here is absolutely no truth in this tradition, which is contrary to Islamic values and principles. God has stated people’s equality in many ways.
To give but one example, we may refer to the verse that states: “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female, and have made you into nations and tribes, By you may know one another. Indeed the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted” [Quran 49:13]
Kashmiri Muslims have struggled with caste and religious discrimination for centuries. First discriminated against by Brahmans and then by the so-called upper-caste Muslims who took over them when the majority of Kashmiris converted to Islam around the 13th century.
Lives of countless Kashmiri young men and young women have been destroyed because they have dared to love across divides defined by caste. The caste system is among the world’s oldest forms of social stratification. It divides people belonging to the Hindu religion into four main categories, which are further divided into about 3,000 castes and 25,000 sub-castes, each based on their specific occupation. The Dalits or so-called “untouchables” were the lowest rung of this caste system. After India’s independence, in the new constitution of 1949, the caste system was officially abolished, but it still marks social life.
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To date, Dalits face discrimination when it comes to opportunities and social interactions. Considering the importance that Indian society places on marriages, inter-caste marriages are always difficult. But if one of the parties involved is Dalit, the consequences can be as violent as an “honour killing”. This act refers to the murder of a person by a family member motivated by a belief that the victim had brought “shame” to the family.
No religion believes in distinction on the basis of class, creed, caste, economic status, region, language and background. These criteria are immaterial for God to judge a person. In Islam, Taqwa (piety) and fear of God are two factors that determine the status of a Muslim before Allah. Islam, if we would trace its recent roots, was successful in establishing an egalitarian society in Saudi Arabia.
The egalitarianism continued politically for a period of not more than three decades, but for the masses it still holds, though in a rudimentary shape. The powerful political, social, corporate and military elite have kept the Muslim masses suppressed while enjoying an elevated status. They have deprived the masses equal opportunities to earn livelihoods, enjoy social mobility and excel in different fields.
The elite always need an ideology to keep the masses engaged so as to not let them unite. Ideology, religion, national interest and patriotism are often invoked to keep them divided.
Even among Kashmiri Muslims, distinctions based on descent are pretty common, and sometimes not very subtly. I don’t intend to assault the prerogative which every family has, when it comes to the major decisions like that of children’s marriage. Every family has a right to decide which family they are comfortable, to build such an important relationship with.
Contrary to the outsider’s notion that caste plays no role in Kashmir’s Muslim majority society, particularly in the Valley, the reality is quite the opposite and complex.
The problem has persisted largely because of the ignorance, the ignorance that makes the people conservative and superstitious. Hence they do not accept any social change. They want things to continue as they are. Every measure of social reform is strongly opposed and is considered to be an attack on their religion by the religious fanatics.
Karl Marx rightly pointed out that religion is the opium of masses. Mostly, the non-enlightened section of society is a victim of universal passivity, religious feudalism, and political subordination.
This cultural narrative has been well exploited by the dominant Syed class in Kashmir. Concocted and intentional misinterpretation of religious texts is employed to drain financial, psychological and physical capital from the masses. One could see the unfailing support of these religious demagogues in financing the humongous religious schools (devoid of reason and logic), which have been unfortunately reduced to entrepreneurial centres.
Incontrovertibly, Syeds brought Islam to Kashmir. They have, for centuries, taught Islam to rest of the Kashmiris. So it’s quite axiomatic that they knew Islam better than others then, but not now. It also falls in line with the Quranic injunction ‘Indeed the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous.
A famous Kashmiri saint, Sheikh Ul-Alam has rightly said: One who harps proudly upon one’s own caste, Is totally bereft of reason and wisdom; Here the good alone can claim noble And in hereafter ‘caste’ itself will be non-existent, Were you to imbibe the essence of Islam, Then you will never boast of your own caste! –
Far more common among various other castes of Kashmiris is the adoption of the surname Syed. Indeed, if the number of Kashmiris who claim the Syed name are to be accepted at face value … Of course, it would also mean that all these families, at some point in history, migrated from further west.
There is an irony in that too. For, among a people so conscious of the supposed superiority of a Brahmin background, the deference given to certain sorts of foreign origin is remarkable.
The society need to bear in mind that, in Kashmir caste system does not necessarily manifest itself into brutal violence like many other parts of globe but has serious unfavorable consequences on the intellectual development of the Kashmiri society as it leaves people divided into water tight compartments. The great teachings of Islam leave no scope for discrimination on the basis of caste and it is deeds of human that matter not his caste. It is better and essential that we unlearn this shameful caste system and remove it from our dictionary as early as possible. We must as a society take steps and make necessary changes to remove caste from system to become developed and powerful nation . We need to launch a serious reform and revolution to end this menace.
Even, the young generation of Kashmir must overcome this caste-bias and treat each other as equals. Young Syeds should especially speak up and against it in solidarity with those who have been dehumanized, discouraged and discriminated against. Lacking any political identity lower-caste Kashmiri Muslims need all the help they can get.
Author is a student at Delhi University. He can be reached at Malikaafaq321@gmail.com