Marriage is never free in the sense that any man has got the freedom to marry any woman. Some bans and bars on marriage alliances are found all over the world both among the savage and the civilized.
The state and the society regulate marriage in various ways. There are endogamous regulations prohibiting the members of a particular group from marrying anyone who is not a member of the group, and exogamous rules forbidding the members of a particular group from marrying anyone who is a member of the same group. There is everywhere an outer circle out of which marriage is definitely banned and an inner circle within which no marriage is permitted. The modern civilization tends to pull down these outer limits which separate races, nations, the followers of different religions and the various classes of society.
The present study is an attempt to examine the impact of modern trends on such caste traditions as are associated with marriage and are the fundamental hindrances against caste-intermixture which is the best test of social equality. This is a factual study and involves both field survey and theoretical investigation.
The survey was carried out in a phased programme during the year 1953-55. The information regarding marriage regulations were collected following the method of oral written enquiry. The survey covered five castes inhabiting certain urban and rural areas of the districts of Birbhum, Hooghly and Calcutta in West Bengal. The source of information was the household family and the records included different generations as were available.
The study is primarily based on the broad generalized pattern of Kinship Organization in India envisaged by Dr. Mrs. I. Karve. I remain entirely indebted to my Professor Dr. Mrs. Karve, for the formulation of the problem and the guidance at all stages of the work. Most gratefully I would like to place on record the help and inspiration I have received from Prof. N.K. Bose and Dr. S.S. Sarkar of the University of Calcutta during the course of my study and especially in connection with the field work. I am aware that the monumental works like the Census of India, Sir H. Risley’s Roy’s ‘Tribes and Castes of Bengal’, Vidyasagar’s ‘Granthabali’, Nihar Ranjan Roy’s ‘Bangalir-Itihas’ etc. have certainly cast their irresistible influence on this thesis. A student need hardly emphasise the all- round helpfulness she has received from the guide or from such outstanding literature.
I take this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks and sincere gratitude to the Deccan College Post Graduate & Research Institute, Poona, for the generous grant and scholarship so kindly offered during the tenure of this study. The encouragement and the facilities rendered by the Institute together with the financial assistance have gone a long way for the completion of this project.
India is divided into three main regions with different patterns of Kinship Organization––by Dr. Karve in her book Kinship Organization in India.
One of these regions is Northern India comprising the area from Sind in the West to Assam in the East, and from the Himalayas in the North to the Narmada in the South. She has given a generalized pattern for this vast region and it is necessary to fill in the picture by detailed studies of linguistic regions within this vast area. She states therein that the study of three factors viz., the linguistic region, caste and family organization are absolutely necessary for the understanding and appreciation of any cultural phenomenon in India.
This generalized pattern is slightly modified from caste to caste and region to region in Northern India. And it was expected that Bengal’s position on the eastern boundary of ancient Aryanism and also a land where the Aryan, the Munda, and the Dravidian cultures had mixed together, would prove to be of great interest for a study of Kinship pattern. It was thought that it would be all the more illuminating to examine how far the northern Kinship structure and the inter-relation of Kinship system and religion is found to be effective in Bengal. Being a Bengalee, the present author enjoyed a special privilege regarding the know how of the subject and also felt particular attraction to investigate the problem with special reference to Bengal.
There are outstanding contributions regarding the social and cultural study of Bengal, viz. History of Bengal by J.N. Sarkar, ‘Granthabali by Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar’, ‘Bangalir-Itihas’ by Nihar Ranjan Roy, Census of India, and the remarkable contribution—the Tribes and Castes of Bengal (Vol. I-II) by Sir Herbert Risley.
It has been stated that “the caste making impulse has by no means spent its force and its operation can be studied in most Indian districts at the present day. In Bengal where the Aryan and Dravidian elements are in continual contact, it has created a series of endogamous groups, which may be classified as Ethnic, Provincial or Linguistic, Territorial or Local, Functional or Occupational, Sectarian and Social. In the first of these classes the race basis is palpable and acknowledged. The others have been generated by the fiction that men who speak a different language, who dwell in a different district, who worship different gods, who observe different social customs, who follow a different profession or practice, the same profession in a slightly different way, must be of a fundamentally different race: Usually and in cases of sub-caste invariably the fact is that, there is no appreciable difference of race between the newly formed group and the aggregate from which it has been broken off”.
He continues, “Seeing that the caste is mainly a matter of marriage, special attention has been paid throughout the enquiry to the marriage usages of the tribes and castes concerned.” The importance of recording marriage practices and endogamous groups was first pointed out by Sir Henry Maine, who wrote “the other limit within which a man must marry has been overlooked through the interest excited by the long unnoticed exogamous prohibition..... and the subject requires reinvestigation.... there are repeated indications of the outer or endogamous limit”. Risley had elucidated in his book the endogamous and exogamous divisions of each of the numerous tribes and castes of Bengal.
After Risley’s study many articles were published describing marriage customs and rituals of various castes and tribes in Bengal. All these studies were based on enquiry about different practices as also on personal observations about ritualistic performances. Few of them however, studied the marriages and genealogies by facts and figures to find out how an avowed pattern works out in actuality.
An attempt has been made in this context to find out the actual practice and the pattern pursued by a limited number of castes, inhabiting a definite region in a more detailed manner and thus may rightly be considered as an extension of the works so far done in this direction.
Bengal was one of the earliest regions where the British established their political supremacy. Calcutta was the Capital of Imperial India in the British days from 1774-1911. This city was also the trading centre of the British enterprise for jute, tea and rice. The first English schools and colleges were established in this city. The middle class Brahman and the Kayasthas enthusiastically entered these modern institutions of learning and took advantage of the employment offered by the fast expanding empire. Many of the richer people from Bengal sent their children to England for their education. These people came under the influence of Western Civilization and one can see that intellectual fervent in which Bengal was thrown by reading the literature of that period. Keshav Chandra Sen, the founder of the Brahmo Samaj attempted to win Bengal from the ritualism and polytheism of traditional Brahmanism, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidya Sagar advocated education for women. When one reads Bengali literature of those days one is impressed by the reformistic zeal of this generation.
This phase was followed by a phase in which the feelings of nationalism suppressed for the time being the tide of westernization. But the influence of the West continued to be very strong in Bengal. Bengal has been in the forefront of all reformistic and revolutionary movements in India.
Perhaps more important than the impact Western philosophy and education was the powerful current of new economic forces which altered the life of society. New industries, new ways of trade and commerce and a system of transport which penetrated into different parts of the country, combined to break down the isolation the seclusion of the people of all classes and bring them into the cosmopolitan environment of the city.
This intense exposure to western influences was effective during the whole period from Risley’s survey uptodate. From this point of view it was thought that it would be worthwhile to make a numerical survey of certain castes of West Bengal to see how far the traditional pattern has been changed in contact with the western ideas. In the present study data on marriage for few generations have been collected in order to find out whether a change in the pattern is evident from generation to generation. Bengal, though a medium sized region as regards extent, has a relatively large population. The present population of West Bengal is about 2.5 crores and there are numerous castes. All these could not be studied by a student single-handed, so only a few selected castes distributed over certain regions of West Bengal were chosen. It is expected that the observations from these castes, spread over different regions and generations, under characteristic economic and social conditions will bring out the salient features of the study sufficiently.
2. The nature of the data and the Method of Collection
The data cover five castes of West Bengal which can be broadly grouped under three categories on the basis of their points of similarity with respect to economic condition, educational achievement, traditional status and social behaviour etc. specially in present age.
The groups are as follows:–
(a) The Brahmans and the Kayasthas.
(b) The Gandha-Baniks.
(c) The Byagra-Kshattriyas and Hadis.
The Brahmans and the Kayasthas form the upper strata of the society and are well educated. The Gandha-Baniks are a caste of traders and merchants––financially better off but not so much educated as the other two castes stated above.
The Byagra Kshattriyas are now mainly agricultural labourers. They were formerly fishermen, palanquin bearers. Some of them still follow the traditional occupation. The Hadis were scavengers. Now most of them are working as agricultural labours. A detailed description of the above castes are given in later paragraphs.
The observations were collected taking a family as a sampling unit. When several unrelated families lived in one big house all the families were interviewed as separate units. In each family, all the marriages which the members could remember were recorded. This record comprised of the names, the family names, the exogamous unit to which each partner belonged, the native village or town, the age at marriage and the dowry given.
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