state of Hyderabad came out with what were termed as Index of Castes. The Index for Punjab listed over one lakh names of what was termed as sub-castes, that of Uttar Pradesh 54,000, for Madras Presidency around 30,000 and for Hyderabad around 5,000. The number of sub-division amongst the over 40 lakh Muslims, Hindus and Sikh Jats of Punjab in 1891 were listed as above 11,000. For numerous other groups such-divisions ranged from 1,000 to around 5,000. In the Madras Presidency the paraiyars had around 350 sub-divisions and the palli had around 365 sub-divisions. Some modification of the Punjab list was made in the census of 1911. but even this modification would have left Punjab with over 50,000 names of “castes”. The Punjab Jats for instance, still retained 4,473 sub-divisions in the modified list of 1911.

The following table gives the number of sub-divisions of the 15 selected Punjab castes as given in 1911 Punjab census. Sub-divisions of 15 selected castes in the Punjab

    1891 1911 (Revised)
1 Agarwal 703 286
2 Ahir 587 420
3 Awan 2,249 1,013
4 Biloc Biloch 1,551 1,060
5 Brahman 2,173 1,484
6 Chuhra 3,916 2,305
7 Fakir 1,022 927
8 Jat 11,161 4,473
9 Khatri 3,086 1,559
10 Lohar 3,057 1,868
11 Macchi 1,047 784
12 Musalli (with Chuhra above) 581
13 Rajput 5,723 3,586
14 Sheikh 1,627 1,068
15 Sonar 1,576 1,494

It is probable that if all the provinces and presidencies and princely states had printed such indexes, the total number of such names may have ranged around 3 to 5 lakhs.

Concept of Surname - Though there possibly were major errors in these indexes and listings, it seems that each household at the time of enumeration was defining itself by indicating lineage and the name which it gave as that of the kula, of which the household was a part, and not the name of its gotra, or sub-caste or caste, as seemingly assumed by these indexes.

According to these reports the number of the major castes in any province, presidency, etc., was in the range of 30-50 and these accounted for around 75 per cent of the population of the province; or in provinces like Bengal where the overwhelming majority of the Mussalmans, by stages began to be clubbed together as “Sheikh”, they by themselves formed around 75 per cent of the Mussalman population. Besides these major or numerous castes, there were around 100 to 300 smaller groupings perhaps totaling around 25 per cent of the population, which quite possibly included amongst them large number of groups engaged in special crafts and professions. Additionally most provinces had 100-300 other minor groupings, each numbering less than a few thousand and many only in hundreds.

From one decade to another, the census came out with further elaboration of the older data as well as information on hitherto unrecorded aspects of Indian life. Much of such information perhaps was largely exotic in its nature as the details of the 18 and 9 phanas into which most of the communities in the Mysore state were said to group themselves, or the detailed rituals of a large number of Brahmin communities, or for that matter of the Jats and other communities of Northern India, or that out of the total of 19,630 listed villages in Mysore 7,935 of which had the ending “Hall”, 1,289 had the ending “Uru” and 1,770 ended with “Pura”.

The early census especially have much discussion and comment on Indian religious, religious sects, castes, etc. A few comments from the Punjab census of 1881 may be reproduced here.

1. The effect of Hinduism upon the character of the followers:

“(Hinduism) can hardly be said to have an effect upon the character of its followers, for it is itself the outcome and expression of that character…. In fact the effect of Hinduism upon the character of its followers is perhaps best described as being wholly negative. It trouble their souls with no problems of conduct or belief, it stirs them to no enthusiasm either political or religious, it seeks no proselytes, it preaches no persecution, it is content to live and let live. The characteristic of the Hindu is quiet, contented thrift. He tills his lands, he feeds his Brahman, he lets his womenfolk worship their gods, and accompanies them to they yearly festival at the local shrines, and his chief ambition, is to build a brick house, and to waste more money than his neighbor at his daughter’s wedding.”

2. On Mussalmans (of Eastern Punjab)

“In the eastern portion of the Punjab the faith of Islam, in anything like its original purity, was till quite lately to be found only among the Saiyads, Pathans, Arabs and other Mussalmans of foreign origin, who are for the most part settled in towns. The so-called Mussalmans of the villages were Mussalmans in little but name. They practiced circumcision, repeated the Kalimah, or mahomadan profession of faith, and worshipped the village deities. But after the Mutiny a great revival took place. Mahomadan priests traveled far and wide through the country preaching the true faith, and calling upon believers to abandon their idolatrous practices… But the villager of the East is still a very bad Mussalman… As Mr. Channing puts it, the Mussalman of the villages ‘observes the feasts of both religions and the fasts of neither.”

3. The impure and outcaste tribes

"I have said in the beginning of this chapter that the impure and outcaste races are not generally recognized by the higher castes as belonging to their religion, even though they may profess its tenets and observe its injunctions. These people include some 2,012,000 Hindus, 1,73,000 Sikhs, 492,000 Mussalmans and some hundreds of Buddhists… I am sorry to say that we are singularly ignorant of the practices and beliefs of these outcaste classes. Generally it may be said that such of them as have not become Mussalmans, usually burn their dead and marry by phera, while most of them have Brahmants to attend them in their ceremonies, though these Brahmans have become impure by association with their unclean clients, and have been excluded from communion by their unpolluted brethren.”

4. Effect of conversion upon caste.

"In Mussalman, Rajput, Gujar, or Jat is for all social, tribal, political and administrative purpose exactly as much a Rajput, Gujar, or Jat as his Hindu brother. His social customs are unaltered, his tribal restrictions are unrelaxed, his rules of marriage and inheritance unchanged; and almost the only difference is that he shaves his scalplock, and the upper edge of his moustache, repeats the Mahomedan creed in a mosque and adds the Mussalman to the Hindu wedding ceremony.

As I have already shown in the chapter on religion, he even worship the same idols as before, or has only lately ceased to do so. (This is much less true of the middle classes of towns and cities. They have no reason to be particularly proud of their caste; while the superior education and move varied constitution of the urban population weakens the power of the tribal custom. In such cases the convert not infrequently takes the title of Sheikh though even here a change of caste name or conversion is probably the exception.)”

5. Impact of Islamic Conquest on Caste

“Indeed it seems to me exceedingly probable that where the Mussalman invasion has not, as in the Western Punjab, been so wholesale or the country of the invaders so near as to change bodily by force of example the whole tribal custom of the inhabitants, the Mahomedan conquest of northern India has tightened and strengthened rather than relaxed the bonds of caste; and it has done this by depriving the Hindu population of their natural leaders the Rajputs, and throwing them wholly into the hands of the Brahmans.

The full discussion of this question would require a far wider knowledge of Indian comparative sociology than I possess. But I will briefly indicate some considerations which appear to me to point to the probable truth of my suggestion… We know that, at least, in the earlier and middle stages of Hinduism, the contest between the Brahman and the Rajput for social leadership, of the people was prolonged and… (see Muir’s Sanskrit Texts, Vol.I ). The Mahomedan invaders found in the Rajput princes political enemies whom it was their business to subdue and to divest of authority; but the power of the Brahmins threatened no danger to their rule, and that they left unimpaired.”

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