Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Casteism amongst Indian Muslims: Caste divide as strong among Muslims, as it is in Hindus

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi 

Afshan and Nida were best friends and though the former got married, the latter's family couldn't find a match for her.

Nida's mother asked Afshan to look for a 'suitable boy'. She told her husband who mentioned the name of a youth who was working for a prestigious company where he earned Rs 30,000 per month.

But Afshan had a shock of her life a few weeks later when she found her friend's mother was furious over the suggestion.

'Woh to kunjde* hain'. How dare you think that we will marry off our daughter to that family! Afshan's husband was no less shocked. He hadn't given thought to the possibility that suggesting such a handsome match for her wife's friend would turn into an embarrassment.

His initial reaction was, 'Musalmaan to hai na!' The girl's family was 'offended' and angry at the couple for suggesting the boy's name. Though he lacked nothing except that he came from the caste of sabzi-farosh (now they call themselves Raeen/Rayeen). But this is the tip of ice-berg.

Casteism is as rampant in Indian Muslims as any other community in this country. This is a recent exmple. Sometime back I knew a family who were not Pathans but had started writing the surname, Khan, which is a common practice in certain areas of Northern India.

After the marriage it became known to the bride's family that he was not a Pathan but 'bihishti' [generally known as bhishti]. It took an enormous effort to save the marriage but even though there was no divorce, things couldn't return to normal after that.

How mistaken are those who claim that Indian Muslims are a monolithic block. Apart from Sunnia-Shia schism, the Barelvi-Devbandi differences, Indian Muslims are no less casteist than our Hindu brothers.

*Ashraf (pronounced as Ashraaf): The supposedly upper class amongst Muslims, mostly Muslims whose ancestors came from Arab peninsula

*Ajlaf (pr. Ajlaaf): Muslims without foreign ancestry who are considered to have converted to Islam in the past.

*Arzal. (pr. Arzaal): The Muslims castes who are engaged in menial jobs like scavenging and carrying nightsoil. They are now claiming themselves as Dalit Muslims.

There is so much talk about lack of political leadership amongst Muslims. But what about social leadership. The clergy has failed to address this situation. And there is no such movement in this country among Muslims that is likely to change the situation.

It is always felt that with upward mobility such things will go but we have seen that it doesn't happen. Here I cited incidents in Upper Middle stratum, which are enough to open eyes.

It's sick. Isn't it?

[Kunjde*=the community vegetable sellers]