What’s in Our Name?

  • Zia Shakir / Tanveer Rashid Magrey
  • Publish Date: May 7 2018 1:30AM
  • |
  • Updated Date: May 7 2018 1:30AM
What’s in Our Name?

Dr Afaq Aziz is unravelling the mysteries of Kashmir’s castes, and casteism. 

 

Have you ever wondered where your surname comes from or what it means? Or, indeed, how it shapes your identity? Most people would like to believe that Kashmir is not afflicted by casteism, that vile organising principle of much of Indian society. Dr Afaq Aziz argues that is far from the reality: casteism is very much alive in Kashmir, although, for the most, it is latent.

Afaq, who teaches at the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University, has written widely about the history and etymology of Kashmir’s various castes as well as their sociopolitical aspect. Now, he is preparing to publish a book the subject, Castes in Kashmir. “This book is about the forgotten indigenous castes of Kashmir. What made me write it was the realisation that there has been little scholarly work about the caste aspect of the Kashmiri society.”

The book looks at the origin, development and relative decline of the caste system in Kashmir. Afaq says it all started with the arrival of the Steppe Aryans in South Asia, and from there to Kashmir around 1500 BC. “Before the Aryans made inroads into Kashmir, we had no concept of caste. They sowed the seeds of the caste system that left subliminal effects on our society.”

He has previously expounded some of these themes in research papers such as History of Sofi Caste, History of Dar Caste, Khaar Zaat Ke Tarikh, Kashmir Aur Dravida Kay Qadeem Raabitay, Origin of Tak Caste, Origin of Lone Caste, Yatoo Nasbnama.

That he knows five languages has greatly benefited his work on caste. “I am familiar with Kashmiri, English, Urdu, Persian and Sanskrit,” he says. “Knowing them all has helped me forage for linguistic and etymological roots of castes.”

Afaq rues the absence of a substantial body of work on Kashmir’s caste system. “Unfortunately no work has been done yet though there was a smattering of writing by Mohammad Din Fauq.” 

Afaq’s range of interests is vast as can perhaps be expected of a prolific writer. He has 18 books – in English, Urdu and Kashmiri – under his belt, ranging from biographies of influential cultural figures and histories to literary critiques and linguistics. The titles include Ahad Azad Bahistyi Mohqiq, Dah Afsan: Akh Jaiza, Shams Faqeer: Akh Mushkil Pasand Shayer, Sofi Gulam Mohammad: Sahafi, Aadeeb Aur Siyasatdaan, Kulyati Wahab Khar, Kulyati Ahmad Batwari, Iran Ta Kashur Adab, Kashmiri Grammar, Early People of Kashmir, A Critical Analysis of Shakar Baba and Kashmiri Masnavi: Akh Tankeedi Saam. There’s even a compilation of popular songs called Maqbool-i-Aam Baeth. 

He is currently also working on a book of verse titled Dastani Kashmir. It talks about the “socioeconomic and geographic aspects of Kashmir”, he says.