In Kashmir caste is called as Kram or Zaat. It is reflected in the surname of people, which indicates the community they belong to. In the medieval period many Hindus, Buddhists and Jains accepted Islam but their castes stayed with them and they are still known by these castes today in Kashmir. There are mainly three caste systems in Kashmir: the high castes, the occupational castes, and the low castes. The high castes are people having surnames as Shah, Syed, Bukhari, Andrabi, Geelani, Hamdani, Qadri, et al. The occupational castes have surnames of Wani, Zargar, Bhat, Naqash, Lone, Khanday, Rather, et al. The low castes are known as Hanjis, Waza, Gilkar, Sofi, Dobi, Ganie, Bangi, or Sheik. These are generally people historically without land of their own.
The caste system influences marriages in Kashmir and has become a major hurdle for many people in finding a suitable match. In most cases, caste is given the major preference over other important things. Although Islam is against any type of caste system, it is still dominant in a Muslim-majority region like Kashmir. It is said in the Quran that matches are made in heaven. In chapter 8 verse 78, Allah says, “Indeed we have created you in pairs”. It further says, “We created you all from male and female and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another. Verily the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most God-fearing of you.” (49:13)
This verse answers the question of why there are different tribes, why all people are not of the same colour, and why the world is not a single nation. But the whole of mankind has been addressed by Allah so that prejudices due to race, colour, language, country, and nationality are shunned. Division of human beings into nations and tribes is also an expression of Allah’s unique attribute, ‘al-Khaliq’, ‘the Creator’. He created an infinite number of people with distinct features from one soul. Allah explains that these differences are a sign of His creative power. He says: “And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the difference of your languages and colours. Verily, in that are indeed signs for men of sound knowledge.” [Surah al-Rum (30): 22]
So, discrimination based on caste is not allowed in Islam. However, discrimination between one’s own people and others has assumed the worst forms of hatred, enmity, contempt, and tyranny, even in Islamic societies. The only basis of superiority that there is, or can be, is that of moral excellence. What makes a person superior to others is piety and righteousness. Such a man, no matter which race, nation, or caste he belongs to, is worthy on account of his moral character. The one who is unlike him in character is, in all cases, inferior, whether he is black or white, Syed or Andrabi, Bukhari or Bhat, Rather or Ganie, born in the east or in the west. However, all are equal before Allah.
In various sections of society in Kashmir are women who have gone past the suitable age of marriage because they are unable to find a suitable match within their own caste. We have to do away with this menace of caste system. The youth should come forward and shun the caste marriage system. Also, we should make parents and the elderly aware of the actual teachings of Islam and the adverse effects that the caste system is having on marriages in Kashmir.