Social Scientist. v 10, no. 115 (Dec 1982) p. 70.


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BOOK REVIEW

STEPHEN FUCHS, AT THE BOTTOM OF INDIAN SOCIETY,

Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, New Delhi, pp 311.

IN DEALING with the question of the pariah castes, the Harijans of India, there is frequently an attempt to project them as a homogeneous group, and eiTorts at political mobilisation on the basis of this understanding of the Harijans against the caste Hindus, or of the (ribals against the non-tribals, are a common feature. Fuchs, in his book, in dealing exclusively with the pariahs, has been successful in falsifying this myth. However, the criterion he uses for showing differences among the pariahs and between them and the caste Hindus relates exclusively to the question of 'avoidance' and 'non-avoidance'. The first major theme of the study is to bring to the notice of the reader the existence of innumerable endogamous occupational groups/ jatis among the pariahs themselves, and to trace their regional roots, their differring status across regions as well as their specific characteristics. All these jatis have been classified by Fuchs under the broader headings of 'Tribals', 'Criminal Castes', 'Artists and Magicians', 'Low Castes and Untouchables in Village Services', 'Field Labourers' and 'Castes only Regionally regarded as Polluting'.

The second major theme that the author develops from the study is that the institution of untouchability can be done away with only by the efforts of those who have created it and practised it, and not by those against whom it is practised. The implication is that untouchability exists merely because the Brahmins and other castes of the varna-fold decide to practise it. This approach is similar to the one which Marx criticises as follows:

If now in considering the course of history we detach the ideas of ruling class from the ruling class itself and attribute to them an independent existence, if we confine ourselves to saying that these or those ideas were dominant, without bothering ourselves about the conditions of production and the producers of these ideas, if we then ignore the individuals and world conditions which are the source of the ideas, we can say, for instance, that during the time that the aristocracy was dominant, the concepts of honour, loyalty etc , were dominant, during the dominance of the bourgeoisie the concepts freedom, equality etc. The ruling class itself on the whole imagines this to be so.1

In his introduction, Fuchs talks of similar pariah groups in



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