On the Nature of Caste(s) in Kashmir and Stigmas Thereof

On the Nature of Caste(s) in Kashmir and Stigmas Thereof
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Javid Akhter

Examples of homogenous society are quite few; every society comprises of various groups differing from one another on various grounds. These groups, in almost every society , are first divided into religion and then further fragmented into castes. Contrary to the outsider’s notion that caste plays no role in Kashmir’s Muslim majority society, particularly in the Valley, but most of the thinkers and articulators are hesitant to talk about the caste situation in Kashmir, because caste is mostly dominated by upper class and nobody wants to lose their privileges. Now here the question arises: was Kashmir an egalitarian and just society before or after the coming of Islam? The reality is quite the opposite and complex. The renowned Kashmiri sociologist and former head of Kashmir University’s sociology department, late Bashir Ahmed Dabla, in his book titled Directory of Caste in Kashmir writes:
“There prevails an unrealistic notion among some individuals and groups that caste as a working social institution does not exist in this society. But that does not stand as a social reality. The actual reality is caste as a functional social institution prevails in Kashmiri society.”
Dabla adds that even if caste does not exist in any ideal Hindu Varna sense in Kashmir, it is still very significant.
Now here again the question is that if an Islamic society which guarantees equality and brotherhood in all aspects of life, what are the reasons that certain groups are dubbed as low castes and outcastes? I think the main reason is their profession which they are following from decades , that is, sweeping or leather work by Watals, haircutting by Hajamsa nd sometimes the quarrelsome nature of some other castes like Hanjis and Dooms because people think that these professions are impure and polluting for rest of the society but actually the profession is not impure but the tag which our society has given to these people , that is, if a person of any other caste is doing the job of sweeper at any department that is not any problem for whole society the same profession of sweeping became impure when done by the member of a watal community; same is the case with the Hajam profession if hair cutter belong to Hajam caste he is impure but if the same profession is followed by any other person of high caste he is still categorized as high.
Another reason which I think is the legacy which we have saved from generations in our nerves as when people were Hindus before the advent of Islam as in Hindu religion caste system is sanctioned by Hindu law books. One more reason is that they are socially and economically backward since times immemorial and it is clear that they are among the poorest classes of Kashmiri society and because of their poverty and state policy during Dogra period they were not able to acquire education and hence remained illiterate and did not become able to be in the government services. They became submissive towards their profession and became habitual of circumstances which they are facing from decades. There is also a lack of appropriate community-leadership necessary to address the social, economic and political marginalization of these communities.
These groups as they are known today have been the victim of society. They have suffered inter-generationally as is evident by the fact that even today in the world of so called democracy and human rights they are not allowed to eat with others during festive occasions, although some exceptions are there. This caste system is so deep in our veins that these castes which are marked by our society as outcast are reluctant to share their surnames publicly fearing ridicule and racist judgment. Various insulting attributes have been attached to them. They are considered manner-less, abusive, characterless and dirty. The upper caste Kashmiri Muslim uses these castes to insult each other and admonish their children. Because of these facts and consequent subjugation by upper caste groups, they feel it is their predicament which does not seem to end in times to come.

— The author, a Research Scholar at AMU, Aligarh can be reached at: Javidakhter1649@gmail.com
To be Continued……….