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Who are they?
The Goriya, also known as Gaur, are a two hundred and fifty thousand strong community of traditional fishermen and boatmen found in the vast north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. They are distributed predominantly in the fertile, eastern districts of this state, namely, Faizabad, Jaunpur, Varanasi and Sultanpur.
According to William Crooke (The Tribes and Castes of North-Western India, 1896), they are one of the sub castes of the Mallah, a large community of boatmen and fishermen distributed across northern, central and eastern India. Today however, the Goriya recognise themselves as an independent community.
The Goriya speak Awadhi as their mother tongue, an Indo-Aryan language, but they are also conversant with Hindi. They use Devanagari script for both languages. They accept food from castes higher than them in the Hindu social hierarchy such as the Brahmin (highest Hindu priestly caste), Rajput (second highest caste of warriors), Bania (merchant caste) but they refuse food from those considered as lower castes.
What are their lives like?
Traditionally the Goriya have been boatmen and fishermen, but many have diversified to other professions. They are farmers, laborers, small business owners, basket makers and work in other jobs.
The Goriya non vegetarian and eat fish, mutton, poultry, and pork, but not beef, as it is not permitted by Hinduism. Their staple cereals are wheat and rice, along with a variety of lentils, seasonal vegetables, fruit, milk and dairy products. Alcohol is occasionally consumed by men alone.
Literacy levels are poor with boys making it to college level and girls to primary school level. The Goriya community use both indigenous and modern medicine.
The Goriya are endogamous, i.e. marriages take place only within the community. Marriages are arranged by parents and family members. Child marriages are still common and are on the decrease. They believe in monogamy and polygamy is rare unless the first wife is barren. Sindoor (vermilion mark in mid-hair parting), toe-rings and glass bangles are the symbols that identify a married woman.
The practice of dowry is common, and it is given in both cash and goods. Divorce and remarriage of widowers, widows and divorcees is socially sanctioned. Junior levirate (a widow marrying her deceased husband’s younger brother) and junior sororate (a widower marrying his deceased wife’s younger sister) are prevalent among the Goriya.
They live in nuclear as well as extended families. Paternal property is divided equally among sons only. Although theirs is a male-dominated society, the opinions of women are valued. In addition to doing housework, Goriya women work hard collecting fuel, carrying water and helping their husbands on the farm or with the animals. They also play a significant role in religious rites and social events. Both men and women sing the folk songs. The Goriya have traditional councils that exercises social control.
What are their beliefs?
The Goriyas’ are Hindus and worship many gods and goddesses and celebrate most Hindu festivals. In addition to the main Hindu deities, they worship a number of lesser territorial gods whose influence is at region or village level and family deities. Ancestors are worshiped for protection and blessing. They believe in the occult. They do not believe that a soul is immortal but believe in reincarnation, that one soul may pass to another body after death.
Brahmin priests perform all birth, marriage and death rituals. A specified period of birth pollution is observed until a purification ritual is performed by the priest and the newborn is named. The head-shaving ceremony is performed for both male and female children. The Goriya cremate their dead and observe a period of death pollution for thirteen days when a ceremony is performed and a community feast given for the peace of the departed soul.
What are their needs?
The Goriya are classified among the lower castes. Centuries of domination by the higher castes, has left its mark on the community even as it attempts new beginnings.