Kashmir: we love you, we don’t love your mini-skirt

July 5, 2012

Imagine this: some tourists, from India and abroad, fly to Jammu and Kashmir, and are eager to escape the confines of Srinagar airport and to get themselves a lungful of that pristine Himalayan air.

Upon arrival, they are advised to visit the official clothier’s outlet of the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department before they hit the
streets. They need to make a stop there so they can shed any “objectionable” attire and don a traditional pheran to respect the “local ethos and culture” of India’s northernmost state.

Don’t like it? Go home.

It’s an impossible scenario in most parts of the world, but this idea — already the norm in conservative Saudi Arabia — is something that the Kashmiri religious group Jamaat-e-Islami, would like to import to Jammu and Kashmir.

The Jamaat fears that tourists wearing mini skirts and other objectionable dresses could derail “the [Kashmiri] society from the right track.”

Labelling tourists’ clothing, which often veers to the casual and the revealing (it’s hot out there when you’re visiting five monuments a day!) as “cultural aggression against the Kashmiri Muslims,” the group has accused women tourists wearing short dresses, mini-skirts and other skimpy attire from the West as agents of “immorality and immodesty”.

The Jamaat says it doesn’t welcome these immoral guests, and has asked the tourism department to tell tourists to “honour the local ethos.”

The tourism department says such restrictions will discourage tourists.

Jamaat-e-Islami, meanwhile, has promised an “angry reaction” if women continue to dress in their slatternly wardrobe.

The group’s premise seems to be that the length of a woman’s skirt is the best indicator of her morality. For the patriarchal Jamaat, men’s integrity is either unquestionable or is not measurable by the tailor’s tape. They would be, of course, helpless to prevent their moral barriers from giving away when confronted with a bit of kneecap and thigh.

The idea, the group says, is that Kashmiri Muslims are the host, and that guests should abide by the moral codes of their hosts. But what about the traditional idea that a host should make his guest feel at home, even if it means doing things a bit differently than the host normally would do?

This, after all, is what Muslims have asked for upon emigrating to countries such as France, which have angered Muslims by trying to restrict the kind of clothes they can wear because they amount to overt displays of religious affiliation.

At the argument’s root is a fear that conservatism is like a beach or a sea wall, constantly under the threat of erosion because of relentless, neverending waves. Such would be the liberal ideas imported in the laps of revealing skirts and other “inappropriate” clothing. Let’s not forget that in many religions, people consider their faith and their ideals like a rock. They are strong and can stand wind and rain, lasting with little change for thousands or millions of years.

If the Jamaat’s ideas and faith are so strong, and the people of Kashmir so steady, shouldn’t they be able to withstand at no cost to their own serenity the latest gaggle of tourists from Delhi or New York?

(Interact with Sankalp on Twitter @sankalp_sp)

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