Priestly Purity

Status Competition in the Tribal Margins


  • Stephen Christopher



Reservation, pilgrimage, tribalization, myth, Scheduled Tribe Dalit


This article analyzes the tribal aspirations of Sippis, traditionally a wool shearing caste closely associated with Gaddis. Sippis have different administrative classifications across three districts in Himachal Pradesh and Jammu. In most contexts, they self identify as part of the Gaddi tribe. In this regard, they are not alone; four other caste groups, partially integrated into Gaddi life, make similar claims of tribal belonging. They argue that Gaddis are a caste heterogeneous tribal community with entrenched forms of casteism and ritual exclusion. Some identify with the neologism “Scheduled Tribe Dalit” to reflect their intersectionality as both marginalized Dalits and tribal people. Sippis, however, demand tribal inclusion along different ideological lines, often de-emphasizing tribal casteism, and emphasizing status equivalence with Gaddi Rajputs and Brahmins. Sippis generally reject their subordination as landless peasants and unfree clients under patronage exploitation, a narrative central to many other self identifying Gaddi Dalits. In doing so, Sippis separate themselves from other Gaddi identifying caste groups as they appeal for Scheduled Tribe status in Kangra. Based on 22 months of fieldwork, I analyze the ideologies of Sippi exceptionalism in the domains of pilgrimage, ritual practice, vocational lifestyle, and belief. The widespread recognition of Sippis as the highest status group among Scheduled Caste Gaddis, both in terms of self stylization and tribal social acceptance, accounts for villages where lower status groups have legally changed their caste certificates to become Sippi. Attention to how reservation shapes spirituality has broader implications for the anthropology of affirmative action across South Asia.




How to Cite

Christopher, S. (2023). Priestly Purity: Status Competition in the Tribal Margins. HIMALAYA - The Journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies, 42(2), 51–69.

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