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Caste System  in Kerala and its Impact on Political Parties

 


Caste which was a social phenomenon once linked to the occupation of people has now become a household matter for the Kerala Society almost in its century. Today its prominence, undeniably, ranges from a child's school admission to his/her nuptial priorities. In this paper, I attempt to trace the major changes in the caste system in Kerala, from nearly the 6th century to the twenty-first century and the emergence of caste as a significant variable in contemporary Kerala through an exploration of the break down of traditional society . The formation of the caste system in Kerala, akin to other states in India, had its origin in the Brahmanical hegemony that divided the people of Kerala (as we call it today), into Brahmin followers and none followers. The “ upper caste “ title was adorned by the Brahmin followers, leaving the rest as “ lower caste “ or “Untouchables”. Till the twentieth century, in touch ability, social marginalization and ostracizing, predominantly on the ground of caste were practised in Kerala. But when time steps into the twenty-first century, the conception of caste itself takes a much more terrific turn, metamorphosing itself from a much violent form to a more dangerous “ silent” form.


The caste system finds no mention in the sangam works which were written during or prior to 2 A.D. The merging of Aryan Brahmanism with the existing Gothras in Cheranadu led to the origin of caste system in Kerala. Theocractic feudalism which prevailed, paved way for the casteism in Kerala. At it’s inception caste was purely on occupational basis and not on birth. Untouchability and Unapproachability we’re not practiced and even in the King's court, a lower caste and a brahmin had equal status, had they proven their scholarship. Each of these caste in the ritual, hierarchy is in turn subdivided into a smaller number of endogamous sub-castes and since the merchants in Kerala were Arabs, Jews and Christians.


This is why Swami Vivekananda called Kerala a “ madhouse” of Communalism. Of Kerala Population 19 per cent is Muslim, 2325Per cent Christian and and the rest Hindu population. The Muslim community called Mappillas, dates from the ninth century in Kerala. They are primarily concentrated geographically in the area of southern Malabar mainly in Malappuram district and corresponding to the former Zamorin Kingdom of Calicut.


The Christian community is divided among the Syrian Christians, Orthodox, Marthoma and the Roman Catholics, The Syrian Christians have been an important community in Travancore since the 6th century. The Roman Catholics converted mainly from low caste communities. The Christians, as a whole, are concentrated in Travancore – Cochin and are dominant in the Kottayam district.


Among the Hindus, there are approximately 390 castes in Kerala and the average village contains 15-20 caste groups. Despite the dispersed spatial pattern of settlement, there is a definite social nucleus and the castes are elaborated as ritual hierarchy.


Caste ranking in Kerala


Caste ranking places the Nambudiri at the peak of the ritual hierarchy. The Nambudiri Brahmins, numbering 10 per cent of the Hindu population, command ritual status. The most important caste ranking below the Nambudiri is the Nayar, the traditional warrior. Below the Nair is ranked the traditional service caste, such as the barber and the washerman, which are numerically insignificant. The highest of the polluting castes is the traditional toddy–tapper, the Ezhava or Thiyar as he is called in Malabar. Below the Ezhavas, are the scheduled castes, 25 per cent of the Hindu population. The most important caste in this group is the Pulaya. Each of these caste in the ritual, hierarchy is in turn subdivided into a smaller number of endogamous sub-castes and since the merchants in Kerala were Arabs, Jews and Christians.


Religious Communities and their Impact on Political Parties


Education and an accompanying high degree of Political literacy, together with increasingly bad economic conditions, a restless youth fight in ambitions and the growing ranks of the unemployed, have generated an explosive political atmosphere in Kerala, in which each community seemingly tries to better itself at the expense of the other. But, the coalitions and oppositions of the communities in Kerala in the years since independence reflect not so much the politics of caste as the politics of caste in the guise of caste.


In Kerala, the elaboration of caste ranking and the general common economic position shared by members of a caste, together with the high correlation ion with the caste rank and economic position, have arisen to a political situation in which the most significant actors are the Caste and Communities. While these communities are by no means wholly united, there is, nevertheless, a tendency toward an alignment of major communities with different parties. This socio-political constellation, reflects a superimposition of ritual rank, social status and economic position. Although in Kerala, as in the west, various cross-pressures cut across caste–class lines, the high correlation between ritual rank and economic position has given caste solidarity and significance in its political role which is unparalleled in the rest of India.


Conclusion


Nowadays the caste system is not so rigid as it was practised till Indian Independence. Attempts of social reformers and legislative initiatives have weakened the practice of our caste system in the state of Kerala. However, like most parts of the country, it is evident that caste organizations are still active in various fields such as Politics, education etc. IUML (Indian Union Muslim league) political party is an example to understand how much these caste organizations are active Politics.


Sources: 


Primary sources from Sulthana salim , a Phd research student in Deprivation among Kerala caste from Kerala University and the secondary sources from various journals relating to caste issues.


 


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