Caste system is a blot on India's face

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  1. S_O_C_O_M
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    Caste system is a blot on India's face


    Gulf News
    Published: 00:00 October 28, 2010

    [​IMG]
    An Indian census official recording information about family members living at one of the slum areas, in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru.Image Credit: EPA

    The decision to carry out a census on the basis of caste illustrates that despite huge gains that India has made in propelling itself ahead in the race between rival economic powerhouses its social structure still clamours for change. The issue of caste is modern India's most potent divisive tool.

    The census must serve positive issues and not be conducted with the sole aim of getting an estimate of prospective vote banks which shrewd politicians can then take advantage of.

    The aim should be to create a synergy between classes and castes and not to give preferential treatment towards any particular one. The government of the world's most fully functioning democracy can have no other purpose.

    If India is to gain the respect of other nations it must strive to blot out the stigma of the caste system. There cannot be two separate categories: ‘the haves and the have nots'. The caste system typifies this.

    gulfnews : Caste system is a blot on India's face
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  2. indianrabbit
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    True, but also true that it is fast becoming irrevelant, another 20 years things will change drastically. It's sad that we have a problem, but what is good is that we accept that and try to solve it, instead of creating conpiracy theories.
  3. Molawchai
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    India & its caste puts shame to constitution Atrocity News 09 Sep 2010

    “Britain, in a major victory for the movement against caste based discrimination and atrocities, can soon declare caste prejudice unlawful under laws against racial discrimination becoming the first country of the world to do so. The development was imminent in the wake of the fact that the House of Lords had already passed the Equality Bill empowering the government to treat caste as ‘an aspect of race’ in March this year leaving just one more step of getting it passed by the House of Commons to be enacted as law”,says Avinash Pandey.

    The victory has come as a result of the valiant struggle of the Dalit groups along with members of the broader civil society against the exploitative and oppressive system of caste, amidst tremendous opposition of the Indian government and the right wing Hindu groups based in Britain.

    The significance of the development lies in the fact that it has taken almost a decade to come since 2001 when the Government of India had succeeded in botching up the attempt of the Dalit Rights Group together with the broader civil society to make caste based discrimination an aspect of racial discrimination at the Durban World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. The Government of India claimed the caste issues as ‘internal matter of India’ and asserted that they were making all attempts to put an end to caste based discrimination.
    What it forgot in doing that was its own, and glorious, role in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. If caste issues are an internal matter of India, would not apartheid be an internal issue of the governments of apartheid-era South Africa? So why did India play a crucial role in mobilising the world opinion against apartheid?


    The government of India tried to further substantiate its claim by asserting the caste issues as intra-racial and intra-cultural even while conceding the existence of discrimination. Soli Sorabjee, the then Attorney General of India, maintained that the only reason behind India’s attempt to keep caste discrimination off the agenda of Durban Conference was that “it will distract participants from the main topic: racism”. Even while conceding that caste discrimination in India is ‘undeniable’ he stressed that ‘caste and race are entirely different’.

    It could very well be. After all, no two systems of social stratification in this world are absolutely similar to each other. A lot of factors, from culture to economy, intercede with the systems of stratification to produce the division of power and hierarchy in the society and make the systems, in the process, absolutely distinct from one another in internal structure. The crucial question, however, is not about their distinctiveness but their efficacy in maintaining and safeguarding social hierarchies.


    Sadly, Indian caste system has proved itself to be one of the worst, if not the worst, system of social stratification for maintaining and perpetuating social hierarchies. Most probably, humankind has never devised a more comprehensive system of keeping a section of society under perpetual subjugation amidst inhuman conditions. It has never devised a worse way of dehumanising fellow human beings and reducing them to being mere labour force devoid of any dignity leave aside rights. Everything said and done, when it comes to committing atrocities on people, the caste system has proved itself to be far more clinical in brutalising its victims than race and not less.
    The argument of the Indian government that caste based discrimination should not be included under the category of racial discrimination because it is making serious progress in the issue by having protective laws and positive discrimination fails miserable in the wake of data produced by its own agencies.


    For example, the number of crimes against people belonging to the Scheduled Castes as per records of the National Crime Records Bureau of India, a body of ministry of Home Affairs, went up to 33615, an increase of more than 2 percent from the preceding year. Or the fact that the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act does not get applied even in such ghoulish cases of caste based atrocities as in the killing of a Dalit family in Khairlanji while committing brutal rapes on the women speaks volumes about the seriousness of the efforts of the government.

    The second argument of Indian government, unfortunately backed by a few leading sociologists, was that since ‘race’ is a not a meaningful biological category in India and all attempts of profiling different castes along racial lines have fallen flat. Their claim is that even if caste is based on descent it is entirely different from race.

    Even if the discrimination against the Dalits is intra-racial, the consequences for them are no less brutal than that in racism. On a more fundamental level, the lack of ‘scientific’ evidence may prove the absence of ‘race’ in India but not the absence of ‘racism’, an ideological structure based on the belief of superiority of some people because of birth and inferiority of others because of the same! And there is no doubt that this ideology is becoming stronger day by day despite all the attempts of Indian government to put an end to this ‘evil’ practice.

    The seriousness of the government on the issue speaks for itself in its acts. After all, the government’s dogged opposition to the inclusion of caste based discrimination does not come out of some failure to understand the ground realities out of sheer ignorance. It reflects the mindset and the psyche of the government and the people manning it. The stand of the government emanates from that pre-modern, barbaric and regressive social structure of caste that rules the country under its democratic façade. A facade that gets exposed more often than not by the deeds of all organs of the state, including its judiciary.

    It is hard to believe that even judiciary can do that but even a cursory glance on its track records bear out the fact. Be it the highly misogynist and casteist verdict in Mathura **** case ((Tukaram V. State of Maharshtra, AIR 1979 SC 185) when the Supreme Court overruled the decision of the Bombay High Court convicting two policemen for raping Mathura, a 16-year-old girl because of the fact that the girl was an ‘illiterate and orphaned tribal girl’ and was of loose character by implication to the recent verdict of Maharashtra High Court in Khairlanji massacre, the judiciary has proved itself complicit in letting the government off its responsibility of abolishing caste based discrimination.

    At times, ubfortunately, it has went all the distance to be part of the perpetuators ad not only accomplices of caste discrimination. Like in the infamous and stinking observation of the trial judge in the Bhanwari Devi **** case in 1995 that because Hindu scriptures do not allow upper caste men to touch a low caste woman, the accused could not have raped the Dalit victim. This case and many others have put our constitution to shame.

    And that is why, compartmentalising the issue of caste into the ‘scientific’ and ‘cultural’ aspects and then prioritising the scientific ones to assert that caste is not race is not only incorrect but in fact a deceitful attempt to violate the spirit of the constitution of India if not the letters itself, and should be fought against from within and outside.

    As a matter of fact, the meaning of the term ‘descent’ has been expanded to include ‘discrimination based on caste’ ,by the general recommendation number 29, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) 1969. Indian government will do well to remember that it is a signatory to that convention along with more than 170 other countries.

    It will also do well to take note of the fact that the lives of more than 165 million citizens is not a question of intellectual theorising over whether race is caste or not before putting its act together and cracking down on all forms of caste atrocities decisively. By then, it can begin with accepting that caste is a form of racial discrimination, at least of racism if not of the ‘pure’ (in the Brahiminical sense) biological category of race!

    Meanwhile, lets us all support the British Dalits in safeguarding their hard won victory against the demon of caste, threatened by the right wing Hindu organisation in Britain as well as Indian government which is, reportedly, trying to arm-twist the British government into not intervening in its ‘internal’ matter. Making that absurd claim amounts to appropriating anything relating to Hindu religion as ‘internal’ and caste serious aspersions on the secular credentials of Indian state. Does Indian government want to claim that all issues concerning Hindus are its ‘internal’ issues, throwing all its secular pretensions away?

    After all, caste based atrocities have long ceased to confine themselves in Indian subcontinent. If the gory facts about honour killings taking place in Britain and Canada among other places were not proof enough, the recent killing of a Sikh religious leader belong to the Ravidasi sect (a Dalit sect) in Vienna leaves no scope for doubts about the same.

    We can begin by standing by the policy and reminding the Indian government not to meddle in the internal issues of Britain, as it is dealing with an issue concerning its citizens and has nothing to do with a ‘secular’ India. Further, no government can sit idle when caste issues lead to illegal confinements, abductions, forced marriages, and even killings. It is the Indian state which has failed to contain the demon of caste, leave aside killing it, and it has no right to demand the same indifference and disdain for human life from a sovereign state for such a pressing issue.

    *Mr. Avinash Pandey, alias Samar, is a research scholar based in New Delhi, India. Currently Samar is in Hong Kong on a work assignment with the AHRC. The author can be contacted at samaranarya@gmail.com
  4. third eye
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    I quite agree.

    Quite like the probs Pak faces with Shia - Sunni, Ahmediays, Bohras etc India too has its own social probs.
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  6. Alphatech
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    The census is being conducted to check the income and lifestyle disparities across various castes. India wants to verify how much the programs to uplift lower castes have worked so far and to identify which groups need more attention. This is part of India's successful efforts to ensure that even the poorest of our people get proper education and government jobs.

    India prefers to successfully tackle it's problems rather than deny them or rely on foreign aid like some other countries.

    Thanks however for your concern brothers, and we hope you show the same enthusiasm to help the poorer sections of society in your own countries.
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  7. StingRoy
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    Each and every society has some dark sides... but as most of the educated Indians would agree, this is a thing of the past and should be surmounted by the new India.

    I don't see the connection the author wants to make about the caste system with the census. In fact if the author stands contrary to his claims in deriving the conclusion. The caste system in Indian society has unfortunately created some economic inequalities and this is the very reason why the govt wants to tackle by a caste based census. This would ensure that the people from economically lacking classes would be (and should be) given more opportunities in its economy. This would ensure social equality and hence promote harmony amongst all sections of society.
  8. jayron
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    Taking caste based census is necessary to analyze the socio-economic status of people . You will most often find the people of lower caste having a lower standard of living. These census are to know if the government's policies are helping the people of lower caste and if more help is needed. The quota system has helped a great deal in uplifting and empowering the oppressed people and I am confident that such quotas will become unnecessary in the near future.
    It is sad the international media is ignorant about the issue and writes such shallow articles.
  9. ajtr
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    Casteism in Pakistan

    Published in The Friday Times, Pakistan

    It is a cliché now to say that Pakistan is a country in transition – on a highway to somewhere. The direction remains unclear but the speed of transformation is visibly defying its traditionally overbearing, and now cracking postcolonial state. Globalisation, the communications revolution and a growing middle class have altered the contours of a society beset by the baggage and layers of confusing history.

    What has however emerged despite the affinity with jeans, FM radios and McDonalds is the visible trumpeting of caste-based identities. In Lahore, one finds hundreds of cars with the owner’s caste or tribe displayed as a marker of pride and distinctiveness. As an urbanite, I always found it difficult to comprehend the relevance of zaat-paat (casteism) until I experienced living in the peri-urban and sometimes rural areas of the Punjab as a public servant.

    I recall the days when in a central Punjab district, I was mistaken for a Kakayzai (a Punjabi caste that claims to have originated from the Caucasus) so I started getting correspondence from the Anjuman-i-Kakayzai professionals who were supposed to hold each other’s hands in the manner of the Free Masons. I enjoyed the game and pretended that I was one of them for a while, until it became unbearable for its sheer silliness and mercenary objectives.

    It was also here that a subordinate told me in chaste Punjabi how the Gujjar caste was not a social group but a ‘religion’ in itself. Or that the Rajputs were superior to everyone else, second only to the Syeds. All else was the junk that had converted from the lowly Hindus (of course this included my family). My first name is also a matter of sectarian interpretation. Another subordinate in my younger days lectured me on the importance of sticking together as the ‘victims’ of the Sunni majoritarian violence of Pakistani society. Mistaken as a Momin I also got a chance to know intra-group dynamics better, and also how closely knit such groups are and what they think of others. This reminds me of the horrific tales our domestic helper used to tell us about the Shi’ites, and as children we were scared to even go near a Moharram procession, until one day my Sunni parents fired her for poisoning their children’s minds.

    My personal inclinations aside, for in the footsteps of the great Urdu poet Ghalib, I view myself as half a Shia, this has been a matter of concern. Can I not exist as a human being without being part of a herd? Obedience to hierarchies, conformity and identification with groups are central tenets of existing in Pakistan.

    At a training institution fifteen years ago, where a group of us were being taught how to become ‘officers’, a colleague cooked up a fanciful story about me. In the lecture hall, I had argued for a secular state, quoting Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 speech and had highlighted the shoddy treatment of the minorities in Pakistan as a betrayal of the Quaid’s vision. This imaginative colleague circulated the rumour that the reason for my political views was that I belonged to the Ahmaddiya Jamaat. One could of course talk of the marginalised only if one was a part of that group. Otherwise why should we care, semi-citizens that we are!

    In the twenty first century, Punjab’s entire electoral landscape is still defined by caste and biradari loyalties. In the 1980s, General Zia ul Haq’s machinations spearheaded a second social engineering in the Punjab by resuscitating the demons of clan, caste and tribe.

    Party-less elections helped Zia to undermine the PPP but it also gave enormous leeway to the state agencies to pick and choose loyalties when election was all about the elders of a biradari. His Arain (a non-land tilling caste) background became a topic of discussion as many Arains used this card to great personal and commercial advantage during his tenure. This is similar to what the Kashmiris have perceived under the multiple reigns of the now rechristened (in a democratic sense) Sharifs of the Punjab, who are proud Kashmiris.

    Why blame the Punjabis only? In the early years of Pakistan, the migrants from India had set the ground for the politics of patronage along ethnic and group-lines. Karachi became divided into little Lucknows, Delhis and other centres of nostalgia. Employment opportunities and claims of property, as several personal accounts and autobiographies reveal, were doled out on the basis of affiliation to pre-partition networks – Aligarh, Delhi, UP qasbaas and Hyderabadi neighbourhoods. The same goes for the smaller units of Pakistan. Small wonder that the Bengalis ran away from the Pakistan project, despite being its original initiators.

    We pride ourselves on being a nuclear armed Islamic state that broke away from the prejudiced Baniyas whose abominable caste system was inhuman. But what do we practice? Who said casteism was extinct in Pakistan? My friends have not been allowed to marry outside their caste or sect, Christian servants in Pakistani households are not permitted to touch kitchen utensils, and the word ‘choora’ is the ultimate insult after the ritualistic out-of wedlock *** and incestuous abuses involving mothers and sisters or their unmentionable anatomical parts. A Sindhi acquaintance told me how easy it was to exploit the Hindu girls at his workplace or at home. And what about the many blasphemy cases in the Punjabi villages, the roots of which are located in social hierarchies and chains of obedience.

    The untouchables of the cities and the villages are called something else but they remain the underbelly of our existence. Admittedly these incidences are on a lesser scale than in India. That simply is a function of demographics. Even Mohammad Iqbal, the great reformist poet, lamented in one of his couplets:

    Youn tau Syed bhi ho, Mirza bhi ho, Afghan bhi ho
    Tum sabhi kuch ho, batao tau Mussalman bhi ho!
    (You are Syeds, Mirzas and Afghans / You are everything but Muslims).

    Enter into a seemingly educated Punjabi setting and the conversation will not shy away from references to caste characteristics. For instance, I once heard a lawyer make a remark about a high-ranking public official, calling him a nai (barber) and therefore branding him as the lowest of the low. One of the reasons for Zardari-bashing in Sindh, has to do with the Zardari tribe’s historical moorings. They were camel herders as opposed to the ruling classes with fiefs.

    When the young motorists playing FM radio, mast music, arranging dates on mastee chats, display the primordial caste characteristic on their windscreens, one worries if the ongoing change process can deliver a better society. Superficial signs of change cannot make up for the need for a secular educational system, equality of opportunity and accountability of political elites and their patron-state that use casteism as an instrument of gaining and sustaining power.

    More bewildered, I wonder where I belong. Bulleh Shah has taught me that shedding categorisations is the first step towards self-knowledge. But I live in a society where branding and group labels are essential, if not unavoidable.

    For this reason I am peeved that I still don’t know who I am.

    Raza Rumi blogs at Jahane Rumi - Raza Rumi's website and edits Pak Tea
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  10. ajtr
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    Norway: Pakistanis and the caste system


    Several hundred Norwegian-Pakistanis are looking for their future love on Pakistan's largest dating site Shaadionline. Here you can read how much they earn a month, how religious they are, their skin color, and what caste they belong to. Many prepare their own profile, but sometimes a guardian, a father or other family member, does it on behalf of a relative.

    The sister of Norwegian-Pakistani Maya (22), for example, wrote on her profile that she is average looking, a moderate Muslim, has light skin color and belongs to the gujjar/chaudrey caste. Caste is central to the site and which caste you belong to is central for Norway's 28,200 Norwegian-Pakistanis. Everybody belongs to a caste and this becomes especially important when deciding who to marry.

    Dagbladet.no spoke with several Norwegian-Pakistani about which caste they belong to and how big a role it plays today.

    Center party politician Danny Ghazanfar Chaudhry (46) says that everybody's proud of their own caste. To change caste is like changing your own father. To show which caste he belongs to he adds Chaudhry to his family name (Ghazanfar), a common custom among Pakistanis. Chaudhry is a caste of landowners, which is considered a high caste. Gujjar and Jatt are the biggest sub-groups in this caste.

    Danny Chaudry is the head of the caste organization Gujjar union. The caste system has had negative consequences for him. today regrets marrying a woman from his own caste when he was in his early 20's. After living with a Norwegian girl for over 5 years he had let his family push him to marry a Pakistani girl he had never met. A short time later they divorced. He says it was the first time he'd been to Pakistan and he let himself be brainwashed. Instead of marrying the woman he loved, he let himself be pressured to marry a Pakistani woman he has never met. He says that was the dumbest thing he had done in his life.

    There are many sites like Shaadionline on the net. Another common site for Norwegian Pakistanis is rishta.no. there you can see in several ads that it's not realistic to marry somebody from another caste.

    Noman Mubashir (33) told Dagbladet.no that he knows of people who didn't get permission to marry because they were from a different castes. He thinks castes are anti-human. It annoys him that the Pakistanis took their 'un-culture' with them to Norway and that they hand it down to their children, says Mubashir, who belongs to the Arain caste, a farmer caste.

    When the Pakistani work-immigrants came to Norway at the end of the 60's they brought not only a cheap working force, but also customs from Pakistan. One of those was the Pakistani caste system. According to labor party politician Aslam Ahsan (65) there are two main caste systems in Pakistan. One follows the Indian system, where the most common higher castes in Norway are Rajpoot, Gujjar, Jatt, Malik and Rein. Another system is based on the family's traditional occupation. They are divided into four main groups: farmers, tradesmen, craftsmen and intellectuals. Ahsan belongs to the Rajpoot caste, and to the farmer cast.

    Crafts work is seen as a low status. The system of occupation-castes was defined by the English during the colonization period and defined both rights and duties, says Ahsan. He says it's still common in many parts of Pakistan to write down the occupation-caste in addition to the first and last names when turning to the judicial system. Typical occupation-castes are barbers, pot makers, tailors, water carriers, shoe makers, carpenters and smiths.

    when he's in Norway he's called just Aslam Ahsan, but when he goes to Pakistan he uses "Chaudhry", a name also used by Danny Chaudry, and which means land-owner. The system still characterizes the entire Norwegian-Pakistani community.

    Ahsan says he can tell which caste a person belongs to according to how they act or speak. If a person is exaggeratedly formally ornamented, uncertain or submissive it's a sign he comes form a lower caste.

    On SHAADIONLINE, the brother of a Norwegian 19-year old boy write that he "likes to drive, see movies" and belongs to the Rajpoot caste. Lawyer Abid Q. Raja (32) also belongs to the high-caste Rajppoot and has the caste name as his last name. He says he had problems with his family when he wanted to marry a woman from another caste.

    He says the entire family in Pakistan was against it and that it caused a lot of trouble for them. But today, he says, the family has accepted his wife. He thinks it's time for the youth to rebel against the entire caste system. Raja says that those who belong to the so-called higher castes must pull down the system. The older people must change and the young must rebel. If that happens, he believes the system will disappear.

    Conservative party politician Afshan Rafiq (32) thinks it's not right to call it a caste system, but rather "social classes". He himself belongs to the Jatt caste. He says often the name means which 'occupation class' a person belongs to. For example "Sheikh" means that the man is a businessman, says Rafiq, who is married to the Conservative Party politician Aamir Sheikh (37). He says there are often problems when young Norwegian-Pakistanis from different classes get married.

    Rafiq says that for him there no higher or lower castes and that he believes the class system will disappear with the new generations. He says he knowns several families that want to marry off their son or daughter. They've decided they want somebody from Norway, and that it's very important to find somebody who both belongs to the right class, is well-educated and well-integrated in Norwegian society. But then they must drop some of those criteria.

    Almost all member of Shaadionline write their caste on their profile, but there are also those who refuse to do so. The guardian of a 28 year old Norwegian girl writes in her profile that she belongs to the "human" cast. Further they write that she is orderly, humble and the only woman from a good and educated family. She has been through an arranged marriage when very young, but the two didn't together. His family had neither good Islamic nor human values. They were just interested in the marriage, money and visas. She was badly mistreated by her mother-in-law and husband, and had divorced after just four months, because she couldn't continue like that.
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  11. ajtr
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    Caste in Pakistan: The Elephant in the Room

    by

    Shahbano Aliani

    A pregnant woman from a remote rural village in Tharparkar goes to a private hospital in Hyderabad. The medical staff refuse to attend to her, saying they do not want to pollute their instruments and dirty their hands. Feeling humiliated and angry, she returns to her village without having received the services she needed.

    A 20 year old woman from Peshawar is brutally murdered by her brothers and father for attempting to marry outside the biradari and bringing shame to the family honour.

    A young Kolhi girl is abducted while working in the cotton fields of a landlord outside Mirpurkhas. She is forced to convert to Islam and marry her abductor. The police refuse to register a case and her family is advised to remain silent for the sake of their own safety.

    In a village in Southern Punjab, a young boy from a “lower-caste” is accused of dishonouring the “high caste” tribe by having an affair with one of their women. The village panchayat orders the gang **** of the boy’s sister by the “high caste’ men so that they may restore the honour of their tribe.

    These stories have a familiar ring. Variants occur with alarming regularity in Pakistan; some covered by the media, but most covered up by the silence, fear and helplessness of the victims; and the indifference of the rest of society.


    What do these stories have in common? Gender, surely; all the victims are women. But there is another common thread as well. In the “Islamic Republic of Pakistan”, both Dalit Hindu and Muslim women are subject to humiliation, control and violence because of their gender as well as their caste.

    Most activists, development workers and policy makers may not immediately recognize caste as an important social justice and social policy issue, especially for Muslims in the country. However, almost everyone in Pakistan will readily admit that caste or biradari, quom, zaat or jaat is an important part of social identity, especially in the rural areas. Most adults will have encountered questions about their caste or zaat when in a new village or town. Many have married in their own caste, never having considered the option of marrying outside their Biradari, Quom or Zaat. Almost everyone will have heard or used derogatory references to caste such as Bhangi (janitor). As Haris Gazdar argues, “In fact, the kinship group, known variously as zaat, biraderi and quom in different parts of the country, remains a key - perhaps the key - dimension of economic, social and political interaction.” A contesting formulation has been presented by Arif Hasan through his writings on social change (see, for example, “The Silent Revolution”). His view is supported by Akbar Zaidi (though his take on feudalism is a bit radical) and Raza Ali (through his work on Urbanization). The main argument is that because of technological changes (e.g. tractors in fields and Suzuki pickups on farm-to-market roads), traditional social structures are becoming weaker; a new class of middlemen has emerged that controls the market; urbanization is gradually embracing modernity. As far as I understand, both Arif Hasan and Haris Gazdar are partly correct: things are changing (albeit slowly) but the coercive structures are still there.

    When questioned, however, if caste is a problem, most Pakistanis will disagree. Many will argue, quite heatedly, that it’s a problem only for Hindus across the border. Using circular reasoning, they will insist that the caste-system is not Islamic and since the majority of us are Muslims, therefore, there is no caste problem in Pakistan. The caste system practiced by the Muslims of north India is based on three tiers: ashraaf, ajlaaf and arzal.

    Public denial is so ingrained and widespread that there is no official legislation that acknowledges and addresses caste-based discrimination. Inadequate legislation, yes. Non-existent, no. After the partition of British India in 1947, Pakistan had inherited the list of Scheduled Castes and Tribes, and the constitution of Pakistan (like the 1935 constitution) forbids discrimination on the basis of caste. Beyond lip service, there was a 6% quota in government jobs for scheduled castes from 1948 to 1998. This was sadly never fully utilized. However, we do not have progressive legislation (like they have in India; though they have issues of their own). And apart from a few articles and studies (many of the recent ones referred to in this paper), there is virtually no documentation and data on “lower caste” peoples, including Dalit Hindus in Pakistan.

    In my own work, development workers and researchers have argued that caste is not relevant to either development (poverty alleviation) or to research on social and economic issues. My colleagues, who work in districts with about 40% – 50% Hindus (the majority of them Dalit) have insisted that we cannot include caste in survey questionnaires, arguing that (1) we will get so many castes that the data will be difficult to handle, or (2) we will be accused of working for a specific caste. This resistance has been expressed by both Hindus and Muslims, though more notably by Muslim colleagues. When I have included caste in questionnaires, despite heated arguments, the indicator has been removed in final research instruments by the managers in charge of overseeing the research. I think that some clarification is needed here. The question on caste was included in the PEWC baseline survey and during tabulation we found that we had a very long list of responses because many respondents had mentioned their subcastes instead of caste. For many of these subcastes, some of us didn’t know their castes. A list of castes and subcastes from responses was given to CRU staff for preparing a proper list. This was not done and at some point in time we decided to go ahead without it. It should also be noted that most of the non-Muslim respondents in Tharparkar belonged to the Meghar community as our social mobilisers knew them through their PDCs, etc. I should also stress that the baseline wasn’t looking at the coorelation between caste and child work — we could have done that but then our methodology would have been different: propotionate sample for various castes instead of settlements.

    It appears that caste is the elephant in the room. Everyone knows its there, but no one wants to talk about it, let alone address. As Haris Gazdar puts it, “The public silencing on caste contrasts with an obsession with it in private dealings and transactions.”

    The Pakistani caste system has developed along lines similar to those in India. Syeds (also known as Shahs in Sindh) claim to be the descendants of the prophet Muhammad (SAW) and are the highest caste in most places. In Punjab, the Ranas (Rajpoots), Chaudhurys and Maliks are considered higher caste, whereas the Kammis (workers), Chuhras (“untouchable” sweepers who are mostly Christian), Mussali (Muslim shaikh - menial workers) and Miraasi (musicians) are considered lower caste. In the NWFP, “lower castes” are referred to as Neech Zaat (low caste) and Badnasal (of bad lineage). In Balochistan the “lower castes” include Ghulams (slaves), Lohris (musicians), and Lachhis (Dalits). In Sindh, “high-caste” Muslims, in addition to Shahs and Syeds, include the Akhunds, Effendis, Soomros, Talpurs, and Pirs. Hajjams (barbers), Dhobis (washers), Kumbhars (potters), Maachis/ Mallahs (fisherfolk) and Bhajeer (Dalit converts to Islam) are considered “low caste”. In places like Swat, the Quom system is comparative to the Hindu caste system. Here, groups are divided rigidly according to occupation. Quoms do not intermarry or live together. The fact that caste is an important social identity for Pakistani Muslims is reinforced in matchmaking/ marriage services, where caste is one of the key attributes mentioned by prospective brides and grooms. Caste based marriage preferences and associations are documented amongst Pakistanis in the Diaspora, especially in the UK.

    Like in India and Nepal, “lower caste” Hindus and Muslims are excluded and persecuted by “upper castes”, especially men. According to the Joint NGO report submitted to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in February 2009, Pakistan is one of the few countries of the world where slavery still exists in the form of bonded labour. Most bonded labourers in Pakistan are the adults and children of Dalit and lower caste Muslim and Christian families.

    The denial of the “caste problem” starts with statistics. The most recent 1998 census estimates the number of Dalit Hindus at just above 300,000; a minority amongst the estimated 2 million Pakistani Hindus. Dalit leaders and activists, including 5 former legislators estimate the figure to be closer to 2 million. They believe that both the “upper caste” Hindus and the Pakistani government do not want to recognize the actual numbers so no special legislation or programmes have to be designed to address the issues of Dalits and discrimination against them.

    For the most part, Dalits are socially excluded, most of them forced to live on the outskirts of towns and villages or confined to their own paras or villages. Government and even NGOs working in their areas will often bypass Bheel and Kohli paras in Tharparkar altogether. Due to poverty and lack of assets, they are forced to take up farm and cleaning work that no one else will do; and excluded from community events such as weddings. If they are invited, they have to eat out of separate utensils. They are denied essential social services and equal treatment in public spaces, humiliated in hospitals, public buses and schools. Much of the land they have lived on for centuries belongs to the state; they have no legal claim to it.

    Undoubtedly, apart from their children perhaps, Dalit women are one of the poorest and most vulnerable and marginalized group of individuals in the country. They are politically and socially excluded from the mainstream and vulnerable to discrimination and violence due to their gender as well as their caste.

    According to a Thari colleague, Kohli women are raped by men of higher castes (Hindus and Muslims) in Tharparkar, either while they work in the fields or when they are out in the desert herding livestock and hunting/ gathering. Kohli women are considered sub-human by the larger society, so any act of sexual or physical violence against them is not noteworthy. It is just a fact of life. The study of 750 Dalit households, Long Behind Schedule, reports that many Dalit women have been raped or gang raped by Muslim men. Most of these rapes are unreported for fear of reprisal from the police and communities of the perpetrators.

    There are frequent reports in the print media of the abduction, forced conversion and marriages of Hindu girls and young women. A Daily Dawn June 2006 editorial claims that “Young Hindu women from both the upper caste and Dalit families have been abducted with increasing frequency in recent years.” According to the editorial, in many cases when the parents have gone to the police, they have been informed that the girl has “eloped with their Muslim friend”, converted to Islam and married him. Some of the girls have later declared in court that they had converted of their own free will, though it is quite likely that they were forced to make these declarations under duress. The editorial goes on to speculate that in at least one case the “marriage” has ended in divorce and the girl has been “passed on” to another man. The International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN)’s Fact Sheet Pakistan argues that when such marriages end in divorce, the young women are left to fend for themselves on the streets.

    Haris Gazdar reports violence against Christian, Muslim and Hindu “low caste” women across the country:

    We documented cases across the country – in Peshawar, Faisalabad, Quetta and Sanghar - of rapes perpetrated against “low-caste” women from chuhra, mussali, lachhi and scheduled caste Hindu communities respectively. The perpetrators were all well known and there was a feeling that they committed these crimes because they could get away with it, knowing full well that the victims were socially and politi cally weak. In fact, these rapes were only the most extreme instances of sexual violation suffered by the marginalised groups. In the language of the dominant groups the “low castes” had no honour, and certainly no honour that could be defended. The Khans in Peshawar, who regarded them selves as the racially pure descendents of 11th century Pashtun invader tribes from Afghanistan thought that the women of their “hamsayas” (literally neighbours, but used as a euphemism for dependent service castes) such as the Toorkhail (literally “black lineage”) and “kisabgars” (menials) were of lax social morals. In any case the hamsaya men, unlike the “pure” Pashtuns, would not/could not protest openly if their women did contract illicit liaisons with other men.

    Mukhtaran Mai has become famous for her courageous public campaign for justice. Mai suffered the brutal and male-community sanctioned gang **** because her young brother was accused of speaking to a “higher caste” woman in the village. What is often reported, but never analyzed is the fact that Mai and her brother are from a “lower caste” than the perpetrators of her ****.

    Another case of caste-based patriarchal violence is the story of Ghazala Shaheen, a “low caste”, but highly educated, Muslim woman from Multan who was abducted along with her mother and gang raped. Ghazala Shaheen’s uncle had allegedly eloped with a “high caste” woman of the perpetrator’s family. Ghazala Shaheen was selected for the gang-**** by the “upper caste” tribesmen for her uncle’s crime and for the crime of daring to educate herself.

    Embedded in the stories of these women being gang-raped, killed, paraded naked in the streets, abducted, and forcibly converted, is the old, ugly story of caste. Except for some intrepid researchers and a handful of Dalit activists, everyone else in Pakistan is silent on the issue.

    At a time of increased militarization and polarization, can we afford to continue to ignore such a pervasive and divisive issue that makes women even more vulnerable to violence, oppression and discrimination? Caste is a women’s issue and perhaps its time for South Asian feminists in Pakistan to start speaking up about it.

    The author works with the Thardeep Rural Development Programme and is based in Karachi, Pakistan.
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  12. jayron
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    jayron SENIOR MEMBER

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    India fully knows what is wrong with it and works towards correcting it.
    1.The land reform after the independence ended zameendari and Jagirdari thus ending feudalism.
    2. Bonded labour was made illegal.
    3.Caste based quota was formed to improve the oppressed people's standard.
    4. Women have been given 33% reservation in assembly.
    5. Reservation for handicapped.
    6. Largest midday meals program from children in the world.
    Of these what has Pakistan done?
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2010
  13. PAKFA
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    PAKFA FULL MEMBER

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    I can understand how much heart burn you have because of India and its people.
  14. Molawchai
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    Molawchai BANNED

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    Yes, so truth, i am so so jealous of those "high caste" Indians however i wouldn't want to born to be an "untouchable" being force to eat sh!t.:D
  15. jayron
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    jayron SENIOR MEMBER

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    A person with your attitude would definitely be made to eat sh1t. :)
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