“Caste Consciousness Among Muslims in North India and Pakistan” with Sara Singha from ACMCU on Vimeo.
SARA SINGHA speaks at the ALWALEED BIN TALAL CENTER FOR MUSLIM-CHRISTIAN UNDERSTANDING(at GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY) (recorded on February 25, 2015):
The caste system is the Indian hierarchical classification of people into ranked groups called varnas. There are four varnas in the caste system, Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras that are organized by occupation and maintained through endogamy. While discussions of caste are primarily rooted within a Hindu framework, ‘caste consciousness’ is also noticeable among Indian Muslims. There are three distinct Muslim castes in India: the Ashraf (the noble), the Ajlaf (the lowly), and the Arzal (Dalit). While the Ashraf claim Arab or Persian ancestry, the Ajlaf and Arzal are largely low-caste and Dalit converts to Islam. Relationships between the Ashraf and Dalit Muslims are strained through endogamy and punctuated by commensal segregation. These ‘caste’ divisions create multiple theological, social, and political fissures in the Indian Muslim community as the Ashraf consider Dalit Muslims inherently inferior and ‘polluted.’
While caste is often considered an Indian phenomenon, it has also seeped across the border to Pakistan where it manifests in multiple ways. Though not as pronounced as in India, ‘caste consciousness’ in Pakistan is observable through an awareness of purity and pollution (pak and na-pak) and through endogamy within a particular biradari (brotherhood). Such occurrences of ‘caste consciousness’ in Pakistan highlight intra-Muslim divisions that are exacerbated by ethnic, linguistic, and tribal distinctions. Continue reading