The term Jajmani is derived from the Sanskrit word “jajman/ yagyaman”. The word ‘Jajman’ refers to an individual who has the resources to conduct sacrifices. Since it requires rituals; the role of the priests becomes important. However, in sociological literature jajmani system has come to be accepted as a general term to describe the economic interaction between the castes at the village level. This system is also a ritual system concerned with the aspects of purity and pollution as with economic aspects. It functions so that the highest caste remains pure while the lowest castes absorb pollution from them.
William H Wiser introduced the term Jajmani system in his book ‘The Hindu Jajmani system‘ where he described in detail how different caste groups interact with each other in the production and exchange of goods and services. It was studied in a systematic manner and popularised by William H Wiser while studying the Dhobis of Kareempur village in western Uttar Pradesh. According to him, the Jajmani system is a socio-economic relationship of muted interdependency seen between the so-called upper castes and lower castes in the rural area of India. It is social because it is rooted in caste. It is economic because it fulfilled the economics of the upper caste as well as the lower caste.
In different parts of India, different terms are used to describe this economic interaction among the castes for example in Maharashtra the term Bare Balutadar is used. Similar systems are also present in other parts of India like Adade in Karnataka and Mirasi in Tamilnadu.
Definitions of Jajmani System
Harold Gould has described the jajmani system as an inter-familial, inter-caste relationship pertaining to the patterning of superordinate-subordinate relations between patrons and suppliers of services.
Yogendra Singh has described jajmani system as a system governed by a relationship based on reciprocity in inter-caste relations in villages.
The Jajmani system consists of the upper caste category that has resources (jajman) and the lower caste category which has control only over labour power. The individual in this category is called Kamin. In the rural areas, the jajman owns the land, livestock, etc.
The Kamins and his family members provide their services to the Jajman and his family members generation after generation. A Kamin may inclusively provide his services to only one family of jajman or he may also provide his services to a number.of jajman in a number of villages. This continues generation after generation and in return the Kamin is rewarded in cash or in kind.
Thus, Jajmani system is an example of redistribution exchange. Under this system, all the resources move towards the center i.e. the jajman.
For example- The food grains, fruits vegetables milk, etc. move towards jajman who is at the center of the exchange. From the center i.e. The jajman, the same resources get redistributed among the Kamins. Because of this, Jajmani system is also regarded as an arrangement of division of labour. It not only ensures that all the services are fulfilled but also fulfilled the distribution of resources. It became a relationship of mutual interdependence.
However, the Jajmani system is exploitative in nature. The Kamins are never rewarded adequately. Since it is a hereditary relationship; it is followed generation after generation because of which merit and efficiency become irrelevant. The Kamin are compelled to remain associated with the same occupation. It strengthens the caste system and the feeling of superiority and inferiority crystallizes itself.
- It also extends to neighboring villages.
- Problems are settled by the Caste Panchayat (or Village Panchayat)
- It Operates at the family level.
- Each family maintains Enduring (hereditary), Exclusive (family to family), and Multiple(social, economic, and ritual) bonds.
- It is a system of Reciprocity.
- In it, elements of domination and exploitation are present.
- It is gradually breaking down. Its continuation is only being seen in rural North-Indian Villages in rudimentary form.
Karl Polanyi– It is a classification of exchange system -Jajmani exchange can be termed as a redistributive system of exchange.
Dumont– jajmani system makes use of hereditary personal relationships to express the division of labour. This system is a ritual expression rather than just an economic arrangement.
S.C Dube refers to the system as corresponding to the presentation and counter presentation by which castes as a whole are bound together in a village that is more or less universal in nature.
Leach– Jajmani system maintains and regulates the division of labour and economic interdependence of castes.
Functionalist view– basis of self-sufficiency, unity, harmony, and stability in the village community.
Marxist View- Marxists regard the jajmani system as essentially exploitative, characterized by a latent conflict of interest which could not crystallize due to the prevalent social setup. Thus if in the future the conditions of the lower caste improve an open conflict between the lower and upper caste is inevitable.
Oscar Lewis (who studied Rampur village near Delhi) and Biedelmn have been critical of the Jajmani system which they regard as exploitative. According to them the members of occupational jatis are largely landless labourers and have no resources to wage a struggle against the dominant caste out of the compulsion of the need for survival. They succumb to all injustice perpetuated by the landowning dominant caste who enjoy both economic and political power.
Mixed Views- Scholars like Berreman, Harold Gould, and Pauline Kolenda, etc accept that there is an element of truth in both the functionalist and Marxist views of the jajmani system. They believe that consensus and harmony as well as conflict and exploitation are prevalent in the village society.
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