Casteism in the valley of Kashmir was till some years ago both an attribute and a peculiarity which the elite societal structures practiced and enjoyed. To be more precise one may say that it was practiced by the Syed clan using the so called “Syedism” card, and by the administrative class in terms of their socio-official positioning. So intertwined were the relations of caste and class involved in this whole play that a common person could not easily differentiate that whether it was institutionally driven Casteism which had hit the valley or whether it was Marxian Class struggle that was becoming more “playful.”
Barely some years ago a new trend has started engulfing the valley. Now one finds that the wave of this institutionally driven Casteism (or more particularly the kraamism) is no more a sign of “nobility” for the elites of Kashmir. Rather it has now obsessed the common people of Kashmir; the people who at one time were unable to grasp its nuances and who hated it in the name of Islamic teachings. Practicing Casteism which was at one time a sign of nobility for the elites has now diffused to the common people of Kashmir. One finds in Srinagar and some towns of the valley that the common people too go for wedlock only within their own caste or kraam. Now on can see that Mir’s marry Mir’s, Dar’s marry Dar’s and so on. Is it a problem with respect to readings of Islamic doctrine of equality? (which surely is without any exception non-casteist and non-kraamist). But here I aspire to bring out an alternative dimension which apart from overlooking the Islamic teachings has a direct bearing on our struggle for Emancipation.
“Caste divides people” is what the experience of events like honor killings and Khap Panchayat dictates tell us with certainty. The divisiveness of the Casteist tendencies might not be having any bearing on the societies and communities outside the valley, as they might not have any aspiration to reach to. But in Kashmir its diffusion towards the common people from the noble sections of Kashmir can be seen as a tool which can create divisions (or even which has already created) and detachment among the individuals of a society where unity is the need of hour. For the fight for emancipation has reached a point where it is not limited to the outlandish oppressor only but has also deep romantic ties with these noble elites. The fight for emancipation is now a fight which has to be fought against the “External Oppressor” as well as these “internal oppressors.” It is important to note that the external oppressor not only governs and controls the common man of Kashmir but governs and controls him through this deep romantic knot: a knot which unfortunately has been overlooked for long.
Back to the point, Simone de Beauvoir in her book The Second Sex argues that women have failed to liberate and emancipate themselves as they have always remained a divided lot. She states that the organizational ability and solidarity which a group fighting for its liberation needs has been continuously lacking among the women folk of societies. The fundamental reason which she attributes to this lack is that a woman has always lived in relation to a male with which she lives than to any other woman. As she writes, “They live dispersed among the males, attached through residence, housework, economic condition… to certain men - fathers or husbands - more firmly than they are to other women.”
Subalternization of the Casteist tendencies seems to be much like Beauvoir’s dispersion of women that can halt the long cherished efforts of emancipation of Kashmir’s common people. The diffusion of these Casteist tendencies from the nobles of valley towards the common Kashmiri can like Beauvoir’s woman scatter the population of Kashmir along the lines of caste only. Like Beauvoir’s woman, a common Kashmiri will soon be more concerned about the other Kashmiri of his caste, than about Kashmir’s united emancipatory struggle. Thus the Caste intervention in the institutions of marriage can become a hurdle in envisioning a much needed solidarity. If the growing Casteist interventions in the institutions of marriage are not stopped, then it seems that days are not far when our society will get stratified and caste divisiveness will dig deep into its veins. The need of the time is to transcend the barriers of caste and to strive for a collective solidarity for a society which has for long now remained under the deadly fangs of Kashmir’s noble elites viz a viz the External Oppressor. The need is to transcend the Casteist diffusion which has flowed from the nobles of Kashmir, to strive for a socio-political Emancipatory politics which can deconstruct the Hegemonization of rule and control both from within and from outside. A political emancipation sans this social one will be and can be of no help for the enhancement of Kashmir’s multitude. For a political emancipation may just bring a shift in the ruling clans while a Socio-Political Emancipation aims at broader egalitarian, democratic, and inclusive ‘political community.’
The Writer is a Research Scholar at Centre for Philosophy JNU, New Delhi.