In this article, we look at the connections between the development of Ikaki Bagh and the local Berwa, and Meena people, including:
- the history and status of the Meena and Berwa people as Scheduled Castes
- the origins and culture of the Meena and Berwa people
- the role and opportunities between the Ikaki Bagh development and the local villages, especially to alleviate entrenched disadvantage
Ikaki Bagh and surrounding villages
Ikaki Bagh is a social enterprise and community engagement project based in the dry countryside of the Bassi Tehsil district near the village Devgaon, approximately 36 kms from central Jaipur.
The district is home to many small villages predominantly off Berwa and Meena people. Jhinjha Village, made up of Berwa people is closest to Ikaki Bagh, a ten-minute walk away.
A visit or stay at Ikaki Bagh provides visitors with a close-up and highly personal opportunity to learn about, and experience, contemporary rural life first-hand of the Berwa and Meena people. Despite their entrenched socio-economic disadvantage, you will be warmly welcomed.
You will have the opportunity to provide direct support to these communities or contribute to the work and development program of Ikaki Bagh but there is absolutely no obligation to do so.
Both the Meena and Berwa people are ‘Scheduled Castes’, officially designated groups of historically disadvantaged people. The term ‘Scheduled Caste’ is listed in the Constitution of India. Since the independence of India, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes were given guarantees in relation to political representation and other measures.
Berwa and Meena people, were formerly known as ‘Untouchables’ and today are described by the term ‘Dalits’ (literally meaning ‘suppressed’ in Hindi). They continue to experience entrenched social disadvantage in all major areas of society including education, health and economic opportunity. Programs of positive discrimination measures are increasingly being put in place leading to gradual improvements in some areas, including increasing political empowerment.
The Constitution lays down the general principles of positive discrimination for these people. However, in practice, these people continue to experience substantial caste-based discrimination, as the lowest members of Indian society.
The Meena people tell the story of their history through various myths and legends tracing their origin to the tenth incarnation of Lord Vishnu (Matsya Avatar). The name of the people is derived from the word Meen, which means ‘fish’ in Sanskrit. They mainly worship Shiva, Hanuman and Krishna as well as the Devies.
Debate still exists about their geographic origin, with majority opinion believing them to be inhabitants of the Indus Valley. They eventually succumbed their dominant ruling position with the advent of the Rajputs. By the time of British Colonial Rule, the Meenas were designated as a ‘criminal tribe’, due to their ongoing resistance towards the British and their local allies.
The cuisine of the Meena community reflects their culture and individuality drawing heavily on close association with farming.
The traditional Meena kitchen typically has an oven made of brick and mud chulha that burns on coal or dried cakes of camel dung. The rotis etc are cooked on direct flame and this is believed to be therapeutic. Heavy brass utensils and thick bottomed pots and pans (such as kadhai, tawa and haandi) are used. Mortar and pestles are used extensively to grind spices.
The following is a list of facts about the Meena people:
- Physically they are recognised as tall, athletic with well-defined features, and are historically noted for their bravery.
- They are one of the largest tribal groups in Rajasthan alongside the Bhils.
- They are an agricultural people by history and culture.
- They are well integrated with other higher castes like Rajputs and Brahmins, who perform all rituals from birth, marriage and death like any other higher Hindu caste.
- They are a member of the second of the four great Hindu castes (the Kshatriyas), the military caste. The traditional function of the Kshatriyas is to protect society by fighting in wartime and governing in peacetime.
- Meena women have comparatively stronger rights than many other Hindu castes, with remarriage of widows and divorcees well accepted in their society.
- The town of Amer and home today of the Amber Fort, located high on a hill 11 kms from Jaipur, was originally built by Meenas.
- Festivals, music, songs and dance are prominent in the culture and tradition of Meena tribes.
- The Navratri festival is celebrated twice a year with great devotion all over India and is a time of great celebration among Meena tribes who come together for singing, dancing, swordplay and dancing.
- Meena people firmly believe in marriage, with matchmaking based on horoscopes often organised by priest singers known as bhopas.
- Traditionally, there are clear differences in dress for married and unmarried women. Jewellery is an integral part of Meena dress, including ornaments for the neck, nose, wrists, forearms, ankles. Tattooing is popular, especially on the hands and faces and a Meena woman never wears her hair loose.
- Traditional dress for Meena men consists of a dhoti and a turban. Although, younger men have adopted the shirt and loose trousers. Marriage brings a change in costume with more use of appliqué designs. Tattooing is popular with men and jewellery is most commonly limited to earrings. Hair is worn short with beards and small moustaches popular.
The Berwa are a Scheduled Caste from Rajasthan with populations also in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkand. Berwa means ‘brave’ in Hindi.
Berwa people are commonly associated with animal husbandry and agriculture. Some also work in mining and more recently politics and academia, because of positive discrimination measures that have been put in place in accordance with the Constitution of India.
The nearest village to Ikaki Bagh is made up of Berwa people, who are mostly illiterate.
An elder from the village recently advised the Berwa community are an off-shoot of Chamhars, a community that used to work on skin (Cham) of dead animals and hence were called Chamhars.
More generally, the village elder advised Chamhars became a derogatory term used to denote anyone acting in a disrespectful, nasty or distasteful manner. This has led people from this community to assume other surnames and Berwa is one of them.
The population of Berwa people was listed as 429, 627 at the 1981 census which increased to 931,030 by 2001. This made them the third-largest scheduled caste in Rajasthan.
The following is a list of further facts about the Berwa people:
- They adhere to Hinduism including all its gods and goddesses and particularly adhere to Hanuman, the Monkey God, a powerful devotee of Lord Rama and central in the Ramayana.
- Pabuji is an important 14th century folk deity in Rajasthan and the object of special devotion and an annual festival.
- They follow Hindu marriage practices and widows can marry.
- They participate in all the major Hindi festivals such as Holi and Diwali.
- There is no child betrothal and polygamy is allowed.
- Vermilion, bangles and toe rings are some symbols of marriage for women.
- They speak Dingal, an ancient Indian language written in Nagri script.
- Berwa eat all foods but most are vegetarians because non-vegetarian food is more expensive. Their food and cooking practices are very similar to those of the Meena community (see above).
- They strictly apply the practice of marrying within their own caste, rejecting those from others as unsuitable for marriage or other close personal relationships. Women experience quite significant disadvantage within their communities. However, they can divorce, as can men.
- They have a socio-political body of their own, known as the Chorasi Panchayat, which is essentially chosen representatives to oversee the administration of the village and its community.
- Berwa women wear distinctive, brightly coloured clothing especially favouring yellows, purples, pinks and reds.
- They are noted for their skill in rope making and grass roof building and the children are skilled kite-makers using ‘found’ materials.
The Berwa have experienced entrenched disadvantage and have increasingly become involved in the struggle for social rights for the poor and farmers.
Education has become an important means of progress so the Berwa emphasise education for their children. The development of Ikaki Bagh places high priority on building links with the local primary school, which is educating the first generation of literate children from the nearby Jhinjha village.
The first priorities in building these links have included:
- provision of sweaters to children to alleviate the cold conditions in Winter
- installing a tap to provide clean running water
- obtaining Government funding to support the construction of a toilet block
- working with the school teachers to promote hygiene and health to the school children
- providing local employment opportunities
- facilitating visits by international tourists interested in seeing first-hand, Indian rural life. These visits provide an income stream to the nearby village and create the opportunity to support the school through providing books and sporting equipment
This website provides further details on how you can get directly involved in programs and projects that support the local Berwa and Meena people.
Jaideo Rathore and the team at Ikaki Bagh are delighted to have the opportunity to open access and insight for visitors in to lives and traditions of the Berwa and Meena people. This is always done with the utmost respect and commitment, steadily improving all people’s access to opportunity and understanding.