INDIA-BRITISH-RAJ-L ArchivesArchiver > INDIA-BRITISH-RAJ > 2008-11 > 1226621601
From: "Arvind Kolhatkar" <>
Subject: Re: [INDIA-BRITISH-RAJ] Loss of Caste
Date: Thu, 13 Nov 2008 19:13:21 -0500
Bebee Janett was, almost certainly, the Indian 'wife' Thomas Thorpe had
while in India and he left her behind when he set out to return to England.
That is why he left her income for her lifetime and household furniture etc.
She thus did not lose caste by crossing the seas. She lost her caste by
cohabiting with a person outside her caste and religion.
There were no formal laws backing the caste system. This complex evolved
over centuries by societal consensus and acquiescence and was fortified from
time to time through writings of Brahmin pundits acknowledged by society for
their learning in what was knows as 'Dharma Shastra' or 'Body of Knowledge
Governing the Conduct of the Society'. The caste system was thus rigid in
some respects but quite relaxed in some others.
Disputes regarding caste were usually settled, depending upon the
seriousness of the issue and the stature and status of the personalities
involved, by the Panchayat (Council) of Elders, or by rulings obtained from
learned Brahmins residing nearby or in holy places known for being centers
of Brahminical learning. Very occasionally, such disputes could also be
taken up before the Shankaracharyas or other respected persons.
Most 'offences' under Dharma Shastra had some remedy, called Prayashchitta,
prescribed in some text or the other. The remedy usually consisted of
making gifts to Brahmins or feeding a certain number of Brahmins,
undertaking prescribed Poojas (rites) etc., most of which resulted in the
Brahmin community getting rewarded. (Somewhat like the Pope issuing
'indulgences' in medieval Europe.) Losing caste too could be remedied if one
could access an authority who could lay down a suitable Prayashchitta.
Money certainly would make this task easy and hence the provision 'for the
purpose of restoring to her her cast(e)'.
Two examples to illustrate this. Shivaji's son-in-law, Bajaba Nimbalkar,
had converted to Islam, obviously for some material reward. Shivaji had him
converted back into the Hindu fold through a purification rite. In more
recent times, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and a few other notables like Justice
Ranade attended a meeting with the missionaries of the Panch Houd Mission
that still exists in Poona. Apparently, tea was offered to them. Some of
them drank it and some others did not. Gopalrao Joshi, the maverick and
mischievous husband of Dr Anandibai (the first Indian Lady Doctor to train
in the United States) made this affair public. Poona in those days - late
19th century - was a very orthodox place and the bastion of Brahminism. All
offenders were ordered to undergo Prayashchitta for their offence of
drinking tea of Christian missionaries. Some obeyed and some others did
not. This event is still remembered in the social history of Maharashtra.
Arvind Kolhatkar, Toronto, November 13, 2008.
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