J&K: Doda degree college students reject religious polarisation attempt

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Doda govt degree college students (Photo: Official website of Govt Degree College Doda)

Just the other day, a young Pakistani girl in the city of Lahore went to an eatery wearing a modest dress embellished with the Arabic word ‘halwa’ all over in elegant calligraphy. As this word is used to denote something that’s sweet/beautiful, she wouldn’t have ever dreamt that her attire could possibly offend the religious sensitivities of anyone.

However, she ended up being surrounded by a menacing mob of men who, mistaking the Arabic word printed on her dress for verses from the Holy Quran, accused her of blasphemy and started baying for her blood.

Luckily, timely action by the local police prevented this incident from turning ugly and this saved the poor girl’s life. In videos of this incident, a mortified girl can be seen cowering as a huge mob of incensed people subject her to a verbal tirade.

The disturbing fact is that the large crowd of men offended by the Arabic calligraphy on the girl’s dress who were ready to take law into their own hands were so ignorant that they couldn’t even differentiate between Quranic Ayats [verses] and a completely unrelated single word in Arabic!

Though the poor girl who was targeted by the overzealous mob luckily emerged physically unscathed, her being made to record a public apology must have definitely left scars on her psyche and this sorry state of affairs proves that ultimately it were her hecklers who won!

However, such incidents of religious overreach aren’t limited to Pakistan alone. The advent of Pakistan sponsored terrorism in J&K during the late 80s saw a concerted effort by terrorists and the pro-Pakistan lobby to destroy the pluralistic Kashmiri culture by imposing fundamentalist ideology on the people. Cinema halls were bombed and self proclaimed ‘mujahids’ [Holy warriors] threw acid at the faces of women not wearing veil.

In his well researched book The Shadow War: The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir, Arif Jamal has quoted senior Hizbul Mujahideen [HM] commander Ghulam Rasool Dar while speaking about these acid attacks proudly mentioning that “We will make their faces so ugly that they will wear the veil even when they sleep.” [Emphasis added]. In 2001, Lashkar-i-Jabbar terrorist group which had very close links with senior Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani took responsibility for an attack on two women not wearing veils and warned that it had started a campaign to prevent “immodest dress among Kashmiri women.”

Instead of condemning these outrageous attacks, Asiya Andrabi, founder of Dukhtaran-i-Millat [Daughters of the Nation], an ultra-conservative Islamic group praised the assailants by saying, “We are indebted to these courageous men who have started a campaign for the veil in Kashmir.” While acid attacks did terrorise Kashmiri women, this highhanded and brutal approach to impose the veil on them caused such widespread resentment that it forced terrorists to discontinue such attacks. However, attempts to infuse fundamentalist ideology into Kashmiri society didn’t cease completely.

A decade ago, Kashmir Valley was once again shamed when an all girls’ three member band named Pragaash [Kashmiri word for ‘first light’ was forced to call it quits after their very first performance due to pressure from separatists and some religious preachers.

Hurriyat [G] chairman Syed Ali Geelani’s spokesperson Ayaz Akbar outrightly lambasted this band saying, “there are some values a citizen has to adopt to safeguard the ethical, moral and religious traditions. Though completely misplaced, such grave accusations of being responsible for moral and religious degeneration must have definitely terrorised the teenage girls of the band.

Kashmir’s Grand Mufti Bashiruddin Ahmad went a step further by terming music as un-Islamic and issuing a fatwa [religious decree] against the all girls’ band said, “Such trivial acts (singing and playing instruments) never develop society but are a first step to demolish its moral fabric. I am happy that the new generation has attained a pro-development and pro-religion stance but there are some girls treading on the path of destruction.”  [Emphasis added].

And herein lies the paradox!

Singing and music has been part and parcel of Kashmiri culture from time immemorial and many Kashmir women singers of yester years like Raj Begum, Naseem Akhter and Zoon Begum have done the community proud. So, by targeting Pragaash band, the separatists and some members of the clergy exposed their motivated agendas and abominable design of destroying Kashmir’s age-old pluralistic culture by unfairly drawing arts into the political and religious arena.

Thanks to the resilience exhibited by locals, attempts to polarise Kashmir Valley through radical ideology haven’t succeeded. While the situation in the Kashmir Valley has since improved a lot, unfortunately one still witness’s sporadic cases of motivated acts aimed at polarising society by arousing communal passion.

One such unfortunate incident occurred last Monday in Government Degree College in Doda district of J&K during a lecture on ‘motivation and women empowerment’ by local speakers organised by the Indian army. When one of the motivational speakers requested four boys and four girl volunteers to come on the stage for an interactive session, no burqa clad girl came forward.

To encourage girls wearing burqas to join-in, the speaker jokingly queried whether their hesitation was due to lack of confidence. His off-the-cuff remark made in the lighter vein succeeded in getting burqa clad girls to come on the stage amidst loud clapping from the audience. Moments later, a person running an obscure NGO who was present in the audience interrupted the interaction session and in a brazen attempt to give the proceedings an anti-Islam spin, by accusing the speaker of “targeting the burqa.”

However, to the interrupter’s chagrin, his plan to disrupt the programme by instigating a backlash from the audience failed miserably. As he was twisting facts and pretending to be fighting for those wearing burqas, a female in the audience shouted, “Sir, we can speak for ourselves. You don’t have to speak on our behalf.” [Emphasis added]. To add to the agent provocateur’s woes, the speaker asked the audience if they agreed with the allegation on the burqa issue being leveled by this person, the reply that came in unison was a big ‘No’, and this royal rebuff forced the embarrassed trouble maker to quietly leave the venue.

It’s unfortunate that some people with vested interests continue to incite fissiparous tendencies in Kashmir by poisoning young and impressionable minds to further their motivated agendas. We must guard against radicalisation so that Kashmir doesn’t go the Pakistan way where accusing innocent people like the girl in a dress with an innocuous Arabic inscription in Lahore for blasphemy without even caring to investigate is commonplace, thanks to self-serving politicians, religious leaders and the Pakistan Army under Gen Zia ul Haq who mainstreamed fundamentalism for their respective gains.   

The heartening part is that the youth in Kashmir is today more discerning and hence less likely to get emotionally blackmailed and fall prey to fundamentalism. And the exceptionally mature response of Doda’s young audience to the burqa ‘red herring’ thrown-in by a spoiler with dubious antecedents is rightfully worthy of a big salute!

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