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Caste System in Kashmir- A menace to the marriages


Sibgat Fatima

“To dehumanize another human being is not merely to declare that someone is not human” (Isabel Wilkerson)

Caste also known as Kram in Kashmiri language, an endogamous and a hereditary group limited to persons of the same rank, occupation, and economic position as described by the society. During Ancient Kashmir, the inhabitants were mostly Hindus followed by Buddhist and Jains but with the influx of Muslim divines from the neighbouring countries, large number of Hindus got converted to Islam except the Brahmans. After the process of proselytization castes got mixed and there was the emergence of new castes which were both indigenous and foreign.


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” classified Kashmiri castes into three different groups. At the top are the ‘Syed castes’ Geelani, Jeelani, Andrabi, Qadri, Hamdani, Bhukhari, and others where Syeds claim to be the descendants of the family of the prophet. This group is followed by the ‘occupational castes’ which include surnames like Wani, Zargar, Bhat, Naqash, Lone, Khandey, Ahangar and others and at the bottom of Dabla’s caste hierarchy are the ‘service castes’ with names like Hanjis, Waza, Gilkar, Sofi, Dobi, Ganie, Bangi etc. Sheikh is an interesting caste as if this title is used as a prefix it indicates the person has descended from Brahmin landlords like the National Conference party leader Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah.  Caste in Kashmiri society mostly comes to surface at social functions like marriages. Higher castes rarely marry people from occupational castes, those belonging to occupational castes refrain from marrying into service castes and this is where the social jeopardize begins. Wakar Amin, Assistant professor at the Department of Social Work in Kashmir University, says even after switching to Islam in the 14th century the casteist traits from its Hindu past carried on in Kashmiri society. Under Hindu rule, Brahmins were the ones who possessed knowledge but after Kashmir turned to Islam, Syeds took on that role, who now have the upper hand. They took important jobs in the king’s court and bureaucracy and had control over mosques. People would go to mosques to settle their issues so they became power centres and those who had control over the mosques acquired political authority which hasn’t changed till this day.

Spiritually, “marriages are believed to be settled in heavens and solemnized on earth”. This metaphoric scenario is often practiced other way round in the valley of Kashmir. Marriage psychology in Kashmir too has passed the stringent test of time. New thoughts, new beliefs, new rituals all experiments and gradually evolved into what is commonly found today in Kashmir’s contemporary society. In the past it used to be very simple in all aspects and endeavours and was considered as a mini aspect of life or just the means of furthering progeny. But now times have changed, so has the human cogitate nature. Marriages are now considered as value addition processes in the endless pursuit of self-actualization. In Kashmir for the past two to three decades, the average age of marriage for male has increased from 24 to 32 and in females from 21 to 28 which is the matter of grave concern for social scientists & caste discrimination is believed to be one of the major reasons for it. Many people, who have crossed marriageable age, are still unmarried owing to this irrational trend. In most of the cases, caste is given priority over everything else while looking for a match. If lineage of one family doesn’t suit another, all other important aspects, including religious piety, go unnoticed. Many are ready to compromise on other factors like education, temperament but not on caste disparities. The irony is caste discrimination has become a trend in a Muslim-majority region. Even though the existences of caste as a social institution in the society is widely denied, perhaps because it contradicts the core beliefs of Islam. “O mankind! Behold, we have created you all from a single pair of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another (not that you may despise each other). Verily, the honoured of you in the sight of Allah is the one who is the most righteous of you (the most deeply conscious of Him). Behold, Allah is all knowing, all aware (Surah Al-Hujjaraat 49:13).This verse clearly indicates that people were divided into tribes just for the sake of identification. Not to look down upon any section of society or consider it inferior. Hence, this leaves no room for any question of prohibition on inter-caste marriages.

So isn’t our duty as educated youth to tackle this menace of caste discrimination. Youth need to take the initiative of encouraging inter-caste marriages. The best way to do it is to aware people, especially elder generation, about the downsides of caste discrimination. They need to be enlightened about the actual teachings of Islam. “All people, regardless of their origin, are equal in Islam and the only thing that distinguishes them is their level of commitment to their religion” (Hadith, Al-Tirmidhi). Let people learn what Islam has proclaimed Tawheed, that is oneness of Allah (SWT) and oneness of humanity. Hope society will one day open its eyes and acknowledge how discriminatory it is and work to correct it.

(The writer is a post graduate in Obstetrics & Gynaecology and teaches at SAMAGRA)