Social Scientist. v 25, no. 294-295 (Nov-Dec 1997) p. 20.


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Caste, Untouchability and Social Justice 21

anyasya preshya (a servant or messenger of others), kamotthapya (one who can be made to work at any time of the day or night) and yathakamavadhya (one who can be beaten at will),* is indeed revealing.

Towards the end of the later Vedic period the varnas tended to become hereditary, endogamous and birth-based, leading to the formation ofjatis. The term jati is derived from the Sanskrit root jan, meaning to be born, and is first applied by pre-Paninian Yaska in his Nirukta to a woman of the black or shudra caste (krishnajatiya); it is maintained that though sexually enjoyable, she should not be approached after the fire altar has been laid as this is not conductive to religious merit.7 Panini shows acquaintance with jati in the sense of caste in his sutra,jatyantachchabandhuni.B That birth was slowly becoming an important factor of social ranking and the theory of karma (deed) and punarjanma (rebirth), which proved such an effective ideology in the inter-nalization of the inequitous caste system by the oppressed and the exploited and was ardently championed by Buddhism and Jainism as well, was taking shape during this period is borne out by the Chhandogya Upanishad assignment of pure birth (ramaniya yoni) to the brahmana, the kshatriya and the vaishya and impure birth (kapuyayoni) to the Chandala, the dog and the boar, and attribution of birth in the former category to good deeds and in the latter category to evil deeds.9

The period saw the beginning o.f the process of assimilation, acculturation and integration^ of the aboriginal tribes into, the expanding Aryan network at various levels. Thus the Aitareya Brahmana describes the Andhras, Pundras, Shabaras, Pulindas and Mutibas as antas (border people) and the progeny of the defiant accursed sons of sage Vishvamitra,10 and refers to the forest tribes and hunters as apachyas and nichyas with their own chiefs;11 there are copious references to the proximity of and interaction with the larger and better organized Nishadas;12 the dedication of the Paulkasa to bibhatsa (loathsomeness as a deity) in the symbolic human sacrifice (purushamedha) in the Vajasaneyi Samhita13 and the Taittriya Brahmana14 shows that the Paulkasas were an object of spite and revulsion; and the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad statement that all distinctions vanish in the spiritual realm where even the Chandalas and the Paulkasas lose their separate identities15 indicates that disparities were growing in the material world and these two groupi stood at the lowest level of the existing social hierarchy. Caste was evidently in its formative stage during the later Vedic period and jati was im feibing many of the traits of varna. Till the end of the later Vedic period, however, interdining among the four varnas was not prohibited, inter-varna marriages did take place, and there was no untouchability.

The post-Vedic period (600 BC-200 BC) is marked by the extensive use of iron for production, enormous expansion of the economy, substantial rise in the available surplus and accentuated economic inequality in the full-fledged class society of the middle Ganga basin and further east. This provided an ideal locale for the emergence of a more stratified society and consolidation of the varna-jati structure. The Dharmasutras of Apastamba, Baudhayana, Gautama and Vasishtha (600 BC-300 BC) reflect this clearly in the relatively more frequent use of jati in the sense of caste. The term occurs eight times in the



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