Socio Economic System: The Jajmani system and its bearing on traditional society

Socio Economic System: The Jajmani system and its bearing on traditional society

Caste system has a stronger hold in rural areas than the cities. The traditions, customs and rules of behaviour differ from caste to caste. The members of each caste have to follow their hereditary occupation. Although the different castes are socially segregated, yet there arises several social occasions when one caste has to secure the services of the other castes. Such interdependence has been given the name of ‘Jajmani System’. Under this system each caste in the village is expected to give certain standardised services to other castes.

Jajmani system is the backbone of rural economy and social order. The term ‘jajman’ refers to the patron or recipient of specialised services and the term ‘jajmani’ refers to the whole relationship. In fact, the jajmani system is a system of economic, social and ritual ties among different caste groups in a village.

Jajman is a “person by whom a Brahmin is hired to perform religious services, hence a patron, a client.” Etymologically, the word jajmani is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Jajman’ which means a person who performs a Jajna and for the purpose of performance of Jajna he has to hire the service of a Brahmin. Gradually this term came to be applied to everyone who hired services or to whom some service was given.

According to Oscar Lewis, “Under this system each caste group within a village is expected to give certain standardised services to the families of other castes”.

Harold Gould described Jajmani system as interfamilial and inter-caste relationship pertaining to patterning of super ordinate and subordinate relation between patrons and suppliers of services. A traditional specialised occupation of villagers based on caste system led to the exchange of services in the rural society. The relationship between servicing castes and served castes was long lasting, caste oriented and broadly supportive.

Under jajmani system the primary functions of the Brahmin caste is to perform various religious and ceremonial rituals. The Kumhars or Potters make certain pots. In the village the people use earthen pots for various domestic purposes.

The ‘Dhobi’ or Washerman washes the clothes of others in the village. The Barber dresses the hair of villagers, Carpenter meets the wood-work requirements and ‘Kamar’ or Blacksmith makes agriculture equipment and other household effects like touge, hammer etc. which are made of iron.

Everyone works for certain family or group of families, with whom he is linked hereditarily. The son performs and will perform same kind of duties performed by his father or forefather. Thus, professions and services in villages are determined by the caste and have come fixed by long traditions. The family or families entitled to certain services from certain persons are called jajman.

These two terms, jajman and Kamin are popular in North Indian villages. Though this system is found all over India the terms used for jajman and kamin are different in different regions. The first study of jajmani tradition in India was made by William H. Wiser in his book, “The Indian Jajmani system.” Oscar Lewis had made more elaborate study of this system. Various sociological studies on jajmani system conducted in Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Malabar, Coachin, Tanjore, Hyderabad, Gujarat and Punjab regions show that this system is universal in rural India.

The serving castes offer their services to landowning upper and intermediate castes and in turn are paid both in cash and kind. The patrons are the landowning dominant castes such as Rajput, Bhumihar, Jat in the North and Kamma, Lingayat and Reddi in Andhra Pradesh and Patel in Gujarat, while the suppliers of the services are from the castes of Brahmin (priest). Barber, Carpenter, Blacksmith, water-carrier, leather workers etc.

A patron had jajmani relations with members of high castes (like Brahmin Priest whose services he needed for rituals). He also required the services of specialists from lower castes perform those necessary tasks like washing of dirty clothes cutting of hair, cleaning of rooms and toilets etc.

Indian Society is structured on caste pattern and the economic and professional relationship between various castes in this setup is called jajmani system. It is a pre- established division of labour among the castes sanctioned by religious and social traditions.

Jajmani is a peculiarity of Indian villages. In India professions are generally hereditary and there is a long tradition of families carrying on selfsame professions over generations. Normally, there is no deviation from the hereditary professions Thus, the son of a Carpenter will become carpenter and the son of an iron-smith will become an iron-smith. Every Indian villager considers it natural and right to engage in professions peculiar to his caste and, on account of long tradition, feels at home in it and easily acquires proficiency.

Prof. Y. Singh describes jajmani system as a system governed by relationship based on reciprocity in inter-caste relations in villages. Ishwaran holds the view that it is a system in which each caste has a role to play in a community life as a whole called as “aya” in Mysore in South India, each caste plays a role consisting of economic, social and moral functions. Mandelbaum held that the jajmani system essentially operates at the family level. The landowning family has its jajmani ties with one family each from Brahmin, Barber, Carpenter etc.

The term as N.S Reddy observes, the farmer who engages Carpenter or iron smith for manufacture or repair of his tools is jajman and the Carpenter and the iron-smith are kamin or parjan. Between jajman and Parjan the relationship is hereditary and is based on tradition Jajmans get a variety of jobs done by parjans , for example, the Barber dresses the hair and shaves the beard. Kahar brings water from the well or river as the case may be, sweeper does sanitary jobs. For these services parjans are paid something, in a majority of cases farmers in Indian villages give grains for the services of the parjans. In modern times currency notes are fast replacing all other media of exchange even in villages. In jajmani system, jajman enjoys so much respect that he is often referred to as Rajah (King) and parjans as subjects.

The jajmani relations required ritual matters and social support as well as economic exchanges. On occasions like birth, marriage and death the serving castes render their services by performing the ritual and ceremonial duties at the jajman’s house and receive gifts in addition to customary payment. The support of jajmani associates is also needed at the time of factional contest.

Thus, the jajmani system involves interdependence, reciprocity and cooperation between castes and families in villages. D.N. Majumdar has cited the example of a Thakur family (of Rajput caste) in a village in Lucknow district in U.P. which is served by as many as families often castes for the life-cycle rites. As for example, at the birth-feast of a child, the priest presides over the ceremony of ‘Nain-Sanskarana’, Washerman washes dirty clothes, Barber carries messages, Goldsmith provides the gold ornament of the new-born, Blacksmith provides iron bangle, Pasi provides ‘patal’ (leaf-plates) for taking food, Carpenter provides wooden tool on which the child was kept for the ceremony. The Potter provides jugs for keeping cooked vegetables and drinking water; scavenger cleans the place after the feast.

The need of goods and services of others are also required for the kamins (lower castes) who provide specialized skills and services to their jajmans. According-to Harlod Gould, these lower castes make their own jajmani arrangements either through direct exchange of labour or by paying in cash or kind. Like the lower castes, the middle castes also either subscribe to each other’s services in return for compensations and payments or exchange services with one another.

The jajmani relationship exists between families rather than castes, because family of a particular caste will get a share of the landowning family’s crop at harvest and not all the families of the same caste. The jajmani relationship between the families of different castes is durable, because a family of the kamin castes serves the family of the jajmani castes.

The same relationship had also existed in the last generation and will continue in the next generation. As for example, the Rajput family … gets the tools and repairs from the descendant of the same blacksmith (lohar) families, whose family members made tool for their family members but when a family becomes extinct, another of its lineage may take its place in the relationship.

Orenstein has mentioned that the families of village officials or village servants like the watchman maintain jajmani relations with the whole village rather than with particular families. Thus, a watchman’s family is entitled to get contribution during harvest seasons from every landowner’s family in the village.

The village servants also enjoy the privilege of tax-free use of village land. In some cases, the service families maintain jajmani relations with a segment of the village and not with individual families. Such service families have the rights to serve all those families within the particular segment of the village.

“Hindu jajmani system may be approached as an institution or social system within Indian villages made up of a network of roles and of norms integrated into the roles and into the system as a whole and legitimised and supported by general cultural values,” writes Colenda. It is pre-established division of labour among the castes sanctioned by religious and social traditions. The jajmani system involves interdependence, reciprocity and co-operation between jatis and families in villages.


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