Chamar: Central India

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From The Tribes And Castes Of The Central Provinces Of India

By R. V. Russell

Of The Indian Civil Service

Superintendent Of Ethnography, Central Provinces

Assisted By Rai Bahadur Hira Lal, Extra Assistant Commissioner

Macmillan And Co., Limited, London, 1916.

NOTE 1: The 'Central Provinces' have since been renamed Madhya Pradesh.

NOTE 2: While reading please keep in mind that all articles in this series have been scanned from the original book. Therefore, footnotes have got inserted into the main text of the article, interrupting the flow. Readers who spot these footnotes gone astray might like to shift them to their correct place.

Chamars of present Madhya Pradesh

The Hindus a bitter and long-standing feud is in progress. Outside Chhattlsgarh the Chamars are found in most of the Hindi -speaking Districts whose population has been re- cruited from northern and central India, and here they are perhaps the most debased class of the community, con- signed to the lowest of menial tasks, and their spirit broken by generations of servitude. In the Maratha country the place of the Chamars is taken by the Mehras or Mahars. In the whole of India the Chamars are about eleven millions strong, and are the largest caste with the exception of the Brahmans. The name is derived from the Sanskrit Char- makara, a worker in leather ; and, according to classical tradition, the Chamar is the offspring of a Chandal or sweeper woman by a man of the fisher caste.

The superior physical type of the Chamar has been noticed in several localities. Thus in the Kanara District of Bombay ^ the Chamar women are said to be famed for their beauty of face and figure, and there it is stated that the Padminis or perfect type of women, middle-sized with fine features, black lustrous hair and eyes, full breasts and slim waists,^ are all Chamarins. Sir D. Ibbetson writes '^ that their women are celebrated for beauty, and loss of caste is often attributed to too great a partiality for a Chamarin. In Chhattlsgarh the Chamars are generally of fine stature and fair complexion ; some of them are lighter in colour than the Chhattlsgarhi Brahmans, and it is on record that a European officer mistook a Chamiar for a Eurasian and addressed him in English. This, how- ever, is by no means universally the case, and Sir H. Risley considers ^ that " The average Chamar is hardly distinguish- able in point of features, stature or complexion from the members of those non-Aryan races from whose ranks we should primarily expect the profession of leather-dressers to be recruited." Again, Sir Henry Elliot, writing of the Chamars of the North-Western Provinces, says : "

There are other genealogies show- four, and of these Padmini is the most ing the Chamar as the offspring of perfect. No details of the other classes various mixed unions. are given. Kdsmdla, i. p. l6o. 2 Bombay Gazetteer, so\.y.^.\\'!iXi2.x?^, * Punjab Census Report (1881), p. P- 355- 320. • The Hindus say that there are five Tribes and Castes 0/ Bengal, art. classes of women, Padmini, Ilastini, Chamar. Chitrani and Shunkhini being the first

are reputed to be a dark race, and a fair Chamar is said to be as rare an object as a black Brahman : Karia Bni/uiian, gor C/icrindr, hike satli ml ittariye par, that is, ' Do not cross a river in the same boat with a black Brahman or a fair Chamar,' both being of evil omen." The latter description would certainly apply to the Chamars of the Central Provinces outside the Chhattlsgarh Districts, but hardly to the caste as a whole within that area.

No satis- factory explanation has been offered of this distinction of appearance of some groups of Chamars. It is possible that the Chamars of certain localities may be the descendants of a race from the north-west, conquered and enslaved by a later wave of immigrants ; or that their physical development may owe something to adult marriage and a flesh diet, even though consisting largely of carrion. It may be noticed that the sweepers, who eat the broken food from the tables of the Europeans and wealthy natives, are sometimes stronger and better built than the average Hindu. Similarly, the Kasais or Muhammadan butchers are proverbially strong and lusty.

But no evidence is forthcoming in support of such conjectures, and the problem is likely to remain insoluble. " The Chamars," Sir H. Risley states,^ " trace their own pedigree to Ravi or Rai Das, the famous disciple of Ramanand at the end of the fourteenth century, and when- ever a Chamar is asked what he is, he replies a Ravi Das. Another tradition current among them alleges that their original ancestor was the youngest of four Brahman brethren who went to bathe in a river and found a cow struggling in a quicksand. They sent the youngest brother in to rescue the animal, but before he could get to the spot it had been drowned.

He was compelled, therefore, by his brothers to remove the carcase, and after he had done this they turned him out of their caste and gave him the name of Chamar." Other legends are related by Mr. Crooke in his article on the caste. The Chamars are broken up into a number of endoga- ^ Endo- mous subcastes. Of these the largest now consists of the gamous divisions. 1 Loc. cit.

members of the Satnami sect in ChhattTsgarh, who do not intermarry with other Chamars. They are described in the article on that sect. The other Chamars call the Satnamis Jharia or 'jungly/ which implies that they are the oldest residents in ChhattTsgarh. The Satnamis are all cultivators, and have given up working in leather. The Chungias (from chungi, a leaf-pipe) are a branch of the Satnamis who have taken to smoking, a practice which is forbidden by the rules of the sect. In ChhattTsgarh those Chamars who still cure hides and work in leather belong either to the Kanaujia or Ahirwar subcastes, the former of whom take their name from the well-known classical town of Kanauj in northern India, while the latter are said to be the descendants of unions between Chamar fathers and AhTr mothers.

The Kanaujias are much addicted to drink, and though they eat pork they do not rear pigs. The Ahirwars, or Erwars as they are called outside ChhattTsgarh, occupy a somewhat higher position than the Kanaujias. They consider them- selves to be the direct descendants of the prophet Raidas or Rohidas, who, they say, had seven wives of different castes; one of them was an AhTr woman, and her offspring were the ancestors of the Ahirwar subcaste. Both the Kanaujias and Ahirwars of ChhattTsgarh are generally known to out- siders as Paikaha, a term which indicates that they still follow their ancestral calling of curing hides, as opposed to the Satnamis, who have generally eschewed it. Those Chamars who are curriers have, as a rule, the right to receive the hides of the village cattle in return for removing the carcases, each family of Chamars having allotted to them a certain number of tenants whose dead cattle they take, while their women are the hereditary midwives of the village. Such Chamars have the designation of Meher.

The Kanau- jias make shoes out of a single piece of leather, while the Ahirwars cut the front separately. The latter also ornament their shoes with fancy work consisting of patterns of silver thread on red cloth. No Ahirwar girl is married until she has shown herself proficient in this kind of needlework.^ Another well-known group, found both in ChhattTsgarh and elsewhere, are the Jaiswaras, who take their name from the ' From Mr. Gordon's paper. II Sl/nCAS'J'RS CONTINUF.n 407 old town of Jais in the United Provinces. Many of them serve as grooms, and are accustomed to state their caste as Jaisvvara, considering it a more respectable designation than Chamar. The Jaiswaras must carry burdens on their heads only and not on their shoulders, and they must not tie up a dog with a halter or neck-rope, this article being venerated by them as an implement of their calling.

A breach of either of these rules entails temporary excommunication from caste and a fine for readmission. Among a number of territorial groups may be mentioned the Bundelkhandi or immigrants from I^undelkhand ; the Bhadoria from the Bhadawar State ; the Antarvedi from Antarved or the Doab, the country lying between the Ganges and Jumna ; the Gangapari or those from the north of the Ganges ; and the Pardeshi (foreigners) and Desha or Deswar (belonging to the country), both of which groups come from Hindustan. The Deswar Chamars of Narsinghpur ^ are now all agri- culturists and have totally abjured the business of working in leather. The Mahobia and Khaijraha take their names from the towns of Mahoba and Khaijra in Central India. The Ladse or Ladvi come from south Gujarat, which in classical times was known as Lat ; while the Maratha, Beraria and Dakhini subdivisions belong to southern India. There are a number of other territorial groups of less importance. Certain subcastes are of an occupational nature, and 3. Sub- among these may be mentioned the Budalgirs of Chhind- continued wara, who derive their name from the budla, or leather bag made for the transport and storage of oil and gki.

The budla, Mr. Trench remarks,^ has been ousted by the kerosene oil tin, and the industry of the Budalgirs has consequently almost disappeared ; but the budlas are still used by barbers to hold oil for the torches which they carry in wedding processions. The Daijanya subcaste are so named because their women act as midwives {dai), but this business is by no means confined to one particular group, being undertaken generally by Chamar women. The Kataua or Katwa are leather-cutters, the name being derived from kdtna, to cut. And the Gobardhua (from gobar, cowdung) collect the ' Alonograph on Leather Industries, p. 9. ^ Ibidem.

droppings of cattle on the threshing-floors and wash out and eat the undigested grain. The Mochis or shoemakers and Jingars ^ or saddlemakers and bookbinders have ob- tained a better position than the ordinary Chamars, and have now practically become separate castes ; while, on the other hand, the Dohar subcaste of Narsinghpur have sunk to the very lowest stage of casual labour, grass-cutting and the like, and are looked down on by the rest of the caste.

The Korchamars are said to be the descendants of alliances between Chamars and Koris or weavers, and the Turkanyas probably have Turk or Musalman blood in their veins. In Berar the Romya or Haralya subcaste claim the highest rank and say that their ancestor Harlya was the primeval Chamar who stripped off a piece of his own skin to make a pair of shoes for Mahadeo.^ The Mangya * Chamars of Chanda and the Nona Chamars of Damoh are groups of beggars, who are the lowest of the caste and will take food from the hands of any other Chamar, The Nona group take their name from Nona or Lona Chamarin, a well- known witch about whom Mr. Crooke relates the following story :

Her legend tells how Dhanwantari, the physician of the gods, was bitten by Takshaka, the king of the snakes, and knowing that death approached he ordered his sons to cook and eat his body after his death, so that they might thereby inherit his skill in medicine. They accordingly cooked his body in a cauldron, and were about to eat it when Takshaka appeared to them in the form of a Brahman and warned them against this act of cannibalism. So they let the cauldron float down the Ganges, and as it floated down, Lona the Chamarin, who was washing on the bank of the river, took the vessel out in ignorance of its contents, and partook of the ghastly food. She at once obtained power to cure diseases, and especially snake-bite. One day all the women were transplanting rice, and it was found that Lona could do as much work as all her companions put together.

So they watched her, and when she thought she was alone she stripped off her clothes (nudity being an ' See articles on these castes. ^ Berdr Census Report (1881), p. 149. ^ Monograph on Leather Industries, * From viangna, to beg. p. 3. " Tribes and Castes, art. Chamar. essential element in magic), muttered .some spells, and threw the plants into the air, when they all settled down in their proper places. Finding she was observed, she tried to escape, and as she ran the earth opened, and all the water of the rice -fields followed iicr and thus was formed the channel of the Loni River in the Unao District." This Lona or Nona has obtained the position of a nursery bogey, and throughout Hindustan, Sir H. Risley states, parents frighten naughty children by telling them that Nona Chamarin will carry them off. The Chamars say that she was the mother or grandmother of the prophet Ravi Das, or Rai Das already referred to. The caste is also divided into a large number of exoga- 4- Exo- mous groups or sections, whose names, as might be expected, divisions present a great diversity of character. Some are borrowed from Rajput clans, as Surajvansi, Gaharwar and Rathor

while others, as Marai, are taken from the Gonds. Instances of sections named after other castes are Banjar (Banjara), Jogi, Chhipia (Chhipi, a tailor) and Khairwar (a forest tribe). The Chhipia section preserve the memory of their compara- tively illustrious descent by refusing to eat pork. Instances of sections called after a title or nickname of the reputed founder are Maladhari, one who wears a garland ; Machhi- Mundia or fly-headed, perhaps the equivalent of feather- brained ; Hathlla, obstinate ; Baghmar, a tiger-killer ; Man- gaya, a beggar ; Dhuliya, a drummer ; Jadkodiha, one who digs for roots, and so on.

There are numerous territorial groups named after the town or village where the ancestor of the clan may be supposed to have lived ; and many names also are of a totemistic nature, being taken from plants, animals or natural objects. Among these are Khunti, a peg; Chandaniha, sandalwood; Tarwaria, a sword ; Borbans, plums ; Miri, chillies ; Chauria, a whisk ; Baraiya, a wasp ; Khalaria, a hide or skin; Kosni, kosa or tasar silk; and Purain, the lotus plant. Totemistic observances survive only in one or two isolated instances. A man must not take a wife from his own section, nor in 5. Mar- some localities from that of his mother or either of his grand- "^^^' mothers. Generally the union of first cousins is prohibited. Adult marriage is the rule, but those who wish to improve

their social position have taken to disposing of their daughters at an early age.

Matches are always arranged by the parents, and it is the business of the boy's father to find a bride for his son. A bride-price is paid which may vary from two pice (farthings) to a hundred rupees, but usually averages about twenty rupees. In Chanda the amount is fixed at Rs. 1 3 and it is known as hunda, but if the bride's grandmother is alive it is increased to Rs. 15-8, and the extra money is given to her. The marriage ceremony follows the standard type prevalent in the locality. On his journey to the girl's house the boy rides on a bullock and is wrapped up in a blanket. In Bilaspur a kind of sham fight takes place between the parties, which is a reminiscence of the former practice of marriage by capture and is thus described as an eye-witness by the Rev. E. M. Gordon of Mungeli : ^ " As the bridegroom's party approached the home of the bride the boy's friends lifted him up on their shoulders, and, surrounding him on every side, they made their way to the bride's house, swinging round their sticks in a threatening manner. On coming near the house they crossed sticks with the bride's friends, who gradually fell back and allowed the bridegroom's friends to advance in their direction.

The women of the house gathered with baskets and fans and some threw about rice in pretence of self-defence. When the sticks of the bridegroom's party struck the roof of the bride's house or of the marriage-shed her friends considered themselves defeated and the sham fight was at an end." Among the Maratha Chamars of Betul two earthen pots full of water are half buried in the ground and worship is paid to them. The bride and bridegroom then stand together and their relatives take out water from the pots and pour it on to their heads from above. The idea is that the pouring of the sacred water on to them will make them grow, and if the bride is much smaller than the bridegroom more water is poured on to her in order that she may grow faster. The practice may symbolise the fertilising influence of rain. Among the Dohar Chamars of Narsinghpur the bride and bridegroom are seated on a plough-yoke while the marriage ^ liidiati Folk-Tales.

ceremony is performed. Before the wedding the bride's party take a goat's leg in a basket with other articles to the jamvdsa or bridegroom's lodging and present it to his father. The bride and bridegroom take the goat's leg and beat each other with it alternately. Another ceremony, known as Pendpuja, consists in placing pieces of stick with cotton stuck to the ends in an oven and burning them in the name of the deceased ancestors ; but the signijficance, if there be any, of this rite is obscure. Some time after the wedding the bride is taken to her husband's house to live with him, and on this occasion a simple ceremony known as Chauk or Pathoni is performed.

Widows commonly remarry, and may take for their 6. Widow- second husband anybody they please, except their own ^J^'^'^^'^ relatives and their late husband's elder brother and ascendant divorce, relations. In Chhattisgarh widows are known either as barandi or randi, the randi being a widow in the ordinary sense of the term and the bai-andi a girl who has been married but has not lived with her husband. Such a girl is not required to break her bangles on her husband's death, and, being more in demand as a second wife, her father naturally obtains a good price for her. To many a woman whose husband is alive is known as chhandzve banana, the term cJiJiandive implying that the woman has discarded, or has been discarded by, her husband. The second husband must in this case repay to the first husband the expenses incurred by him on his wedding.

The marriage ceremony for a widow is of the simplest character, and consists generally of the presentation to her by her new husband of those articles which a married woman may use, but which should be forsworn by a widow, as representing the useless vanities of the world. Thus in Saugor the bridegroom presents his bride with new clothes, vermilion for the parting of her hair, a spangle for her forehead, lac dye for her feet, antimony for the eyes, a comb, glass bangles and betel-leaves. In Mandla and Seoni the bridegroom gives a ring, according to the English custom, instead of bangles. When a widow marries a second time her first husband's property remains with his family and also the children, unless they are very young, when the mother may keep them for a few years and subsequently send them

back to their father's relatives. Divorce is permitted for a variety of causes, and is usually effected in the presence of the caste panchdyat or committee by the husband and wife breaking a straw as a symbol of the rupture of the union.

In Chanda an image of the divorced wife is made of grass and burnt to indicate that to her husband she is as good as dead ; if she has children their heads and faces are shaved in token of mourning, and in the absence of children the husband's younger brother has this rite performed ; while the husband gives a funeral feast known as Marti Jlti kd Bhdt, or ' The feast of the living dead woman.' In Chhattlsgarh marriage ties are of the loosest description, and adultery is scarcely recognised as an offence. A woman may go and live openly with other men and her husband will take her back afterwards. Sometimes, when two men are in the relation of Mahaprasad or nearest friend to each other, that is, when they have vowed friendship on rice from the temple of Jagannath, they will each place his wife at the other's dis- posal. The Chamars justify this carelessness of the fidelity of their wives by the saying, ' If my cow wanders and comes home again, shall I not let her into her stall ? ' In Seoni, if a Chamar woman is detected in a misdemeanour with a man of the caste, both parties are taken to the bank of a tank or river, where their heads are shaved in the pres- ence of the caste panchdyat or committee. They are then made to bathe, and the shoes of all the assembled Chamars made up into two bundles and placed on their heads, while they are required to promise that they will not repeat the offence.


The caste usually bury the dead with the feet to the north, like the Gonds and other aboriginal tribes. They say that heaven is situated towards the north, and the dead man should be placed in a position to start for that direction. Another explanation is that the head of the earth lies towards the north, and yet another that in the Satyug or beginning of time the sun rose in the north ; and in each succeeding Yug or era it has veered round the compass until now in the Kali Yug or Iron Age it rises in the east. In Chhattlsgarh, before burying a corpse, they often make a mark on the body with butter, oil or soot ; and when a child is

subsequently born into the same family they look for any kind of mark on the corrcspondinLj place on its body. If any such be found they consider the child as a reincarnation of the deceased person. Still-born children, and those who die before the Chathi or sixth-day ceremony of purification, arc not taken to the burial-ground, but their bodies are placed in an earthen pot and interred below the doorway or in the courtyard of the house. In such cases no funeral feast is demanded from the family, and some people believe that the custom tends in favour of the mother bearing another child ; others say, however, that its object is to prevent the tonhi or witch from getting hold of the body of the child and rousing its spirit to life to do her bidding as Matia Deo.^ In Seoni a curious rule obtains to the effect that the bodies of those who eat carrion or the flesh of animals dying a natural death should be cremated.

In the northern Districts a bier painted white is used for a man and a red one for a woman. Among the better-class Chamars it is customary to place s. Chiid- a newborn child in a winnowing-fan on a bed of rice. The ^"^^^" nurse receives the rice and she also goes round to the houses of the headman of the village and the relatives of the family and makes a mark with covvdung on their doors as an announcement of the birth, for which she receives a small present. In Chhattlsgarh a woman is given nothing to eat or drink on the day that a child is born and for two days afterwards. On the fourth day she receives a liquid decoction of ginger, the roots of the oral or khaskhas grass, areca-nut, coriander and turmeric and other hot substances, and in some places a cake of linseed or sesamum. She sometimes goes on drinking this mixture for as long as a month, and usually receives solid food for the first time on the sixth day after the birth, when she bathes and her impurity is removed. The child is not permitted to suckle its mother until the third day after it is born, but before this it receives a small quantity of a mixture made by boiling the urine of a calf with some medicinal root. In Chhattlsgarh it is a common practice to brand a child on the stomach on the name-day or sixth day after its birth ; twenty or more small burns may be made with the point of a hansia or sickle on the 1 Indian Folk-Tales, pp. 49, 50.

stomach, and it is supposed that this operation will prevent it from catching cold. Another preventive for convulsions and diseases of the lungs is the rubbing of the limbs and body with castor-oil ; the nurse wets her hands with the oil and then warms them before a fire and rubs the child. It is also held in the smoke of burning ajwdin plants {Carum copticuni). Infants are named on the Chathi or sixth day, or sometimes on the twelfth day after birth. The child's head is shaved, and the hair, known as Jhalar, thrown away, the mother and child are washed and the males of the family are shaved. The mother is given her first regular meal of grain and pulse cooked with pumpkins. A pregnant woman who is afraid that her child will die will sometimes sell it to a neighbour before its birth for five or six cowries.

The baby will then be named Pachkouri or Chhekouri, and it is thought that the gods, who are jealous of the lives of children, will overlook one whose name shows it to be value- less. Children are often nicknamed after some peculiarity as Kanwa (one-eyed), Behra (deaf), Konda (dumb), Khurwa (lame), Kari (black), Bhuri (fair). It does not follow that a child called Konda is actually dumb, but it may simply have been late in learning to speak.

Parents are jealous of exposing their children to the gaze of strangers and especially of a crowd, in which there will almost certainly be some malignant person to cast the evil eye upon them. Young children are therefore not infrequently secluded in the house and deprived of light and air to an extent which is highly injurious to them. g. Reii- The castc worship the ordinary Hindu and village deities of the localities in which they reside, and observe the principal festivals.

In Saugor the Chamars have a family god, known as Marri, who is represented by a lump of clay kept in the cooking-room of the house. He is supposed to represent the ancestors of the family. The Seoni Chamars especially worship the castor-oil plant. Generally the caste revere the rdnipi or skinning -knife with offerings of flour-cakes and cocoanuts on festival days. In Chhattisgarh more than half the Chamars belong to the reformed Satnami sect, by which the worship of images is at least nominally abolished. This ' Shells which were formerly used as money. gion.

is separately treated. Mr. Gordon states ' that it is im- possible to form a clear conception of the beliefs of the village Chamars as to the hereafter : " That they have the idea of hell as a place of jiunishment may be gathered from the belief that if salt is spilt the one who docs this will in Fatal—or the infernal region—have to gather up each grain of salt with his eyelids. Salt is for this reason handed round with great care, and it is considered unlucky to receive it in the palm of the hand ; it is therefore invariably taken in a cloth or in a vessel.

There is a belief that the spirit of the deceased hovers round familiar scenes and places, and on this account, whenever it is possible, it is customary to destroy or desert the house in which any one has died. If a house is deserted the custom is to sweep and plaster the place, and then, after lighting a lamp, to leave it in the house and withdraw altogether. After the spirit of the dead has wandered around restlessly for a certain time it is said that it will again become incarnate and take the form of man or of one of the lower animals." The curing and tanning of hides is the primary occupa- 10. Occu- tion of the Chamar, but in 191 1 only 80,000 persons, or P^°"- about a seventh of the actual workers of the caste, were engaged in it, and by Satnamis the trade has been entirely eschewed.

The majority of the Chhattisgarhi Chamars are cultivators with tenant right, and a number of them have obtained villages. In the northern Districts, however, the caste are as a rule miserably poor, and none of them own villages. A very few are tenants, and the vast majority despised and bullied helots. The condition of the leather- working Chamars is described by Mr. Trench as lamentable.' Chief among the causes of their ruin has been the recently established trade in raw hides. Formerly the bodies of all cattle dying within the precincts of the village necessarily became the property of the Chamars, as the Hindu owners could not touch them without loss of caste. But since the rise of the cattle-slaughtering industry the cultivator has put his religious scruples in his pocket, and sells his old and worn-out animals to the butchers for a respectable sum. " For a mere walking skeleton of a cow or bullock from


tanning process

two to four rupees may be had for the asking, and so long as he does not actually see or stipulate for the slaughter of the sacred animal, the cultivator's scruples remain dormant. No one laments this lapse from ortho- doxy more sincerely than the outcaste Chamar.

His situation may be compared with that of the Cornish pilchard -fishers, for whom the growing laxity on the part of continental Roman Catholic countries in the observance of Lent is already more than an omen of coming disaster." ^ The When a hide is to be cured the inside is first cleaned with the rdjjipi, a chisel-like implement with a short > blade four inches broad and a thick short handle. It is then soaked in a mixture of water and lime for ten or twelve days, and at intervals scraped clean of flesh and hair with the rdiiipi. " The skill of a good tanner appears in the absence of superfluous inner skin, fat or flesh, remaining to be removed after the hide is finally taken out of the lime- pit. Next the hard berries of the ghont"^ tree are poured into a large earthen vessel sunk in the ground, and water added till the mixture is so thick as to become barely liquid. In this the folded hide is dipped three or four times a day, undergoing meanwhile a vigorous rubbing and kneading.

The average duration of this process is eight days, and it is followed by what is according to European ideas the real tanning. Using as thread the roots of the ubiquitous palds^ tree, the Chamar sews the hide up into a mussack- shaped bag open at the neck. The sewing is admirably executed, and when drawn tight the seams are nearly, but purposely not quite, water-tight. The hide is then hung on low stout scaffolding over a pit and filled with a decoction of the dried and semi-powdered leaves of the dhaura ^ tree mixed with water. As the decoction trickles slowly through the seams below, more is poured on from above, and from time to time the position of the hide is reversed in such a way that the tanning permeates each part in turn. Sometimes only one reversal of the hide takes place half-way through the process, which occupies as a rule some ^ Monograph on Leather Industries, p. 5. 2 Zizyphiis xylopera. ^ Butea frondosa. * Anogeissus latifolia. ^' ^

SHOES 417 eight days. But energetic Chamars continually turn and relill the skin until satisfied that it is thoroughly saturated with the tanning. After a washing in clean water the hide is now considered to be tanned." ^ In return for receiving the hides of the village cattle the 12. shoes. Chamar had to supply the village proprietor and his family with a pair of shoes each free of payment once a year, and sometimes also the village accountant and watchman ; but the cultivators had usually to pay for them, though nowa- days they also often insist on shoes in exchange for their hides. Shoes are usually worn in the wheat and cotton growing areas, but are less common in the rice country, where they would continually stick in the mud of the fields.

The Saugor or Bundelkhandi shoe is a striking specimen of footgear. The sole is formed of as many as three layers of stout hide, and may be nearly an inch thick. The uppers in a typical shoe are of black soft leather, inlaid with a simple pattern in silver thread. These are covered by flaps of stamped yellow goat-skin cut in triangular and half-moon patterns, the interstices between the flaps being filled with red cloth. The heel-piece is continued more than half-way up the calf behind. The toe is pointed, curled tightly over backwards and surmounted by a brass knob. The high frontal shield protects the instep from mud and spear-grass, and the heel-piece ensures the retention of the shoe in the deepest quagmire. Such shoes cost one or two rupees a pair.^ In the rice Districts sandals are often worn on the road, and laid aside when the cultivator enters his fields. Women go bare- footed as a rule, but sometimes have sandals.

Up till recently only prostitutes wore shoes in public, and no respectable woman would dare to do so. In towns boots and shoes made in the English fashion at Cawnpore and other centres have now been generally adopted, and with these socks are worn. The Mochis and Jingars, who are offshoots from the Chamar caste, have adopted the distinctive occupations of making shoes and horse furniture with prepared leather, and no longer cure hides. They have ' The above is an abridgment of the further details, description in Mr. Trench's il/i3«^^ra//z, ^ Monogi-aph on the Leather Indus- to which reference may be made for tries, pp. lo, ii. VOL. II 2 E

thus developed into a separate caste, and consider themselves greatly superior to the Chamars. 13. Other Other articles made of leather are the thongs and nose- made^of strings for bullocks, the buckets for irrigation wells, rude leather. couutry Saddlery, and inussacks and pakJidls for carrying water. These last are simply hides sewn into a bag and provided with an orifice.

To make a pair of bellows a goat-skin is taken with all four legs attached, and wetted and filled with sand. It is then dried in the sun, the sand shaken out, the sticks fitted at the hind-quarters for blowing, and the pair of bellows is complete, 14. cus- The shoe, as everybody in India knows, is a symbol of toms con- ^j^g greatest degradation and impurity. This is partly on nected with ° ^ ^ •' r j shoes. account of its manufacture from the impure leather or hide, and also perhaps because it is worn and trodden under foot. All the hides of tame animals are polluted and impure, but those of certain wild animals, such as the deer and tiger, are not so, being on the contrary to some extent sacred. This last feeling may be due to the fact that the old anchorites of the forests were accustomed to cover themselves with the skins of wild animals, and to use them for sitting and kneel- ing to pray. A Bairagi or Vaishnava religious mendicant much likes to carry a tiger-skin on his body if he can afford one ; and a Brahman will have the skin of a black-buck spread in the room where he performs his devotions.

Possibly the sin involved in killing tame animals has been partly responsible for the impurity attaching to their hides, to the obtaining of which the death of the animal must be a preliminary. Every Hindu removes his shoes before entering a house, though with the adoption of English boots a breach is being made in this custom. So far as the houses of Europeans are concerned, the retention of shoes is not, as might be imagined, of recent origin, but was noticed by Buchanan a hundred years ago : " Men of rank and their attendants continue to wear their shoes loose for the purpose of throwing them off whenever they enter a room, which they still continue to do everywhere except in the houses of Europeans, in which all natives of rank now imitate our example." In this connection it must be remembered that a Hindu house is always sacred as the shrine of the ^*cI;|a^ ^^^

II THE CHAMAR AS GENERAL VILLAGE DRUDGE 419 household f^od, and shoes are removed before stepping across the threshold on to the hallowed i^round. This con- sideration does not apply to European houses, and affords ground for dispensing with the removal of laced shoes and boots.

To be beaten or sometimes even touched with a shoe by a man of low caste entails temporary social excommunication to most Mindus, and must be expiated by a formal purifica- tion and caste feast. The outcaste Mahars punish a member of their community in the same manner even if somebody should throw a shoe on to the roof of his house, and the Pharasaical absurdities of the caste system surely find their culminating point in this rule. Similarly if a man touches his shoe with his hand and says ' I have beaten you,' to a member of any of the lower castes in Seoni, the person so addressed is considered as temporarily out of caste. If he then immediately goes and informs his caste-fellows he is reinstated with a nominal fine of grain worth one or two pice. But if he goes back to his house and takes food, and the incident is subsequently discovered, a penalty of a goat is levied. A curious exception recognised is that of the Sirkdri jiita, or shoe belonging to a Government servant, and to be beaten with this shoe does not entail social punishment. In return for his perquisite of the hides of cattle the 15. The Chamar has to act as the general village drudge in the ^^^ ^^ northern Districts and is always selected for the performance village of bigdr or forced labour.

When a Government officer visits ™ ^^' the village the Chamar must look after him, fetch what grass or fuel he requires, and accompany him as far as the next village to point out the road. He is also the bearer of official letters and messages sent to the village. The special Chamar on whom these duties are imposed usually receives a plot of land rent-free from the village proprietor. Another of the functions of the Chamar is the castration of the young bullocks, which task the cultivators will not do for themselves. His method is most primitive, the scrotum being held in a cleft bamboo or a pair of iron pincers, while the testicles are bruised and rubbed to pulp with a stone. The animal remains ill for a week or a fortnight and is not

worked for two months, but the operation is rarely or never fatal. In the northern Districts the Chamars are said to be very strong and to make the best farmservants and coolies for earthwork. It is a proverb that ' The Chamar has half a rib more than other men.' Notwithstanding his strength, however, he is a great coward, this characteristic having probably been acquired through centuries of oppression.

Many Chamar women act as midwives. In Raipur the cultivators give her five annas at the birth of a boy and four annas for a girl, while well-to-do people pay a rupee. When the first child of a rich man is born, the midwife, barber and washerman go round to all his friends and re- lations to announce the event and obtain presents. It is a regular function of the Chamars to remove the carcases of dead cattle, which they eat without regard to the disease from which the animal may have died. But a Chamar will not touch the corpse of a pony, camel, cat, dog, squirrel or monkey, and to remove the bodies of such animals a Mehtar (sweeper) or a Gond must be requisitioned. In Raipur it is said that the Chamars will eat only the flesh of four-legged animals, avoiding presumably birds and fish. When acting as a porter the Chamar usually carries a load on his head, whereas the Kahar bears it on his shoulders, and this dis- tinction is proverbial.

In Raipur the Chamars have become retail cattle-dealers and are known as Kochias. They purchase cattle at the large central markets of Baloda and Bamnidih and retail them at the small village bazars. It is said that this trade could . only flourish in Chhattisgarh, where the cultivators are too lazy to go and buy their cattle for themselves. Many Chamars have emigrated from Chhattisgarh to the Assam tea-gardens, and others have gone to Calcutta and to the railway workshops at Kharag- pur and Chakardharpur. Many of them work as porters on the railway. It is probable that their taste for emigration is due to the resentment felt at their despised position in Chhattisgarh. i6.

Social The Chamar ranks at the very bottom of the social scale, status. ^,-|(j contact with his person is considered to be a defilement to high-caste Hindus. He cannot draw vv^ater from the common well and usually lives in a hamlet somewhat removed II SOCIAL STATUS 421 from the main village. But in several localities the rule is not so strict, and in Saugor a Chamar may go into all parts of the house except the cooking and eating rooms. This is almost necessary when he is so commonly employed as a farm- servant. Here the village barber will shave Chamars and the washerman will wash their clothes. And the Chamar himself will not touch the corpse of a horse, a dog or any animal whose feet are uncloven ; and he will not kill a cow though he eats its flesh. It is stated indeed that a Chamar who once killed a calf accidentally had to go to the Ganges to purify himself. The crime of cattle-poisoning is thus rare in Saugor and the other northern Districts, but in the east of the Provinces it is a common practice of the Chamars.

As is usual with the low castes, many Chamars are in some repute as Gunias or sorcerers, and in this capacity they are frequently invited to enter the houses of Hindus to heal persons pos- sessed of evil spirits. When children fall ill one of them is called in and he waves a branch of the mm ^ tree over the child and taking ashes in his hand blows them at it ; he is also consulted for hysterical women. When a Chamar has had something stolen and wishes to detect the thief, he takes the wooden-handled needle used for stitching leather and sticks the spike into the sole of a shoe. Then two persons standing in the relation of maternal uncle and nephew hold the needle and shoe up by placing their forefingers under the wooden handle. The names of all suspected persons are pronounced, and he at whose name the shoe turns on the needle is taken to be the thief. The caste do not employ Brahmans for their ceremonies, but consult them for the selection of auspicious days, as this business can be performed by the Brahman at home and he need not enter the Chamar's house. But poor and despised as the Chamars are they have a pride of their own.

When the Dohar and Maratha Chamars sell shoes to a Mahar they will only allow him to try on one of them and not both, and this, too, he must do in a sitting posture, as an indication of humility. The Harale or Maratha Chamars of Berar " do not eat beef nor work with untanned leather, and they will not work for the lowest castes, as Mahars, Mangs, Basors and ^ Melia indica. 2 Berar Census Report (1881), p. 149.

Kolis. If one of these buys a pair of shoes from the Chamar the seller asks no indiscreet questions ; but he will not mend the pair as he would for a man of higher caste. The Satnamis of Chhattisgarh have openly revolted against the degraded position to which they are relegated by Hinduism and are at permanent feud with the Hindus ; some of them have even adopted the sacred thread. But this inter- esting movement is separately discussed in the article on Satnami. In Chhattisgarh the Chamars are the most criminal class of the population, and have made a regular practice of poisoning cattle with arsenic in order to obtain the hides and flesh. They either mix the poison with mahua flowers strewn on the grazing-ground, or make it into a ball with butter and insert it into the anus of the animal when the herdsman is absent. They also commit cattle-theft and frequently appear at the whipping-post before the court-house.

The estimation in which they are held by their neighbours is reflected in the proverb, ' Hemp, rice and a Chamar ; the more they are pounded the better they are.' " The caste," Mr. Trench writes, " are illiterate to a man, and their intel- lectual development is reflected in their style of living. A visit to a hamlet of tanning Chamars induces doubt as to whence the appalling smells of the place proceed—from the hides or from the tanners. Were this squalor invariably, as it is occasionally, accompanied by a sufficiency of the necessaries of life, victuals and clothing, the Chamar would not be badly off, but the truth is that in the northern Districts at all events the Chamar, except in years of good harvest, does not get enough to eat. This fact is sufficiently indicated by a glance at the perquisites of the village Chamar, who is almost invariably the shoemaker and leather-worker for his little community. In one District the undigested grain left by the gorged bullocks on the threshing-floor is his portion, and a portion for which he will sometimes fight.

Everywhere he is a carrion-eater, paying little or no regard to the disease from which the animal may have died." The custom above mentioned of washing grain from the dung of cattle is not so repugnant to the Hindus, owing to the sacred character of the cow, as it is to us. It is even sometimes u CHARACTER 423 considered holy food :—" The zamindar of Idar, who is named Naron Dus, lives with such austerity that his only food is grain which has passed through oxen and has been separated from their dung ; and this kind of aliment the Brahmans consider pure in the highest degree."^ Old-fashioned cultivators do not muzzle the bullocks treading out the corn, and the animals eat it the whole time, so that much passes through their bodies undigested.

The Chamar will make several maunds (So lbs.) of grain in this way, and to a cultivator who does not muzzle his bullocks he will give a pair of shoes and a plough-rein and yoke-string. Another duty of the Chamar is to look after the banda or large under- ground masonry chamber in which grain is kept. After the grain has been stored, a conical roof is built and plastered over with mud to keep out water. The Chamar looks after the repairs of the mud plaster and in return receives a small quantity of grain, which usually goes bad on the floor of the store -chamber. They prepare the threshing- floors for the cultivators, making the surface of the soil level and beating it down to a smooth and hard surface. In return for this they receive the grain mixed with earth which remains on the threshing-floor after the crop is removed. Like all other village artisans the Chamar is considered by the cultivators to be faithless and dilatory in his dealings with them ; and they vent their spleen in sayings such as the following :—" The Kori, the Chamar and the Ahir, these are the three biggest liars that ever were known. For if you ask the Chamar whether he has mended your shoes he says,

' I am at the last stitch,' when he has not begun them ; if you ask the AhIr whether he has brought back your cow from the jungle he says, * It has come, it has come,' without knowing or caring whether it has come or not ; and if you ask the Kori whether he has made your cloth he says, ' It is on the loom,' when he has not so much as bought the thread." Another proverb conveying the same sense is, ' The Mochi's to-morrow never comes.' But no doubt the uncertainty and delay in payment account for much of this conduct.

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