Javaid Beigh


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Unbeknownst to most, Zaira Wasim has become a fairly popular cinema actress in People’s Republic of China. Her popularity in the Chinese audience, surpasses that of all Hollywood and Bollywood actors including Raj Kapoor and Amir Khan. Zaira Wasim’s two movies – “Dangal” and “The Secret Superstar” took the cinema by storm all across China and made her the most popular global actress in the history of Hindi language cinema – a feat not achieved by any Indian actress.

Her debut in two movies that went on to earn nearly Rs.3000 crores ($U.S. 400 million), catapulted her to the list of the most successful Indian cinema performer. These two movies released in one year earned as much as what 20 movies of leading Bollywood actors like Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar would earn in a decade. The fact that Zaira Wasim played strong and powerful characters in her two movies that show-case women achievers in the fields of sports and music made Zaira Wasim a source of inspiration for millions of girls from all over world over.

And yet despite all these accolades and achievements, Zaira Wasim’s recent decision to renounce the world of movies citing her matter of faith was widely welcomed and greeted with joy all across Kashmir valley. While no one questions Zaira Wasim’s right of making a choice for her future endeavors, serious questions are however raised over the reaction of Kashmiri society bordering on regressiveness. The society has unfortunately moved, very far, it seems on the path of unwarranted conservatism and religious fundamentalism that regressive actions are now being celebrated as “landmarks”. At a time, when great

societal changes are happening all over the Muslim world ushering Muslim societies towards more secular, progressive and liberal values, Kashmir valley is unfortunately slipping into backward, regressive and socially conservative values, which historically were never a part of traditional Kashmiri Muslim way of life.

The Kashmiri society, which widely celebrated Zaira Wasim’s renunciation of her movie career seems to have ignored the fact that many Muslim nations like Islamic Republic of Iran, Egypt, Indonesia, Uzbekistan and Pakistan have vibrant movie and entertainment industries where Muslim actresses have been performing for decades. Within Kashmir valley itself, we have had glorious history of women Kashmiri poets, singers and performing artists from the times of legendary poetess Habba Khatoon to modern day singing legend – Raj Begum. How can we even forget Kashmir’s traditional “rouf” dance performed by our women folk on all celebratory days including marriages and Eid. And yet, this is the same Kashmir that few years back made a “controversy” out of Kashmir’s first all-girl rock band called “Pragash”, forcing it to draw curtains on its musical endeavor.

The rapid rise of religious fundamentalism, social conservatism and regressive behavior have completely changed the image of Kashmiri(s) outside Kashmir valley. Many Kashmiris who travel around the world now complain that world community at large including many non-Kashmiri Muslims perceive Kashmir valley as a regressive Muslim enclave similar to Afghanistan.

At a time when cinema halls are being opened even in Saudi Arabia and many Arab and Pakistani Muslim actresses are making their mark in Hindi film industry, which remains hugely popular in Muslim Arab world, Central Asia and Indonesia, news like that of Zaira Wasim portrays Kashmir in an immensely negative light as a socially backward, regressive and medieval society that abhors modernity in favor of rigid and puritan version of religiosity.

What is even more surprising and hypocritical is the fact that Kashmiri society, which celebrates and welcomes acts of social conservatism (willing(ly) or unwilling(ly)) impacting Kashmiri women, the same Kashmiri society maintains graveyard like silence over the declining status of Kashmiri women, who grapple with the violence of the conflict, rising crime, poverty and also the rise(ing) of social conservatism.

The crime against women has skyrocketed in all districts of Kashmir valley. In Srinagar city alone more than 500 incidences of crime against women were reported in 2018, which include 266 incidences of molestation and rape and 127 incidences of abduction and kidnaping. Districts of Budgam (324 cases), Baramulla (245 cases) and Anantnag (233 cases) were not far behind. According to women activists, these reported cases are just tip of the iceberg of thousands of unreported incidences like that of eve teasing of Kashmiri women and girls on buses, trains, parks, schools and other public places, which has become an epidemic of sorts.

An estimated 4000 to 20,000 drug addicts in Kashmir valley are Kashmiri women, most of whom are school and college going girls. Furthermore, Kashmir is grappling with a crisis of large number of women having crossed marriable age. In Srinagar city alone, more than 10,000 Kashmiri women are believed to fall under this unfortunate category. Furthermore, desperate

poverty, destitution and not having any earning male member in the family has driven thousands of Kashmiri women to earn their living as sex workers in cities like Srinagar, Jammu, Chandigarh and Delhi. Worst of all, large parts Kashmir valley have seen rapid fall in sex ratio as large number of girl child are being aborted during pregnancy with the help of unscrupulous doctors.

All this has led to an air of despondency and rise in suicides by Kashmiri women. In 2017, Srinagar’s premier hospital SMHS reported nearly 600 cases of suicides, mostly by women from all parts of Kashmir, who undertook the drastic step due to such reasons as harassment by in-laws, eve teasing, rape & molestation, poverty etc.

When the apathy shown by Kashmiri society towards the plight of Kashmiri women is juxtaposed with its celebration of social conservatism like that in Zaira Wasim’s case, which further pushes down the social status of Kashmiri women and presents Kashmir valley to the world as a regressive, radical and backward enclave – then we as a Kashmiri society need to ponder which direction Kashmir is heading in modern day and age, when many Muslim societies in other parts of the world are once again espousing modernity, secularism, liberalism and progressiveness.

The writer is a Political Analyst / Strategist and an aspiring Politician. [email protected]

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