Lucknow, Aug : The study conducted by the Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute (GBPSSI) in Prayagraj has revealed that caste barriers were demolished to a large extent during the pandemic.
The Eminent cultural anthropologist and director of GBPSSI, Prof Badri Narayan, said that migrant workers in distress, openly accepted help and support from anywhere, rising above caste-based mentality to survive.
"Hardships and uncertainty caused by Covid-19 pandemic also helped break down caste and community divides that often rule social lives in UP and Bihar. People, however, were surprised by lack of support and camaraderie from fellow caste members who distanced themselves when they returned to their home villages," he explained.
Narayan said: "This research was aimed at understanding how caste system functions in Indian society during the times of disaster and emergency. It was centred on migrant labourers of UP and Bihar who returned from various destinations and tried to document changes in the inner content of caste in their everyday life."
He said that as per the 2011 Census, there are 453.6 million internal migrants in India.
Based on the 2011 Census, it is estimated that UP accounts for nearly 25 per cent (over 56.4 million) and Bihar accounts for 14 per cent (over 20.4 million) interstate migration.
The team interviewed 215 migrants comprising Dalits, OBCs and upper castes who returned from Mumbai, Delhi, Surat and Pune to UP and Bihar.
"We selected six quarantine centres each in UP and Bihar to document everyday life experience of migrants there. Most respondents completed their quarantine period either at a centre or home quarantine, and then reached their villages and towns," he said.
"Our research associates interviewed them, mostly over phone, and some face-to-face to know how caste identities remained with them during the pandemic," he said.
He said that this was a 'methodology of emergency' during lockdown when researchers could not go to field.
"The researchers came to know about many instances where upper castes took food and water from the hands of fellow Dalits and OBC migrant travellers during their journey. When they entered a quarantine centre, caste consciousness which was diluted during travel did reappear in some cases but the majority from different castes ate and stayed together forgetting untouchability," said Narayan.
"A new form of social distance and untouchability emerged during the pandemic. For instance, a Brahmin youth from Mumbai returned to his village in Bundelkhand and was treated as an untouchable and his wife was prevented from drawing water from the well. People even called him 'Corona'," he said.