Millennium Post

Veiled threats and mini-skirts

Let’s go to Srinagar, Kashmir, in western clothes – shout a group of angry youngsters on a social networking web site, in response to a statement issued last week by the Jamaat-e-Islami, a ‘not so important’ political party of Jammu and Kashmir while demanding that tourists should comply with shari’ah restrictions and dress accordingly. These youngsters are upset at being told how to dress and are planning to protest by wearing the ‘very’ clothes that this group seeks to proscribe.

Kashmir has witnessed an unprecedented peace for several months. This has encouraged a large number of domestic and foreign tourists to visit the Valley this year, but brash statements made by religious and political organisations can upset the calm of Kashmir and incite people towards harming tourism.

Jamaat spokesman Zahid Ali had said, ‘A guest is supposed to respect the sentiments of the host. Some tourists, mostly foreigners, are seen wandering in mini-skirts and other objectionable dresses, which are quite against the local ethos and culture.’

This statement seems absurd. It’s like saying that if you want to come to my house, you should be like me or else I won’t allow you to come! The Jamaat-e-Islami is neither the government nor a law enforcing agency. It does not in anyway represent the people of Kashmir. It is an Islamist political party. It is a fringe organisation that is largely ignored by Kashmiris. It is trying to create importance for itself through statements like these. There is no reason to go hammer and tongs over a statement from this group. It’s a balloon that must be pricked before it is allowed to float any higher.

In a larger context, the hue and cry created over the issue is bound to send wrong signals. One, the statement could have a cascading effect on the youth of Kashmir. Issuing statements like this is a misuse of the freedom of expression. Two, at a time when visitors are thronging Kashmir, the tourism industry is bound to be affected by statements like this. Tourists have just begun to visit Kashmir again.

The number of tourists has increased drastically since last year. According to tour organisers, this summer more than 20 lakh people have visited Kashmir. People from across the world are dying to get a glimpse of the Valley. Jammu and Kashmir is relatively underdeveloped as far as industries are concerned and toursim has been the mainstay of the economy. It has created many jobs in the state. By handing out such veiled threats about dress codes, the hardliners are seriously setting back that process.  

Also, as hosts, it becomes our responsibility to respect the individual freedom of the visitors. It is the prerogative of the visitors and nobody can force them to dress in a certain way.

It seems like this statement is directed primarily against women. It is highly hypocritical on the part of this group to dictate women on how to dress where men are allowed to dress in whichever way they like.

Moreover, tourists who visit the state are already aware of the sensibilities of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and they respect it. In any case, Kashmir has always had a culture of tolerance. It was always permeated by
ethos, which was relatively permissive and free. It is not likely that the local people will be upset by the sight of a few foreigners dressed liberally. There was a time when Kashmir was a highly sought after tourism destination. The local people are well aware of foreign tourists and their way of dressing. They benignly avoid being affected by this. Issuing a dress code is like a warning; instead of attracting tourists, it will deter them. Such cultural aggression will also take a toll on hundreds of Kashmiris who depend on tourism to earn a living.

The ball is now in the state government’s court. It must not only issue a strong statement assuring tourists that they will be safe, it will have to show with its deeds that it will not tolerate such vigilantism and cultural policing.

Neha Jain is a senior copy editor at Millennium Post.
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