By Muhammad Waqas Saleem
Social stratification is one of the bitterest structural truths of a contemporary modern world. The education and cross-cultural exposure along with interaction is an important real-time tool. This effectively ameliorates the effects of these social constructions on humanity. Class juxtaposed with religiosity will force an individual to live in a state of false consciousness in which one is born and will keep on living until and unless exposed to a different context.
Muslims and Hindus living in the sandy dunes of Tharparkar — a land of poverty and drought- are surprisingly famous for mutually peaceful coexistence. In Pakistani society, where sectarianism and intolerance are rampant, inert-religious hatred is visibly bifurcating the society at large. The religious harmony at Tharparkar is exemplary as both Hindus and Muslims celebrate and facilitate each others’ festivals and ceremonies.
Muslims rejoice Holy, Dewali and Dosehra whereas Hindus arrange and manage Sabeels during Moharam and fast during Ramzan. This is the only area of the country where Muslims do not form the majority and contrary to the pertaining norms of Pakistani society.
Keeping the broader Pakistani polity in mind, this area seems to be part of some fairy tale where in spite of extreme poverty; crime rate is very low and interfaith harmony at its peak. This extraordinary display of religious acceptance impels one to think of good reasons responsible for this surprising phenomenon where social theories about human behaviors appear falling short of explanation and manifestation of this unprecedented behavior.
However, inter-faith freedom is archetypal in the region; intra-faith issues are high. The discriminatory attitude on the part of upper caste Hindu community with the lower caste is quite evident and obvious. In every social sphere, this selectivity is practiced. High caste Hindus enjoy princely status in comparison with low castes in social, political and economic realms.
Worship places for high and low caste Hindus are separate. Low caste persons are not allowed to enter the worship places in case an upper caste Hindu is visiting. Even at times, Dalits are prohibited to roaming freely during the visiting hours of high caste Hindus.
Strict segregation is observed in the religious ambit. In day to day life, intermingling among low and high caste Hindus is not welcomed. Eating and drinking is kept separate. Low caste Hindus and Muslims have no such division but high caste Hindus keep themselves aloof from such a mix.
In certain circumstances, it is adequate to eat and drink with Muslims but is unthinkable with low castes Hindus. Social sphere of a Brahmin is in severe seclusion from that of a Dalit.
Availability of labour is different as per caste. Polluted and demeaning chores are kept for low caste Hindus. Businesses are often owned by high class Hindus putting them at a position of advantage.
I personally visited a Dalit household in the region and the news of Muslim arriving from Islamabad was a dream coming true for them. My visit turned out to be a festive event as they arranged Arthi: welcome songs. Children from the community were gathered around to see me. This situation implies that contours of class are very important for them and they interact only at the level of same class.
The story of discrimination and persecution changes with the change in context. Students hailing from Tharparkar, belonging to every caste and creed join Quaid-I-Azam University on merit. All the norms of differentiation are kept aside and interaction starts with a new pace.
Students especially from belonging to high and low caste Hindu community dine out at the same table and at times eat in the same plate. Attend classes on same chairs and at times low caste sitting in front row and high caste in a rear row which is unthinkable back in Tharparkar. I have seen a lot of Dalits, Brahmins and Muslim students living in one room at boarding. So education is one of the biggest factors that is solving the problem.
The important factor which can be considered as mind changing is the awareness that comes through education and a rational discourse. Rationality follows as an aftermath to education which makes caste segregation a less important issue and makes harmonization and coexistence possible.
The underdeveloped and underserviced Tharparkar offers a classic understanding of a social structure erected on the principle of caste. The absence of education and reasoning does not permit intermixing beyond the caste structure whereas the same variable of class gets irrelevant in a modern, educational and rational discourse.
This is the high time when the state should reflect on the opportunities of uniform education and work on service delivery which could improve the lives of the masses of Tharparkar which apparently is beyond miserable.
Author Bio: Muhammad Waqas Saleem is a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.
Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this article are solely of the writer.