Sundeep Bhutoria

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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Divided in birth and in death

Last week I was in Churu, Rajasthan, the village where I was born. The reason for my sudden visit was due to a funeral that I attended at the local burning ghat or crematorium where two things really caught my attention.
I noticed that there were some very beautiful old structures which are called chatris in local language. Inside these structures, there were stone plates fixed on the walls on which the price of gold, silver and food grains etc., were engraved as per the prevailing rates of the time when they were built and the day the stone plaques were fixed.
Most of these stone plates were built by Muslim workers or artisans which was evident from their names, written under those plates with Ganesha name on top.
It was a pleasant thing to know about the strong communal harmony between Hindus and Muslims that prevailed.
After chatting up with few people I was in for a surprise yet again when I came to know that in the same area there were about six to seven different exclusive caste-specific burning ghats meant for the different Hindu castes, including one for the lower castes. In fact, in all, there were more than fifteen in town.
The so called lower castes have their separate burning ghats for darji, taknail, meghwals and gurjar community. There is one burning ghat common for malli, khatti and kumhar caste. There is a separate one for the oswal community and also a separate burning ghat for the Jain monks. In fact, few of the families like Khemka, Bagla and Mantri had their personal burning ghats which is for their family members only.
My surprise gave way to realization that even today in our country the caste system still divides the people even after death. On returning to Jaipur when I asked someone, to my utter surprise, I was informed that in a city like Jaipur also there are few burning ghats on the basis of castes. For example the Pink City's Chandpole cremation ground, the oldest and the biggest, has separate assigned areas for different castes.
So there is no point blaming small town mindset when the situation in the capital city of one of India's largest states is no different.
Rajasthanis form ethno-linguistic group that is distinct in its language, history, cultural and religious practices, social structure, literature, and art. However, there are many different castes and communities, with diversified traditions of their own. Major sub ethnic groups are ahirs, jats, gurjars, rajputs, mali, meenas, bhils, kalvi, garasia, kanjar and so on.
I can understand that different rituals and the last rites of Hindus, Muslims and Christians, but such segregation on caste basis within Hinduism for obsequies seemed quite disquieting. It is something like we stand divided in birth as well as in death.
Recently, I read a media report that said The Urban Improvement Trust (UIT) of Jaisalmer, in a meeting recently, decided to please the various communities - from smaller ones like darzi and kumhar to brahmin sub-groups, by resolving to construct separate cremation grounds for 47 caste and communities. Accordingly, the UIT issued tender notices in local newspapers for the project that is estimated to cost Rs 5 crores.
I wonder are we really progressing on clinging on to an old and divisive tradition that is creating an apartheid of the dead. It is something we should have done away with a long time back.
ess bee

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