The question of caste
Is Kashmiri caste system a form of racism?
PREJUDICE BY DR JAVED LATOO
Racism or caste system is a crime in anyone’s language. Most of us have a perception that racism or caste system is a phenomenon exclusive to western countries or other parts of India and cannot exist in places like Kashmir where majority are followers of a monotheistic faith. Discussing the topic of caste system (Kashmiri equivalent of racism?) is uncomfortable for many and may even raise eyebrows in some sections of the society, particularly those who are indulging in this discriminatory behaviour themselves.
People talk unlimited to hammer the point that caste system or racism does not exist among Muslims as it is against the tenets of Islam which emphasizes justice and equality to all irrespective of caste, colour and creed. Selection of slave Bilal by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to become the Muezzin of Medina due to his devotion and beauty of voice is an important example of how Islam promotes justice and equality. Unfortunately culture and traditions have overpowered faith and humanity in our society, making us embodiment of all unholiness.
Discriminations based on ancestry, caste, surnames and even geographical origin in Kashmir come in different guises, and have negative consequences on individuals, families and society at large. It has a detrimental effect on our educated youth who are struggling to find right matrimonial matches due to these prejudices. We have to learn to overcome our internal and external demons which are holding us back to reach the full potential of dignified human beings. My major concerns regarding caste system in our society are: are the practices of caste system in Kashmir identical to the phenomenon of racism? Do these phenomena (caste system and racism) have similar features of segregation and discrimination? Why is our learning from the outside world developments so abysmal?
Racism is a belief that some races or ethnic groups are superior to others, and justify actions that create inequality between racial groups. Just like racism in some parts of west, caste system in Kashmiris is used to stratify society into various groups, depending on certain factors including their ancestry, surnames, jobs or geographical locations, which gives rise to discrimination. Experts consider caste system at par with racism on the basis of segregation and discrimination caused by them. Racism or caste system is a social process associated with “overt and covert forceful establishment and maintenance of power by one social group over another”
Caste system may have origins in experiences derived from, what is known in analytical psychology as, “the personal and collective unconscious.” The personal unconscious arises from the lifetime experiences of the individual. This is distinct from the “collective unconscious”, which is described to represent a form of the unconscious common to mankind as a whole and originating in the inherited structure of the brain. This contains inherited primitive cultural, traditional and racial elements. Both the personal and collective unconscious, made from our individual and ancestral experiences respectively, may account for the manifestation of caste system in our society today. Discrimination against members of a social group may persist because of its deep entrenchment within our society by the personal and collective unconscious that has become the automatic response even when no conscious intent is present.
Like a mutated virus, caste system has evolved into a new form that is difficult to recognise and harder to combat. As blatant forms of prejudices become extinguished, particularly in the current climate of political correctness, unconscious biases in subtle forms are appearing. This can occur in people who possess strong egalitarian values, and who believe they are not prejudiced but have negative racial or caste based feelings and beliefs that they are unaware of. These feelings and beliefs are rooted in the normal psychological processes of social categorization, satisfaction of basic needs for power and control, and socio-cultural influences.
People from so called lower castes are discriminated against and marginalized in our society. We all carry these different “chips on our shoulders”. On the surface we may breathe heavy on religious vapours but we indulge in overt or covert racial behaviour in our conversations, or when looking for potential partners, neighbours or social acquaintances. I personally know many educated and well mannered women and men in their 30’s and 40’s from both strata of the society who’re struggling to find suitable partners due to the bigotry prevalent in our society. Discrimination can appear to be hidden when it is covert, although it is not usually hidden from the person who is subjected to it. Discrimination damages both those discriminated against and those doing the discrimination. This caste system acts as a chronic and acute stressor on the individual with loss of confidence, humiliation and low morale. The implications of caste system in our society are currently no different from race-based social stratification and discrimination systems in other parts of world.
Legislation can only fight discrimination at workplaces. It requires public awakening to eliminate discrimination and promote equal opportunities. Even people with strong motivation to avoid it are subject to automatic cognitive activation of stereotypes, which can unconsciously influence behaviour, making non-discrimination policies relatively ineffective. To have a new generation of global citizens, who have better values of social justice and equality, we need to actively promote inter-caste marriages. Otherwise we will end up having another generation of bigots and segregationists, as bigotry begets bigotry!
The most important part of the solution is education and raising awareness. Teaching on equality and universal human values should be incorporated into academic curriculum. However, of greater significance is recognizing our own personal prejudices at an early stage so that biases harboured inside us are challenged within ourselves. As someone rightly said, “The hardest attitude to change is the one you don’t know you have”.
We need new approaches to eradicate the problem. Younger generation should take the lead by breaking unholy traditions which will reflect their belief in universal values of equality and justice. We need new role models who will burrow down into the heart of these biases and release our society from this menace, which is not only against our faith but also against human values. Youth have to blaze a new and better path based on universal human values. Many countries and cultures have made significant progress in all areas of social justice and equality, but unfortunately we are regressing to primitive customs! Let us not be slaves to prejudices and castes. Let us not make morality immoral due to our practices and prejudices.
(Dr Javed Latoo is a senior clinician and academician. He works as specialist in the field of psychiatry, neuropsychiatry and behavioural neurology in the United Kingdom. He is also Managing Editor of international peer reviewed medical journal British Journal of Medical Practitioners (BJMP). Feedback at email@example.com)
Lastupdate on : Thu, 3 May 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Thu, 3 May 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Fri, 4 May 2012 00:00:00 IST
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