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The Castes That Divide Us

While the national understanding of classism grows, caste remains a fairly untouched matter

Growing old in a Punjabi middle-class family can teach you a thing or two about castes. Everything from who you should eat with to whom you are allowed to marry is indoctrinated within our minds. It is such a normalized concept that you would hardly find anyone questioning its legitimacy or advocating against its adverse consequences. Yet a blatant hypocrisy is seen as we tch-tch on the news of a Dalit student from India committing suicide while we hardly pay attention to numerous recurring deaths and rape of women in Thar. These women are put at vulnerable positions due to a variety of reasons. Caste being a primary one.

caste class

It can be claimed that Pakistan, a country solely based on Islamic principles and traditions has surely nothing to do with the discriminatory caste system of Hindu traditions. But that would be demonstrably wrong. There is not only discrimination against low castes of Hindu minority but second generation of Muslim converts still discriminate within one another on the basis of higher or lower castes.

Sabir Arif is a victim of the same systematic caste discrimination, the existence of which many seem to doubt. Born as Deedar Changar, he decided to fight against the stereotype of what profession a “low” class is supposed to have and decided to pursue education. The association of birth and profession is something that originates purely out of Hindu scriptures and has been passed on by generations with exaggerated stereotypes, abomination and malice against each other based on traditional occupational divisions.

Till this day, many of the slurs commonly used in Punjab are directly connected to discrimination against these castes and professions they were formerly placed in due to societal statuses. We hardly wonder what Churrah, Massali and Kammi mean when in villages, these words are thrown around as jokes. Meanwhile, these are living, breathing human beings that have faced years of systematic oppression that hindered their social mobility and are now forced to do essential work that although necessary for a functioning society, is looked down upon.

However, it is interesting to note that unlike the struggle between classes, caste systems are more deep rooted. People from ‘low’ classes that manage to have an upwards social mobility feel forced to hide their origins and pretend to be of higher castes just for the fear of discrimination. Years and years of the caste system caused the sons of land-owners to be only that, the classes that were below them would have a harder time at upwards mobility. They would neither join the upper class nor the higher castes. The traditions of intra-caste marriages only reinforced the sustainability of certain classes and in turn certain castes. Not only that, it further alienated the people who were at time treated as sub-humans based on systematic factors they could not change nor control but were actually victims of.

Caste Discrimination: A Hidden Issue

A news breaks out that thousands of Dalits from India convert to Islam as they face extreme cruelty and discrimination, I am forced to wonder if caste really is a problem of another country. Hardly any social activists, feminists, politicians or even religious scholars seem to ever talk about the prevalence. Never have I seen the media ever covering any specific caste related violence. Yet it exists and persist in our day-to-day interactions, our pre-conceived notions and our associations.

An important and recurrent argument that I faced while talking about caste system was that it is a non-issue or it no longer exists. The simple reasoning provided behind such arguments is that Islam promotes equality between all and we are more influenced by Islamic values than Hindu ancestry.

It is intriguing because many of the social activists also hardly bring caste up as a topic of their discussion. There seems to be a lack of sociological imagination from political and social activists from Pakistan for the problems of the thinning lower middle class. I am inclined to believe that in both of these scenarios, an artificial reality seems to be affecting the speculations of those who are not experiencing the same effects of caste system as the lower classes. While the struggling classes cling on to these beliefs for a sense of self sustenance that they so severely lack in areas of economic growth and generational social mobility.

An Analysis of Haris Gazdar’s Paper

Haris Gazdar from Collective Social Science Research states in his paper about social oppression that research towards underlying systems causing systematic oppression is often obstructed the attempts towards understanding caste-based oppressions and the economic depravity that results from it. This is not only down sided by right wing intellectuals as well as left wing activists that reiterate that the main focus is to stay on the topic of class.

I believe this shows a gap of understanding between what anecdotal evidence is available to them, the academia of class struggles they have indulged in and a blanket of privilege that causes them to not understand a very significant reason behind disparity in Pakistan. Haris also brings forth the concept of ‘kinship’ or ‘Biradree’ that influences our masses.

Biradree (literally means Brotherhood) is most likely to be more observable in rural areas and small cities that have more social cohesion. People still ask for votes primarily based on castes and try to appeal to a sentiment of uniformity among the voters.

Moreover, the ‘Biradree’ has a significant impact in case of gender equality, social mobility and marriages as well. The famous “Log kya kahenge” line is actually used for “Biradree kya kahegi” and it influences the decisions of intra-caste marriages, the pressure to spend a huge amount on marriage ceremonies and dowry. But that is not all, there are several incidents of families denouncing their children for out of caste marriages. Biradree’s fear is almost like a peer pressure for these lower middle-class families.

It is important to document the horrors of a caste system that continues to persist in an industrial Muslim society. While we strive to bring equality by bringing awareness to societal prejudices and systematic oppressions, we must also consider caste as well as racial, gender and ethnic discrimination to be an underlying factor beneath them.

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Category: Social

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