Kashmir has again been rocked by another shocking case of acid attack on a young Kashmiri girl by a Kashmiri man, who was angry with the girl for refusing his advances. The young girl is admitted to the hospital in a seriously injured state 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 era. Kashmiri Muslims were known to be secular, fun-loving, patrons of music, songs, dances 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 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 incidents of throwing acid at girls that are becoming the ‘new normal’ in Kashmir, but Kashmiri society faces a myriad of social issues that point to an overall social breakdown of Kashmiri society. A drug addiction epidemic, the scourge of eve 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 driving now part of contemporary Kashmiri social norms. 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 father’s generation, with Kashmiri Muslim men wearing long Islamic beards and almost all Kashmiri Muslim women wearing Middle Eastern hijabs. East, these religiously motivated physical changes were largely 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 very religious with one in two men showing off 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 had a devastating impact on the Kashmiri Muslim society, as the members of the Kashmiri Pandit community were once the morally conscious guardians 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 the 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 activities such as songs , music, dances, etc. With the rise of Puritan Islam, many of these cultural activities as well as their more modern manifestations like theater, movies, etc., declined as they clashed 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 created a disturbing impact on the collective social behavior of Kashmiri Muslim society, which has become regressive and increasingly inward-looking. Such catastrophic social changes that have plagued Kashmir over the past three decades with the onset of militancy in the 1990s have not only destroyed Kashmir’s carefully crafted network of 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 threat of drugs, eve teasing, harassment of women, etc., are just manifestations of this long-standing societal collapse.
There are. Nevertheless. 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 that used to define Kashmir before 1990. Kashmir gave religious orthodoxy enough chance and it only made things worse by narrowing the space for liberal and moderate thought and turning Kashmiri Muslims into hypocrites, who carried the hat of religion during the day, then engaged in irreligious activities at night in secret.
The young generation of Kashmir needs modern and progressive 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 such 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 usher our Kashmiri youth towards modern, secular and moderate values which were once the hallmark of a happy and fortunate Kashmir of the past, which was honest and morally strong. (IANS)