Few days ago, a music concert was organized at Srinagar’s famous Badamwari garden complex in Rainawari on the foothills of Hari Parbat. The music concert, which among other performers hosted Kashmir’s famous female singer Shazia Bashir, was suddenly attacked by a group of goons, who were apparently angered by what they perceived as an open propagation of “shameful” and “Un-Islamic” activities in a Muslim-majority Kashmir. The venue was vandalized, chairs were thrown, stage and expensive music apparatus was damaged and artists like Shazia Bashir barely managed to escape.
So, how did Kashmir reach such levels of cultural orthodoxy without anyone even questioning it?
One of the most damaging aspects of the nearly 32-year-old turmoil in Kashmir has been its rapid slide towards religious radicalism and nowhere has it been more pronounced than in Kashmiri society’s physical transformation into an orthodox Muslim community and its conservative attitude towards culture.
If one were to look at old photos of Kashmir from 1950s to early 1980s, one would find an entirely different kind of Kashmiri Muslim society. The Arabization of Kashmir’s Muslim community that is now the dominant cultural identity marker was completely absent earlier. The Arabic veils, burqas, abayas were either not that prominent or completely absent among a large segment of Kashmiri Muslim population. The long orthodox beard by Muslim men was also very rare. In a way, while urban Kashmir was very liberal, progressive, modern and forward-looking with most Muslim women and men not sporting veils, scarves or long beards, rural Kashmir adhered to more traditional, non-Arabic Kashmiri costume.