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Up from the Depths

Malavika Karlekar

By Sachchidananda
Thomson Press, 1977, 29.00

VOLUME II NUMBER 5 September-October 1977

The author’s aim is laudable: a study of the elite among the former untouch­ables or Harijans of Bihar. But who are the elite? To Sachchidananda they are represented in a sample of 200 graduates in urban areas and matriculates from villages. Further. the elite are drawn from ‘public services and political and social workers.’ The politicians are legislators, but we are not given any details on the nature of public service. Thus, the elite would include equally the first generation literate school teacher in a remote village as well as the season­ed legislator who has been wielding power for several years. The flaws in Sachchidananda's defini­tion of the elite is apparent: admittedly they are men and women who have escaped from the shackles of their caste background. ‘In India’, he says,  ‘... the most clear reflection of status incongru­ence is the disassociation between caste status of the Harijan elites and their class status’ (italics mine). But do those interviewed form a uniform class—­or for that matter, a single status group? Can a single lowest common denominator, that is education, be enough to bring together individuals in a variety of occupations and roles to form an elite? There has been enough non-academic bandying around of terms like class, status and elites; the aim of the sociologist should surely be to clarify and not add to the confusion. The present study is mainly a survey of values and attitudes of those in the age range from below twenty years to above sixty. Given that it is only with Independence thirty years ago that untouchability was outlawed and consti­tutional safeguards provided for the Scheduled Castes, the views of the post-1947 youth are likely to be substan­tially different from those of the pre­-Independence era. Rather than allow for and analyse these generational variations, all responses are treated alike. Nor are we given any sex break-up of the sample. The findings are prefaced by dull notes on the Chamar, Dusadh, Musahar, Pasi and Dhobi, the castes covered in the study. Not only are some of the comments banal, ‘the houses of the Dusadh are built with mud and thatched with straw. Some Dusadhs have made improvements ... and put tiles on the roof’, but also comical: a pregnant Dhobi woman is ‘prohibited from drinking water standing.’ These taboos no doubt have ritual and social significance, but out of context ...

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