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Gender and Caste

To assess the position of women in ancient society a reference to stratification system which includes Varna and caste system is essential. Caste endogamy as mechanism of recruiting and retaining control over the labor and sexuality of women existed. Concept of purity and pollution segregating groups and also regulating mobility of women are also important. Caste not only determines social division of labor but also sexual division of labor. Certain tasks have to be performed by women that certain other tasks are meant for men.

In agriculture women can engaged themselves in transplantation or removal of weeds but not in ploughing. Also with upward mobility of the group women are immediately withdrawn from the outside work. Overt rules prohibiting women from specific activities and denying certain rights did exist. But more subtle expression of patriarchy was through symbolism giving messages of inferiority of women through legends highlighting the self-sacrificing pure image of women and through the ritual practices which day in and day out emphasized the dominant role of a woman as a faithful wife and mother.

The linking of women and shudras together is one more evidence of the low position of women. Prescription and prohibitions for shudras and women were same on many occasions. The prohibition of the sacred thread ceremony for both women and shudras, similar punishment for killing a shudra or a woman, denial of religious privileges are some of the examples which indicate how caste and gender got entrenched in Indian society.

The concepts of anuloma and pratiloma marriage denigrate women. A marriage where a boy of upper caste marries a girl of lower caste is approved and called anuloma while marriage of women ritually pure group with men of lower caste was called pratiloma. Serious punishments like excommunication and even death could be evoked for transgressing the norms. Physical mobility is also restricted through caste norms. The significant symbol of the low status of women in society is that the women of lower caste are accessible to men from higher caste while there is very severe punishment for men of lower caste who dare approach any woman of higher caste. Early marriage, marriage within the caste, prohibition of partiloma and marriage as a sacrament whereby a woman is bound in wedlock till she dies were all practices that suggest the control of sexuality.