in this post.
In Blogbharti he links to a post by Svairini which may explain some of the mechanisms at work. Here is a long excerpt with apologies to Svairini (I have seen similar things in Coastal Andhra families of other castes, Svairini writes about Iyengars):
"Typical scenario, the family (nuclear also), and its immediate surroundings are seeped in "tradition". Tradition means celebrating every festival with ALL the rituals, no matter how impractical. Every religious occasion - new moon, full moon, crescents in between, month beginning, month end, saturday, tuesday, thursday and all days in between - are observed with appropriate piety. Men and women, supposedly have assigned roles and should stick to them, with..ahem...exceptions.
This is carried to the extreme and results in ridiculous situations! Like the time my aunt me I couldn't join a new job on a pre-set date - it was a Navami (god knows whats wrong with the number 9, other religions praise it!). I had to explain to her that the corporate world works just a tad differently and I better join if I wanted to have a job! Or the fact that my mom insists that dad and I get out of the house first, whenever the family goes out - threes are unlucky, see! I tell my mom she should have planned better - can't estrange herself from my father every 5 minutes to make up!
These things might sound harmless enough, but they are like ivy, creeping up on you slowly, choking the life out of you, slowly...very slowly. There are constant irritants that leave you longing to escape, leave you shaking your head in disbelief. See, its not all backward - thats the most incidious part of the situation. These families educate their women, send them to work even, but still they have to follow TRADITION, no matter how much it harms their lifestyle!
Its not done through coercion, its done through conditioning. For a long time, I beleived that having a period was "unclean"...something to be ashamed of! Biology classes didn't help - this was Madras and no one explained very clearly what was happening. I had to (and still do) sleep separately, on a plank (that has changed now, after some 15 years) with a rexin pillow. I was given water in a separate bottle and had to stick to one chair (only) for 3 days - these things continue even today! I couldn't go into the kitchen (that one I don't do anyways ;-))...I couldn't go near the gods for sure...I couldn't take the food plate from my mom's hands - had to pick it off the floor, no matter I had cramps that left me (and still do) crying out loud! Oh, by the way, I had to bear the pain of those cramps - tablets were considered harmful! Pain that left me confused, bewildered, wondering how my mom couldn't understand my suffering, pain I couldn't share with others - it made me feel guilty."
As they say, read the whole post. Recently, I read a few books mainly by Westerners of different schools on the topic: "Castes of Minds' by Nicholas Dirks, "Colonial Lists" by by Michael Katten. Earlier books (now all in one placs in the Cohn Omnibus" by Bernard Cohn are also very interesting. A book by Richard Eaton "The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760" explains agrarian expansion basis for the spread of religion (Hinduism too spread in this process but much less than Islam at that time, but similar things might have happenned earlier in the spread of Hinduism according to D.D. Kosambi). It is available online from http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/
P.S. Apart from the rituals and traditions within castes and subcastes, I think that one should also bear in mind the interaction or lack of it between different castes. I remember such an interaction from around 1950 when caste was indeliably imprinted in my mind. I was 9 or 10 and my father who was a teacher sent me to stay in the house of another teacher in a different village so that I would not waste the vacation. Thet were very nice and friendly and I used to play with his children and sleep in side by side beds. But for the whole time of about two weeks, I could not eat with them. I had eat in the verandah and take the babnana leaf outside in view of several on a public road to throw it in the garbage. Later, when I studied in Madras, one day a classmate came very upset since Gemini Ganeshan married Savithri from a 'lower' caste. One can only imagine the experiences of the untouchables. Have things improved any since then? If my observations from occasional visits to A,P. are any guide, I do not think that there is much improvement.