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Institution of Marriage: Caste in Kashmiri Muslim Psyche



By Unanza Gulzar

28 Dec, 2014

While we on and off witness sharp debates— often taking ugly sides around the question of caste in India, one doesn’t require any sort of deeper research or understanding to assert that Kashmir, though predominantly a Muslim state, is no different in the overall mess of things connected to caste.

It is, however, believed that caste among Muslims is the result of their close contact with Hindu culture and converts to Islam. Yet, even as the magnitude of caste among Muslims is not as severe as it is among Hindus, caste does play an important role in Kashmiri Muslim psyche.

To put it bluntly rather, caste question has assumed awful dimensions in our society at an even more micro-level stage—the institution of marriage, an otherwise holy design. It is a fact that every time there is a talk of marriage, the first question that is raised is the ‘caste’ (Zat, Biraderi). This is truly shocking. What’s more, people who are apparently more religious happen to be overtly oversensitive with the caste question for fear of losing face among their extended kinship. That is why the numbers of girls who cannot get married is because of this ideology and worry thing is it only grows day by day in our society.

Thus considered, there is a great and unhappy contradiction between what Quran and Prophetic traditions have to say and the actual practice among Muslims vis-a-vis the causal relationship of marriage and caste. It is common knowledge that Qur’an and the Prophetic traditions consider Muslims as equals and allows any Muslim man to marry a suitable Muslim woman and vice versa. The criteria that Quran offers in determining a suitable marriage partner are those of piety (Taqwa) and faith (Iman) rather than birth or wealth.

Allah says in Holy Quran: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of male and female and made you into people and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other).”

“Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is he who is most righteous of you.” (Surah Al-Hujjaraat 49:13) This Quranic injunction, in no ambiguous terms, points that people were divided into tribes so that they can identify themselves, rather than to look down upon any particular section of society. Therefore, Islam removes any possibility of prohibition on inter-caste marriages.

In a bid to provide a radical egalitarian system, Islam offers suitability and compatibility as one of the conditions that may be considered when looking for a spouse. Unfortunately, however, Kashmiri Muslim society has largely been endogamous and reluctant of inter-caste marriages. What happens, in fact, is that people pick and choose things from their religious injunctions, proving the so called claims of universal Muslim brotherhood only a hoax.

Over the period of time, the phenomenon has reached a point of no return. We are becoming an endogamous society with a deep class divide. Caste is now becoming a defining feature of Kashmiri society, particularly the institution of marriage.

Now, even if there are inter-caste marriages happening in Kashmir at some level, the problem there is even graver, with different undertones, though. That is, where we lose to wealth and status. This, however, reduces the institution of marriage to a mere show off. Marriage is no longer about ‘two souls’ who have same interests and love for each other, rather an exercise weirdly based on pride and materialism. This is not, clearly, in line with the teachings of Islam, as Prophet (S.A.W) said that, “He who has in his heart the weight of an atom of pride shall not enter paradise.”

The bottom line is that despite the thread of egalitarianism running deep in both Quran and the reliable Prophetic traditions, an invariable sabotage continues from within among the Muslims when it comes to practice.

The example par excellence is the institution of marriage. This also rings true of Kashmiri Muslim society even in a strong manner. Given this, there is a dire need of introspection at our own levels.

We need to rethink over the relation of Islam, caste and marriages in order to stop the rot and acquire an even uglier face. If we don’t act in time, a deeper class divide will not be that far.