Regards Sur Les Castes.part III. L'inde Fantôme (Louis Malle.1969)

Uploaded by calicocentric on 19.06.2011

Every day we spent in the village,
we saw this blind camel
circling tirelessly from dawn till dusk,
dragging a millstone behind him to mix the cement.
Finally we filmed him
as a heavy-handed symbol of Indian society.
An Indian of the caste system is caught in a web of rights and responsibilities,
absolutely unaware of the concept of individual freedom
that we value so highly.
His destiny is laid out from birth, with almost no possibility for free will.
But there is a reward:
Living interdependently, in relation to everyone else,
he's part of a whole, shielded from solitude.
Day after day, we saw the same teams take turns at this well.
The precise division of labor is a direct corollary of the caste system.
This man is a water carrier and nothing else.
It's his dharma, his duty, his place in the hierarchy.
In the past, when villages formed a closed economic system,
the 20 or 30 castes of the community were linked
by an elaborate and codified exchange of services.
Priest, peasant, barber, water carrier:
Each carried out his hereditary function,
and in exchange received goods and services.
An idyllic vision of agricultural communism
where everyone's needs are met,
which, even if it did once exist, is lost to the villagers today.
These water carriers are no longer linked to the community
but to the landowners who pay their salary.
Today, the division of labor looks more like one person exploiting another.
A few hundred yards from the village,
these men and women live in huts in a clearing.
Originally from a mountain tribe,
they came down to the plains in search of work.
They live in quarantine.
We never once saw them enter the village.
These are the real outcastes. Without a place in the system,
their lot is worse than that of the Untouchables.
At the nearby river,
the village clothes washers attack the washing
with an energy that makes up for the lack of soap.
Washing laundry is a particularly impure task
and is therefore reserved for the lowest ranks of the Untouchables,
called dhobi.
By giving this task to the dhobi, upper-caste housewives avoid defilement.
Dhobi are found all over India.
Here, on the riverbed in Madras,
hundreds of dhobi wash the dirty laundry of the entire city.
They're remarkably organized.
Men, women and children all share the work.
The laundry is collected, washed, dried, ironed
and returned to the client the same day.
The historical origin of the castes is generally attributed
to the traditional divisions among the Aryan people -
priests, warriors and farmers -
also found in the ancient civilizations of Greece, Rome and Germany.
It's said the Aryans, after invading India over 3,000 years ago,
integrated the local population into the hierarchy
by placing them at the bottom.
But recent discoveries show that castes existed in the first Indian civilizations,
before the arrival of the Aryans.
In the modern city of Bombay,
washers are cooped up in this enormous washhouse
with cement stalls and running water.
Modernization hasn't changed essential facts:
It's still the dhobi caste, and they alone,
in charge of this impure task.
In front of the Red Fort in Delhi,
dyers dry long pieces of multicolored cloth
that will become turbans.
In the cities, the craftsmen's castes
resemble the craft guilds of medieval Christian Europe.
One wonders how castes survive in modern India.
In 1853, Karl Marx prophesied
that railroad construction would alter the division of labor in India
and, at the same time, destroy the caste system.
It seems Marx was wrong.
Railroads have long crisscrossed the country,
yet the castes are still here,
even if they don't officially exist.
For example, castes play a decisive role in elections,
which completely negates the concept of democracy.
Almost everyone votes according to caste.
Candidates, regardless of party,
represent, above all else, a caste or alliance of castes,
and the political arena, all ideology aside,
is nothing but a power struggle between rival castes.
The caste system has even survived proletarianization.
The southern Indians crammed into this shantytown in Bombay
haven't lost their roots.
They regroup according to family, native village or region.
In cities, caste solidarity also plays a part at work.
Certain government administrations only admit members
of a certain caste.
That's why, in modern India, instead of disappearing,
castes are becoming rigid, autonomous blocks
that are no longer interdependent, but rivals and competitors.
The hierarchy remains,
but stripped of its traditional framework,
it's become a plain and simple form of economic oppression.
We came across this funeral in the streets of Madras.
The musicians play Marlborough.
The flower-covered corpse is carried to the place where it will be burned.
I see no suffering or tears, nor even sadness.
To us, for whom death is so tragic,
this aspect of Hinduism is stunning.
The bonfire is prepared.
The older brother will perform the ritual, assisted by a priest.
Balls of rice are held to the mouth and forehead of the deceased.
Death is not an end, nor even a separation.
One lives and dies and is then reborn,
over and over in an unbroken chain.
Each life is judged,
and the next life constitutes the verdict.
If you're born an Untouchable, it's your fault,
because in a previous life you proved yourself unworthy.
You can imagine the social efficiency of the system.
No penalty is permanent,
unlike the heaven and hell of the Christians,
where residence is eternal.
Hindus are given a suspended sentence,
as if books were kept on their conduct
from one birth to the next.
This ceremony of propitiation takes place in the days following the death.
The deceased still lingers near the earth,
so the last ties to the body left behind must be severed.
The deceased's closest relatives contact him,
assure him that he's still respected by the living,
and ask him to enter the specially prepared balls of rice.
The offerings include flowers, urine,
cow dung, fire and dirt.
When it's finished, the rice balls are fed to a cow, the sacred animal.
The priest invokes gods and demons in alternation,
transferring the sacred thread from one shoulder to the other.
Now liberated, the soul of the deceased can reincarnate in another body
or disappear forever,