In document The ghotul in muria society (Page 114-153)



Village Studies

There has for some time been a controversy surrounding the status of the ’village’ as the point of departure for studies of social organization in India. The ’village study' has empirically been the commonest framework for ethnographic studies (Srinivas I960); at the same time it has been frequently recognised that an Indian village is not in any sense an analogous sociological isolate to the Pacific island (Tikopia, Trobriands, etc.) or the African tribe, self-consciously unified, culturally and politically, and demarcated from its neighbours by unambiguous social and geographical boundaries. Before commencing the detailed description of Manjapur village, which is required in order to position the Ghotul within it as the Ghotul is above all a village institution, it is necessary to briefly refer to this controversy, in order to explain, why, among the

Muria if not elsewhere in India, the ’village’ is quite appropriately

considered a fundamental unit for analysis. Among the Muria, a man or woman is, above all, identified with the territorial unit nar within whose boundaries he or she resides. This identification of course, is not with

the ’village’ as a mere collection of houses, but with the land (bhum), with

the political authority of the village (the bhumkal or village council of elders), and with the village as a ritual community, with its own gods and priestly specialists.

The economic, political and ritual autonomy of the nar as a unit is central in Muria life. But more sinister motives have been suggested by Dumont and Pocock in a famous critique for the centrality of the ’village'

in Indian studies. They suggest that it is the fact that any

anthropologist’s study being restricted to a single ’home base’ fieldwork village (as a matter of practical necessity) tends to be reflected in subsequent ethnographic reporting in ways which can lead to sociological distortion. Arbitrary considerations of convenience, the by-product of fieldwork traditions, result in the 'reification' of the village as a unit

of analysis "conferring on it a sociological reality which it does not, in fact, possess." (Dumont & Pocock 1957). They emphatically state that "India, sociologically speaking, is not made up of villages" (1957:25) and warn that a village study which is not situated within the comprehensive all-encompassing framework of the classical values and conceptions of Indian civilization is reactionary and bound to mislead. They make the following bold assumption:

"A temporary conclusion which comes up forcibly in the present state of our knowledge is that the territorial factor, the relation to the soil is not, in India as a whole, one of the

primary factors in social organisation. It is a secondary factor

in relation to the two fundamental factors of kinship and caste". (1957:18)

There can be little disputing the positive effects of Dumont and Pocock’s strictures within Indian sociology generally, but they are not to be interpreted too categorically. Indeed, it is quite paradoxical, that the one kind of ethnography which, at the time that Dumont and Pocock were writing the passages quoted above, might reasonably have claimed to be exempt from their strictures against 'reifying the village', was the old style 'tribal' ethnography exemplified by Elwin particularly. Here - in such ethnographies as "The Muria and their Ghotul" (1947), "The Agraria" (1942) and "Bondo Highlanders" (1950) by Verrier Elwin; "The Birhors" by S.C. Roy (1925), "Kol tribe of Central India" by W.C. Griffiths (1946) and more recently, "The Gond and Bhumia of Eastern Mandla" by S. Fuchs (1960) - is the kind of 'global' perspective espoused by Dumont and Pocock if not, perhaps, the sensitivity to questions of pan-Indian values. In these traditional tribal ethnographies the emphasis is heavily on descent groups and kinship where social organization is concerned, and the village figures as no more than the background against which these 'territorial' kinship arrangements are outlined. Once again, one perceives the influence of fieldwork methods, since Grigson and Elwin gathered their information while 'touring' whole districts, and neither adopted the Malinowskian information-collecting methods of the later village studies of individual multi-caste villages, which constituted the polemical target of Dumont and Pocock. The practice among the tribal ethnographers was to spend a few

nights camping in successive villages, interviewing informants in isolation from much in the way of detailed context, on any topic which seemed hopeful at the time. The resulting ethnographies are catalogues of exotic customs fitted into the broad framework of ’tribal’ institutions without any anchoring in village based social organization. One can easily understand the way in which an excessively mobile fieldwork technique, such as this, would throw the weight of the analysis heavily on those features of tribal social organization which appeared to be continuous

over the whole ’tribal’ territory: that is, ’clans', ’phratries’ etc. while

tending to obscure the sociologically constraining framework of village loyalties and identifications, that are sociologically more salient to the village-bound informant than to the ethnographer for whom any particular village was no more than a way-station, and whose purview was the ’tribe’ as a whole.

One must therefore agree with Dumont and Pocock in their methodological critique of the dangers of allowing fieldwork methods to unduly influence a sociological approach; but the problem with a society such as the Muria is really the opposite of the problem they identified with the classic 'village studies' of multicaste villages in Hindu India, in areas closer to the centres of 'high' civilization on the subcontinent. There, to be sure, the 'village' has less meaning as a discrete sociological entity than the 'village study' perspective might lead one to suppose, but in low-density, predominantly single-caste communities such as the Muria village, the village has more significance than the traditional 'tribal' perspective allows. Indeed here one can make an observation concerning the whole problem of the relation of 'tribal' India to 'caste' India. It is now recognised that the 'tribe' in India corresponds to no structurally definable collectivity: it is a cultural categorization and one which is moreover imposed by outsiders and is not self-consciously recognised by the groups to which it is applied. At the same time, efforts have been made, by writers such as Bailey (I960) to give structural meaning to the tribe/caste distinction by aligning it to the classic Durkenheimian opposition between organic and mechanical solidarity: 'tribal' society is segmentary ('mechanical solidarity') as opposed to caste society which is 'organic'. However, Bailey's approach is misleading in attempting to equate Indian 'tribes' as far as possible with their classic African counterparts;

here one does not find an arrangement of nested, genealogically- articulated descent groups as was argued in the previous chapter. Tribal society is more properly understood as ordinary Hindu society, existing under certain special conditions but not essentially different: ’tribal’ areas are areas in which a single caste - the ’tribe’, proliferates through a territory at low density, with little competition from other castes, no

development of landlordism, commercial specialization etc. so that

vertical segmentary territorial relations provide the basic

organizational lines of cleavage, as opposed to ’horizontal’ articulation

by caste ranking. Both horizontal (caste) and vertical (territorial) social discriminations are drawn throughout the range of Indian village

society; the difference between ’caste’ villages and ’tribal’ villages is

one of emphasis rather than kind, as is perfectly brought out in Sinha’s discussion of the development of ’caste' distinctions among the ’tribal' Bhumij (Sinha, S. 1962). In dealing with tribal societies particular

attention, therefore, has to be paid to territorial segmentary

organization - the Muria nar - because it is the sociological relevance of this particular level of social organization that is distinctive of ’tribal’ societies in India as a class. All the differences in cultural values, attributes etc. are sustained, and are socially significant, only because they are related to the organization of social relations founded on territoriality rather than hierarchy.

The approach to an understanding of Muria social structure which places emphasis on the village is defensible on these grounds: the village is the unit of structure which shows the highest.elaboration of social rules governing membership, the rights and duties incumbent on village members, and it is only in the light of the village framework that kinship and clanship assume their determining influence on social relations, never independently. The village is the corporate political group, conscious of its prerogatives where the whole village territory is concerned, and the village is administered by its council (bhumkal) whose decisions are binding on all. Every village is also a religious congregation with its own specific responsibilities in the cult of the gods, including the so

called ’clan’ gods who are never worshipped by congregations exclusively

drawn from one particular clan. The relationship of people to the soil, a factor dismissed as secondary by Dumont and Pocock, is heavily emphasized

in the religious system of the Muria and indeed is the basis of the moral bond between people and divinities: it is because the village congregation

share ’substance’ in that they all draw sustenance from the village earth

(nel) that they are obliged to contribute to the ritual tributes paid to the gods by the village collectively. The village in practice is not a simple whole, and the unity of the village is often obscured by the

competition and rivalry between families within it. But even the

divisiveness of the village in practical situations, speaks for the unity of the village in Muria thinking, in that the lines of division within the village are said to be caused by the divergent histories of prior village membership of various component families (or gohor) present in the village.

The caste composition of Manjapur

Manjapur, like most nar in the vicinity is not exclusively Muria, indeed its population is divided almost half and half between tribals and non tribals who have colonised the land adjoining the river for more than four

generations. However the presence of these 'outsiders’ does not affect the

generalisation made above concerning the absence of a caste hierarchy as a basic organizing principle in the ’tribal’ village. Before looking at the Muria side of the village in detail it is necessary to say something about the Hindu presence in Manjapur in order to bring out the specific character of tribal-Hindu relations in this part of Bastar and forestall certain possible misunderstandings. The population of Manjapur is divided by caste as follows:

no. percent

Muria 224

Koitor ’Babalor’ Muria 7 47.65

Maria (Vadey) 4

Hindu Maraar (market gardeners) 223 47.44


castes Rawit (herdsmen) 11 2.4

Harijan Ganda 5 1.06

Total no. 470

iPe M

This degree of heterogeneity in Manjapur's population is nothing unusual. Even among the Maria, much further from the Hindu-settled areas along the main lines of communication, according to Jay (1968:42) "one third of Marias live in villages where at least one other caste is present". Manjapur lies directly on the main route from Narayanpur to Chhota Dongar and my experience of driving through Muria territory revealed very clearly the fact that the degree of mixed-caste occupancy of Muria villages is a function of their distance from the lines of communication, the villages, like Manjapur, bordering main roads being more prone to contain a larger number of different groups than villages situated at some distance from the road (Aggarwal gives details of this distribution of population).

But this heterogeneity in Manjapur's population is not visible on the ground in that the Maraar settlement is spatially completely segregated from the Muria zone, and is to all intents and purposes a separate village. This is the invariable pattern, so that one does not find tribals and Hindus living in close proximity in their every day activities. The only exceptions, so far as Manjapur is concerned are the Rawits, one family of which live as clients of wealthy Muria families and pursue their

traditional occupation of looking after their patrons’ livestock, milking

cows and selling milk to Hindus (the Murias dislike milk as a food and give it occasionally as a medicine to sick children). The Rawits have been a service caste to the Muria since traditional times and though ’purer' in the recognised scheme of Hindu values, present no threat to Muria supremacy within their own village. The other non-Muria in the Murias half of the village are the Maria Smith of one family who pursue their

specialised occupation, smelting iron from local ores and making

ploughshares, axes, and metal implements of all kinds. The Smith is paid in kind by the village (on a jajamani-like arrangement) as well as receiving payment for additional work. The Smith ranks lower than the Muria of Manjapur and belongs to an endogamous service caste of Maria Smiths

The Babalor Muria (two families) are Muria who accept the teachings of Baba Bihari Dass, a Hindu reformer, and who, in accordance with his message refrain from the consumption of beef and alcohol. This cuts them off from participation in village ritual and they have become an endogamous, or nearly endogamous sect. They refuse to send their daughters to the Ghotul, so no village participation in their marriages is forthcoming. For most purposes they can be considered as normal Muria, but they are a small, rather despised, and consequently resentful minority, with no political weight in the village and no prestige.

The significant group of Hindus inside Manjapur’s administrative boundaries are the Maraars, and they must be treated in more detail as I shall argue later that the peculiar, mixed-sex form of the Muria Ghotul in contradistinction to the Maria Ghotul owes much to their proximate presence. As the map of the village shows, the Maraar quarter is concentrated along the river banks while the Muria hamlets are dispersed and relatively un-influenced by the position of the river. This is due to the Maraar dependence upon river water (held in the sandy bed of the river during the dry months) and for irrigating the intensively worked vegetable plots from which the Maraars derive the cash crops on which they depend. The Muria do not use this agricultural technique, and hence the two groups are not in competition for the same kind of land. The Maraars have some ordinary paddy land, and cultivate more on sharecropping arrangements with Muria landlords but economic competition between the two groups is not an issue in the villagers’ own estimations.

The Maraar quarter is very different in its settlement pattern with compact streets, and indeed in its general ambience, from the sparsely occupied Muria zone. The track into Manjapur leaves the Narayanpur-Chhota Dongar main road at Dhorai and leads to the river and the Maraar settlement. Here the visitor, (after making a somewhat nerve-racking journey over the river-bed) is confronted with a compact village centre, surrounding the school and water-pump, from which radiate streets in a star pattern, lined with solid, comfortable looking mud houses with verandas at the front and cow sheds surrounding a courtyard at the back.

The impression gained is of an attempt to maximise sociability,

highlighting the close-knit community bonds of the Manjapur Maraars (most

of the household heads belong to a single, very large, lineage with a strong sense of agnatic solidarity and community of interest). During the day, most work takes place along the belt of atar - irrigated garden plot - land beside the river-bed. This strip is distributed among all Maraar households so as to ensure that each has access to a plot to carry out the gardening on which their livelihood is based. The atar is a most remarkable sight, particularly by contrast with the higgeldy-piggeldy patchwork of paddy fields elsewhere in the village, consisting of a

spectacularly neat array of rectangular plots, laid out with

mathematically neat rows of vegetables and tiny canals fed by wells. Each family builds a little atar shed to cook, eat and rest in during the day, and mount guard against marauding animals at night. Maraars also cultivate paddy but this, for them, is a secondary domain, and they lavish year long attention on their atar gardens while paddy growing only takes up about five months of the year.

The Murias and the Maraars

The Manjapur Maraars are residents in the same administrative unit as the Manjapur Murias, but they recognise that it is the Murias, and not they, who truly belong to Manjapur. Their primary loyalties are to their caste-community (aukat) which is dispersed over a large region stretching from the Chhatisgarh plains through Kanker to the north, to Chhota Dongar and Orcha in the south. The Manjapur Murias have real roots in the place, while the Maraars see themselves as immigrants whose ties are with the old Maraar settlements at Chhota Dongar, from whence the Manjapur Maraars came, four generations ago following a dispute within their lineage.

The Maraars of Manjapur form an enclave where they preserve intact their Maraar culture and where signs of a Muria influence or presence are hard to find. Both groups come within the orbit of a regional-wide caste system which governs their relations within the village. The Maraars are of undeniably higher caste status than the Murias. It is prohibited for a Maraar man to marry a Muria woman, while the hypergamous rule intervenes to prevent a Muria man being outcasted in the case of such a match of which, however, I have no examples. The other chief restriction is that of commensality: no Maraar would accept cooked food from a Muria while no

Muria would shun Maraar food, despite its being considered inferior in taste, for the same reason. The Maraars maintain their image of cultural superiority in respect of the Murias by professing to abstain from alcoholic drink, and by an abhorrence of the practice of beef-eating with both of which the Muria are strongly identified. The Murias are invited to take the carcass of a dead cow or buffalo away to consume. No Maraars in the village have gone so far as to become total vegetarians, and they relish eating goat and chicken; but their diet is much poorer in meat than

the Murias’ for the reason that they are not hunters and therefore cannot

use meat of rabbits, birds, fox and deer to supplement their daily intake of vegetables. The Murias are aware of the revulsion that their practice

In document The ghotul in muria society (Page 114-153)