Caste in Pakistan

I disagree with this notion completely. Caste matters a lot in Pakistan, especially when you need to get something done at a government office. A lot of ‘untouchables’ who converted to Islam still are known as ‘chuhras’ which literally means untouchable. For more information, you can read ‘The Unconquered People: The Liberation of an Oppressed Caste’ by John O Brien. If you go beyond the PakNationalist view of history, Sir Syed was a caste chauvinist, Ali Garh School and later college were reserved for Higher caste Muslims. Religious leaders like Ahmad Raza Khan Barelvi, Qasim Nonotwi (founder of Deoband), Mufti Shafi Osmani, Hussain Ahmad Madni were also against teaching ‘lower-caste’ muslims.

Yes, caste seems invisible in Pakistan’s bigger cities (Lahore and Karachi) and one can say that caste doesn’t play a role in daily life BUT it matters during elections, during matrimonial activities and during dealings with the state bureaucracy. If you ever go to a government office (Police, Judiciary, Income Tax), try looking at the leaderboard of that office’s previous incumbents there and notice how most people on that list have their caste listed after their name. Also, go to the district courts in Lahore or any city and see how many lawyers have mentioned their caste after their names.

Abdul Majeed

As an aside I was googling John O’Brien and came up with a few interesting snippets about the Pak Christian community:

c) Great honour is given to the Bible and compared with many older and more developed Churches in other countries, there is real familiarity with its text and message. There is a richness here which cannot be overlooked. In fact it cries out to be contextualised and deepened. The singing of the Psalms in Punjabi is a very distinctive and enriching feature of church life here. Yet this esteem for Sacred Scripture could be undermining of a real sense of Church inasmuch as it is conceived in rather Islamic terms: there is an unspoken assumption (a false one) that the Bible functions in Church life and theology as the Quran sherif does in Islam. This leads to and is further exacerbated by the prevalence of a literalist and fundamentalist reading and preaching of the text. As a result, all sorts of self-appointed preachers abound, each offering a more exotic explanation and application of the text. Rivalries increase and with them, factionalism. There seems little sustained effort to promote a communitarian reading of Scripture, contextualised on the one hand, by the living tradition of the People of God and on the other, by the concrete struggle for justice and dignity which is the daily bread of our people.

A) Strengths:

The Church which under God’s grace, has come into being here in Pakistan has many fine qualities and strengths:

i. It continues to exist and grow in a non-Christian and non-supportive environment:

ii. It is very much a Church of the poor, God’s chosen ones:

iii. It is engaged in an on-going and far-reaching practical ecumenism:

iv. It is a Church with a profound religious sensibility:

v. There is a growth in local vocations to ministry:

vi. At all levels it is socially involved; both “religiously” and “developmentally”:

vii. It has a highly developed organisational infrastructure:

viii. Among the People of God there is a tangible love for “The Word”:

xi. The Church membership has retained a strong cultural identity: the Church in Pakistan is very much a Pakistani Church.

x. The communities have a very strong identity as “Christians”

xi. Among Pakistani Christians there is a very solid sense of family and kinship.

xii. There is a strong devotional life with many indigenous resources; songs, pilgrimages, Marian meals etc.

This is the light; if there is light there is also shadow!

B) Shortcomings:

i. At nearly all levels, the Christian community can be easily divided by the factionalism (partibazi) which characterises social relations and by the consequences of other internalised oppression:

ii. It is a Church massively reliant on foreign money:

iii. It is constantly under threat externally and internally from fundamentalism and sectarianism:

iv. The Liturgy has been translated but not inculturated:

v. There is an impoverished Eucharistic sense:

vi. A dependency mentality is still very stong:

vii. Politically, psychologically and even physically it tends to be ghettoised:

viii. The culture is consolidated but seldom critiqued by ecclesial praxis and therefore not sufficiently enriched by faith:

ix. In general terms, the leadership remains authoritarian or patenalistic, reinforcing the dominant socio-political pattern rather than offering an evangelical alternative to it:

x. The dignity and role of women are scarcely recognised:

xi. There is little or no missionary outreach:

xii. It mirrors the society in that personal freedom and responsibility are not really valued above conformity.

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7 Replies to “Caste in Pakistan”

  1. An extract from THE PARTITION OF INDIA – by B.R.Ambedkar , some of it is still applicable to India at least , dont know about Pakistan

    But if slavery has gone, caste among Musalmans has remained. As an illustration one may take the conditions prevalent among the Bengal Muslims. The Superintendent of the Census for 1901 for the Province of Bengal records the following interesting facts regarding the Muslims of Bengal :—
    “The conventional division of the Mahomedans into four tribes— Sheikh, Saiad, Moghul and Pathan—has very little application to this Province (Bengal). The Mahomedans themselves recognize two main social divisions, (1) Ashraf or Sharaf and (2) Ajlaf. Ashraf means ‘noble’ and includes all undoubted descendants of foreigners and converts from high caste Hindus. All other Mahomedans including the occupational groups and all converts of lower ranks, are known by the contemptuous terms, ‘Ajlaf ,’ ‘wretches’ or ‘mean people’: they are also called Kamina or Itar, ‘base’ or Rasil, a corruption of Rizal, ‘worthless.’ In some places a third class, called Arzal or ‘lowest of all,’ is added. With them no other Mahomedan would associate, and they are forbidden to enter the mosque to use the public burial ground.
    “Within these groups there are castes with social precedence of exactly the same nature as one finds among the Hindus.

    I. Ashraf or better class Mahomedans.

    (1) Saiads.
    (2) Sheikhs.
    (3) Pathans.
    (4) Moghul.
    (5) Mallik.
    (6) Mirza.
    II. Ajlaf or lower class Mahomedans.
    (1) Cultivating Sheikhs, and others who were originally Hindus but who do not belong to any functional group, and have not gained admittance to the Ashraf Community, e.g. Pirali and Thakrai.
    (2) Darzi, Jolaha, Fakir, and Rangrez.
    (3) Barhi, Bhalhiara, Chik, Churihar, Dai, Dhawa, Dhunia, Gaddi, Kalal, Kasai, Kula Kunjara, Laheri, Mahifarosh, Mallah, Naliya, Nikari.
    (4) Abdal, Bako, Bediya, Bhal, Chamba, Dafali, Dhobi, Hajjam, Mucho, Nagarchi, Nal,Panwaria, Madaria, Tunlia.
    III. Arzal or degraded class.
    Bhanar, Halalkhor, Hijra, Kasbi, Lalbegi, Maugta, Mehtar.”
    The Census Superintendent mentions another feature of the Muslim social system, namely, the prevalence of the “panchayat system.” He states :—
    “The authority of the panchayat extends to social as well as trade matters and. . .marriage with people of’ other communities is one of the offences of which the governing body takes cognizance. The result is that these groups are often as strictly endogamous as Hindu castes. The prohibition on inter-marriage extends to higher as well as to lower castes, and a Dhuma, for example, may marry no one but a Dhuma. If this rule is transgressed, the offender is at once hauled up before the panchayat and ejected ignominiously from his community. A member of one such group cannot ordinarily gain admission to another, and he retains the designation of the community in which he was born even if he abandons its distinctive occupation and takes to other means of livelihood. . . .thousands of Jolahas are butchers, yet they are still known as Jolahas.”

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    1. This usage survives in Urdu. We speak of “Sharif gharanas” or “Sharif log” meaning decent people. “Decent women don’t go out without a dupatta” is a common remark for example.

      But “Caste” among Muslims is still very different from “Caste” among Hindus. I think we learned it from Hindus when we entered South Asia. Caste does not exist among Arabs, at least to my knowledge.

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  2. +1008 for all of AbdulMajeed Abid’s and Zach’s comments above.

    Why does untouchability exist? It doesn’t exist in ancient Arya histories (Itihasas) such as the Ramayana or in the ancient Arya scriptures.

    I don’t know how it came about. Perhaps some Jatis (people who share a common ancestral lineage) wanted opt out of Arya tradition and eastern philosophy, which is their right. They can opt out and have their own separate different daily practices, Dharma, philosophy, meta narrative and universalist norms. My question is why were they not allowed a way to join the Varna system later on if they changed their minds. I don’t have an answer to this.

    The east has the saying: “tell me your company and I will tell you who you are.” In the sermon on the mount, Jesus said: “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”

    It requires great intelligence (use of subconscious and unconscious parts of the nervous system and brain) and empathy to understand others and determine if they are good and bad. Since the vast majority of people have not chosen to develop this skill; they use shorthand. If someone from the extended family, clan, town, culture or ethnicity is bad . . . avoid the rest because we are not sure.

    This is the reason that Osama Bin Laden for example wanted to remove all trace of globalized westernized culture, entertainment and media from all muslim parts of the world; less young muslims were seduced, corrupted and spoiled by immoral ammoral westernized debauchery. This too was the reason the extended families and Jatis were excommunicated from polite society and became untouchables.

    However this went way too far. How to reverse and end this craziness?

    Zach, AbdulMajeed Abid, and everyone else; do you have any ideas?

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  3. Zachary, I found the description of Pakistani Christians very interesting and informative.

    I wonder how much of the description is an attempt to critique and discredit Pakistani Christians versus understand them. The description might be accurate, but I am always suspicious.

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    1. Pakistani Christians are mostly in the Punjab and they are one of the lowest socio-economic communities. Other than people like Justice Cornelius (who was a Pakistani Christian, though yes technically he was born in Agra), who was very much the exception and not the rule.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alvin_Robert_Cornelius

      Most janitors tend to be Christian. Most nurses and ward boys tend to be Christian as well. These are jobs that the Muslim-majority does not want. Cleaning up after patients and their filth are not considered appropriate jobs for Muslims.

      As an aside, my tabla nawaz is a Punjabi Christian. I love Christians.

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    1. We have had Pakistani Christian servants (and nurses for grandparents). They look like your average Pakistani Punjabi, though perhaps a little darker skinned. It is not written on their faces that they are Christian. They also try to keep Muslim-sounding first names to blend in. You can usually tell by their last names though. For example, my tabla nawaz’s last name is “Joseph”. A lot of Christians have the last name “Masih” which just means “Messiah”.

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