Kashmir has once again been rocked by another shocking acid attack on a young Kashmiri girl by a Kashmiri man who was furious with a girl who refused his advances. The girl was admitted to hospital in a seriously injured condition and is fighting for her life. What is truly alarming is the fact that this shocking incident comes after a similar attack a few months ago in Shopian, South Kashmir. So what does all this say about our Kashmiri society?
Kashmir was one of the few places in the Indian subcontinent where the crime rate was extremely low during the British Raj. Kashmiri Muslims were known to be secular, fun-loving, patrons of music, dance and poetry. But ironically, in the past three decades since the rise of militancy, even as Kashmiri Muslim society leaned towards orthodoxy, conservatism and the puritanical practices of Islam, the same Kashmiri society simultaneously fell into the abyss. of moral decay.
Prior to 1990, incidents like throwing acid at girls for refusing advances would have been unthinkable, even if Kashmiri society was not as overtly religious then as it is today. So how is it that the people of Kashmir and Kashmir, who on the outside are much more visibly religious today than they were in the past, are now facing a moral societal breakdown as well pathetic?
Take for example the Hijab. The Middle Eastern and Iranian style hijab and abaya that are so common among the younger generation of Kashmiri Muslim girls today, were virtually unheard of products in the past. While few older women wore the burqa, Kashmiri Muslim women on the whole did not adorn any Arab or Iranian hijab. Yet the ethical, social and moral values of Kashmiri society were far more impeccable than they are today.
Today, it is not just the incidences of throwing acid on girls that are becoming the ‘new normal’ in Kashmir, but Kashmiri society faces a myriad of social issues that point to the overall social breakdown of Kashmiri society. The drug addiction epidemic, the scourge of teasing in public spaces, especially on public transport, the harassment of girls and women outside of schools and colleges are some of the other “new normals” that are now making part of contemporary Kashmiri society. . It is clear that Kashmir’s turn towards religious orthodoxy has neither halted nor shaken the continued slide of Kashmiri society into moral decadence.
While it is true that Kashmiri Muslims today have become outwardly more religious than their fathers’ generation, with Kashmiri Muslim men wearing long Islamic beards and almost all Kashmiri Muslim women wearing Middle Eastern hijabs. In the East, these religiously motivated changes in clothing have largely been cosmetic. . Kashmiri Muslim society may have taken the easier part of showing its religiosity, but it hasn’t exactly absorbed the spiritual and moral teachings of the faith. Many Muslims from other parts of India and the world often point out that Kashmir looks unusually religious with one in two men sporting an Islamic beard and one in two women adorned with hijabs.
I think a big part of the problem is that the old secular social fabric of Kashmir has been torn apart.
The forced exodus of the Kashmiri Hindu Pandit community has had a devastating impact on the Muslim society of Kashmir as the members of the Kashmiri Pandit community were once the guardians of the moral conscience of the entire Kashmiri society. By driving them out, Kashmiri Muslims lost the disciplinary glue that held the ethical and moral bond of all Kashmiris intact.
Orthodoxy and the rise of a puritanical and conservative version of Islam have also disrupted the former more liberal, moderate and progressive character of Kashmir, which used to promote healthier artistic and cultural pursuits such as songs, music, dances and more. With the rise of Puritan Islam, many of these cultural activities as well as their more modern manifestations like theater, movies, etc., have declined as they clash with the orthodox norms of conservative traditions of Islam. What is even more disturbing is that even the pluralistic and colorful Sufi Muslim traditions of Kashmir, full of celebrations, songs and dances, have also been attacked by Orthodox religious influences, all of which have overall created a disturbing impact. on collective social behavior. of the Muslim society of Kashmir, which had become regressive and increasingly inward-looking.
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These catastrophic social changes that have engulfed Kashmir over the past three decades with the onset of militancy in the 1990s have not only destroyed the carefully crafted web of Kashmir moral values fabricated by centuries of interactions between Kashmiri pundits and Kashmiri Muslims, but also paved the way for the rise of religious radicalism and social orthodoxy, which, combined with the instability caused by nearly three decades of violence, had a devastating impact on the social behavior of ordinary citizens of Kashmir. The subsequent rise of social ills like the growing menace of drugs, teasing, harassment of women, etc., is just one manifestation of this ongoing societal collapse.
There is, however, still a chance to emerge from this rapid social and moral decline that Kashmiri society has faced for three decades, the most important of which is to embrace modernity, secularism, progressivism and liberalism – the kind of values which defined the Kashmiri people before 1990.
Kashmir gave enough chances for religious orthodoxy and it only made matters worse by narrowing the space for liberal and moderate thought and turning Kashmiri Muslims into hypocrites, who would wear the hat of the religion during the day and then engaged in irreligious activities at night in secret.
The young generation of Kashmiri needs modern, progressive and scientific guidance and approach to various behavioral interactions. The modern youth of Kashmir should not be shackled by the bonds of religious orthodoxy, which often leads to irrational and criminal behavior. Kashmir’s futile appointment with conservatism and social orthodoxy has only pushed Kashmiri society deeper into the abyss of mental stagnation. We must guide our Kashmiri youth towards modern, secular and moderate values that were once the hallmarks of a carefree Kashmir of the past, honest and morally strong.
Javed Beigh is General Secretary of the People’s Democratic Front (secular). His can be followed @javedbeigh. The views expressed by the author are his own and do not represent the position of this publication.