27 July, 2021

Mandal In The Jungle

Is the UP state ­government’s ­decision to classify OBCs in three subcategories based on relative backwardness, for the purposes of reservation, long-overdue ­justice for ­overlooked groups? Or is it an unnuanced move that will only ignite social division?

Mandal In The Jungle

In a bygone era, members of the Kahar social group were ordained to carry their supposed betters around in palanquins—a vocation prescribed and sanctified by the caste system. The Kahars of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and elsewhere, for generations bore the burden of bridal parties and hearses alike. They also fetched water for wedding feasts and heaved onto their shoulders supplies that oiled the wheels of trade.

Their caste-based occupation, relegated to the sidelines by modern transportation, consigned Kahars to the margins of society. Today, their traditional calling, romantically depicted in film, music and literature, is an outmoded quirk. For, Kahars have cast off their ritualistic burdens and taken to agriculture, labour and modest service or commercial work. They now seek an economic and political salience that a numerica­lly small, disadvantaged caste (around three per cent in UP) finds hard to come by.

Hence, in recent years, Kahars have tried to forge strategic affiliations based on social or occupational links with dozens of other...

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