By Farooq Wani
The rich and fascinating culture of Kashmir is famous throughout the world, and the traditional warmth of its people along with the wide range of art, craft, theatre, literature and music greatly contribute to the unmatched wealth of Kashmiri Culture. The region is also known for its religious diversity and the harmonious blend of various cultures and faiths.
Kashmir Valley is called the Land of Sufis and rishis [saints] because of the exceptionally large number of mystics who have graced the region. ‘Kashmiriyat’ [way of life and unwritten code of conduct in Kashmir] is an offshoot of the visionary thinking of these sages who are revered across the land by Kashmiris of all religions, be it Kashmiri Muslims (Both Shia and Sunni) Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmir Sikhs as well as people of other faiths residing here. In Kashmir, people may pray to different Gods, but they all have unconditional reverence for Sufis and saints.
For the last three decades, Kashmir has been a victim of a proxy war being waged from across the Line of Control (LoC) and the ongoing armed conflict has not only taken a very heavy physical and psychological toll, but has even adversely impacted the age old local ethical, social and cultural values on which the Kashmir community prided itself.
The main victims of this social and moral degeneration are the young girls and boys who comprise almost half the population Kashmiri. Whereas the continuing armed conflict in Kashmir has resulted in many transformations at the micro and macro level with disastrous consequences on everyone, lives of children have been adversely affected the most due to a feeling of insecurity, disruption in schooling, displacement and other hardships that one finds only in a conflict zone.
Living in a violent environment inflicts physical and psychological trauma on the youth spawning negativity amongst them and this in turn promotes an aggressiveness. Though civil administration and the army in J&K are working hand in hand to help the youth in getting over this self-destructive mindset, but unfortunately, some vested interests are hellbent on exploiting such vulnerable minds by inducing the youth to take the path of violence. Thus, greater effort needs to be made by the civil society to prevent the youth from ruining their lives by falling into the trap of unscrupulous people.
Due to the continuing violence in Kashmir, there has been an unprecedented surge in psychosocial abnormalities amongst people. The number of psychiatric problems like depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) amongst Kashmiris have also increased manyfold and has manifested as aggressive attitude and viscous social behaviour, which is threatening the very fabric of Kashmiri ethos and culture.
Incidents of social evils like eve teasing, domestic violence, dowry deaths and acid attack on girls, which were a rarity before armed conflict erupted in Kashmir, have today become commonplace. There has also been a phenomenal increase in substance abuse amongst the youth and the most disconcerting part is that even young girls are falling prey to this menace. Though the authorities have stepped up efforts to stop drug trafficking and established rehabilitation centres to help substance abusers, overcoming the drug menace is only feasible if the social stigma attached to it is removed.
Religious radicalisation in Kashmir is another very serious problem. The prevailing practice of not standing up against the despicable practice of propagating a violent religious discourse by intentionally misinterpreting theological teachings is creating an intolerant society in Kashmir. The present narrative of the terrorists is based on the false notion that Kashmir’s identity is under attack and that people can only be ‘true’ Muslims if they oppose liberalism and democracy. Countering such a false narrative that promotes hatred and intolerance is the crying need of the hour.
It’s also very important to note that operations against terrorism can only treat the symptom but not eradicate the cause and so, military operations and confidence buildings initiatives by the UT administration must go hand in hand. While this is happening, achieving the end results is a time-consuming process and as such it must be ensured that there is no let up in these joint efforts. Public participation in this campaign is a positive sign and needs to be encouraged wholeheartedly.
The positive side is that despite the challenges, threats and prevailing negativity, the youth are doing their bit to help usher in normalcy in Kashmir and for this they deserve credit. It’s for the civil society and elders to ensure that an environment that enables youth to address community issues is created and could include opportunities to affect change to the local education system and support localised entrepreneurial capacity.
Efforts to support the role of youth will be more effective if they are complemented by transparent efforts to resolve the political dispute keeping in mind genuine and justified concerns of the Kashmir people, and this will improve the situation on the ground. Civil society and the people of Kashmir must strive to prevent youth from destroying their future by making them understand that nothing positive will ever come by following the path of violence.
A sustained campaign must be immediately launched to win over the ‘hearts and minds’ of Kashmiri people, assuage their feelings of hurt and neglect and restore their bruised and battered dignity. Even though it’s an undisputed fact, yet the people of J&K still need to be convinced that their future lies with India.
Democracy in India gives its people the right to follow their religious beliefs; the problem arises when these beliefs are misused by some to raise passions and bring about a divide in the social fabric of society. Such attempts need to be challenged with all possible means, especially so, in a sensitive region like Kashmir. A conscious effort has to be made to change the negative perceptions that some segments of the Kashmiri society harbour due to relentless propaganda by vested interests. The leaders and elders of the region need to take initiative in this direction.
(The author is Editor – Brighter Kashmir, TV commentator, political analyst and columnist. Email:—–firstname.lastname@example.org , Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).