No one asked the question of caste – When the video of female priests in Durga Puja went viral

Recently, a video of four female priests performing the rituals in a Durga Puja Mandap in Kolkata surfaced on various social media platforms. The video shows four Brahmin women priests leading the rituals in a famous pandal in Durga Puja in southern Calcutta. As much as I was delighted to see female priests breaking down conventional gender barriers, I noticed that there was one thing that remained completely outside of the conversations going on around it. I have seen many articles on this subject online – praising, support and glorify the gesture of the Puja committee, but none of them seem to address the only thing closely related to the priesthood, namely caste identity – let alone questioning it.

One way to understand the caste system is occupational segregation or the division of labor. It consists of four varnas – the upper caste Brahmins (priests and teachers), the Kshatriyas (rulers and warriors), the Vaishya (traders, retailers and moneylenders) and the Shudra (servants and manual labor). People from Scheduled Castes or Dalits have been relegated and subordinated to subordinate forms of employment due to their caste identity.

Such a system structures work and occupation choices in a hierarchy that allows a group to engage in particular activities while at the same time excluding others from the same choices due to their position on the caste scale. . There is no doubt that caste has immense implications in the evolution of life and often becomes the salient identity when linked to such occupations. Its existence cannot be denied or denied.

Read also : The historical erasure of revolutionary Dalit feminism in India

This is why, a group of Brahmin women performing the rituals exclusively reserved for Brahmin men do not question the dominant oppressive systems, their participation only permeates its existence while consolidating the status quo. When I saw the video, I couldn’t help but notice the dress of the women – the clothes they were wearing or the eloquence of her English speaking style. I couldn’t help but see the privileges that she embodied and reproduced in these spaces. Letting a Brahmin woman lead the rituals does little to resist, challenge, or dismantle larger systems of oppression. It distorts social reality just enough to continue to maintain a Brahmanic upper caste hegemony. It can also lead to the co-optation of feminist movements by realigning them with the interests of the upper castes, as has been the case historically.

The ruling, although it challenged work and gender dynamics and may have some symbolic significance, but failed to recognize caste affiliation associated with the priesthood. Instead, it perpetuated caste-based practices secretly under the guise of gender equality. The underlying notions of casteism therefore remain unrecognized and in the process, invisible by affirming a narrative of feminism and gender equality. The rhetoric is offered in a way where caste issues are diverted and encompassed under the larger objective of abolishing patriarchy.

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For the first time in the history of Durga Puja, female priestesses will lead the pujo
Recently, a video of four female priests performing the rituals in a Durga Puja Mandap in Kolkata surfaced on various social media platforms. Image Source: Get Bengal

However, this is not to undermine the Puja committee’s gesture, but there are a few questions that require careful thought – Can a system like Patriarchy be understood independently of other factors that influence and determine its plan? ‘action? Can we capture the nuances and complexities that shape gender experiences without confronting all other systems of stratification and social hierarchies?

There are a few questions that require careful deliberation – Can a system like patriarchy be understood independently of other factors that influence and determine its course of action? Can we capture the nuances and subtleties that shape gender experiences without confronting all other systems of stratification and social hierarchies?

Of course, there is a vast literature on intersectionality that precisely argues and points to the existence of multiple identities that intersect and overlap, thereby simultaneously shaping experiences of discrimination and exclusion and determining the chances and outcomes of discrimination. life. Understanding gender dynamics without taking into account other aspects will end up providing a narrow perspective, thereby removing the complexity of the issue. Caste identity in the priesthood cannot be evaded or remain unchallenged. Any attempt to subvert it will only strengthen the power and privileges of the upper caste.

Read also : Durga Puja and the myth of worshiping “Nari Shakti”

As mentioned earlier, the purpose of this article is not to disparage the Puja Committee but to bring the issue of caste into the larger discourse and to facilitate further dialogue on the issue. The caste system is an integral part of our reality, even though its mode of functioning and reproduction has changed. It may not be as straightforward as it used to be. Challenging systems of power requires an intersectional approach and, unless we begin to look at certain things from that angle, we can be complicit in the reproduction of a social structure that privileges particular individuals while depriving and depriving them. simultaneously excluding others.

Without recognizing the caste dynamics inherent in the priesthood alongside gender, this will only strengthen upper caste identities. Perhaps the representation of women from disadvantaged caste groups in such professions can facilitate the breakdown of the Brahmanic social order or, realistically, initiate a shift in an inclusive and democratic direction.


Moubani Maitra is a master’s student at the International Institute for Labor Studies in The Hague, the Netherlands. His research focuses on the intersection of politics and politics – more specifically, how contemporary politics shapes social policies in India. You can find her on Linkedin, Instagram and Facebook.

Featured Image Source: YouTube

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