Efforts to Make Kashmir A Radical Islamist Hotbed
Our culture and the people trying their best to revoke and preserve it are in immense danger. The terrorist organizations are a threat to our heritage, as well as its protectors
By ZOON The Moon
Cultural destruction has become an instrument of terror in a global campaign to destabilise civilizations, spread hatred and erase memory. This cultural cleansing is a war crime that is currently being utilized as a war tactic to separate mankind from its shared heritage. As a result, cultural preservation must be a component of all humanitarian and security activities. It cannot be separated from the protection of human lives and the assistance we owe to all victims.
Terrorists degraded, dehumanized moderate Kashmiris
Kashmir has been a contentious region for many years, dating back to the partition of India and Pakistan. Conflicts have erupted for a variety of reasons, both external (such as geopolitical conflicts between Southeast Asia’s three nuclear contenders) and internal (such as a cultural divide). For both India and Pakistan, all of these factors have resulted in multiple wars and immense death and damage. The most serious consequence of the aforementioned issues, however, has been endemic terrorism and the ensuing proxy war between Pakistan and India since 1988.
Terrorism has wreaked havoc on the valley and its inhabitants. This terrorism does not seek to acquire a strategic advantage or territory from India. Instead, it aims to terrorize and exterminate innocent and moderate Kashmiris in order to turn Kashmir into a radical Islamist hotbed. A secular, passive, Hindu-dominated country like India would immediately be at conflict with such a region. As a result, the region would inevitably separate from India and join Pakistan. This proxy war, in which terrorism is used instead of direct military action, has radically transformed the face of the Kashmir crisis. It has transformed the territorial conflict into a complex social, economic, political, military, and religious issue that must be handled before Kashmir may enjoy peace and security.
In terms of the horror and atrocities experienced by the people of Kashmir today, it is being compared to some of the worst global genocides. Since 1990, over 100,000 people have been killed in Kashmir, according to official figures. Terrorists have used intimidation, terror, rape, murder, and assault against innocent Kashmiris (Hindus, Sikhs, and moderate Muslims) in order to drive them out of the state. Targets were classified as religious as well as political opponents. Because they were recognized as “informers” and “agents of India,” several of these people were slain. These people were usually intellectuals and moderates, such as doctors, teachers, attorneys, and poets. They were pillaged, and their riches were used to fund the terrorists’ activities.
Terrorists degraded and dehumanized moderate Kashmiris, in flagrant violation of the globally acknowledged Charter of Human Rights and other international norms. Their ambitions included separating India from the state in order to build a new political order based on religion. Anyone who spoke out against the campaign was subjected to severe torture and persecution. Sikhs and Hindus were frequently dismembered, bled to death, strangulated by steel wires, burned alive, hung, impaled, and even had their eyeballs gouged out. As a result of the violence and brutality, almost 350,000 Kashmiri Pundits have fled the region. Since 1988, there has been no evidence of this damage slowing down.
Our Prized Kashmiri Heritage
Women clad in pherans and intricate jewellery would sing and sway on the groomed lawns of Shalimar Bagh, which overlooks the Dal Lake, in the beautiful years before terrorism crippled Kashmir. In his book Sahibs’ India: Vignettes from the Raj, Pran Nevile describes the effect that Kashmiri dancers had on their audience in the 19th century as “sweet fantasy of a never to be forgotten night.” Foreigners referred to them as “nautch” (dancing) girls, who were essentially hafiza (reciters) who danced to Sufi melodies, a custom that is now abandoned.
Kashmir has a long history of dance, music, and drama. Its folk theatre Bhand Pather is possibly the oldest in the subcontinent, inspired from mainland India’s Natya Shastra and dedicated to Hindu goddess Shiva Bhagwati.
Astonishingly, Kashmir produced several exceptional women who led social revolutions by shattering gender taboos around art, from Bhakti poetess Lalleshwari in the 14th century to the romantic Habba Khatoon in the 16th century. In Salman Rushdie’s novel Shalimar the Clown, the protagonist was a Pandit dancer Boonyi Kaul. She marries a Muslim tightrope walker, Noman. The metaphor reflected both the age-old syncretic concord and the modern post-1990 horrific war of Kashmir.
Our Culture is Ceasing To Exist
It is with immense trepidation that we view our people, who had once been unmistakably interwoven with heart-warming brotherhood, rendered helplessly nonplussed and directionless. Amidst a myriad of undeniable troubles, we cannot help but wonder what it is that holds the power to have been our undoing, and what had held us all together in the first place. The answer, a rather obstinate one, is that our strength as a people has consistently been, and will forever continue to be, pertaining to our culture, our art, our precious heritage. Although, it is somberly observed it has fell prey to certain meddlesome souls.
Kashmir has always remained a symbol of esteem for great musicians, artists, scholars, and teachers. Enormous contribution in terms of art, culture and music can be found everywhere. Sadly, less information is available about most of these contributors, especially Kashmir’s music artists. The main problems are the lack of a proper platform, funds, education about our music, and also, the hindrance in the promotion of our art and culture.
A musician explains the problems that the community faces: “It’s extremely difficult to make a living with any artistic job in today’s economy, but what’s challenging is getting by solely on music. India is celebrated for being rich in its cultural diversity. The country easily offers music by independent artists in almost over a hundred languages, but there still are a set of problems all musicians face. The problem for regional music is that the crowds who entertain independent music consider regional to be complete nuisance. The attempts of fusion are shunned off with claims of hypocrisy. A very small amount of people appreciate the effort put in. The others maintain that it is nothing but a waste of time. Every artist struggles immensely while pursuing their dream. It, more often than not, leaves one mentally disturbed, and most musicians give up and some go into a downward spiral of depression. For someone who plans to pursue music, the path is filled with questions of self-doubt. When people ask what is it that I do for a living and I respond saying ‘music’, they always ask me about my “real” job. And this is a common scenario for all musicians. I have a job like everyone else, and that is to conceptualize and deliver good music!”
Even well-established music bands face challenges. The lead singer of a music band in India explained to me, “The independent music industry is not streamlined at all. The number of production houses that support music is miniscule.”
The road for every artist across sectors is full of thorns and bumps. Some major hustling is a part of the job description, if artists are to carve a niche for themselves in the creative sector. For us Kashmiris, the problem is compounded. The very first challenge that our culture is facing is the way it is ceasing to exist gradually. The young generation of Kashmir is not aware of just how rich our culture actually is. The assault of the terrorists is resulting in scarcity of the chances of our art to stay alive, with no one to take it forward.
The Terrorists Have Oppressed Our Arts
The changes that the deadly conflict has brought to Kashmir’s socio-cultural scene were highlighted when 16-year-old teenager from Srinagar and Dangal heroine Zaira Wasim was attacked on social media. Many criticized her for choosing a job that was “unislamic” and for “collaborating” with India, the enemy state.
“Male and female artists from both Pandit and Muslim groups flourished in Kashmir before the insurgency broke out,” said a veteran actor and director living in Srinagar. When over a dozen cinema talkies became popular in the Valley, Kashmiri filmmakers produced their first full-length film, Mainz Raat (The Night of Henna) in 1964, a romance written by Ali Mohammad Lone, starring Mukta and Hafiza Kausar. Even though Kashmiri cinema failed to take off due to a lack of state support, Kashmir remained the hottest location for Bollywood shoots with stars like Sharmila Tagore and Saira Bano until the late 1980s.
A senior film director in Srinagar says, “Kashmiri television artists blossomed as well.” Kashmiri society admired and applauded melody queen Raj Begum and acclaimed singer Shameema Dev, who frequently appeared on television.
“Even though there was a conservative segment of society and fundamentalist organizations in Kashmir before the violence broke out in 1990, there were roughly 50 well-known actresses,” said a Kashmiri television producer who did not want to be identified. Lassa Koul, Director of Doordarshan Srinagar, was one of the first artists attacked by extremists. He was assassinated by Pakistan- sponsored Islamists in February 1990 while he was visiting his ailing parents. The hospital walls where his body was taken were plastered with callligraphic graffiti saying, LA SHARQIA LA GHARBIA, ISLAMIA ISLAMIA!
Soon after, almost a dozen Kashmiri girls were shot in the legs for wearing slacks and denim or leaving their heads uncovered, in defiance of the dress-code diktat. Terrorist organizations Al Fatah, Hezbollah, and the Allah Tigers – all issued threats.
Cinemas were closed, and they are still closed today. Shamima Akhtar, a TV actress, was assassinated for working in a “unislamic” and “immoral” profession, according to militant groups. Most private schools have made wearing the hijab a requirement. Abaya, a robe-like clothing formerly unknown in Kashmir, and burqa, a rare garment, became commonplace.
“When we were trying to revitalize the television and art industries in Srinagar in 1995, we couldn’t identify a single female artist. We were compelled to travel to Jammu, where the majority of Pandit performers had relocated. Things did, however, improve with the passage of time. In the Valley, we now have around 100 female actors,” a television producer stated.
A TV actress from Srinagar who has been a household name in Kashmir for the past 15 years admitted in an interview to Times of India, “For the kind of job I’ve been doing, I’ve never faced any societal pressure or public rage. I believe it’s because I’ve always worked with the end in mind, keeping my society’s sensitivities in mind,” she stated.
Terror Attacks on Media
The murder of senior journalist Shujaat Bukhari, editor-in-chief of the English daily Rising Kashmir, in broad daylight, shocked the entire media fraternity in the Valley—and had them wondering whether the killers will ever be brought to justice. Bukhari is not the first journalist who has fallen to the bullets of unidentified militants in Kashmir. So far, none of the killers have been caught and punished.
I have spoken of the killing of Lassa Koul in 1990. In April 1991, Muhammad Shaban Vakil, editor of the vernacular daily Al-Safa, was killed in his office in Srinagar city. In September 1995, Mushtaq Ali, a photojournalist with the AFP wire service, was killed in a parcel bomb explosion in the office of Yusuf Jameel, then BBC correspondent in Kashmir. A burqa-clad woman had delivered the parcel bomb at Jameel’s office in Srinagar’s Press Enclave.
On January 1, 1997, Altaf Ahmad Faktoo, an anchor of the local Doordarshan Kendra was killed. On March 16, 1997, freelance journalist, Saidan Shafi was killed in Srinagar. In February 2003, Parvaz Muhammad Sultan, who ran a local news agency, was killed in his office, again in Srinagar’s Press Enclave.
Throughout these years, the artists and media persons of Kashmir have faced tremendous oppression by terrorist organizations. They have also been forced to provide them with ransoms and other sorts of funds as well.
Our culture and the people trying their best to revoke and preserve it are in immense danger. These terrorist organizations are a threat to our heritage, as well as its protectors. The situation in the valley is uncertain and tense. During these trying times, the remnants of culture become especially important in bringing communities together and facilitating social relations. Our heritage is the foundation to our unity; legends are evidence. We must beseech for it to revive. We refuse to remain broken and bloodstained.