chapter  4
34 Pages

Community

The scope of samaj: who are all Kumhar? The CKS niyamavali is not simply a rarified discourse amongst elite Kumhar. It has carved out a niche within ordinary Kumhar life. While it has arguably not been successful in putting an end to practices that are an embarrassment to the CKS leadership, such as child marriage or bihat, and has failed to make the notion of adarsh vivah popular among ordinary Kumhar, the niyamavali has nevertheless ushered in a new way of speaking about “belonging” to a samaj that stands in tension with an older, perhaps far more taken-for-granted sense of identity based upon jati. As seen in the previous chapter, samaj is a form of caste which operates via a new form of power, the normalizing power of the rule located in the impersonal niyamavali which displaces the sovereign power personalized through the bodies of authoritative elders. This new power is exercised by the CKS leaders who oversee dispensation of justice through the imposition of fines, which is part of a system of punishment drawing its legitimacy from the

niyamavali. While ostracism (and its threat) seems to have been the main method of punishment before the emergence of the CKS, the imposition of fines based upon “deviation” from CKS normative rules and the category of criminal acts (apradh) is now the key method of punishment. This emergence of a normalizing form of power via the niyamavali signals another fundamental shift within the group of Kumhar – the emergence of a different notion of group or collective and mode of belonging to the group. I argue here that there is a shift away from what Foucault spoke of as “degrees of affiliation” and towards “degrees of normalcy” in the application of power during the process of group formation (Foucault 1995: 184). Specifically, I discuss below how the two competing forms of caste, jati and samaj, roughly approximate the modes of group formation via degrees of affiliation and degrees of normalcy respectively, through emphasizing the notions of “blood” and “culture” respectively. Despite failing to institute the notion of “cultural” unity or shared culture among ordinary kumhar, the CKS leaders, nevertheless, challenge the notion of “blood” as jati held onto by ordinary kumhar. I propose therefore that the institution of samaj has ushered in a set of relations that can be represented as: jatisamaj / blood-culture / affiliation-normalcy. This makes samaj into a new kind of caste group and raises the question about the form of collective action enabled by caste in contemporary India (a point that I will pick up in Chapter 5). All CKS leaders I met with long to have one common association (sangathan) of all Kumhar in this region. Representing the hopes of many CKS officials, Hariram Prajapati, who we heard in the last chapter, said that his wish was that “they all [Kumhar jatis] become one and marry with each other.” But this is far from easy and Ramlal Kumbhkar, another high-ranking CKS official, captured the different logics in operation within the Kumhar samaj thus:

We have lot of problems of intercaste [with non-Kumhar jatis] marriages in our community. We unconditionally ostracize such couples from the samaj. But as regards phirkes [marriage circles or various Kumhar jatis], such as marriages between Jhariya and Kosariya, the situation is somewhat more dynamic because of some youth who put pressures to change samaj rules . . . Due to such pressures we have now even started accepting a child born of a Kumhar man with a non-Kumhar woman although not yet the other way around . . .