Lack of Global Outrage Over India’s Attempt to Ban Traditional Kashmiri Dress is Gravely Disappointing

The vindictive acculturation of Kashmir and international double standards

Imagine the global outcry and especially the outcry throughout the wider Muslim world and also among international supporters of the pro-Palestinian BDS movement if Israel had unilaterally prohibited Palestinians in the occupied territories from wearing the Keffiyeh – the scarf that is an international symbol of Palestinian culture? Needless to say that the outpouring of justified outrage from Ankara to Kuala Lumpur and beyond would be seismic in such a situation. And yet Indian officials have taken the equivalent move against Kashmiris living in parts of Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) by banning civilians from wearing the Pheran in certain public offices and courts. According to the order issued by a Zonal Education Officer(ZEO),

“All the officials visiting this office are advised to visit with proper dress code during any official visit. It is recommended that no official will visit this office wearing ‘Feran’ (sic), traditional trousers and sleeper/plastic shoes (sic)”.

The Pheran cloak is not only a symbol of traditional Kashmiri attire but it is a very practical way of keeping warm during the winter. In no way is the Pheran a piece of military attire and nor has the Pheran’s design been altered during the present struggle of modern Kashmiris. In fact, the cloak’s design predates the establishment of the foundation of an independent modern India by centuries.

While the issue has exorcised the feelings of many Kashmiris who have expressed their outrage on social media, the wider world has ignored the story in ways that would be almost unthinkable if occupied Palestinians faced a similar situation at the hands of their Israeli occupiers. Thus, while Palestine has little political support from the wider world, at least the plight of Palestinians is highlighted by many international media outlets. In respect of Kashmir, outside of certain Pakistani sources, the psychical suppression of Kashmiris and the acculturation of Kashmiri culture by IOK authorities remains substantially ignored.

By banning the Pheran in public facilities throughout Kashmir, the IOK authorities are inflicting punitive acculturation on an entire civilian population in retribution for recent acts of indigenous resistance against the heavily armed and thoroughly repressive occupation. In many ways though, the IOK authorities are treating Kashmiris in the same condescending way that Muslims and other minorities in India have been treated under the rule of the governing BJP – a party that now finds itself on the back-foot ahead of next year’s general election after receiving an electoral bloody nose in this month’s state elections.

Yet while for some observers, the banning of the Pheran will be interpreted as a cheap electoral stunt to boost the popularity of the BJP among its hardcore Hindutva base, the banning of traditional Kashmiri attire is in the broader sense, part of an encompassing trend of anti-minority and specifically anti-Muslim acculturation that is part and parcel of the BJP and RSS mentality.

India’s Decline From Secularism Into Religious Sectarianism 

The modern borders of India do not precisely correspond to those of any one of the many sovereign entities that arose in south Asia over the millennia. Instead, today’s India in terms of its political geography was shaped by the modern Partition of British India which began in the summer of 1947. Because of this, India like its neighbours share many of the same historic sovereign antecedents. This has resulted in a rich mix of contemporary cultures, archaeological cultures, religions, architecture, art and literature. Owing to the reality of this rich living tapestry of history, it was decided that India would be established as a secular democratic state where no single ethno-religious group would be constitutionally predominant over any other.

This contrasts with the modern history of Pakistan (including what was East Pakistan) which was founded on the basis of being a specifically Islamic welfare state, albeit one with constitutional protections for non-Muslim minorities.

Yet while India’s secular democracy still exists in theory, in practice extremist Hindu groups that at both regional levels and now at a national level are threatening to erase not only the history of important periods in India’s development that were shaped by Islamic characteristics, but in so doing, the forces of political Hindutva are erasing the cultural and religious identify of millions of modern day Indian citizens.

Today, the greatest victims of acculturation and oppression in modern India are Indian Muslims – particularly those in northern India. Northern India remains the political heartland of the ruling political faction BJP as well as its allied paramilitary group RSS. The year 2002 remains a watershed in the post-colonial history of India as it was then in Gujarat state that a violent pogrom was instigated against Muslims leaving up to 2,000 dead. Most worrying, the Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2002 was a man called Narendra Modi who is now India’s Prime Minister. Many witnesses to the violence in Gujarat continue to assert that Modi’s state government as well as police and other public authorities intentionally allowed the violence to spiral out of control when clearly it is the duty of any government to quash violence and enforce an orderly rule of law.

Earlier this year, the rape and murder of eight year old Muslim girl Asifa Bano by a Hindutva gang further shook India to the core, not least because Hindu extremist organisations took to the streets to rally in defence of the accused rapists rather than the innocent child victim. When two BJP ministers attended rallies in support of the accused, it became clear that sectarian politics and hated specifically directed against Muslims was now ingrained at the highest levels of state.

While the Asifa Bano case was a particularly shocking event, the sexual assaults on Muslims by male Hindu rape gangs is becoming an increasingly common and in some parts of India, a culturally normalised phenomenon. In the years since the BJP formed the current Indian government, the rise of so called “cow protection mobs”, the phenomenon where gangs of extremist Hindus attack and often lynch Muslims accused of eating or trading in beef products, has also skyrocketed. In many cases, the Muslim victims of murder and vicious assault were simply targeted for being Muslims rather than for having anything to do with butchering cows, selling or eating beef.

The contemporary assault on Muslims in India however is not just limited to the mob violence which is clearly sanctioned by elements of the ruling party and their far-right allies. The historic city of Allahabad in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has recently been the site of controversy after the BJP’s Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath decided to unilaterally rename the city Prayagraj. This is a clear attempt to erase the history of the Mughal Empire which incidentally was the pre-1947 independent sovereign entity which came closest to uniting all of what was now India during the early modern period.

One of India’s most internationally famous monuments, the Taj Mahal was built on the orders of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as an Islamic shrine for his wife. While Indian tourism associations promote the Taj Mahal as one of the country’s top destinations, the Archaeological Survey of India have now taken the decision to prohibit Muslim pilgrims from worshipping in the Taj Mahal’s mosque on every day of the week except Friday.

This attempt to de-Islamify one of the world’s most recognisable Islamic shrines is yet another attempt to erase Muslim history and specifically Mughal history from the collective consciousness of modern India.

Contextualising Hindutva Theocracy 

While India still purports to be a constitutionally secular republic, the political power that Hindutva groups hold over both the national government and many state governments collectively means that much of the large nation has descended into a Hindu theocracy by proxy. While India made crucial economic reforms in the 1990s that have helped the economy to grow, much of this progress is being undone by a BJP government that focuses more on achieving electoral victories by stirring sectarianism than by approaching domestic economic issues and the issue of trade with neighbouring states in a rational and forward looking manner manner.

Conclusion 

While some outlets are running reports that the ban has been rescinded in the aftermath of public outrage, the fact that IOK authorities would even attempt to propose such an acculturating move is symptomatic of the fact that IOK authorities act as though they can get away with both literal murder and the metaphysical murder of cultures that resist a 71 year long occupation.

However little help Palestinians have from the outside world – Kashmiris sadly have less.

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