“In the discourse of anthropology, hierarchy is what is most true of India and it is truer of India than of any other place.” – Arjun Appadurai
I came across this quote before departing for Gujarat and I found myself reflecting on it often both during and after the trip. The language that we heard (and used) certainly gives strength to Appadurai’s assertion. “High” and “low” castes, “lowest of the low” when referring to a specific group belonging to the untouchable groups, “upwardly” mobile versus “downward”, and “backwards” were common words that we encountered in descriptions of various groups of people within the Gujarat society and culture.
One of my classmates used the word “divisions within divisions” when speaking about the stratification of the social order that we witnessed and researched with regards to Gujarat. It is common to witness certain individuals and groups being marginalized within a community that is perceived as marginalized by a wider population within society. Often it appears that the divisions within divisions at the lower caste levels has more to do with a socio-economic class position than a particular caste order, but this is admittedly an observation made from a very limited perspective with regards to both time and geographical area.
Everyone in Gujarat seems to be aiming for an upwardly mobile movement along the socio-economic class scale. I wonder if it is easier for some to move up the class ladder rather than escape a specific caste, but often the lines between caste and class are blurred. It is interesting to note that a large number of people that referred to their tribal or caste identity were doing so within the context of a discussion about their rights within that broad category of “human development.” We did meet individuals who were working on ending discrimination against caste, but often the conversations revolved around whether or not a specific group was a part of the wider development that is perceived as a defining trait of Gujarat.
Dipankar Gupta wrote that as a agrarian economy gives way to industrialization and democratic politics rise the caste system collapses as caste identities rise. I am not sure that we witnessed any sort of collapse of the caste system, but it is worth considering the idea that caste identity and modernization in Gujarat have a very interesting relationship that will be fascinating to keep tabs on in the coming years.