By Javed Beigh
Recently, I came across a news photo feature on social media that showed an assortment of pictures of young teenage Kashmiri Muslim girls practising cricket in one of the sports stadiums of Srinagar, covered in tracksuits and following all protections amid pandemic. One would think that Kashmiri society at large would encourage such sporting and immunity-boosting activities among the young female population, and yet, shockingly, most of the comments from young Kashmiri Muslim men and boys were extremely tasteless and patronizing.
Calling these girls “shameless, the social media users said these girls were not only shaming their family and Kashmiri society but also the entire Muslim community by participating in such events. The question that emanates from this kind of rogue mob behaviour of Kashmiri people is something that we as a society know it all very well but hide and suppress for variety of social and political reasons that have not only emboldened anti-social, undisciplined and rogue elements of our society but it has stopped us from dealing with the problem and thereby strengthening the evils of the patriarchal system. It is very important to understand that politics and religion play an important role in our collective denial of the evils of patriarchy that has made the life of Kashmiri Muslim women miserable.
But the important point that we as a Kashmiri society tend to ignore is that in modern times, any community is judged by how it treats its own vulnerable groups like religious minorities, women, tribal groups, lower castes etc. and on nearly all these fronts, we as a Kashmiri society fail miserably
In our efforts to further the narrative of painting our “enemy” as bad, we as a Kashmiri Muslim society have defined image of our “enemy” or “other” as characterless, immoral and unethical, where rapes, molestation and such other “un-Islamic” activities such as a culture of songs and dances happen, while Kashmir being a Muslim entity, no such evils associated with the so-called non-Muslim entity. There are of course complicated political reasons for weaving such narrative and then believing collectively in it as it portrays us Kashmiris as pure, pious and virtuous, and our “enemy” as immoral, decadent and impure.
It might help to soothe our collective political grievances but does it really help our Kashmiri Muslim women and their daily lives? Talk to most young Kashmiri Muslim women, whether studying in colleges in Srinagar and other cities or living in small towns and villages, the tales of eve-teasing, harassment and abound. Our Kashmiri Muslim women folk complain of a routine inappropriate touching in public transportation and even on religious fairs and gatherings, which they have now accepted as a part of life because complaining about the same would invite no sympathy or empathy from Kashmiri society but only slut-shaming of the victim herself. There is this false narrative, which forces people to push the agenda of not talking about social evils of Kashmiri society so that it does not in any manner dilute the image of Kashmiri Muslims as oppressed and helpless people.
But the important point that we as a Kashmiri society tend to ignore is that in modern times, any community is judged by how it treats its own vulnerable groups like religious minorities, women, tribal groups, lower castes etc. and on nearly all these fronts, we as a Kashmiri society fail miserably. The controversy surrounding a young and extremely talented Kashmiri Muslim actress, who won many accolades and world fame by acting in Hindi movies and even winning National Film Award, which eventually resulted in her very public decision of taking retirement from movies after massive backlash by Kashmiri society because the same was supposedly prohibited by Islam ended up portraying the Kashmiri Muslim society as a religiously radical, socially conservative, regressive and backward the community still living in a medieval era.
Prior to that, a few years ago a music band of young Kashmiri Muslim girl was also publicly criticized for indulging in “shameless” and “un-Islamic” behaviour forcing them to withdraw. In all of this anti-women societal behaviour, Kashmiri Muslim society has dragged the name of Islam, while not explaining as to how come such artistic and sports endeavour for Muslim women citizens are part of the national mainstream of all Muslim majority countries including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Islamic Republic of Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Central Asian Muslim nations, Indonesia, Egypt and even Afghanistan. Countries like Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia and Egypt have thriving film industry with a long history of Muslim actresses and so has the Hindi movie industry. The Muslim women citizens in all these countries are part of their respective national sports team and even compete internationally including in Olympics and Asian Games. Do the Muslim men in these countries also call out their Muslim women for pursuing careers, which are perceived as “un-Islamic”?
Why has Kashmir fallen so back among all progressive Muslim societies in such a short span of time that things which were part of Kashmiri culture like singing folk songs, Kashmiri Sufiana music, Kashmiri Roff dance, Kashmiri celebratory Eid songs all have now been declared “un-Islamic”. Why no one questions that Kashmiri women, who have always dressed modestly are now covered in culturally alien Arabic and Iranian Hijabs and Abayas?
The collective denial of the fact that Kashmiri Muslim society suffers from the same social evils as the so-called “enemy” has made us deliberately complacent in admitting our social faults and thereby allowing these social wounds to fester. The result is for all of us to see. Thousands of Kashmiri Muslim women have crossed the age of marriage and many hundreds are trapped in violent marriages subject to physical beatings and other harassments that have resulted in a recent spate of suicides by many Kashmiri Muslim daughters-in-law. The question, therefore, is what after all will take it to shake the conscience of Kashmiri society to recognize these social evils and then accordingly, deal with them, rather than politicize them to the detriment of our own sisters and daughters.
(The author is a political analyst who served as PRO to Ex-CM of the erstwhile state of J&K, and can be reached at [email protected]).