Some Aspects Of The Jat Religion And Ethics

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Author: M. C. Pradhan

Some Aspects Of The Jat Religion And Ethics

The purpose of this paper is to show how certain religious beliefs, practices, ideologies, and value systems of the Jats of Northern India are functionally integrated or related to their kinship and political system so as to form a consistent or coherent whole, and to what extent these form part of the general tradition shared by other Hindu castes of the area. Further, in the course of analysis, I shall also strive to show how far such concepts as ‘universalization’ and ‘parochialization’ of religious traits (Marriott, 1955: 197-218), ‘Great and Little tradition’ (Redfield, 1956: 79-83), and ‘Sanskritization’ (Srinivas, 1966:6-10), as applied to the study of religion of caste groups in India, are useful in this situation.

The Jat religion does not differ greatly from that of other Hindu castes living in the same villages as they; yet there are differences in emphases regarding certain religious practices, beliefs, values, and the world-view of the Jats which are not shared by the other castes of the same region. This is because of the nexus between some of these aspects and the kinship and political system of the Jats. Therefore a very brief description of their kinship and political structure should help make clear this connection or interaction between the rivo different fields of social processes.

Some details about the Jat religion and ethics can be found in Oscar Lewis (1958: 197259) and also in McKim Marriott (loc. cit.), not to mention earlier writers. Therefore, purely descriptive details have been omitted in this paper except where I have established a correlation between certain religious aspects and the total social system of the Jats.

Kinship And Political Structure

In the north-western districts of Uttar Pradesh (Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Saharanpur, Bulandshahr) and also in the south-eastern districts of Punjab, the Jats are organized into localized, exogamous, patriclans. Here each clan has a compact geographical area of its own. The villages, in which a clan is settled, are organized into a political council (panchayat), and the area under its jurisdiction is called the khap. Each clan has a hereditary headman (chaudhry), but some clans also have the hereditary office of wazir (minister or secretary). The clan headman is the head of the khap panchayat and presides over its meetings. The wazir looks after the affairs of the khap panchayat and keeps minutes of the cases and disputes decided by it. The villages under the jurisdiction of a clan council are multi-caste and multi-communal in composition. The Jats are dominant in these villages, owning most of the agricultural land and its resources besides being numerically important. The other castes living in a khap area come under the jurisdiction of the khap council (Pradhan, 1965a: 1821-4). Intra-caste disputes are decided by the leaders of the respective caste panchayats, but inter-caste disputes are taken tothekhap panchayat for settlement (cf. Lewis, 1938: 23-31). Most of the khaps belong to the Hindu Jats, but some of them also belong to other castes like the Gujars, Rajputs, Tagas or Tiyagi Brahmins, and Muslim Pathans, etc.

A Jat clan is segmented into lineages of varying depth spans, namely, thoks (maximal lineages), sub-thoks (major segments of a thok), and khandans (minimal lineages). The depth span of a thok varies from ten to fifteen generations from the living adults, a sub thok from six to ten generations, and a khandan from three to five generations. Like the clan, each lineage segment has its own headman, who also presides over the meetings of the political council of its respective lineage. A decision taken by the clan council is binding on all its constituent lineage segments, and a decision taken by a thok panchayat has to be obeyed by all the sub-thoks and khandans comprising the thok. Similarly, the decisions of a sub-thok panchayat are binding on all its constituent minimal lineages, and that of a khandan or minimal lineage on all the nuclear, joint, or extended families which come under its jurisdiction (for a detailed description see Pradhan, 1966: 57-93). Like the localized clan, each thok has a compact geographical area of its own in a village which includes both residential and agricultural lands. Butthoks do not extend beyond a village. This spatial compactness of the maximal lineages is maintained by two factors: the bhaichara (brotherhood) system of land tenure (cf. Baden-Powell, 1892: 131-2) and the customary law of inheritance of property of the Jats (cf. Roe and Rattigan, 1895: 41). Thus the ties of kinship reinforce the ties of local contiguity' not only' at the clan level but also at the thok level in a village. These factors enable the khap or clan panchayat and also that of the various lineage segments to exercise greater social control within their respective political units than would have been possible otherwise.

The importance of these aspects would become clear from the discussion on the ideology and value system of the Jats later on in this article. With this brief background, I now turn to the main topic.


World-view or Weltanschauung has reference to an individual’s perception. A person’s religious experience and view of the good life are influenced or shaped to an appreciable extent by his knowledge of religious writings, the extent to which he participates in the great or the little Hindu traditions, his contact with the outside world, by the influence of religious movements like the Arya Samaj, and so forth. Further, education and increased contact with urban and industrial centres also seem to have affected the attitudes of many Jats toward certain religious beliefs and practices. For example, certain rituals which were formerly performed in the ceremonies of rites of passage like dasoofan (ceremony held on the tenth day after the birth of a male child, when the mother and child are taken out of the period of confinement), chati (ceremony held in the sixth or seventh year after the birth of a male child, particularly if it is the first male child in the family or if he has been born after a long time), or mundan (ritual of shaving the child’s head for the first time, which is mostly done on the banks of the holy Ganges when the shorn hair is offered to the sacred river with a prayer that this may ensure the health and welfare of the child), are now not so commonly performed as they were earlier. However, social aspects of these now mainly secularized rites de passage, e.g. giving a feast and inviting the relatives and friends, or giving presents on these occasions, are still quite common. Similarly, quite a few religious festivals like the Sankranti (when alms or charity is given to Brahmins to ward off inauspicious astronomical forces, held at the winter solstice in January-February), sakat-chauth (worship of the godling sakat by keeping a fast and preparing pakka food which was given to the Brahmin priest, January-February), giaras (festival of worshipping the cattle, cows and bullocks, October-November), godhan (worship of the cowdung god, October-November), akkhatij (bathing in the Ganges and offering prayers to the river to bestow health and prosperity to the family, November-December), navratri (a nine-day festival during which the unmarried daughters of a family observes fasts and perform the ritual planting of barley in the family courtyard and worship the goddess Durga, September-October), saten (when the various village goddesses, including the goddess of small-pox, are worshipped by women at their respective abodes, March- April), etc. are now on the wane. These religious beliefs and practices must once have satisfied the individual needs for personal existence, satisfaction, or religious promise, but now they seem to have lost much of their relevance or usefulness in the eyes of most Jats. They do not believe that the performance of these necessarily gives one grace or brings material or non-material benefits. Most of the Jats now consider them as acts of blind faith (andviItalic textshvas), probably because of the influence of the Arya Samaj, which discourages such beliefs and practices. Moreover, these beliefs and practices have no direct bearing upon the social system of the community. Most of them belong to the little religious tradition, or have been parochialized.

A few Jats have also been influenced by some Islamic beliefs and practices. A section of the Jat population embraced Islam in the latter half of the I5th century. In the villages of khap Baliyan these Muslim Jats live side by side with their Hindu brethren, and have close social and political ties with them. Thus interaction between the two religious sections of the community, and the fact that some other Muslim castes are also present in the khap villages, has resulted in the borrowing of some Islamic beliefs and practices by a small section of the Hindu Jats who are mostly illiterate and do not have much first-hand contact with the literary religious tradition of Hinduism. This section, together with some other Hindu castes of the lower hierarchy, worship the tombs and graves of Muslim saints. They also worship a ‘goddess’ with a Muslim name, Shah Qumri Devi, together with other Muslim castes. The festival of Shah Qumri Devi is held in September-October. She is believed to bestow fertility on women and welfare on the male children. During the festival one member of the family accompanies the woman desirous of achieving the grace of the deity to her shrine in Saharanpur district, often covering long distances; and there they pray to the goddess and offer small replicas of gold and silver ornaments to her. Money, sweets, and clothes specially made for the goddess are also offered, the amount of money and the size of ornaments varying according to the economic condition of the family or the worshipper. Sometimes this pilgrimage to her shrine is undertaken after the birth of a male child which has taken place after a long time, to ensure the health and well-being of the child.

The worship of this goddess of Muslim origin indicates that some Muslim castes have also been influenced by certain parochialized traits of Hinduism, and have given some persons or saints the status analogous to that of the gods and goddesses of the little tradition of Hinduism. In other words, certain religious traits and beliefs of the two religions, Hinduism and Islam, (particularly the parochialized traits) tend to be common among the castes of low hierarchy of both the religious communities, and some of the Jats of this area also share some of these traits and beliefs. To give another example, in the Shoron village of khap Baliyan, the tomb of a Muslim saint is worshipped by most of the Hindu as well as Muslim castes of the neighboring villages, including some of the Hindu Jats. A sheet of cloth, some money and sweets, are offered on the tomb and prayers are addressed to the saint. He is believed to alleviate the suffering and misfortune of those who make such offerings and pray to him for the fulfillment of a wish. The Brahmins of course do not worship either the goddess of Muslim origin or the Muslim saints.

It should now be clear that the world-view of the Jats is not necessarily uniform throughout the caste or the region under consideration.

The division of the total field of human experience in relation to God, to nature, and to man, is common to all (World View, Redfield, 1952: 30-6). To the Jats, however, the relations of a person to his material environment, and to man, are more important than his relations to God. God as an impersonal, omnipotent and omnipresent force, does not occupy a very important place in the Jat rituals and religious ceremonies; though they believe that there is only one God and others are but His incarnations, that from time to time He takes birth in this world in the shape of incarnations or avatars such as Yama and Krishna, to rid it of evil forces and to re-establish the moral order. But together with this idea of one God and all other gods being only his incarnations (which again indicates the influence of the Arya Samaj), the Jats also believe in the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh or Shiva. The first is believed to be the creator of the universe, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. The Jats do not bother to reconcile the two rather inconsistent slews between the idea of one God and that of the trinity, for these are unable to answer this paradox satisfactorily. This is but one of many examples of contradiction in some of the religious beliefs and principles, for which the Jats find no need for an ultimate logical resolution of contraries.

Shiva is the chief deity of the Jats. His attributes are simplicity and asceticism, but he is believed to be easily excited and can be revengeful when aroused. On the whole, however, he is believed to be benevolent: he readily comes to the help of his devotees. The sum total of these desirable as well as not so desirable qualities, attributed to Shiva, mirror themselves in the general day-to-day behavior of the Jats to an appreciable extent. Taking revenge, being vindictive, or having an excitable temper, are of course not considered very desirable quantities, but the rationale makes these human frailties more understandable, and the Jat society takes a somewhat permissive view of them. Similarly, simple living and helping others are qualities commonly found among the Jats. They believe that by observing these qualities they are complementing themselves in the eyes of their deity and would gain his grace and favour.

Other incarnations such as Rama and Krishna, as represented in the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata (including the Bhagvad Gita), can be considered an ideal framework for human existence and behaviour, and do provide moral examples to many a Jat. Rama, for example, is associated with having the qualities of filial piety, unflinching devotion to duty, sacrifice, compassion, truthfulness, steadfastness in sticking to words of honour, and a sense of justice and fair play. But people do not know as much about the incarnation of Krishna. This is because the Gita, of which he is believed to be the author, is not read or understood much by the common man: its philosophical aspects and reasoning are rather hard for a layman to understand without proper exposition by the learned Brahmins. Such knowledge about him as people imbibe through hearing or reading popular versions of the Mahabharata is of his frolics with the maidens of Braj (where Krishna spent his childhood before he answered the call to duty and went to take part in the battle against Kauravas to put an end to their unjust rule and their persecution of the Pandavas). But people do believe that Krishna took birth to put an end to injustice and persecution of the good and the meek at the hands of the demons and the Kauravas,that he had the qualities of fair play, unflinching regard to duty, and that he always came to the help of the helpless in distress. His dialogue on the battlefield of Kurukshetra with Arjuna (which is called the Gita) is believed to be the highest philosophy of living which contains everything for an ideal framework of life though not many Jats have first-hand knowledge of this.

Recitals of the Ramayana or the Mahabharata, or religious dramas, however, are not very common in the Jat villages of Meerut Division. The only exception is the festival of Dasehra when Ramlila is played to the accompaniment of the recital of the Ramayana. This also explains why people know more about Rama than Krishna. In other words, the literary tradition of Hinduism is rather weak in the Jat villages. Though they may know some of the basic qualities of these avatars, which may to some extent act as charters to the ethical beliefs, e.g. devotion to duty, filial piety, compassion, truthfulness (the qualities attributed to Rama), or abhorrence of injustice, coming to the help of the needy, and something about the philosophy of life enjoined in the Gita, these are not systematically inculcated in the thought-patterns of the common Jats; and thus do not generally provide a strong ideological frame of reference which could affect the actual behaviour of every Jat in day-to-day life. The concept of filial piety is strong, but this is due to some other reasons which shall be discussed later. There are, however, exceptions to this. Those who are learned, and read these religious works, are undoubtedly influenced by them. But the common illiterate Jat does not have many opportunities to imbibe these concepts and moral ideas. For the same reason the teachings of the Arya Samaj movement remain rather ineffective in this section of the Jat population. This, perhaps, also explains their belief in the worship of tombs and graves of Muslim saints and certain gods and goddesses of the little tradition of Hinduism. It is a safe guess that the Hindu church is weakest at this point. It does not provide institutionalized teaching of religious doctrine at the village level, or a systematic inculcation of religious and moral ideas as embedded in the literary tradition of Hinduism. Religious rites, worship, prayers, and going to the temples, are done individually, and these observances depend upon the religious proclivities of an individual. Even the temple priests, in the Jat villages at least, have no such roles; nor do they give religious discourses for the benefit of the layman. The common Jat does not have an exhaustive or systematic body of religious ideas and beliefs except those which he learns from his parents and members of the minimal lineage during his childhood, or when he comes in contact with others as a grown-up person.

The Jats feel nearer to Shiva than to the other incarnations, he being their deity whom they worship regularly and pray to. They do not specifically worship Rama or Krishna.

The Jats also believe that every human being has a sacred contract with God: what he holds or acquires in this world is as much by virtue of his efforts as by God’s will. Further, they believe that what he has is loaned him by God and that it is duty to honour this contract by returning a portion of what he has by giving alms and charity. Some others believe that what is given them by God is because of their pious or good deeds in the past or the present life, which in other words means that what they have achieved is by virtue of their good deeds; that a man is repaid both for his good deeds and indeed for his sinseither in this life or the life hereafter.

The Jats, whether educated or uneducated, are not much pre-occupied with the idea of moksha (freedom from the cycle of rebirth). They rarely think in terms of total emancipation: rather their thoughts are concerned with the life here and now. They are not concerned much until the abstract theology of Hinduism, nor do they go in for personal ecstasy of religious experience for its own sake. They have a rather pragmatic view of life. The dew that the highest goal of a Hindu is to eliminate earthily concerns, desires, and personal existence itself (Opler, 1950: 314) does not find support from the religious beliefs and practices or the outlook on life of the Jats. The Brahminical idea of finding peace in renunciation is not widely prevalent. Rather it is the duties and obligations of a person as a member of the kinship and social groups which are considered important; and it is the fulfilment of these duties which ensures a better and a happier life. The Jats believe that heaven and hell are on this earth, and a person’s deeds determine his fate in the present life and the life hereafter.

The qualities which are considered essential for a man to have are: the sentiments of filial piety, respect and obedience towards parents and elders of the lineages, honesty, integrity and truthfulness, protecting the weak and helping the needy. If a man fails to carry out these duties toward his clan and toward those with whom he has social relations, he forfeits the right to prosperity and happiness. If he is bad or a sinner and yet he is prosperous it is explained in this way that he is enjoying the fruits of good deeds done in his past life, and when they run out he is sure to be punished for his sins of omission and com- mission. There may be some delay in justice being meted out to him but, ultimately, face the consequences he must. Thus both the concept of natural or supernatural retribution and that of ‘running an account with the gods ’ (Redfield, 1955: 23-4) can be seen at work in the world-view of the Jats. It would not be altogether wrong to say that the outlook on the theory of karma (fulfilling one’s destiny) and dharma (doing one’s duty) is positive rather than negative. The Jats do not interpret this then in the sense of personal salvation removed from the world. They believe that salvation is possible only through fulfilling one’s responsibilities and obligations and not by removing oneself from the bonds created in this world.

The Jats practice ancestor worship, and during the festival of Sradh (September-October) they propitiate their ancestors for fifteen days by offering them oblations of food and water (pindas). Every remembered ancestor is propitiated in this manner on thetithi (lunar day) on which he died. The rite of offering the pindas is done by the eldest member of the family, assisted by a Brahmin priest who performs certain rituals and recites Sanskrit hymns dining the course of the ceremony. On the last day a final offering of pindas is made to all the remote manes whose names are no more remembered. The services of the Brahmin priest are, however, no longer requisitioned by the Jats, and they perform these rites themselves. They have also stopped calling the priest for most religious ceremonies except a few like marriage and death ceremonies (for reasons see Pradhan, 1965b: 3-4).

The ancestors thus propitiated are those of the thok and the clan. The thok ancestors are given more importance than those of the clan, who are now seldom remembered by name. But a final offering of pindas to the clan ancestors is necessary. It is believed that if the remembered ancestors are satisfied (which mostly are those of the thok or maximal lineage), all others who are further removed must also be satisfied - the spirits of the lineage and clan ancestors are believed to look after the welfare of their descendants. The offerings of pindas are made so that the spirits may live in peace in the other world and may not feel neglected. For if they feel so or if they are unhappy, they may become malevolent and may bring misfortune upon their descendants. They are the guardians and therefore must be propitiated to ensure their benevolence. Failure to do so may result in misfortune in the shape of illness within the family, economic or any other kind of loss, or physical harm. But they are also propitiated because of the sentiment of filial piety and to ensure peace in another world.

The ancestor worship constitutes a religious charter for the lineage and the clan organization. In most cases deceased ancestors are common to khandan (minimal lineage), sub-thok (major segment), and to the thok (maximal lineage). The majority are genealogically remembered. Their propitiation provides an opportunity for emphasizing one of the most important structural principles, namely, the kinship bond, the proximity of blood relationship between the members of the lineages of varying depth spans, and the duties and obligations that go with it. The ancestor worship also leads to ‘a considerable clan feeling and not infrequently much pride of descent from some noted ancestors’ among the Jats (Baden-Powell, 1896: 216).

The ancestor worship runs, in a logical sense, counter to the ideology of reincarnation, the cycle of rebirth. Thus it is strongly criticized and discouraged by the Arya Samaj, but the Jats continue to believe in it while remaining faithful adherents of the movement. It is yet another example of a logical or theological conflict between two religious principles, namely the theory of re-incarnation versus that of a spirit world, where spirits of ancestors are believed to have supernatural malevolent and benevolent powers over the living descendants, which in Jat pragmatics is ignored. At least some of the Jats are now aware of this inconsistency mostly on account of the teachings of the Arya Samaj, but neither do they care to reconcile these conflicting beliefs, nor to leave these beliefs and discontinue the religious practices connected with ancestor worship; thoughthey have abandoned some other religious beliefs and practices under the influence of the movement (cf. Lewis, 1958: 201-2). To do so would be to undermine the lineage and the clan solidarity, and the whole network of kinship obligations and responsibilities.

The Jats believe that an unmarried youth, dying at the age of eighteen or so, becomes a devata (godling) under certain circumstances. If, for example, the spirit of the deceased appears in the dreams of a member of the family and complains that it is unhappy or uncared for, the family builds an abode for it in one of the corners of an agricultural field. This abode is in the shape of a mound about two feet high. It used to be built of earth and clay and plastered periodically with cow dung, but nowadays it is built with kiln-baked bricks in the shape of a square, about two feet high, and with a niche in the centre to put an earthen lamp. When this lamp, filled with oil, has been lit, a prayer is made to the spirit to rest in peace and not to harm the family members. Another circumstance which necessitates the building of an abode is when the spirit causes harm of some kind soon after the death of the youth. If any member of the family falls ill or suffers a misfortune within the year of death, it is believed that the spirit of the departed is not happy or feels neglected and, therefore, has become malevolent. So an abode is built to placate or to set it at rest.

Once an abode has been built, it must be propitiated at regular intervals, for it is credited with supernatural powers of granting fertility to barren women and young wives married into the family. Then it becomes a godling, welding both malevolent and benevolent powers. It is propitiated during the festival of hanagat, at the time of marriage of a male member of a family, and also when a woman married into the family fails to have children within the first few years of marriage. In the main such a devata is worshipped by women married into a family or lineage. Brides are taken to the abode where they pray to the godling to grant fertility and to look after the health and welfare of the children.

Gradually, or over a period of years, other families of a minimal lineage or a major segment also start worshipping the devata. However, on account of the rather uncommon circumstances under which such a godling comes into being, a sub-thok or even a thok may have only one devata, and thus he may be propitiated by the whole maximal lineage and its segments. The setting up of a new abode may, sometimes, also signify the breaking away of the family from the parental lineage.

The belief in and the worship of this godling is yet another factor which emphasizes the unity of the lineage group. Such beliefs and practices produce, at least to some extent, social cohesiveness within the lineage groups, and enable them to function better in the socio-political life of the Jat community. In other words, there is a direct correlation between this kind of religious worship and the strength of the social structure (cf. Nadel, 1954: 259-64). The worship of this godling belongs to the little tradition of Hinduism, or to the local Jat religious tradition, for quite a few other castes of this area do not have such godlings. (I shall return to this problem of great and little tradition later, in the Conclusion.)

The Arya Samaj movement also discourages sufi practices as black magic, exorcism, or the belief in the mystical power of the evil eye; and therefore these beliefs and practices are now not very common among the Jats. However, those who are either illiterate or have not been much influenced by the teachings of the movement, believe in black magic and the evil eye. Again it is more common among the women than among the men. One reason for this is that Jat women still remain to a large extent outside the influence of the Arya Samaj. Those who believe in them say that a man or a woman may possess the evil eye, but the possessor may be ignorant of it. An appreciative look or even praise from such a person may endanger the health or life of children, particularly if they are male children. The possessor is feared and the male children are not allowed to go near him or her. However, the person is not accused openly nor is he (or she) punished for having such malevolent power, though the presence of such a person is generally avoided on auspicious occasions, if possible. To relieve the evil influence the help of an exorcist is taken, who usually belongs to a low caste. That the young girls are believed to be not so much in danger from the evil eye shows that the Jats cherish male children much more than the female children, and are more concerned about their welfare. Consequently women in Jat society occupy a lower status than the male. Only about sixty or seventy years ago the Jats practiced female infanticide; but the custom has now totally died out because of the influence of the Arya Samaj and the laws of the realm introduced under British rule (cf. Crooke, 1596: 36).

Some also believe in black magic. A jealous or a spiteful enemy can cause illness, personal harm, or even death, until the help of a sorcerer. But sorcery can be made harmless with the help of another sorcerer. If the counter-magic of this sorcerer is stronger than that of the first one, and if it is so desired, the victim can cause harm or even death to the person who used sorcery in the first place. Though there are stories in which certain Jats were accused of indulging in black magic about fifty years ago, such cases are now not common. It is also difficult to prove such an accusation since there are no diviners to verify them, and I could not find a single case before a panchayat where such an accusation was an issue. The stories of a few accusations which I came across were mostly confined to the khandans or minimal lineages rather than to sub-thoks (major segments) or to the thoks (maximal lineages). The reason why these cases were limited to one kinship unit seems to be that minimal lineages are beset with tensions of various kinds which lead to charges of black magic and the like. It is within this unit that solidarity and good relations are binding by virtue of various sanctions; but the inevitable inter-personal hostilities and jealousies aroused between the families and the members of a minimal lineage on account of quarrels over the partition of family property, misuse of borrowed agricultural implements, attempts to buy land from another family by lending money against land as security, personal aggrandizement or victimization of one family by another, or dishonest or selfish behaviour of an elder brother who has taken over the joint-family funds after the death of the father (all of which take place mostly within a khandan), are expressed in the belief about witchcraft and black magic (cf. Fortes, 1956: 258-75). But even so, a joint family or a minimal lineage has seldom been known to break up following such accusations. Fission is more likely to take place on account of the causes which are inherent in these kinship units. However, accusations of black magic could have a cathartic effect where such emotionally charged relationships existed, and they may have helped to some extent to canalize the forces of disruption.

Personal misfortune or the failure of crops was not attributed to sorcery, for it would have been difficult to prove such an accusation. Neither did these beliefs about black magic, sorcery and witchcraft serve as an explanation, by attributing the causes of such misfortunes to the actions of enemies.

Jat Ethos And Social Control

In discussing these aspects of ethos I shall strive to show whether any correlation exists between the value system, ideology, and sanctions on the one hand, and the Jat social system on the other. This will be done without conceiving the society as an organic whole, for it is not necessary to assume that all the religious beliefs and practices etc. are complementary or support the social structure: some of course do, but then some others may not; and then there may also be conflict in certain religious principles as well as in the field of ethics and values.

I shall start with sanctions. These can be broadly classified as positive and negative. Positive sanctions are those which promise rewards to the individual, whether economic, social, or psycho- logical. Negative sanctions penalize rather than reward. Positive sanctions within the Jat society are generally applied outside the council meetings. Their use, in almost all cases, is closely related to an individual’s actions and behaviour in relation to his elders and lineage members, and to others with whom he comes in contact in his village or within the clan area. Negative sanctions like killing a person, economic intimidation, and harming one’s property, are unknown among the Jats; and these are never used by the panchayats. Formerly, such physical sanctions as beating or whipping were used for sex offences and thefts, and were considered a great dishonour, but now they are no longer used on account of the changes in the laws of the country. Permanent expulsion from the caste was always rare and is now totally absent. But temporary expulsion signified by the custom of ‘stopping the huqqa’ (ban on smoking or eating withthe offender or sinner) is still common though resorted to only in extreme cases of default such as murder, killing a cow, or having sex relations with a woman of the same clan or village. Sex relations with a woman of even another caste of the same khap (clan area) is prohibited, as this would amount to ‘incest’ on the basis of extension of the principle of khap bhaichara (brotherhood) to other castes, which such a relationship would flout; and the offender is liable to be punished by the khap panchayat. But this sanction can only be brought into effect with the support of the members of the offender’s thok, and to ordain it is the privilege only of the thok or the khap panchayat. Threat of physical force, however, is not taken well by the lineage groups of the individual concerned, for they are very jealous of their prestige; and they seldom agree to it.

Economic sanctions such as fines and economic restitution, both to an individual who has suffered and by a person to make good his crime, are common; and can be ordained by a panchayat. But these sanctions are not used against the lineage of a defaulter: only the individual is considered responsible for his crime or sin, and it does not reflect upon his kinship group. Fines could be imposed by the panchayats for theft, cheating, fraud, embezzlement, or defaulting on a debt. Arson, blackmail, physical violence, and slander, are also punishable by fines. Sometimes the offender may be publicly condemned in a panchayat meeting for some of these offences. In very serious cases and also in the case of incorrigibles a meeting of the khap panchayat may be called to banish the offender from the village or the khap area. However, the panchayats are not in a position to use this sanction now on account of changed conditions.

The Jats believe that a curse, particularly uttered by the council members in a panchayat meeting, is certain to be realized. The belief is very strong not only among the Jats but also among other castes of the area including a sizeable section of the Muslim community. Many cases are cited by the villagers of a curse, uttered by a panchayat against a person flouting its decisions, coming true. Similarly, a curse uttered by a poor, weak, or helpless person against high-handedness or injustice is also believed to come true. The stronger the feeling of injustice or helplessness, the stronger is the effect of the curse. It may cause harm to the person of the offender or his property; it may also cause illness or even death to him or to some member of his family. The curse among the Jats, like that among the Nuer, is an imprecatory prayer. But unlike the Nuer who distinguish between different kinds of curse (see Evans-Pritchard, 1956: 165-76), the Jats distinguish only between two kinds of curse, that which is uttered by a panchayat and the curse of a person who feels wronged. The latter may be a silent curse of the heart. Cursing is a dominant theme in Jat religion and ethos, which recognizes right in opposition to wrong. The belief in the potency of a curse and the fear of it check unethical or anti-social conduct to a large extent; and so strengthen the moral element in social relationships. But if a wronged person lives with resentment in his heart, he does not take ghostly vengeance as among the Nuer.

A curse is uttered by the panchayat only when another means of social control have failed. It is the last but not the least effective of the sanctions. The processes of education and urbanization do not seem to have affected this belief. It is fairly common among the Jats working in the armed forces or civil service, and also among college students. It would not be too far wrong to say that certain beliefs and religious ideas permeate the whole Jat ethos, whether they arise from the parochialized village or local tradition or the universalized tradition of Hinduism, and they join the villager and the educated urbanized individual in one system of morality and one generally accepted code of behaviour. And it is these beliefs and ideas which could be said to be nuclear or integral to the Jat social system.

A panchayat may also ask an offender to take an oath of good conduct. If he breaks it, he may be punished by the panchayat and may also face natural or supernatural retribution, for breaking an oath given to a panchayat is considered sinful. But the principle of oath-taking, and the administering of it by the panchas (council members or judges), is based upon the belief that the individual is a responsible person and he is more likely to keep his word given before other responsible persons of the community than to break it. If, however, he goes back upon his word he loses respect in the society.

For certain religious and moral lapses a person may be asked by a panchayat to undergo expiatory rites. For example, he may be asked to go on a pilgrimage, to take a purificatory bath in the holy Ganges, to perform the fire sacrifice (havan), or to give a communal feast. Others may be forbidden to eat or smoke with him until he has performed the purificatory rites asked of him. He may also be asked by a panchayat to tour the villages of his khap and ask pardon from the village elders. In such cases, some responsible persons are requested by the panchayat to accompany him on his tour and to see that he carries out the decision. This sanction could be used only by a khap council or by the sarvkhap panchayat (all-clan council). Generally, it is accompanied by temporary expulsion of the person, known as ‘dropping the huqqa’. It is in use even today, but it is evoked only in extreme cases of default or sinful behaviour.

Psychological sanctions, which are mostly informal in nature, are also important and effective means of social control within Jat society. Throughout his life a Jat is experiencing these sanctions, whether he realizes it or not, and in the main he submits to them. Psychological sanctions are administered through symbolic means and their effectiveness depends upon the value the Jats place on their status within their lineage groups, within the village, and within the clan or khap area. The Jats have subtle ways of showing how much they approve or disapprove of a person and what social status they grant him, by such symbolic means as a warm welcome, friendly attention to his presence, a show of courtesy or respect by giving a person the upper seat of a cot, or by specially preparing the huqqa for him. Those who are respected or admired for their qualities of head and heart are given all these courtesies. When they are speaking they are never cut short or interrupted in the middle, neither are they contradicted. If contradiction is necessary, it is done in an indirect manner and in a polite way. On the other hand, if a person does not enjoy much prestige or goodwill, he may still be received with some courtesy but other kinds of attention and politeness may be absent in the behaviour of others; and it is through these acts that he is made to feel how others think of him or what status they grant him. These symbolic means are unmistakable signs which clearly indicate the status which a person enjoys within the society (LaPiere, 1934: 23S-42). Overtly the Jats do not show their opinion of an individual, particularly if he is not held in high esteem or if his conduct is not approved of, but by the use of such psychological sanctions the Jats make it clear that they do not approve of him or do not grant him an elevated status. His deeds may also be criticized by implication and in an indirect manner by giving examples of some other persons who may have indulged in the same kind of actions or behaviour which was not approved of by the people. Thus a person who violates the social norms may recognize disapproval, reproof, denunciation, or even humiliation (depending upon the seriousness with which his wrong actions are viewed by others) by the withdrawal of these traditional ways of showing respect and courtesy. These informal or minor mechanisms of social control are the means through which institutionalized values are implemented in behaviour. These are the fundamental sanctions and only when they break down does it become necessary for more elaborate and specialized sanctions to come into play (Parsons, 1952: 303).

Every Jat desires to acquire status and prestige within the society and desires to be considered a responsible person so that he may be appointed a panch or council member in a panchayat meeting as often as possible. But he must be a responsible person and must command general respect and influence. This he can only achieve by conforming to the norms of the various kinship groups to which he belongs, and to those of the community in general. Even those who stand to inherit the hereditary offices of headmen of various kinship and political units, or of the wazirs, have to prove their worth by upholding the traditional norms and standards, and only after they have successfully done so can they be sure of getting their fathers office. Jat society is still highly traditional in outlook (see Pradhan, 1965a: 1863-4). And such psychological rewards act as great incentives for the individual to conform to the norms and to the decisions of the panchayats.

Now a discussion of certain ethical concepts and the organizing principles which underlie them is called for, because apart from acting as signposts to correct traditional behaviour and social conduct these concepts and principles also act as guides for the panchayats in settling disputes or enforcing the mechanisms of social control. The Jats recognize the concept of injury or harm and provide various means of restitution through the panchayat decisions. Similarly, the concepts of responsibility, negligence, and guilt are developed to a fine degree. In the field of economics and properly, the concepts of ownership and trespass are widely recognized and mutually respected among the Jats. Finally, in the field of social control and in the general life of the community, the concept of justice, equity, and good conscience, and also dial of an ideal or reasonable man, are widely in use. All of these concepts are native to the Jat ethical system, though some of them also belong to Western jurisprudence as well as to certain not so advanced societies of Africa (cf. Gluckman, 1955: 17).

A responsible person, for example, is he who discharges his duties towards his kin and towards those with whom he has any kind of relationship, who keeps his word, and is eager to share responsibilities; and for these reasons he deserves respect from others. If, however, a person is negligent and does not discharge his duties and obligations, particularly towards his kin within his lineage groups, he may lose respect within the society. Such a person is not taken seriously, is considered a wastrel, and it is seldom that he can be found occupying an office of honour like the headship of a kinship unit or that of a panch in an important panchayat meeting. Sense of guilt demands expiation of some kind, but it does not depend merely upon the individual that if he feels guilty he should undergo some religious expiation: public opinion too, working through the panchayat system, decides for him whether he is guilty or has committed a sin which he should expiate. The panchayats also decide for him as to the nature and means of expiation (see p. 245 above). Harming another person’s property is a crime (aparadha), and so also is to trespass upon it, for which the culprit may be punished. These are rather serious crises which lead to bitter quarrels among the Jats and in which even the lineages are quickly involved. The quarrels arising out of the violations of the rules of property are mostly concerned with agricultural lands and cattle, which are the mainstay for an individual’s or family’s sustenance in Jat society, and the Jats are very jealous in safeguarding these interests.

The qualities desired most in a panch are a sense of justice and fair play, personal integrity and honesty, courage not to be influenced in his opinions or decisions by considerations of power and pelf, tact and persuasiveness. Though a defaulter is seldom directly accused of his guilt, it is considered the duty of a panch to drive it home to the person or party concerned that a wrong has been committed and that it must be corrected. He is also supposed to suggest ways and means by which a wrong could be righted without compromising the prestige or self-respect of a person or his group, for the Jats are very jealous of their self-respect and would not agree to a decision which would compromise it, except when the crime is a very serious one and the public opinion against the offender runs high. In such cases a panchayat may pass sanctions without much regard for self-respect or prestige of the guilty party concerned. These are the basic principles which should guide the panchas in deciding cases or settling disputes. And these guiding principles approximate rather closely with the concept of justice, equity, and good conscience, though not actually couched in the terminology which is found in modem Western jurisprudence.

The same qualities of head and heart are also expected from the headmen of lineage groups, the khandan, khap, and thamba headmen, and from the khap wazir.

There is yet another concept, dharma (moral and religious obligation) and karma (fulfilling one's destiny or the way of action or conduct in life), which belongs to the domain of religious ethics rather than to the native ethical code. But in the Jat society it supports or buttresses the ethical doctrines in more ways than one. The Jats do not restrict the meaning of this concept only to the performing of religious rites, going to temples regularly to offer prayers and to gain personal by observing fasts etc., for very few Jats do these things conscientiously. Neither do they believe that the performing of these necessarily reflects the righteousness or goodness of a person. They interpret the doctrine of dharma and karma as the carrying out of the duties and obligations towards parents and elders of the lineages and the clan, possessing the sentiments of filial piety, practicing conscientiousness, honesty, and truthfulness in work and in dealings until others, and a duty to protect and help the weak, the needy, and the helpless. Dharma not only means leading a life of hard work and simple living, avoiding laziness (which is considered sinful), but it also means having the moral courage to call a spade a spade in a council meeting so that an innocent party may not be harmed nor a wrongdoer go scot free because he has the necessary economic or factional support. And he who fulfills his dharma in this sense and in a conscientious manner approximates closely to the image of an ideal man; he is sure to collect the sum total of good karmas which would make his life better and happier either in this world or the life hereafter.

This does not, however, mean that the Jat society consists of idealists, for very few can live up to this image of an ideal man. But if one observes the conduct of the socially visible leaders, e.g., headmen of thoks (and also to a lesser extent of the headmen of major segments and minimal lineages), if one appraises the khap chaudhry or wazir, and more importantly, if one observes the conduct of the better known and respected panchas in a panchayat meeting, one can see that most of them have these qualities and continuously strive to live up to this image. Were it not so or had they failed to observe their obligations, they would not be holding such offices and status roles within the society.

One could, perhaps, say that the Jat ethics have been influenced as much by kinship sentiment and the obligations that go with it as by religious belief. A person who fails in these his obligations cannot hope to become a headman of a lineage or a respected member of his society. If he forfeits the trust and goodwill of others, he is considered irresponsible and unworthy of prestige. He may not be positively or openly condemned, for the Jats believe that irresponsibility or negligence in carrying out one’s duties, and misdeeds— all of which are sinful (papa) —are avenged in time. If misfortune befalls such a person it is believed to be natural or supernatural retribution and is interpreted in terms of his sins and misdeeds. It is true that economic power may increase the chances of a person acquiring a high status within the society, particularly under the present conditions of change (see Pradhan, 1966: 219-37). Even so this does not negate the Jat concepts of morality, which are still the pre- requisites for such roles, in the field of kinship as well as of political institutions. In other words, the image of an ideal man is the key to the understanding of the Jat ethical system. There is a close resemblance between this ideal (as it is present in social thought and action), and the traditional system of the Jats (cf.Durkheim, 1953: xxvi).


Jat Beliefs And Anthropological Study Or Religion

Here I have briefly discussed some religious beliefs and ethical concepts, and have shown their relevance for the social and political system of the Jats. As noted at the outset, these do not exhaust the whole field of religious phenomena or the system of ideology and beliefs. Only those aspects were covered here which were not discussed in detail by Lewis (1958) or Marriott (1955) or other earlier writers. My concern in this analysis and interpretation has been to show that though there is a correlation between certain religious beliefs and practices and the total social system of the Jats, it is not necessary to show each and every aspect in the field of religion and ideology to be definitely related to it. For example, the religious beliefs and practices described on pp. 231-4 may have satisfied the individual needs for personal existence, satisfaction, or religious promise, but they have no direct bearing upon the social system of the community. It is in these religious spheres where the forces of change seem to have made appreciable inroads, or are more susceptible to change than the religious beliefs and practices which are nuclear to the world-view of the Jats, or which have direct bearing upon the total social system and for the changing social conditions the Jats.

To give another example, the Jats of Meerut Division do not have clan gods and goddesses; their presence or worship has not been recorded by any writer. Nor do they have any religious festivals or ceremonies in which a whole clan may take part. All that the religious elements provide are certain common symbols and some aspects of a common ideology, which, under certain circumstances, may lead to a sense of unity among its members. The unity and solidarity of the Jat clans is based upon the kinship system and its corresponding political system rather than upon common religious rites and offices at the clan level. Even at the lineage level there are no ceremonies or rituals in which its members participate as a group. These are performed independently by the heads or members of nuclear or joint families.

I have demonstrated elsewhere in this paper (see pp. 234-7), that not all religious beliefs and practices could be said to be uniformly distributed within the Jat society, for they may vary with the amount of contact with the literary tradition of Hinduism, education (which is spreading fast within the community) influence of the Arya Samaj, contact with urban centres, and so forth.

Some aspects such as belief in ancestor worship, lineage gods etc., and also in the field of ideology and values, are common and could be said to be integral to the society, but other religious aspects and beliefs may differ from individual to individual or there may be difference in emphases as regards these other beliefs and practices. Therefore it is not an easy task to generalize as to the existence of a specifically Jat theology, i.e. as to how far the religious beliefs and practices are nuclear, ancillary, and peripheral (Piddington, 1952: 375). Considerable difficulty in charting the various fields of these beliefs arises because the Jats are not an isolated group, as a tribe might be; they live side by side with other castes and religious groups and have come under various influences during the course of their history, making it difficult to study the problem of ‘polysemy’ or ‘different orders of meaning’ (Firth 1959: 134-46) in the field of religious phenomena (see pp. 232-4). In his study of Kishan Garhi village (Marriott 1955: 194-5) also mentions this difficulty when he says that 'different villagers held very diverse explanations of the festival’, or, ‘Accustomed to an interminable variety of over-lapping Sanskritic mythology, villagers have ceased to be much concerned with distinguishing the “right” great-traditional explanation of a festival from such Sanskritised-sounding and possibly newly invented ones as may be convenient'; or again, ‘behind their Sanskritic names and multiple great-traditional rationales, the festival of Kishan Garhi contain much ritual which has no evident connection with the great tradition’.

Frazer’s theory, that religion and magic bolster the political organization of society, is for the Jats an exaggeration: this may not necessarily be so, as the Jat political system indicates. To postulate, as Frazer and Durkheim did, that the social, political, and kinship organizations of a society are necessarily reflected in its religion, is unwarranted and can be disproved perhaps by the fact that, though the castes differ in their kinship, social, and political set-up, they may nevertheless have certain common religious beliefs and practices. As Bohannan has said: ‘ it is rather to say that religious ideas and political ideas may be the same ideas and not differentiated. . . . Precisely because they are an undifferentiated unity (in certain simple, isolated, pre-literate societies considered by Frazer and Durkheim), the condition must not be described as the interrelationship between politics and religion (Bohannan, 1963: 325). Moreover, to say, as Durkheim did, that ‘all religions are restatements on a mystical plane of the social organization, including the family and kinship organization’ (ibid: 325-6) would be an exaggeration. As Bohannan suggests, ‘a more sensible way to make this statement is to say that religion, in so far as it is to be effective either for the individual or for the social group, must be of a piece with the society’ (ibid: 326).

If the above argument be acceptable, then it is clear that to postulate at the outset that a society is an organic whole would be a mistake. In the field of religion (as in other fields) every aspect is not necessarily functionally related to every other aspect: nor need it be maintained that all of them contribute toward maintaining the social system. Some may but some may not. The beliefs connected with various ceremonies of rites de passage, and those found in various other religious festivals (some of which the Jats are neglecting), are a case in point: they have no direct bearing upon the total social system of the Jats as described on pp. 231-42. Some of these beliefs and practices may indeed conflict with those propagated by the Arya Samaj movement; and again, the religious elements of the little tradition may at times be in conflict with those of the Sanskritic or the great tradition of Hinduism. Worship of Muslim saints and of the Shah Qumri Devi are such examples. Finally, there may also be some conflict in certain religious elements and principles (see pp. 235-7). In other words, rituals, beliefs and practices do not always denote or promote social integration, solidarity or equilibrium among the Jats as they may do in a homogeneous society (cf. Leach, 1954: 2S0). Nor can this solidarity be taken for granted as a latent continuing force within the social system. Only after a careful study can it be said whether a particular rite, belief, or religious practice brings about solidarity or acts as a latent force within a society or not; and if so, then to what extent. To over-generalize about them would be a mistake, particularly in regard to such advanced peasant societies as the Jats which form part of the ever-widening circle of cultural, social, and religious orders.

Moreover, in the case of the Jats— and indeed for other caste groups of this region-it could not be said with certainty, as Leach affirms for the Shan and the Kadan (see Leach, 1954: 286), dial the religious elements represent an ideal version of the social structure; for rituals and even mythology may not represent an ideal version of the respective social structures of these castes. For example, the Jat ancestor worship and the festival of kanagat, the worship of lineage gods, the belief in curses, the concept of the ideal man, etc., could be said to represent an ideal version of their social structure (i.e. the kinship system and the political institutions which are based upon it), but these are not the only beliefs which the Jats believe in. Moreover, other castes do not have the same type of kinship system as that of the Jats, in fact their social and political structures differ but they may share certain beliefs, rituals, and religious practices, like ancestor worship, belief in curses, and so forth; and indeed some aspects of mythology and dogma. And some of these could be as integral or nuclear to these other castes as they are in the Jat society.

There appear to be, at present, two processes at work among the Jats in the field of religious phenomena. On the one hand, they are leaving certain beliefs and practices on account of the influences discussed above; but on the other, there is a shift from the parochialized beliefs and practices or those of the little tradition to certain universalized or Sanskritic traits. Now Sanskritization generally means taking up customs, rituals and practices of the twice-born castes, together with the ritual services of the priestly caste whenever possible, in an effort to raise the caste status. However, among the Jats this is not necessarily so. The Arya Samaj movement, which discourages certain so-called Sanskritic or universal traits of Hinduism such as ancestor worship, is itself a product of Sanskritization, i.e. going back to those rituals and practices which find support from Vedic literature. The aim of the movement is to reduce the swollen body of Hindu ritual and to conform only to the main Sanskritic or Vedic rites and ceremonies, for it does not recognize that allthe elements of the great tradition of Hinduism are necessarily Sanskritic or Vedic. Therefore, Sanskritization may also mean leaving certain traits of Hinduism, which do not find support from Vedic literature, whether they belong to the parochialized or the universalized tradition of Hinduism; for ancestor worship and the festival of kanagat do belong to the universalized tradition.

Similarly, doing without the ritual presence of the Brahmin priests in most rituals and ceremonies does not mean that the Jats are moving away from the process of Sanskritization, for they are indeed trying to raise their caste status and have consequently abandoned (or are abandoning) such practices as female infanticide and the custom of having access to one’s brother’s wife (Pradhan, 1966: 87). Thus Sanskritization as a concept may lead to some confusion, particularly when studying the religion of caste groups which, on the one hand, are trying to raise their caste status in the ritual hierarchy of the system, and consequently are learning certain local or parochialized traits; and on the other, are taking up or sticking to only those beliefs and practices which find support from the Sanskritic or Vedic literature, but at the same time doing away with dependency on the ritual service of the Brahmins as far as possible and thus freeing social ranking from Brahminical control.

Therefore, concepts like 'universalization', ‘parochialization’, ‘Sanskritization’, ‘great and little traditions of Hinduism’, are terms of very general application only, rather than critical or analytical terms. They are useful in charting the fields of religious activity, when applied to the study of religion of a caste group, and showing the process of interaction between the two fields of religious tradition (great and little). But they fail to add much depth to the study of religious phenomena, or to show the correlation of religious behaviour with there social structure. To take an example, if we ask why certain religious beliefs and practices of the Jats, say, ancestor worship, worship of the lineage gods, etc., show resilience in the face of the opposition by the Arya Samaj movement, as compared to certain other beliefs and practices which the Jats are leaving under its influence, we find that these concepts, mentioned above, do not help much in answering the question. To answer this we may have to use the concept of function, not of course until all those Malinowskian overtones but simply in the sense of finding outthe meaning, purpose, or role of such beliefs and practices. Moreover, to say that ancestor worship or the propitiation of godlings belongs to the little or the great tradition does not help much. It becomes necessary to inquire what these beliefs and practices stand for, and how they fit, if they fit at all, in the total social system of the Jats or in their world-view. Some other concepts could also be profitably used and more questions asked in a study of religion. For example, to what extent the religious beliefs, practices, and ideology of a community are ‘particularistic’ or ‘universalistic’, ‘integral’ or ‘sectional’, ‘homogeneous’ or ‘heterogeneous’, and how they affect the community as a sociological unit; or how far the interaction between the processes of universalization and parochialization would lead to changes in the religious ideology, beliefs and practices, or in the social organization of a community. It is also necessary to know what role religion plays in the life of individuals as well as societies as social entities.

A word about the pragmatism of the Jat religion (see pp. 238-42). By this I mean that the Jat religion, on the whole, is concerned more with the ‘competences’ (Nadel, 1954: 259-60), that is, the things religion does for individuals and societies, the effects it has upon their lives and actions or the needs it satisfies, rather the strict conformity to religious rites and practices for the sake of religious ecstasy or personal experience, or the interest in the abstract theology of religion, as is generally found among the members of certain priestly or high castes. Worship of ancestors and of the lineage gods, belief in the efficacy of the curse and in the theory of dharma and karma (as practiced by the Jats), the concept of the ideal man, and the cathartic aspects of the belief in black magic and the evil eye, are such examples of pragmatism of the Jat religion. These religious elements, which are harmonious with or are important for the competences, particularly the support of the social structure, are nuclear or integral to the Jat religion. But the Jats are not much concerned with those competences, e.g. religious experience or explanation of the universe, which satisfy only individual needs (ibid: 263). Rather it is those aspects of Hindu religious belief and ideology which affect the life and actions of the members of the society as a whole which are important. But it is not the same thing to say that religion as a whole acts as a unifying force or that it always brings social solidarity, or that religion and mythology reflect themselves in social, kinship, or political organization.

Note: The fieldwork was carried out mainly in the leader villages of the khap Baliyan, namely, Shoron and Sisauli in district Muzaffarnagar in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The khap Baliyan comprises 84 villages (some of which are now depopulated) having an approximate area of 288 sq. miles.


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