20 June 2018

“Who Is a Hindu, Who Is a Meghwal?”

        "The Hindu Law defines a ‘Hindu’ as a person who is not a Muslim or a Parsi or a Christian or a Jew (Mulla1966,616). As per state classification, the Meghwals are registered as belonging to the Scheduled Castes and are therefore governed by Hindu personal law in the state courts. The data shows that ‘enumerated’ Scheduled Castes such as Meghwals adapt and resist state classificatory schemes and deploy their multiple identities strategically and selectively. Historically, there has never been an internal agreement among the Meghwals about their membership in a religious community. The religious affiliations of caste members are a matter of ongoing debate, dissent, and controversy within the caste collective. Over the course of twentieth century, the caste collective has had members who have individually practiced Islam, Christianity, or Buddhism and have remained Meghwals. The caste collective adopted Ramdeo Pir as their chief deity, and caste members have worshipped the pir while adhering to varied sects, religion, and gods and goddesses. Religious beliefs are not seen as permanent but as temporary, and can be assembled and dismantled.   The push to classify themselves as Hindu was strident during the 1910 and 1920, as well as during the 1990s. And while there has been the ‘Hinduization’ of the caste to a large extent, voices of dissent remain active.
        Viswanathan has outlined how the colonial state divided the material domain from the spiritual one by accepting the converts in the adopted religion but allowing them to be governed by their old religious personal laws (Viswanathan 1998). The Meghwals caste members have adopted and refashioned this by trifurcating the domains they inhabits: the material domain, consisting of economic activity where they defile themselves as Hindus to fit into the classificatory schemes of the state to access the benefits of affirmative action programs; the spiritual domain, where they practice religious rites and rituals of the adopted religion; and the cultural-legal domain, wherein they follow caste customs, practices, festivals, and rituals (some of these may also be Hindu festivals and rites). For instance, at present, many families among Meghwals practice Islam or Christianity in their daily life, and do not see contradiction in approaching Meghwal caste panchayats when it comes to matters concerning marriage or divorce. So, being a Meghwal is not equivalent to being a Hindu. For Meghwals, the category ‘Hindu’ is not an ascriptive category: it is a category that is displayed when needed, and is often rejected or rendered meaningless in practice. The caste panchayats opens up the divide between religious laws and cultural norms, and it views culture as a distinct from religion.”

(Reference: Adjudication in Religious Family Laws: Cultural Accommodation, Legal Pluralism, and Gender Equality in India,  by Gopika Solanki, Cambridge University Press, New York, page; 203-205) साभार.