The Newsletter 96 Autumn 2023

Youth Aspirations and Anxieties: Two Stories of Caste Marginalization in Kashmir

Hafsa Sayeed

The stories below are part of my larger research on caste and social exclusion among Muslims in Kashmir. They emanate from the fieldwork conducted in Kashmir with people belonging to marginalised caste communities, such as Sheikhs and Hanjis.

Rasheed was a school dropout because he suffered through a discriminatory pedagogic space where his body was not seen as authentic enough to exist. Rasheed articulated his capacity to aspire through an economic vocabulary, where an economic means to a dignified life upheld dignity and meaning. His aspirations sought an immediate economic recourse that could offer him and his family a sustainable means of income. Rasheed’s parents work as Safai Karamcharis (sanitation workers) at the municipality, and demand institutionalization of sweeping jobs for the Sheikh community. It is seen as a way to access formal employment. However, Rasheed does not resonate with such aspirations. He wants to take out a loan, buy an auto rickshaw, and drive it. His anxieties rested on a stringent reminder of textual Islamic egalitarianism, where he is equal to all other Muslims despite his caste and class identity. Rasheed reminded me that despite their community being the cleaners of Kashmir, the society does not extend the much-deserved respect to the Sanitation Workers: “Are we not Muslims? We are all equal in the eyes of Allah, and we clean the society, yet should we be discriminated against like this?”

In yet another district named Bandipora, by the banks of Wular, is a village where the Hanjis live. Hanjis are a marginalized community who are also the fishmongers of Kashmir. They traditionally lived in boats and believe that they are the descendants of Noah. I met a girl there in the ghettoized village of Rubeena. She had completed her Bachelor's from the District College. Her aspirations are reflected through her endeavors of imparting education to the children of her community in the village. Rubeena constantly navigated her anxieties on the borders of the caste, class, and spatial identity that defined her. She told me, “If a Hanji family gains upward mobility, and are educated, yet while searching for a match for marriage, most families find it difficult to overlook the caste identity.”


Hafsa Sayeed, IIT Bombay, India