Impurity, the Caste System, and How I Fit into It

Yesterday I started writing about my experiences with and reactions to the concept of jutho, translated as “impure” in English. In this post, I wanted to write a bit more about that concept as it relates to my place the caste system.

I’ve always found that members of the Baun, “Brahman” caste adhere most strictly to rules concerning jutho. Tri’s dad’s family is Baun, and Bua’s parents always followed rules about jutho. Bua told us that when he was little, his mom prohibited him from learning the English alphabet because it was considered a jutho language. Another family friend told us that when he was in the 13-day mourning period that happens right after a family member dies, a Baun neighbor told him not to speak English. During this period, people must eat a very simple diet, not touch others, and try to purify themselves. Because his neighbor thought of English as an impure language, she considered it inappropriate to speak it at a time when he was supposed to be purifying himself.

English is supposedly impure because it’s considered a gai khane bhasha, literally a “cow-eating language,” meaning a language spoken by people who eat cows. In Hindu culture, the cow is a god, and eating beef is a big no-no. Those who eat it are apparently impure and so is there language.

These rules about jutho are part of a Hindu tradition. Many members of ethnic minority groups in Nepal who are not Hindu pay no heed to these rules. When I lived with a Buddhist Sherpa host family, my host sister didn’t care one way or another whether or not I followed rules about jutho.

A few weeks ago, some older, distant relatives came over to visit. After arriving, the women started cooking in the kitchen. I try to learn about Nepali cooking whenever I can because I’m truly hopeless when it comes to cooking the local cuisine, so I went into the kitchen to observe. I immediately noticed that one of the women was uncomfortable, but I ignored it, thinking it had nothing to do with me. Then I started pointing to different foods, asking their names and how they were to be cooked. Although one of the women was responding to my questions, another of them pulled back away from me. She then said in Nepali, “You stay over there, okay?” while pointing to the opposite side of the kitchen.

When it was time to eat, I went over to get a spoon from the drawer. This woman was sitting by the drawer and looked very uncomfortable as I neared. Out of respect, I stopped and asked Tri to get the spoon for me because, at that point, I understood she didn’t want me to touch or come close to her.

After they left, I talked to Tri about what had happened. He explained that because I am a foreigner, they believe that I am and will always be jutho. Any food that I touch supposedly becomes impure as well. Most of this impurity apparently arises from the fact that I come from a country and a group of people who eat beef.

A few days later, I was talking to Maijiu (Tri’s Aunt) about the experience, and she asked me, timero man dukhyo? “Did your heart hurt”? I said no, trying to brush it off, but it hurt a little. I keep reminding myself that it’s just what they grew up with. I also realize that what I have to deal with pales in comparison to what others have to put up with. I know of some people who are not Baun but married into Baun families. They were treated in a similar way but much more frequently. I only have to put up with this attitude once in a while.

Although I don’t like how they treated me, I feel a little better about the whole thing. They came over again this past weekend and weren’t as harsh. Once they realized that I respect their culture and that I can speak Nepali, they eased up a bit. One of them even sat next to me, and we had a nice conversation about her daughter (whom I’ve met and really like). I also feel incredibly lucky that Tri’s dad is not this way. Although he comes from a conservative family, he has always been very open, accepting, and does not believe in these types of restrictions.

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50 thoughts on “Impurity, the Caste System, and How I Fit into It

  1. I never thought of English being jhutho. Wow.

    I’m not sure if the blog is the most comfortable place for you to discuss this, but being that Tri’s dad’s family was very conservative, what did they think about his career choice?

    • Isn’t that interesting about English? Language attitudes are so fascinating…

      I’m actually not sure what they thought, but I think that they’re happy now that he’s done well and enjoys what he does. However, I have met some women who chose a similar career path and have gotten a lot of grief from their families. But despite the continuous disapproval from families, a lot of these women have continued to follow their passion anyway.

      • I think this has to do with the christian and Muslim convert-ism. Hindu’s didn’t convert anyone to their religion but Christians and Muslims converted anyone they could find. So it was crucial to remain distant from these two converting group, who were destroying their religion and culture. So it was out of fear (or out of hate) English language was considered impure. They feared that once you learn English, you learn other things with it (Western culture and religion). So English was told to be impure so that people would stay away from it. “Cow-eating language” is a just a hate word.

  2. It used to be that women were not well nourished enough to have regular periods, and if you are pregnant or nursing most of the time you usually don’t have your period. Which would make your restrictions less frequent. I have spoken to friends in Arab communities where women have to go to isolated women only areas when they have their periods the women like it and look forward to it. That would make keeping a job difficult.

    • I never thought of that. So those women must have dealt with menstruation impurity much less often. Although I have heard that women are also considered impure after giving birth (and maybe for the first year of the baby’s life). I don’t know much about that. But it seems like there’s not way to escape being impure!

  3. Muslims and Christians were classified in the caste system as Mlecha, which means ‘foreign barbarian’. And ranked along with the beef-eating untouchables.

    This leads to Muslims and Christians being historically banned from entering Hindu temples and homes.

    The correct meaning of Jutho is ‘ritual pollution’. A beef-eater would have bad karma and be ritually polluting

    Inside a Hindu home, the puja room is often in the Kitchen and this means it out of bounds to Mlecha. and Women in menses are / were banned from the kitchen

    During british rule, Maharajas had to shake the hands of English viceroys and governors and other high officials. They wore gloves so that their skin did not come into direct contact with a barbarian.

    There was always a practical distinction between a European White Mlecha and Indian Christian convert ( mostly low caste ).
    A more modern family would waive the rules for a European white, since Whites had money and technical skills. But even a modern family would not waive the rules for a rich muslim.

    But for an orthodox brahmin, the touch of a white european christian, would require a purifying bath.

    There are some white Hindu groups like Hinduism Today.
    They are vegetarian and fluent in Sanskrit and Hindu scriptures, and accepted as legitimate brahmins by orthodox brahmins.

    In addition, in the caste heirarchy, upper castes are usually lighter skinned and non-beef eating, whereas the beef-eating lower castes are usually darker, and it causes a lot of cognitive dissonance
    when an upper caste meets a European. Half his brain says – lighter skin is upper caste, the other half of his brain says – beef eater, lower caste

    • Your post is so informative! That definition of “ritual pollution” is definitely more descriptive than just “impure” or “impurity.” Is Mlecha a word used in Sanskrit, Hindi or another language? I’ve never heard of that in Nepali, but I’m going to investigate.

      I’m sure that Muslims have had it harder in Hindu dominated areas than white foreigners. They are a very small minority in Nepal, and I’ve only met one Muslim, but I never got a chance to talk to him about his experiences here. I would love to hear from others. I would also imagine that it’s harder for Muslims in India than it is in Nepal because there is historically more tension there between Hindus and Muslims in India.

      I’ve definitely seen that cognitive dissonance that you describe.

      Do you have experience with Nepali culture in particular or more generally North South Asian history/culture? I’m wondering if the word jutho is used in other Northern South Asian language like Hindi/Gujarati/Maithali, etc. From what you’ve said, it seems like the Nepali rules about jutho are very similar to rules found in parts of India.

      • I am a South Indian brahmin, 1500 miles from Nepal, but very similar rules apply.
        Mlecha is a Sanskrit word.

        In South India, the word for ritual pollution is ‘Theettu’ or ‘Madi’

        In North India, the word is ‘Jooth’

        A lot of it is hygenic, contact with bodily fluids is ritually polluting
        Any contact with feces, urine, saliva, blood needs to be washed or bathed away.
        Shoes which pick up dirt from the streets are not to be brought into the house.

        A lot of it is bad karma, such as vegetarian is purer than fish eater who is purer than goat eater who is purer than a pork / beef eater ( usually beef and pork eating is untouchable caste )
        Also for any violation of these rules, a bath is needed, this means brahmins would tend to be ‘ritually cleaner’ than the rest

        So in Hindu temples, only ‘clean’ brahmins are allowed into the sanctum and untouchables banned from entry
        This also means that brahmins are in high demand as cooks, since they are ritually clean and can handle food without pollution

        A lot of it is due to influence from Buddhism and the concept of ahimsa
        A caste that kills or skins animals is untouchable, so is cleaning toilets or burning dead bodies
        The caste that beheads criminals is also untouchable due to bad karma
        Some of these untouchable castes are quite rich, but low status
        In Japan, the butcher caste is untouchable and called Burakumin

        Generally a brahmin is vegetarian, the military caste which ranks next is given a waiver to eat fish, fowl and goat, since they have to get used to bloodshed.
        The next ranking Vaishya merchant caste is vegetarian
        The next ranking Shudra peasant caste, eats fish, fowl and goat
        Finally the untouchables eat beef and pork. Even among the untouchables there is a dietary gradation.
        Pork eaters on top, Beef eaters next and finally dog-eaters at the bottom.

        A muslim is much more ritually toxic than a beef-eating christian, due to a history of 1400 years of temple destruction, mass rapes, genocides and forcible conversions. Among the European colonists this was matched only by the Portuguese who did the inquisition in Goa for 300 years. The British on the other hand mainly limited their atrocities to looting, which could be forgiven.

        Muslims in Nepal lived under brahminical laws that made them 3rd class citizens.
        No beef eating, no converting Hindus and a host of untouchable-like disabilities

        Regarding cognitive dissonance, once a white christian becomes a vegetarian hindu, he / she is almost always accepted as a de-facto upper caste,

        If you notice, all the bollywood stars are very fair ( almost white ) upper castes.
        In Indian society, the fairer the better as long as the person is still Indian and not white

    • It’s hard for me to swallow the idea that the people who do the things other don’t want to do, like cleaning toilets and burning dead bodies, are then considered untouchable. They provide necessarily services in society that everyone uses and are then shunned.

      I have noticed the fair skinned Indian movie stars. Is the fair and lovely cream just as common in India as it is in Nepal? I see bottles or packets of it being sold in nearly every shop…

    • IN Nepal every brahamin and Kshatriya suppose to have light brown skin color with big dark brown eyes, narrower nose and big forehead.. if they even have same skin color as European they always face bullies and get called the name like white as cloud meaning person without blood in body. AND also most of the Christian converts in Nepal are untouchables low caste people and Nepalese feel Christianity is lows caste people religion. all the Bauns(brahamins of Nepal) and chetry(Kshatriya) themselves comes from khasa tribe(iranian tribe). khasas were considers most barbarous then any Indian,Iranians or Greeks, AS they converted to Hinduism in 13 century they give themselves tittles of baun and chetry ruling all the mongoloid tribes, damai(chamars came to nepal from indian punjab) and their dark skinned indeginous indian are made inferiors. bauns and chetry took most of the military jobs,farmlands and administration.
      i myself belong to chetry(Kshatriya caste) i think discrimination is evil for humanity.

  4. Nepal is culturally Indian. Except for some fringe buddhist element and fringe oriental race element, Nepali is defacto culturally Indian, The borders are open, millions of Nepalis live in India.
    Fair and Lovely cream is more widely used in India, than in Nepal.

    The King of Nepal has access to the Temple Sanctum all over India

    • Or maybe India is culturally Nepali 😀

      But in all seriousness, although the dominant culture in Nepal may be pretty similar to the dominant culture in India, there are plenty of difference between the cultures in the two countries. Buddhism isn’t just a fringe element here. There are many Buddhists, and even those who consider themselves Hindu also often follow some aspects of Buddhism. In our house, we have a statue of the Buddha just as we have a statue of Ganesh. Many people who are part of ethnic groups that speak Tibeto-Burman languages as their mother-tongue also have their own distinct cultures. Their languages and cultures have had a big influence on the language and culture of those who speak Nepali as their mother-tongue and vice versa.

      Not to mention that India is also an incredibly diverse country with distinct its own distinct languages and cultural practices.

      • Nepal is NOT culturally Indian!
        There are some cultural similarities, India being a neighbouring country, but to say Nepal is culturally Indian in just pure ignorance. Nepal has its own unique and distinct culture.

  5. Brahmins: Inclination towards education
    Kshatriyas: Inclination towards power
    Vaishyas: Inclination towards money
    Sudras: Not interest in education, power or money.

    The caucasian race is part of the caste system but it does not fall under any of the above mentioned varnas. Caste depends on several variables. From a dietary perspective, they would fall in the bottom but from a historical perspective(african slaves, colonialism etc), they would fall below the lowest of the low.

    I’m not trying to sound abusive but the above is how it is. Establishing strategic relations with some of the western powers will be equivalent to india approving the legitimacy of US/Aus/canada; which are colonies. It cannot do that.

    Caste system is very complex. I can write many pages on it but you will still find it difficult to understand. To understand caste system, first understand the concept of dharma.

    • It’s definitely a complicated subject. I think that it does differ somewhat in Nepal and India in part because of the presence of the minority ethnic groups here. Brahman is the equivalent of Baun, and Kshatriya is the equivalent of the Nepali caste Chhetri, but I don’t how Vaishya and Sudra fit into the Nepali caste system, or if they are part of the Nepali caste system at all.

      In Nepal, the minority ethnic groups (like Newars, Tamangs, Gurungs, Sherpas and so on) were classified as the “drinking castes” (matwali jaat) and stuck somewhere in the middle of the caste system, although I don’t know if some of these ethnicities were considered to be more “pure” than others.

      I know only very little about the caste system, and you’re right, it would probably take pages and pages to go over every detail.

      • The fact is that you are now admitted into the caste of your husband, once you married him. In mixed marriages, the wife takes on the caste of the husband.
        If the husbands family accepts you, soon the entire extended family and caste will accept you as part of their caste.

        If he comes from a brahmin family, you are now expected to try to follow brahmin norms to the extent that is feasible.
        Most Brahmins are vegetarian and in Nepal, none eat beef.
        To defuse ritual-purity minded , extended family, consider telling them you no longer eat beef. Also consider wearing Indian style dress when they drop in.

      • @Nepali Jiwan
        What makes you think the caste system is unique to india or hinduism? They existed in still exist in western societies also.

        A Brahmin is nothing but a kings religious adviser
        A Kshatriya is nothing but the kings knights
        A Vaishya is nothing but the merchants and traders of the kingdom
        A Sudras is the lowest commoner. The one who butchers meat. The one who makes swords. The one who does manual labour.

        Caste system is quickly fading away in some areas but it still exists for intellectual reasoning. The dietary habits of a race does not mean that it is condemned to hell. The hindus attribute a lot of importance to the dietary habits to a race. You can tell a lot about a person based on what he/she eats. A persons diet is directly proportional to his/her beliefs(how he/she views the world).

        BTW, caste system is not based on the colour of a persons skin. It is more complicated than that. A persons “tan” can give you information about the line of his work; is he a laborer who toils under the sun? Is he a white color worker?

        Blood is thicker than water. You are not nepali(hindu?) blood. Your kids will be half-nepali. Think hard about it.

      • @ Barani
        Your last sentence is just ridiculous!
        “Also consider wearing Indian style dress when they drop in.” Why should Nepali jiwan consider wearing Indian style dress when her husband’s relatives drop in? They might be Bahun or Brahmin but THEY ARE NEPALESE, NOT INDIAN!! So, IF she has to, she will wear Nepalese clothes, not “Indian style clothes” because her husband is Nepalese.

    • About your comment below:

      As far as I know, the caste system is unique to South Asia. But I totally agree that there are socio-economic differences within every society. However, in other places, your profession and others’ opinions of it doesn’t have to dictate every part of your life. If you are a butcher, although some people may think of you as impure while you’re doing butcher work, once you change your clothing and walk out of your shop, you’re just another guy on the street.

      About your last comment:

      Yes, my children will be half white American and half Nepali. They will have a unique perspective that people who belong to one race, one religion, one culture, one nation cannot have. FYI, one out of every seven new marriages in the US is between people of different races or ethnicities. People who identify as mixed race aren’t as far and few between as they used to be:
      http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/30/us/30mixed.html?pagewanted=all

      • As far as I know, the caste system is unique to South Asia.
        No, it is not. The hindus simply emphasized on it in detail. The caste system exists everywhere. It exists in US, UK, Aus etc. Generalization of ethic and racial groups. Stratification of groups based on poor, rich and super rich. That is no different than caste system. The indian one is on acid.

        If you are a butcher
        Like I said before, the hindus simply expanded on it. The indian caste system has many more variables.

        FYI, one out of every seven new marriages in the US is between people of different races or ethnicities
        Does that change the past?

        You are not understanding what I’m trying to say. Your past actions give us an understanding about how you think and what you are capable of. The chinese had no qualms about killing 1-2 million of their own for the sake of building one identity. The americans had no qualms about nuking japan. Manifest destiny. African slaves. Colonization. They all build a wide picture. Those line of thoughts are inside you. They just need the right trigger to explode.

      • @Anil
        I agree that discrimination exists everywhere in the world – be it US UK or anywhere. The way you have mentioned the caste system, almost justifies why we should follow it – you are saying that everything is in the genes. Because I am born in a butcher family, means I have the capability to kill(explode?) anytime? That would mean that we should jail all the fugitive/terrorists and their future generations together or kill them. They will defn be terrorists. What about Mother Terasa – she was a white and a Christian – she must have been incapable of doing anything human then.

        The presence of universal discrimination does not justify the Indian/Hindu caste system. A bad practice is a bad practice whoever or how many ever people follow it.

        No one is attempting to change the past here. The past forms perceptions and your attitude towards the unknown and what you have not experienced. Think Nepali jiwan is quite comfortable traversing both the cultures. Or atleast she is giving it a good attempt – that is exactly what is needed to change the mindset and replace the past with the reality.

  6. Your blog has been so informative today. I think my Nepali family go out of their way to make me feel comfortable. They never tell me when i am doing something wrong because they assume i am just doing it the Australian way. I cook (badly) for them all the time and no one has ever told me i shouldn’t. After reading this i am feeling a lot of love for my very tolerant and understanding in-laws.

  7. really interesting post! reminds me a bit of strict south indian brahmins. i’m glad that tri’s dad is not so conservative.

  8. Thanks for the post and the comments of all. Now I know more about that topic and Nepali culture.

    Apropos, my boyfriend told me in his caste if the women get her monthly period and they are married, then they have to sleep in a other room . If there is no an other room then they have to sleep on the end of the bed.
    But it’s just usual in the older generation’s.

  9. The cow explanation is as follows.
    Shortly before the end of the ice age, in Indian Punjab, DNA-paternal marker – R1 developed about 13000 years ago,
    R1 gives the advantage of lactase persistence or adults being able to drink milk and led to dairy farming a gave rise to a population boom. Most upper castes have R1. Interestingly most Europeans also carry R1, and DNA per wiki, shows Indian R1 is ancestral to European R1 and this also explains why Indian languages such as Sanskrit ( and its daughter languages ) belong to the Indo-European group of languages such as English, and Latin. The DNA split is dated to 11000 years ago. European R1 is non-native to Europe and entered from Asia about 7000 years ago. And white skin pigment SLC24A5, per wiki, did not evolve until 7000 years ago.

    R1 is the infamous’ Aryan’ marker, and Aryan is a Sanskrit word meaning noble.

    Most of the lower castes dont have R1 and it is usually easy to visually identify them.

    Dairy farming is 5 times more energy efficient than beef farming. Indian cows are not fed corn and wheat, Instead, humans eat wheat and cows eat hay and waste plants. Also in India, horses cant handle the climate. The cow in India performs the function of the horse in Western countries
    Ox – carts are used for transport. Oxen plough the fields, and Cow dung, ( even old cows give dung ) is fertiliser and
    dried cow dung is used as cooking fuel. When the cow dies of old age, untouchables eat the carcass and skin the animal and sell leather products.
    It would have collapsed the economy if beef-eating was allowed, hence it was made a sacred animal.
    Other useful animals – such as Elephant used as a battle-tank in medieval armies, were also made sacred.

    A beef-eater in India would be as popular as a horse eater in western countries.

    The nepali word Gurkha comes from Sanskrit- Go-Raksha or cow protector
    and dates back to 1000 years ago, when a Hindu saint raised a militia to fight the beef-eating muslims

    • That’s a lot of garbage you post considering you are just one man.

      Abstaining from beef consumption simply reveals the line of thought of a person. Beef is the benchmark of morality. Beef has nothing to do with aryanism. In the indian context, when a person eats beef, it does not mean he is evil. It simple means that his/her morality guard has taken an opposite direction. It acts as a cautionary trigger for the hindus(eg: this person eats beef? what else does he do?)

      You are interpreting “aryan” the way nazi’s interpreted it. The indian version simply means “noble”. It has nothing to do with race. Ravana, the dravidian(dark) evil king was also an aryan. He was noble because he always kept his word. When he kidnapped sita, he treated her and kept her like a princess. He kidnapped her because he had to react to the assault meted against her sister surpanaka.

      You are also making wild theories about indian sitcoms. The punjabi’s and the northern people dominate these television channels. The south has its own series of soap operas.

      If a person eats beef, it does not make him

  10. There is another word often used in place of Mlecha, and that is Yavana, ( from the greek Ionian ).
    This word also denotes foreign barbarian and came into use around 330BC, after Alexanders invasion of India.

    There is also the ‘silver plate’ angle.
    Often whites in Indian homes were fed separately and first in Silver plates.
    Silver being a noble metal was immune to ritual pollution

    • I asked some native Nepali speakers about the word Mlecha, and they had never heard of it. It also doesn’t sound like a Nepali word (that combination of “ml” at the beginning of a word is unusual in Nepali). Maybe there’s a different but equivalent word in Nepali.

      • You should ask a brahmin priest about Mlecha or Yavana, since they are sanskrit words. They could probably tell you the Nepali equivalent.
        My guess is that the word is Vi-dharmi ( opposed to religion )
        or Ulta-Dharmi ( upside down religion )

        And caste does exist in the USA, it is just not so codified.
        Jews, WASP, White catholic, Hispanic, Oriental, Black.
        And regarding inter-racial marriages in the USA,
        Until 50 years ago, there were official miscegenation laws on the books in most states,
        Indian men were only allowed to marry mexicans and there is a community in California called Mexican-Hindu. And before 1865, several babies born to white women and Indian fathers were sold into slavery.

        And even most of the inter-racial marriages fall into certain specific categories
        – Nerdy white men marry Oriental women
        – Walmart type white women marry blacks
        Most marriages happen due to meeting people in church and church is like a caste

      • I am from Nepal and word melecha means ignorant,unbeliever and wicket barbarians and also foreigner.In indian way. Nepalese bauns and chetry belongs to khas tribe. khasas are the Iranian sub-clan of saka(Scythian). sakas are consider to be most barbarious then any other tribes you can find about this in bible as well as IN Indian scripture. sakas had divided in to various clans, .after sakas invaded india india they converted to Hinduism and Buddhism(later all Buddhist converted to Hinduism). saka assimilated into high caste indian communities. but one clan of saka called khasa had not come India instead they moved towards the Tibet, conquered it and created malla empire. during the 12 century their empire fall and all the ruling families moved to Nepal. AT that time they converted to Hinduism and later unified Nepal.Most of Nepalese baun and chetry thinks they are superior then any Indian castes. MAY be because of their light skin color.
        Here is the presentation of the Nepalese caste system and their occupation.
        bauns (Brahmin): clerics, warriors,traders,peasants(farmers)
        chetry (Kshatriya): warriors,traders,peasants.(farmers)
        matwali (drinking khastriya):warriors,traders,peasants(farmers). they could be any mongoloid tribes or white people because of their brewing traditions. AS your husband is baun and you are foreigner that also means you are from the chetry (Kshatriya) who consumes alcohol. at this situation traditionally your children would be raised in non alcoholic baun home and would always be away from alcohol and would be pure chetry(Kshatriya).
        artistic caste: metal worker,tanner,craftsman,musicians, traders,peasants(farmer)
        Muslims: consider to be lowest then all because they are dark skinned low caste Indian converts to islam and angry people.their occupations are (cleric of islam(imams),traders,peasants(farmer)
        i am not defining what caste you belongs i am just saying the history of Bauns and chetry and their caste system.
        humans are same, we bleeds same red bloods when our skin get cut.

    • Of course there are lots of different groups, religions, race, nationalities who live in the US, and many of them face discrimination. I just wouldn’t call the socio-economic divisions there “castes.”

      • I wouldn’t club these “differences” under a single term “socio-economic”.

        “Caste” is just a word. What’s matters is the practice. And these practices are the same whether it is the west or whether it is india. The closest english word which you use to identify these practices is called “discrimination” or “generalization”. It does not matter whether you call it caste, discrimination or generalization because the practice is the same.

        The only difference between the west and india is that indians practice it openly in an organized manner while the west does it discreetly. Indians invented generalization. Don’t for a minute think that we cannot spot it being practiced within other races.

  11. The caste-logic re non-veg impurity also happens within families.
    When I visited Nepal as a child, my grandmother never let me into her kitchen. I used to find it really frustrating that I had to ask a maid for everything – even a glass of water. Mum later told me that her and her sisters were never allowed into the kitchen in their maiti (parents house) either until they got married and left home. My grandma was strictly vego and she wouldn’t let any of her non-veg kids into her kitchen…she let them eat meat, but only in their own room, and she never entered their rooms, or allowed them into her bedroom with any food (veg or non-veg, she considered them eating in her room to be jutho).
    This was something I found hard to understanding as a kid, that your own mother would consider you dirty/jutho and wouldn’t eat any food that you’ve cooked. (I used to feel so proud when my parents (generously) complimented me on my ‘cooking’ or baking as a kid.) But I guess there’s this entire universe of jutho and non-jutho that children in Nepal absorb and take for granted growing up.

    There seems to be a logic to jutho which is captured in your posts and comments, and which structures the most far-reaching aspects of Hindu life – namely, patriarchy and the caste system. Maybe it’s this jutho logic that makes the Hindu caste system distinctive and specific to the sub-continent? Discrimination exists everywhere…but it manifests in different forms of stratification (caste, class, race) according to the cultural, political and economic organisation of the society in question. I agree with you that the caste system is distinct from divisions in other cultures along the lines of race and class (colonialism and slavery, for instance, are intricately linked to the rise of capitalism in western Europe, and have a very different cultural and intellectual history to the evolution of caste in South Asia). And when I say ‘jutho logic’ I don’t just mean a fixation with purity/impurity – as I’ve mentioned in a comment on AmericanNepali’s blog, jutho taboos are intricately linked with cultural notions of power. In general, in Vedic thought, power and the harmony of the universe are maintained by upholding caste and gender hierarchies (partially enforced through jutho taboos), while in many strands of Tantric thought, power is gained by deliberately subverting these hierarchies and jutho taboos.

    Very interesting discussion here!

    • You summed up this discussion really nicely, and I agree when you say, “I don’t just mean a fixation with purity/impurity…jutho taboos are intricately linked with cultural notions of power.” I’ve really been thinking about and trying to understand these notions of power in Nepali culture. Not only within the caste system and as they relate to jutho but also as they are manifested in the relationships between family members and men and women.

  12. Hindus do consider non-Indian religions to be impure
    Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism are considered as within the Hindu fold.

    Traditionally very few Hindus accepted converts.

    There is a group called Arya Samaj, that does conversions into Hinduism
    The name for the ceremony is called ‘Shuddi’ or cleansing, which ties into the concept of non-Hindus being polluting

  13. From wiki

    In ancient India, this term was also applied by the Aryan kingdoms to foreigners. The word Mleccha was commonly used for ‘another class of untouchable’ or ‘outer barbarians of whatever race or colour’.[9][10] The Indians referred to all alien cultures that were less civilized in ancient times as ‘Mlechcha'[11] or Barbarians.

    Among the tribes termed Mlechcha were Sakas ( Scythians ), Hunas (Huns), Yavanas (Greeks),

    In the Bhagavata Purana the term is used in the context of meat eaters, outcastes.

    Mlecchas drank alcohol and ate flesh of the cow,

    Medieval Hindu literature, such as that of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, also uses the term to refer to those of larger groups of other religions, especially Muslims.[29] In medieval India, a foreign visitor Al Biruni (died 1048) noted that foreigners were regarded as ‘unclean’ or ‘Mleccha’ and Hindus were forbidden any social or matrimonial contact with them.[30]

  14. @sam
    The way you have mentioned the caste system, almost justifies why we should follow it
    Everyone(hindus and non-hindus) follows the caste system. It comes natural to humans. It is what a catholic feels for a protestant. Or a sunni muslim towards a shia muslim. Would a sunni allow a shia to enter a sunni mosque? In india, a catholic feels very strongly against a protestant. In fact, they don’t let them in their house.

    you are saying that everything is in the genes.
    Some thoughts and ideas get hardwired in our DNA. It is not a myth; it is called “evolution”. You can witness it in birds and animals performing acts that are not taught to them. It comes naturally to them. It comes from an evolved brain. Our ancestors pass them to us through DNA.

    Because I am born in a butcher family, means I have the capability to kill(explode?) anytime?
    No, you took two of my statements and made a theory of your own. I had written about two things: 1) The concept of cow in hindusim 2) The concept of diet in hinduism.

    The caste system is actually a writing on human psychology. These writings place a huge importance on human diet. Human diet is directly co-related to his/her beliefs. What an individual eats is directly proportional to how this individual views the world. It talks about “order”. Within this order comes the concept of an animal called the “cow”. This animal is considered the benchmark of morality. In pure hindu context, a person who eats beef has crossed the line of morality and is now capable of anything.

    Before judging a race, look at its history.
    Note what it says and what it has done. Compare those two.

    The presence of universal discrimination does not justify the Indian/Hindu caste system. A bad practice is a bad practice whoever or how many ever people follow it.
    You are confusing many things.

    The hindu system is dynamic. They have changed and kept changing throughout its existence. There is a concept of “dilution” that comes natural to followers of this faith thereby incorporating many different cultures yet staying hindu. The caste system in its organized form will go and no one can stop it. In fact, the leading reformist for this change are many hindu organisations themselves.

    You see, the shia/sunni and the catholic/protestant denominations cannot dilute among each other because it is dogmatic in nature. But the hindu denominations (castes and sub-castes) can and will dilute.

    No one is attempting to change the past here. The past forms perceptions and your attitude towards the unknown and what you have not experienced.
    The past is a lesson. A lesson which instructs us to know for sure(in action) what a race is capable of. America might be said as the land of the free but tell me… what percent of land do the indegenious people of that territory hold? That is the difference between what is said and what is done.

    The problem for americans is that even though it enables settlement of various races and ethnicities from around the world on american lands, it still does not change the fact that “it is still a colony”. Beyond the recognition of the UN(an org in which it holds strings) there is no valid recognition of this artifical nation state of the united states of america.

  15. Pingback: One Year Ago… | nepali jiwan

  16. You actually seem to have had it easy on you in Nepal. Being an African who lived in a rural area of Nepal for two years, while making a documentary about inter-caste marriage http://www.untouchablelove.com — I had it really rough. I blogged a bit about it, http://www.dilmandila.com/2011/06/water-water-im-burning-up.html but I’m surprised that a white person was considered jutho. In my experience, they were always treated better than blacks.

    • Overtime it got a lot easier, and the family members who were initially very wary of me, in a way, came to accept me. I totally agree though. It’s much more difficult for Africans and African-Americans in Nepal. I don’t know why it’s as bad as it is. One thing may have to do with American and foreign TV. People with black skin are often portrayed in a really bad light in American movies and media, and since that’s the only information about African Americans that Nepalis are introduced to , they make a lot of really negative assumptions. I’ll check out your blog.

      • It wasn’t really just about movies, for in Kailali where I stayed, there was very little exposure to Western media. Some suggest that before the colonisation of India, caste was based on employment, but the British came in with their own ideals, and over the years darker skins came to be associated with untouchability. So in Nepal, there are the hill dalits, who have fair skins. They migrate away from their villages, change their names and live like upper castes. But the terrai (plain) dalits cannot do that because they are darker skinned. And now even upper caste people in the terrai who are dark skinned are thought to be untouchables.

        • Interesting. I’ve never heard that before, but it makes sense. Someone told me once that the British colonists may also been responsible for increased taboos about sexuality in South Asia, but I don’t know enough about it to know if it’s true or not.

  17. This has been a great read! Great insights from Barani. My two cents on this-

    I’m from a Newar caste, I have plenty of good Brahmin friends and have never experienced such situations. I guess it is just the older generation of Nepalese who seem to be latching on to this rudimentary, and frankly stupid, system. Caste system is a touchy subject here in Nepal. Even within the Newars, there is a broad occupational based caste system corresponding to the Hindu four-verna systems. Families are especially strict as hell with marriage and family relations.

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