The execution of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in April 1979 on orders of Pakistani dictator, General Zia ul Haq had a far reaching repercussion in Kashmir. Jammat Islami, an Islamist political organization patronized by General Zia faced the public ire as properties of its members were burnt down and many were beaten up mercilessly. The Quran with interpretations by the founder of the Jammat, Maulana Maududi was also burnt in some places in South Kashmir. Jammat blamed National Conference for instigating violence.
Kashmir had witnessed similar incidents in the past. In 1973 a group of people reacted aggressively against the pictorial depiction of the Prophet (which is against the basic tenets of Islam) in an old children's book at a library in Anantnag. The year 1963 witnessed the Moi-Muqaddas crisis over the disappearance of a strand of hair which was believed to be that of the Prophet. Allegedly Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed who had earlier been forced to resign as the Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir under the Kamaraj Plan had engineered the incident.
The recent sex abuse scandal has also evoked strong reactions in the valley. The alarmists in the Indian intelligentsia quickly created the bogeyman of 'Islamic radicalization' of the Kashmiri society. This article argues that though Islam has been used tactically by both politicians and the public at critical junctures of history; the Kashmiris have fervently resisted the 'Talibanisation' of the society.
The violent reaction to the sex abuse scandal was limited to certain pockets in Srinagar. Though there was outrage in other parts of the valley too, it did not cause significant disruption in the public order. However, the indictment of public personalities ensured extensive media coverage of the issue. The outrage was out of a sense of loss of traditional Kashmiri values that accords high respect for the honour of women and not due to concern for the orthodoxy and dogmas of Islam.
The unrelenting media coverage to a few rampaging burqa-clad 'Dukhtaran-e-Millat' cadres notwithstanding, there was a genuine sense of anguish and frustration in every household. The subsequent reactions did not acquire a communal flavor despite most people involved in the unfortunate incident being Muslims. In fact the resentment was stronger in the case of Ahmed Mir than Raman Matoo. Islamists like Asiya Andrabi commanded parents to resist giving mobile phones to their daughters and urged women to don burqas. Not surprisingly, these instructions were instantaneously rejected. Women in Kashmir are very progressive in their outlook. All the symbols of present day consumerism like mobile phones can be seen in Kashmir. Kashmiri women were unperturbed even at the height of acid-threats by groups like Allah Tigers and later Lashkar-e-Jabbar.
Paradoxically, the opposite has happened. Intensive Islamisation according to the alarmist perspective would bind women to home and hearth. However, in the last 15 years an ever increasing number of Kashmiri women have chosen to pursue education, even if it entails traveling out of Kashmir.. A visit to Srinagar or other major towns reflects the increasing visibility of women who travel alone on buses and trains. Though it cannot be suggested that women in Kashmir enjoy all liberties, yet they have managed to acquire greater freedom even in the face of conservatism.
Moving away from its effects on women as a marker of the level of Islamisation, how has the general population responded to efforts of religious puritans to 'cleanse' the Kashmiri society? In general such an effort has met a failure. The ban on cinemas is a case in point. Though cinema halls were forced to close in the early nineties, Kashmiris did not stop watching films. There was in fact a spurt in the sale of Dish Antennas, and subsequently cable subscribers followed with the mushrooming of CD and DVD rental parlours all over Kashmir. It is remarkable that despite an arguably anti-India sentiment in the valley, no campaign against Indian cultural products as symbolized by Bollywood could be sustained. Long beards, and raised pyjamas, the anti-thesis of current fashion trends in India do not find favour on Kashmiri streets either.
Kashmir has always been sensitive to issues related to Muslims the world over. Increased global interconnectedness and faster dissemination of information within Kashmir has become a key factor determining Kashmiri reactions to anything from the Danish cartoon controversy to Pope Benedict's recent remarks on Islam. Radical Islam has been confined to the discursive level and has not materialized into concrete social reality. Kashmiris did not burn churches in the face of the recent controversy, and majority of parents did not evince any interest in the call for the boycott of Christian missionary schools, While politicians may use Islamist rhetoric, at the popular level, radical Islam remains divorced from national aspirations and therefore unacceptable.