Adeela Hameed

Caste System in Kashmir

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What lies behind the Curtains of an Apparently Realistic Society!

Noted Kashmiri sociologist, late Bashir Ahmad Dabla, classified castes on the basis of three different groups, i.e. Syed, occupational and service castes, in his book ‘Directory of Caste in Kashmir’. He wrote that these castes exist as functional social institutions in the Kashmiri society. Quite opposite to the notion that caste has no role in the Kashmiri Muslim setup, it is near significant in many scenarios, especially when deciding which family to marry into.

Our society has been segregated based on status, both financial and of family lineage. Although, financial status may vary and has a high probability of changing with time, family lineage or caste remains attached to you forever. And it is this almost redundant ‘suffix’ that we can’t seem to shake off. Most Kashmiris have, at some point or the other, differentiated people on the basis of caste. Many would blatantly reject or turn defensive if confronted with such questions, but at the back of their mind, the idea stays. Like an itch. Modern families may hide behind their posh lifestyles and western outlooks but no matter how hard they try to morph into someone else, they can’t. You can’t change your genes. What I have noticed is that some people, especially while choosing a bride or groom, take utmost care of knowing the family’s lineage. If it’s similar or higher in hierarchy than theirs, all is well and good. Otherwise, the potential family is rejected. Some very common excuses you might hear are, ‘ We have to take care of our family’s position or How will we face our relatives?’

Just because our ancestors decided to pursue a profession, which ultimately became what they were named after, and in presence of people who misused their positions to degrade a job, casteism was born. What is even more problematic is people of the modern Kashmiri society believe in this practice. Syeds can only marry Syeds, is one such expression many of us are familiar with. What’s up with that? Are the non-Syeds too rich for their taste? Or is there a secret pact between these families which the rest of the community is not aware of? This, here, are born people who although might be Harvard graduates but lack basic communal consciousness. Same is true for other families who think marrying into a Sheikh or Sofi family is insulting.

I am confident that people from such families might be way better in character or morals or finances than the former. But for the undesirable discrimination their family suffix attracts, they would have had authority over this society, over Syeds and other lot. Not adiabolical authority, but of good intentions and faithful work. Just because someone’s name has an unenviable caste attached, unsuitable by your inept standards, does not in any way mean they are less in character or status than you.

Islam has never differentiated people on the basis of caste, nor has it placed authority of more financially sound over those who are not. Humans are only differentiated before Allah on the basis of their deeds.

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