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    Feudal world outcasts

    how many of you think caste system still
    continues in pakistan despite islam?
    ---------------------------------
    writer is Director, Area Study Centre, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad
    [email protected]



    The social background of individuals and groups would determine their political inclination, opportunities to participate in any political action and necessary skills to articulate their interests. Are the lower castes in our societies well equipped to participate? Have they been sensitised to their citizenship rights, or granted opportunities? They are true subject of our feudal culture, completely devoid of their essential humanity. The conception of civil and political rights is alien to the millions of lower caste individuals, families and groups. Under social oppression for, who know how long, in the old world of the Indus, they have grown fatalistic about their fate, living conditions and low status conferred upon them by other social layers above them. They carry a heavy social burden of lot of conforming to a standard of behaviour that the feudal lords imposed on their forefathers. We have seen remarkable social and economic mobility among the lower castes but only in cases when they had the gift of modern education and professions. The lives of those who are stuck up in the rural environment and dependent on old profession haven't changed much.

    Democracy, human rights, equality and civil liberties are as alien notions to the lower castes as they are to their lords. Most of them are just pushed to polling stations on the Election Day to cast their votes by the local lords. The free will and self-determination, the well-known principles of democracy are too idealistic propositions in traditional, caste and class-based society of Pakistan.

    Caste differentiation, though not the same as in India, remains strong as a social marker. The lower castes of Pakistan have many groupings. First category consists of those who are engaged in hereditary menial professions like shoemaking, carpentry, hairdressing, pottery, and weaving. Salient but less recognised in lower castes working on agricultural forms and in the households of major landowners. They are not wage earners, but get some grain at the end of each crop and very little cash for clothing and other necessities. They survive mainly as semi-slave dependents of the feudal lords. In the agriculture sector, there is also the pervasive phenomena of bonded-labour, with entire families working to payback the loans they took to either feed themselves or procured for any social or other reasons. Household servants both in the urban and rural areas of Pakistan are much understudied and under observed social category.

    The question of the political rights of these castes and social groups is very important. Their dependent economic and social status makes them just a political appendage of the lords that they serve. They cannot think of any other political opinion or exercise a choice different from the lord. It was only during the populist era of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, though himself a feudal lord, that the lower classes had their first awakening through his mobilisatory politics. He gave them a sense of dignity, pride and a feeling of worth. They defied their lords for the first time in the 1970 elections to vote for the candidates of Bhutto's party. His populist appeal, charisma and style of politics stirred an electoral revolt of the oppressed against their masters. That spirit and sense of freedom among the lower castes and classes did not last very long after the elimination of the founder of peoples struggle in Pakistani politics.

    The discrimination against the lower castes is deeply rooted in the society and takes place at informal level. Along with economic bondage is the fear of the state agencies like the police that their masters and lords use to keep them in the servitude. Even a slight sign of rebellion is suppressed with the most severe punishment that may take many forms, stealing of animals, theft, registration of false case in the police station, harassment by the lord's tough guys, and in more severe cases, abduction of women. Illegal confinement and even jailing of lower castes in the private jails that still exist in the interior of Sindh and Balochistan is not too uncommon. Their unconditional social and political obedience is a condition for social and economic survival where the state laws and institutions are too weak to protect them.

    Political liberty and exercise of free will in elections, let alone contesting elections would be unrealistic expectation from lower castes in the feudal agrarian conditions of Pakistan.

    Even with the harsh and oppressive environment in which the lower castes are kept, their masters have not earned their trust. Rather, they are always a suspect for doing something different of what they are expected. To make sure they would turn up for casting their votes, they are hauled up early in the morning to the polling stations with families and minors. They remain under close vigil by the workers of the lords until they have cast their votes and departed back to their villages. Let me say this on the basis of my own observation and many reports that most of them vote due to fear and intimidation rather than exercise a real choice.

    Quite often elections put the lower castes in real dilemma when they are caught between many rival local influentials. They essentially make a choice between more harmful and less harmful and tend to vote for the one who might have greater capacity to do evil to them in case of their disobedience. They don't have effective legal remedies, local institutions to protect them and independent economic means to move away to better places.

    Physical movement and relocation is a part of economic and social mobility. There is a visible trend in lower castes among others moving to major towns and industrial cities for better economic opportunities. Many families that have done so have shown others the way. A real transformation, however, has yet to take place, and that would depend on how the economy of the country performs in the coming years. That is the only way to end discrimination in the rural setting of a village.

    Even the dominant castes in terms of numbers resort to the feudal means of intimidation, physical abuse and trapping the innocent members of the lower castes in civil and criminal cases. Theft of property and animals are the weapons of choice in Punjab and Sindh. The land ownership pattern in Southern Punjab and Sindh where the big landowners also represent a particular tribe or caste, discrimination in all forms is widely practiced.

    In our view, it is generally the feudal political culture that has sustained oppression and discrimination against the lower castes. Will this change? My contention is that until the quality of democratic governance improves the political and social conditions of the feudal age would continue to determine class and caste relations in our society. Because once democracy and rule of law become consistent functional political patterns, a new political culture of equal rights would emerge that would provide for political space and institutional remedies to lower caste groups against discrimination.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Previous Opinion

    The News International, Pakistan


    #2
    What?!?!? There's no "caste" system in Pakistan But I do agree there's the feudal system which needs to be gotten rid of. The author is not referring to castes as in "religious castes", he is just using this term to classify the feudals (higher castes) and those people who are under the economical and political control of these feudals in villages (lower castes). He doesn't mean the caste system as in saying that "one group of people is better than another hereditarilly", he means it in the economic sense - i.e. the powerful and the powerless, the land-owners and the landless!!!


    [This message has been edited by sallu123 (edited June 22, 2002).]
    "When one bright intellect meets another bright intellect, the light increases and the Way becomes clear." - Rumi

    Comment


      #3
      so if a dalit converts to islam he can marry a chaudry?

      Comment


        #4
        Originally posted by rvikz:
        so if a dalit converts to islam he can marry a chaudry?
        Sure, but ofcourse it depends on whether the chaudhry will agree, I mean a rich person will want to marry his child in some other rich or influential family usually. But Islamically speaking, a person should preferrably choose his match based on how righteous he/she is.
        "When one bright intellect meets another bright intellect, the light increases and the Way becomes clear." - Rumi

        Comment


          #5
          is there any segregation in rural pakistan?
          do thye all live in same locality?

          Comment


            #6
            Originally posted by rvikz:
            is there any segregation in rural pakistan?
            do thye all live in same locality?
            Frankly, I have only lived in the cities in Pak and my parents were from cities as well, so I don't know about rural areas, but as far as my knowledge goes: They live together, no segregation based on genes. May be someone else can answer through personal experience.
            "When one bright intellect meets another bright intellect, the light increases and the Way becomes clear." - Rumi

            Comment


              #7
              I dont think there is segregation between the people, in rural areas too. The difference might be that the chaudhry may be living in some big haveli, and the people in small houses around it. Otherwise, all the people live in the same locality.

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