Saturday, September 10, 2005

DEWAR: The Caste and Its Identity

-By Sudhir Kumar Behera

It gives me the mixture of pleasures and pains to write about my caste-DEWAR and the path it has experienced in the socio-economic spheres of Indian society and economy. Pleasure, of course, is due to an opportunity to write on my own community, and pain, because my community is placed in the disadvantaged position even today. Like other castes and communities, Dewar caste has its own history and way of life. Like other vulnerable groups and low castes, it has been the victim of social, cultural, economic and political exclusion in the reality of rural India. At the same time it has been actively struggling to preserve its identity and culture and to stake its legitimate claim on the nation’s available resources.
Dewar caste (also known as ‘Kaibarta’) is specifically referred to the fishing communities, who live near coastal areas. Dewars are located in different coastal parts of Orissa and some other parts of Tamil Nadu with different sub-castes. The present article primarily deals with the Dewars of Orissa, though it has highlighted some of the problems of Dewars in other parts of India. Fishing is the primary livelihood of these people. Besides fishing, they are often seen to get engaged in cultivation and as wage labour.

Preserving Culture
Dewar caste has its own folk cultures, which are popularly known as “Chaiti Parva” and “Chaitighoda Nacha” (Horse Dance). Though the two festivals are organized in the same month, they are quite unique in their own sphere. In this era of modern dance and pop culture, the traditional culture of this low caste community is still deeply entrenched in the rural India.
Chaiti Parva is organized in the full moon night in the month of Chaitra (the first Oriya month which falls in the month of April). This is the major festival of Kaibartas which is celebrated with much fanfare and rejoices. They get to forget their daily-sorrows and get actively engaged in enjoying the momentary pleasures. Performing “Daanga Puja” (worshiping Boats) respects the age-old culture of Dewars. This puja is considered as one of the alternatives to the brahmincal supremacy, that helps them to worship their boats by themselves and they do not require any brahmin to do that. Another significance of “Daanga Puja” is that it brings unity among Kaibartas, who unitedly perform it with their traditional classical songs.
Chaiti Ghoda Naacha is the folk dance of Kaibatas’ which is observed in the honour of their caste deity Vaseli Devi. A wooden horse, well-dressed and made up in variety of colours is taken as the idol of the Devi. There is a horse rider who is called sipahi. The Ghoda Natcha requires a Gayak, a Rout (a male dancer and singer) and a Routani (female dancer and singer) besides dholia and mahuria (a person who beats drum and plays flute respectively). Their combined effort gives a lot of pleasures and attracts a large audience. The festival brings unity among Kaibartas and makes them determined to preserve the identity of Kaibartakula (Kaibrata Community). This month-long festival ends with the Munda Kata (Immersion of the idol) which is generally held in Behera Daanda (in front of the house of the head of the community)
Interaction with Other Dalit Castes
The interconnections among Dalit castes in rural Orissa are unfortunately very poor. They are more confined to their own caste and community. They have little sense of togetherness among Dalits which often leads to the isolation of one caste from others. Each caste feels discriminated in the hands of dikus in their own ways, but at the same time they are not seen to have interaction among other like-minded discriminated castes to unitedly fight the caste oppression. There are reasons for this low level of interaction among Dalits. These are: lack of education, lack of mobilization and more importantly lack of Dalit-related Social Movements in Orissa.

About Ambedkarite Movements
Again due to the lack of education and mobilization and movements, Dewars, like other Dalit castes in Orissa are little informed about Ambedkarite movements. These people are engaged with their own struggle which is no less significant than Ambedkarite movements, but having no networks with any Dalit-Ambedkarite Movements. It is unfortunate but real that, most of these people have little knowledge on Dr. Ambedkar and his identity and contribution towards Dalit’s development.

Their Struggles and Challenges
From the very beginning Kaibartas have been engaged in the movements to claim their legitimate rights, though as it is mentioned on the above paragraph that they have little knowledge on Ambedkar and Ambedkarite Movements. It is noteworthy to mention that the dikus have till date, been attempting to subvert the identity and livelihood of Dewars by interrupting their fishing. They just want to drive out Dewars from fishing in the rivers and claim the rivers as theirs. This strong force has been a great challenge for Dewars. This is nonetheless a movement for Dewars. But fortunately they have not let their rights be taken away in any way.
Kaibarta Mahaasangha, a devoted institutional mechanism of Kaibartas, is actively engaged in the interest of Kaibartas. This has become movement for these low caste people.
But the problem is that no other Dalit sub-caste has so far come forward in the defense of the Kaibartas. It is largely, as it is mentioned else where in the article, because of the lack of interaction among Dalits in rural Orissa. They feel isolated in their long-standing movement. Nor are other Dalits seen to have shown solidarity with these people.
Besides the discrimination from the upper castes, these fishing communities have been the victims of all natural disasters, whether it was the Super Cyclone in Orissa in October 1999 or Tsunami killer in most parts of South Indian states in December 26, 2004. What is more unfortunate is the practice of discrimination in the post-disaster scenario that treats these fishing communities as a polluted people.
Not only these people are discriminated by their country men and rulers, the foreign ruler does not even spare them. These fishing communities are often arrested by foreign authorities when they cross their country’s border.

Need for An Inclusive Approach
Our aim is to remove caste discrimination and the social oppression our people have been facing. At the same time it can be argued that, this cannot be achieved unless we eliminate all discrimination of all Dalits in all areas. For this there is a greater need to make an inclusive approach which will help us include all types of sufferings of all Dalits into a single network. Any challenge posed to any Dalit caste is to be treated as a challenge to the whole Dalit community and its identity.
Of course Dewars have so far not let any forces (both external and internal) to subvert their identities and culture despite many sufferings. But the future of their struggle is likely to yield little success unless this is joined by other Dalit groups. In other words, there is a great need for making the struggle of Dewars a full-fledged Dalit movement. Not only this struggle, but any struggle of any of the Dalit community must be recognized as a Dalit movement as well so as to preserve the identity of Dalits. For this there is need for a larger consensus among Dalits. The entries of devoted groups as well as people other than the Dalits are most welcome.
Notes: The words ‘Dewar’ and ‘Kaibarta’ have been used inter changeably in this paper.

[Sudhir Kumar Behera is pursuing his Mphil in the Centre for Political Studies (CPS), JNU, Delhi]


At 6:42 AM, Blogger Matt said...

I am doing some research on the Kaibarta people for a paper. I found that the majority of them live in Assam and West Bengal, with some in Orissa. Are these all the same people as the Dewar in your article? Email me at

At 1:42 AM, Blogger rahul said...

Hey Mr sudhir warm regards

Its really wonderful to know tat you have poured in ur valuable time in doing an indepth analaysis and research on the kaibratas,,, I would really appreciate tat if u can get more deep into the matter and do let me know more about it. like, since when kaibrata got a dalit status and origination of kaibratas, and further sub-castes and lot other related issues to kaibratas, your work will be highly appreciated,,,

my email is


Ps: send comments or mails to this id,,

At 3:57 AM, Blogger Jayakaran said...

Best wishes dear Sudhir. May i also request you to post information about the religion aspect. What religion does your community belong to? one or more than one? Has there been conversion to christianity, islam or buddhism? If at all there has been some progress in your community, what would you attribute it to? certainly not the caste hindus. Jai Bheem, Jai Mulnivasi, Jai Bharat.

At 4:00 AM, Blogger Jayakaran said...

Best wishes dear Sudhir. May i also request you to post information about the religion aspect. What religion does your community belong to? one or more than one? Has there been conversion to christianity, islam or buddhism? If at all there has been some progress in your community, what would you attribute it to? certainly not the caste hindus. Jai Bheem, Jai Mulnivasi, Jai Bharat.

At 1:16 AM, Blogger Ganeswar said...

well done sudhir.the community is proud of you.keep going.
Ganeswar Majhi.

At 7:34 PM, Blogger Ahinda said...

my self suryaprakash koli .iam researching on traditional hindu fishermen communities.residing in banglore.working towards upliftment of fishermens .i want to meet you live your cell cell#09448660250.

At 12:22 PM, Blogger naru said...

The media is biassed. Many a true historical movements/happenings are camouflaged & suppressed. Even the so called progressive icons were having many oppressive shades in their character & life, which if dispassionately analysed will bare their true grit. Insight by their bold, incisive, forthright views & contributions is marking its firm footprint in the vast shores shallow dalit literature. Congrats.

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At 2:39 PM, Blogger R.Alamsha Karnan said...

I want to become a Brahmin...

Manu Smriti - The laws of Manu:

Vishwamitra who was born as kshyatriya became Brahma Rishi...

Is it possible for a Shudra or any one outside the 3 high catses to become a Brahma Rishi or even a Brahmin?. If so, i love Brahmins, Gita, Veda, Upanishads and Sanskrit. I want to become officially a Brahman priest and perform special poojas like Maha Kumbhabhishekam. Tell me, what's the procedure for conversion as a Brahman?.

Whereas, if you want to become a Muslim, it's very simple. Just say:


After this, you can give a prayer call and lead the prayer. There is no caste and high priest in Islam.

Despite the downside in Islam like any other religion, Islam is the only faith which empowers an individual to break out of the barriers of social discrimination, inequality, injustice and wealth accumulation.

Imagine yourself as a Shudra, carrying night soil and cleaning the sewer for generations, aspiring to enjoy the default social status of a Brahman which he gets by birth. Try to find a mechanism to break this lid on top of your head since 10,000 years. You will ultimately find Islam as the only answer which empowers you to not only break Manuvaadam but also insult them back by calling them as Kaafirs and declare that a Kaafir is inferior to a Muslim. Only a suppressed Shudra can realize the power of this proposition.

Turning the left cheek when someone slaps you on right, does not put you on equal platform. Rather, it further pushes you down. He will continue to hit you left, right and centre. Insult for insult. The first step towards equality.

As i have repeated several times, Islam and Hinduism acts like a mirror for each other to see their ugly face. You have shown us the mirror and definitely it has brought some good sense in the minds of Indian Muslims. Now it's our turn to return the favour.

BTW, had Karnan been brought up by a Brahman Instead of a charioteer, a low caste, what would have been the verdict of Mahabharata?.

Let us talk. Very soon, we will become equals.

At 2:40 PM, Blogger R.Alamsha Karnan said...

Why, i want to become a Brahmin....?

Why, I want to become a Brahmin...

Hard facts:

1. It's impossible for Indian Muslims to delink themselves from Pakistan factor 100%, howsoever loud they may scream. Majority is NOT willing to buy the Muslim patriotism and loyalty stories. A deep suspicion exists. If i were a Hindu, i will do the same.

2. The ghost of 1947 partition will always haunt Indian Muslims. Just impossible to escape.

3. Insulting Islam and criticising Muslims will be perceived as nationalism whereas crticising Hinduism will always be perceived as anti-nationalism, especilly, if it comes from a Muslim. Again, if i were a Hindu, i will do the same.

4. Pakistan is the ultimate benchmark for all evils. Unless Pakistan, the land of the pure, purifies from all the evils and gets the good conduct certificate from India, India can NOT move forward and get out of the Pakistan obsession factor.

5. If anything goes wrong between India and Pakistan, all fingers will unconsciously point towards Indian Muslims and Muslims will jump into the "I love my India, I am a patriot, I hate Pakistan" chest beating mode. Pathetic, but can't help it.

6. Finally, neither Islam, Hindu, Muslim, Pakistan and India will change. Nothing will change.

My personal desire and conclusion:

On this basis, i conclude that i can NOT live as a Muslim and practice my faith Islam peacefully in my country. I am NOT rich enough to go and settle elsewhere. As a citizen and son of Hindustan, the land of Hindus, i live under constant fear and threat because i am a Muslim. People like VG are asking us to go to Pakistan to live as a Muslim. They don't trust our patriotism and loyalty. They don't think that we are living in our own land and India belongs to us as much as to them. It has become a crime to be born as a Muslim in India.

Whereas, i see an excellent opportunity to live a better life with dignity in Hindustan, with the same skills and qualifications, if i were a Brahmin. A casteless Hindu, an outcaste, is again a Shudra and i don't want to get into that hell hole again left by my forefathers. Let me get it right, this time. The best path is to become a Brahman. I would have become a Christian, if i were a citizen and native of a Christian nation. Same goes with Budhism and Islam, as well.

I wish to become officially a Brahman priest and perform special poojas like Maha Kumbhabhishekam. Tell me, what's the procedure for conversion as a Brahman?. Please help me.

At 4:44 PM, Blogger surath said...

sudhir bhai, m really appriciating ur own stand and courage to write such ...m going to work my m.phil.on dalit movements in orissa. plz bhai send me some articles on dalit movements against caste attrocities and state action..all the best.for suratha. my email is --

At 11:26 AM, Blogger Jaydee Lee said...

Details study and research on this ancient tribe is praiseworthy.The kaibarttas in Assam are same with rest of India. Kaibarttas in Assam are considered as aborigin of this land and have long historic evidance as found in some ancient stone and copper plate inscriptions.

At 11:28 AM, Blogger Jaydee Lee said...

email address Jaydee Lee

At 4:03 AM, Blogger Kali Behera said...

Dear Sir,
Kaibarta caste has a strong mythological as well as historical background. Lord Ram himself was a kaibarta(keuta).Draupadi, daughter of Draupad(King of fisherman' community).Most of the kings belongs to the Kaibarta community who were regarded as the brave warriors.But with the passage of time our community gradually loses it's dignity due to the conspiracy of the priestly class people who always tried to make us down in any way.They have entered their evil verses and preaches wrong things about this community to diminish our strength.But we have warriors blood in our body who will never accept to make their heads down. We believe once again "Ram rajaya" will prevail providing e qualities to all caste and communities. "Jai shree Ram".

At 3:33 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

well said Mr kali behera.. its a fact and a sorry state tat most of this powerful community have been supressed to a great extent,,, let there be ram rajya again,,, all praise

At 4:20 PM, Blogger Jayanta Das said...

well said. somebody from us have to re-write history finding the facts of ancient dynasties. Lots of things prooving our ancestral suprimacy defame or hidden to malign our glorious past. I personally collected some vital information from books written on early India and inscriptions. But I am not from the history stream. somebody from history stream is welcome for research on this issues. I can provide some documents or references for proceed. Moreover a work on kaibarta race by history scolar would be recognised world wide.waiting for respones in this regard.

Jayanta Das

At 8:15 PM, Blogger Dr. Ashok Bhagat said...


At 12:00 AM, Blogger Jayanta Das said...

A ancient warrior caste lost its glories only due to such traitors from time to time from ancient past.We should united and help each other in every filed. But the BONIYAS of Assam are still Scheduled Caste.

At 7:46 PM, Blogger Dr. Ashok Bhagat said...

Thanks Mr. Jayant Das for responding to the blog. In fact there is a plethora of cases where the higher castes especially where there is no reservation available people from these castes matching the names have got the benefit of the reservation in the name of the actual castes included in the schedule. I have known some typical cases of castes where one caste is in the general category in one state while the same caste is in the S/C category in other state. More so, the same caste may be in the category of OBC in yet another state. It creates lot of confusion and one can get the benefit of this confusion by getting the certificate through bribe. KAIBARTTA is a typical caste name in which there are further divisions. One division would hail themselves as upper caste while another one calls itself as S/C. Specially the people migrant from Bangladesh have got themselves registered as Kaibartta ( S/C ) where as socially they call themselves as upper Caste Kaibartta.. they are eating our share one side and killing us on the other hand. Persons from the east don't understand the caste system of North. North people don' get of east, south / west. thus every body is ignorant of another one. the cunning people take advantage of this situation and davour our share but they continue to hate and damage us socially, economically and politically. such examles are found in abundance all over the country. Thousands of the cases are under scrutiny are pending in the nation commission and the courts. In fact this guy has been privately declaring that he is a migrant from Bangla Desh and has nothing to do with the S/C but openly he is a member of the S/C community. Even his two sons have got the employment in S/C quota but he is imposing extreme penalties, castigating them publically, intimidating them, even framing them in false cases.We fail to understand what to do in such cases.

At 10:39 PM, Blogger Dr Rabindra Narayan Behera said...

Dear Mr sudhir I congratulate you for doing research on kaibarta caste. I am a kaibarta and am chairman of Odisha kaibarta employee forum. No doubt kaibarta is a permit ice caste and in Odisha (kalinga) they were ruler. Sun temple konark, jagannatthchetana temple puri was built by kaibarta Rajasthan and Great War of kalinga was fought by kaibarta king of kalinga, but now we are socially and economically extremely backward. We should work together to rebuild our caste which is lost in horizon. Ref to mr kali Behera can u pl clarify about god Rama and droupadi belongs to kaibarta caste. Dr r n Behera mobile: 09437164100


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