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MARGINALIA: The two way mirror
By Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal
The inspiration behind Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s belated support to the ‘dress code’ diktat for tourists, much after its inventor Jamat-e- Islami has apparently disassociated itself from the remark and chief minister Omar Abdullah has called it a creation of the media, is not known. That only reinforces the belief that the issue is not as simple as it appears. Obviously, the Jamat-e-Islami’s backtracking and rhetorical tone down from ‘dress decently or don’t visit’ to ‘just an appeal to tourists’ has a genesis in the adverse feedback. Though responses of Kashmiris remained muted and as varied as could be; it were more those connected with tourism who found the ‘diktat’ appalling. To say that the dress code theory had no supporters in the civil society would be a blatant lie. Word had been abuzz much before JeI’s brain-wave on the social networking sites about need for tourists to dress up and behave more decently. But it never was an emotive issue, even though certain traits of some tourists have not augured too well with the locals, culturally or otherwise – drinking habits for one, western dresses to a much lesser extent. Some also felt intimidated by Amarnath yatris clinging on to their lathis, a symbol associated with a firebrand Hindutva organization, long after their pilgrimage is over and they are holidaying in Srinagar. Many Kashmiris are also aghast at the way some tourists behave mirroring the occupationist mindset of the security forces, looking upon the locals with mis-trust or some kind of lesser mortals. However, despite the disdain, dress codes are neither a popular demand nor find any kind of a universal approval in Kashmir.

So why is it that nobody opposed the dress diktats? That has been the usual grouse aired by people across the country through national media and social networking sites. People in Kashmir, by and large, are very well politically educated and have also faced the brunt of a stifling atmosphere, having been sandwiched between the guns from both sides for two decades. While their political consciousness makes them wary of any oppressive diktats – be it the anti-veil diktat of France or the veil diktat anywhere else, they have found their own ways in the last two decades to oppose such diktats without speaking out. Sight cannot be lost of the vehement opposition to the burqa threat by Dukhtaran-e-Millat, way back in 1990s, when militancy was at its peak and the level of fear psychosis far higher than it is now. Kashmiri women refused to succumb to the threat, even though they made no such public noises. They simply refused to adhere to the burqa norm. The violent conflict, with its intricate mesh of unknown groups and agencies at play and fear as a dominant factor, has made lives of ordinary people so fragile and vulnerable, that the saner elements have found their own silent ways to resist against issues that are deemed complicated and sensitive. The Jamaat-e-Islami flip flop on the issue is an obvious indicator.

At the same time, reasonable requests for decent behaviour by tourists should not be a basis of much ado, provided they do not come in the form of diktats from religious and political groups. After all, many tourist places across the globe expect tourists to follow certain dress codes. In many shrines and places of worship, tourists wearing dresses above their knees are forbidden. Tourists in many places across the globe are advised to adhere to local cultural norms or respond to cultural sensitivities while moving out. So why deem the entire affair as some kind of Talibanisation? Equally, passionate Kashmiris angered by the behavior of tourists need not put the onus of any kind of ‘cultural onslaught’ and moral degradation only on the visiting outsiders. There is also need to look within. There is enough moral degeneration – from corruption to crime rate – which has not seeped in from outside.

Recently, Kashmir’s famous rapper MC Kash created quite a stir on the facebook, much before the Jamat-e-Islami ado started, with his following request to tourists:

"Dear Tourists,

Please don't take our kindness for our weakness. And will you please tell your daughters not to dress so immodestly, and also do tell your fellow travelers to not to litter and piss wherever they like. Our Streets are Sacred.

Your lovin' host,

A Kashmiri."

While the popular young musician may not qualify as any misogynist, as he is being accused of, one would like to question the high moral ground he takes as a Kashmiri of only questioning the tourists for littering and pissing. Kashmir’s notorious garbage dumps and littered streets are not simply the making of visiting outsiders. And, just outside my office in Press Enclave, a usual embarrassing scene is a row of fellow Kashmiris urinating by the minute. Is the piss of a Kashmiri any holier than a fellow traveler from outside?

News Updated at : Sunday, July 15, 2012
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