Human beings are pots made of the same clay. God instructs us in the glorious Quran, “All of you are equal in eyes of your Lord.” It is the selfish nature of human beings that makes them divide people on petty things like colour, creed, sex, religion and profession. The most disagreeable and irksome thing among all of these is caste-based discrimination. It is a discrimination which is further associated with various aspects like poor wealth, privilege, profession or occupation.
Caste discrimination is not only prevalent in educationally and socially backward cultures but also in advanced ones. This social evil has engulfed our valley of Kashmir. A valley which was known for its sanctity, ethics, etiquette and hospitality, these things are now confined to only ideas and are hardly observed in practice. There are castes based on different professions such as Hajjaam (Barber), Najar (carpenters), Chopan (cattle herders), Hanji (fishermen), Dhobi (washermen), and Ganaie, Waaza, etc, are generally treated as lower castes in Kashmiri society, similar to the Shudras in Indian society. On the other hand, castes like Sayyid, Fazili, Mahajan, Bukharis, Nazkis, Muftis, etc, are considered to be high castes.
Casteism shows its ugly face in all aspects of Kashmiri society. Our schools, colleges and universities are also not free from this disease. Schools should be the springs of knowledge, but are instead centres for caste discrimination. Our teachers unfortunately teach the concept of caste to our children at the very formative stage of their life. It has to be said regretfully that some teachers ill-treat and devalue the children of lower-caste families in multiple ways, like by calling them with awkward names, paying less attention towards them, and by always admiring, praising and prioritising children of upper-caste families. As a result, the former class of children feel themselves emotionally tortured and mentally depressed. It has become a common problem that happens with all the children of lower castes as their morale is degraded from the beginning. In addition to this, the lower-caste children in schools are even discriminated during the process of evaluation.
This heinous crime is not just limited to our schools, colleges and universities but it has spread its web in all kinds of recruitment processes. It is the cause of corruption and many more evils. The children of upper-caste families are provided all kinds of possible assistance by members of their own caste. Favouritism in selection processes is quite common. All the good jobs are reserved for children of upper castes while the lower-caste children are left with menial ones. The fact cannot be denied that the majority of the gazetted officers are from the upper castes. A boy from a lower caste hardly manages to become an officer as the process is like carrying water up a mountain for him. Apart from this, caste discrimination sometimes takes the shape of social ostracism in which lower-caste groups are excluded from the affairs of society. This experience is mostly seen in villages where members of one caste exploit members of another in the name of superiority.
Casteism plays a crucial role at the time of marriages in Kashmir where endogamy, i.e., marriage within one’s own caste, is openly practiced. This system forbids inter-caste marriages. If a boy from a lower caste marries a girl of higher caste, it is considered to be an indelible stain on the prestige of the family. If a girl from a lower caste marries a boy from the upper caste, she is later emotionally tortured at her in-laws’ home so much that she is forced to commit suicide. This mindset prevents both castes to make such marriages possible. Hence, the lower castes are doomed to marry within their own caste.
Such caste discrimination has ill-effects that threaten peace and harmony in society. It has become a stumbling block in providing social equality and justice. The existence of casteism in this modern era categorically shows that the nature of people is still highly conservative and their thinking orthodox. It has also badly affected the spirit of democracy as caste acts as the main factor in the process of elections. Our political leaders try to gain votes in the name of caste rather than their own capabilities. This results in faulty political representation which has left our Kashmir mourning since years.
The disease of casteism has penetrated its roots very deep into our society. It is immensely difficult to uproot them. But as other social evils have been eliminated to some extent, so can casteism be if we think and act rationally. People themselves have to play the main role in reducing the influence of casteism. They can do that in the following ways:
Inter-caste marriages should be promoted as these will bring two families of different castes closer to each other. This practice will automatically break the walls of casteism down.
Teachers should impart values of equality to children from the very beginning. This can solve the problem of casteism to a great extent.
Public awareness programmes must be conducted in both rural and urban areas to warn people familiar of the ill consequences of this social evil.
People who face caste discrimination should be uplifted economically, educationally, culturally so that there is parity between upper and lower castes.
Lastly, I would like to conclude by posing certain basic and rational questions:
Why casteism prevails in our Kashmiri society when we acknowledge the fact of being created by one God?
Why casteism is still in our society when people are highly educated and know well about this evil?
Why casteism still prevails when we know that every human being whether rich or poor has to die one day and rest in the same grave?
The writer is a BA Honours student of History at AMU. email@example.com