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Bagdi


Bagdi a cultivating, fishing and menial caste of Dravidian descent and akin to many original tribes of the subcontinent. There are different sub-castes of bagdis living in different regions. A bagdi was traditionally restricted from marrying outside the sub-caste. Social and economic factors, especially the intent of not allowing their property to be enjoyed by people outside their community, produced strict endogamy among them. Currently, however, they are flexible in marriage. Bagdis practice both infant and adult marriages, though cases of infant marriage are not common now. Polygamy is permitted, depending on a man's material condition. A bagdi can marry in some places two sisters at a time. Bagdis have borrowed many rituals from the Brahminical system. But they have also preserved some interesting rituals, which belong to different and perhaps more primitive societies. Before formal marriage, the bridegroom goes through a mock marriage to a Mahua tree. The bagdis generally allow widow remarriage. As for divorce, a wife may be divorced for barrenness, faithlessness, and disobedience. A divorced wife is entitled to claim maintenance from her previous husband for a period of six months after divorce.

All sub-castes of bagdis admit into their fold members of any other caste higher than themselves in hierarchy. The religious practices of bagdis combine orthodox hinduism and nature worship of their ancestors. They worship the snake goddess manasa Devi. Traditionally, legal transactions among Bagdis in the past were of a very simple nature and were controlled by the designated elder caste members. Currently, they have been absorbed into formal state institutions. The occupation of bagdis may differ from region to region and from sub-caste to sub-caste. Some bagdis still work in fishing, some in palanquin lime fields. Some are gunny bag makers and cotton weavers. Some bagdis are also engaged in agriculture, usually as bargadars or sub-tenants. From the olden times, a large number of bagdis in Bengal worked as day labourers and were paid in cash or kind.

Bagdis belong to the peripheries of Hindu caste and ritual system. Many of them eat beef and pork, though many of them abstain from eating all sorts of flesh. With the influence of modern amenities, customs and values amidst all strata of society, bagdis are currently able to change their social status along with their life style and are able to engage in several occupations through education and other efforts. [S M Mahfuzur Rahman]