Wednesday, September 28, 2011


By Rabia Ahmed

How can a country divided along so many fronts progress?

As part of undivided India Hindus, Muslims and others lived together, and their different cultures and religions influenced each other. One aspect of Hindu culture also rooted in Hindu religion is the caste system, and this continues to influence the Muslims of the subcontinent to this day.

The caste system, while not unique to the Hindu culture, is uniquely Hindu in its rigidity.

Indian Christians also have castes such as the Syrian Nasranis and the New Rite Christians, and another said to be descended from the Jews. Members of this caste jealously safeguard their lineage by means of intermarriage.

As colonial rulers in India, the British condemned the caste system but used it to divide and rule, managing to make the castes ‘official’ by means of the census, in which people were officially placed in one box or another.
The British themselves have a society defined by class, although modern education and greater economic fluidity have blurred the outlines. The British House of Lords has only now become a less rigid entity, with under a hundred hereditary peers remaining in the House, the rest being elected.

More than sixty years since Pakistan was carved out of the Indian subcontinent, in spite of our constitution and the egalitarian values of Islam, as well as the opportunity to (correctly) implement both, we have failed to do so.
In Pakistan the caste system called ‘zaat’, or ‘baradari’, while not part of its religions is as powerful, and exceedingly harmful. Each group is unwilling to intermarry, work, or in other ways interact with another.

Following the recent floods, families had to be moved to safety. The mother of one family that refused to move was quoted in an English newspaper: “Even if the children get sick here, or we get sick, and we can’t help them, we won’t leave because of our caste,” and “If we were another caste, we would just walk out of here. But because we are Soomros we can’t.”

A glance through the matrimonial columns of the newspapers would be hilarious if it weren’t so sickening:
‘Rajput ‘boy’ 32, doctor, tall, good looking, looking for a Rajput girl. Fair, 5’8”, convent educated, Green Card holder.’

‘Family looking for boy for their daughter. Must be Arain, well placed, fair.’

‘Looking for a girl from a Gujjar family...’

‘Syed boy looking for domesticated girl. Must be Syed.’ (Domesticated? Really?)

The Christian girls who clean our house use the same crockery as us. Our cook and driver have separated their plates, because they cannot bring themselves to share dishes with these girls. What adds to the irony is that if a white Christian friend dines with us, his/her plates are not considered unclean. Clearly this is not a question of religion however distorted, but of the economically depressed, often darker skinned Pakistani Christians being considered ‘untouchable’, such as the Dalits of India. Racism and caste system, thou art both alive and so very well in Pakistan.

The Chief Minister of UP, India: Mayawati
The Chief Minister of Indian UP, Mayawati, represents the Dalits or the ‘untouchables,’ the most downtrodden class in India which has been oppressed by the ‘upper’ castes for generations. Mayawati, an inspiration and a ray of hope for the Dalits has not only held her office for several terms, but also possesses degrees in Bachelor of Arts degree, Law and Teaching. 

For Mayawati to tout her caste makes sense since it highlights her achievements and encourages her fellow caste members to follow her example towards a better life.

In Pakistan official government forms for some departments require a person to state his/her caste. Our spiritual and intellectual Prime Minister of great integrity, is a Syed, and a hereditary ‘Pir, and these factors help him politically.

For educated Pakistanis to perpetuate this system is a needless, foolish, dreadful crime.
How can a country so divided and senselessly at odds as we are along so many fronts...feudal, tribal racial, caste, provincial, economic, educational, religious...progress, particularly in today’s fast paced, technologically advanced world?

Where do our Gujjars, and Rajputs and Arains, or Syeds fit in with Prophet Mohammad’s last sermon which says that “No one has superiority over another except (by virtue of) piety and good actions”?

Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed of the Lahore High Court recently ordered the Federal Information Technology Ministry to block access to social networking websites, particularly Facebook. The last time it was banned, Facebook, which has many positive aspects, was still easily accessible to users, making of the exercise a complete farce.

If a ban must be imposed on anything since our countrymen appear to have that periodic compulsion, how about something less paltry? How about those forms and the whole system of ‘zaat’ which has nothing positive to recommend it any way you look at it? This issue appears to be nowhere on our list of priorities.

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you have any comments, please leave them here. They will be published after moderation. Automated comments will be deleted.To contact me please leave a comment. If you do not wish that comment to be published please say so within the message. Thank you.