Is Kalar a separate caste or the surname of other castes?

Guest Post by : Tribhuvan Chandra Wagle


Who are and Where Live Kalars

Tribhuvan C Wagle
Author : Sociologist/Anthropologist and Journalist

Nepal is the country of a number of caste\ethnic groups with different languages, religions and cultural traditions. There are 125 caste/ethnic groups and 123 languages reported in the census 2011. Out of them Kalar is a caste group found in Nepal. In the context of Nepal nobody knows every detail of ethnographical account about them. The extensive Nepali dictionary (Brihat Nepali Sabda Kosh) also has not mentioned the word Kalar and its meaning.

For the first time different 23 castes such as Lohar, Sunar, Kami, Damai, Sarki, Badi, Gaine, Kasai, Kusule, Kuche, Chyame, Pode, Chamar, Dhobi, Paswan (Dushad), Tatma, Dom, Batar, Khatwe, Musahar, Santhal, Satar, and Halkhor scheduled as Dalit castes according to the decision of  Ministry of Local Development (MLD) in 2054-12-28. The MLD has not identified Kalar as a separate caste at that time. But later, NDC listed the Kalar as a separate caste belonging to Terai Dalit community in 2058 BS.

Is Kalar a separate caste or the surname of other castes? There is a deep confusion in the context of identity to Kalar. Krishna Bhattachan and his group claim that Kalar and Sarvanga/Sarbariya are the same caste group. They also add Kalar is a derogatory (insulting) term. Therefore, they prefer to call themselves as Sarvanga/Sarbariya (Caste Based Discrimination in Nepal, Working Paper Series, vol III Nov. 2008 Indian Institution of Dalit Studies). But The NDC has listed Kalar and Sarvhang (Sarbariya) as separate caste groups of Terai Dalit. On the other hand, the government of Nepal has listed different 92 castes including Kalar separating with Sarvanga and Saravaria as Madesi caste in 2065 Magha 21. This list was made on political pressure for the purpose of reservation and other types of facilities providing to ‘Madesi’ from the side of government of Nepal. So the list is little confusing due to the lack of anthropological study of Terai Community.

The Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) had not given the population figure of Kalar before the 2011 census. But According to the latest Population census of Nepal, 2011 there are 1077 Kalars found in Nepal. But, Nepal Ko Madeshi Samaj (2065BS), Status of Tarai Dalit (2006AD), Ethnographic Study Of Terai Dalit (2006AD), National Dalit Strategic Report (2002AD) and other dozen of books has not mentioned about the Kalar. So, we have huge problem to say some things about Kalar. The NDC says that Saravariya and Bikau are the surnames of Kalar. On the other hand NDC has listed Kalar and Sarvanga\Sarabaria as different castes. Therefore, in the absence of deep anthropological study we just can guess that the Kalar and Sarvanga/Sarbariya are may same caste. The NDC says Sarabaria, Saravor, Sarabhanga Dhami, Bantar and Not are the surnames of Sarvanga.

Kalar women
Kalar women

Presently Kalar and Saravanga\Sarabaria are known as an untouchable Hindu. They are supposed to enter Nepal from India, before about 300 to 400 years ago when other such groups were entering into Nepal. Kalar (Kurdish: Kelar ) is a town in Iraqi Kurdistan located on Sirwan (Diyala) river, to the east of Kifri and to the west of Qasri Shirin and Sarpol Zahab in Kermanshah Province in east Kurdistan. Therefore we can say Kalar enterned to India then came to Nepal from Iraq. Kelar may be the origin places of Kalar. In India Kalar articulation as Kallar which is synonymous with the western Indian term, Koli, having meaning of thievery.  Kallar should be considered a “title of rural groups in Tamil Nadu with warrior-pastoralist ancestral traditions.”

If, we supposed Kalar and Sarvanga/Sarbariya are the same caste, we can trace out some historical account on Kalar or Sarvanga/Sarbariya, otherwise we cannot found enough information about them. Kalars or Sarvanga/ Sarbariya are found scattered from Jhapa to Parsa of Nepal. They remain socially disunited and live scattered in small groups. Dipak Chaudhari, the writer of Nepal Ko Madeshi Samaj (2065BS) says that most of Kalar (Sarvanga/ Sarbariya) are poorest with landlessness. They have no modern housing. They depend on daily wages in agricultural or other types of non permanent jobs. They are marginalized from social, economic, educational, political and religious development spheres due to caste based discrimination.

Dapak Chaudhari says that Sarvanga had destroyed\ruined (Bhanga Garnu in Nepali) all form of norms and value of society, so they known  as Sarvanga with the meaning of Bhanga. According to Wikipedia encyclopedia the Kallar (or Kallan, formerly spelled as Colleries) are one of the three related castes of southern India. Kallar is a Tamil language word meaning “thief”. Their history has included periods of banditry. Other proposed etymological origins include “black skinned”, “hero”, and “toddy-tappers”. The anthropologist Susan Bayly notes that the Kallar and Maravar identities as a caste, rather than as a title.

The number of Sarabariya is 4906 in the census of 2011. If Saravariya and Kalar are the same caste the total number of population of them goes up 5983. They are both Hindu belonging to Terai community. Both are treated as so- called untouchables Dalit even today. No more social indicators or data related to education, health, employment, are found of Kalar or Saravariya which shows the detail anthropological and social research is most on them.  It is guessed that Kalar or Saravariya mostly marginalized caste within Dalit community, so the government should keep special attention to up- liftmen the socio-economic condition of them.

Being Hindu Kalar or Saravariya follow the social norms and value accordance to Hindu culture and rituals. They perform birth, naming, feeding and other types of folk ways as per Hindu order. More or less the social life of Kalar or Saravariya is like to other Hindus either so-called upper or lower Dalits of Terai. The Kalar or Saravariya marry within their community but maintain exogamy at village or clan level. They have their own priest to perform such types of rituals acts. They celebrate festival mostly similar to Hindu caste such as: Chhath, Dashain, Tihar, and so on. Maithili, Nepali, Bhojpuri and Awadhi languages has spoken by Kalar.

The NDC and government should find out the every details of Kalar or Sarvariya\ Saravanga. Some traditional cultures are existing with such types of caste group, so we can preserve our culture along with the protection of marginalize and minorities such as Kalar.

 Source of Photos: All Photos are derived from 'Kallar People in India' with the help of Internet search, (Feature image: kalar women were fighting for their right in India)
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