By Zulfikar Majid
The trend of wearing Hijab (veil) is growing in Kashmir, especially among working women and students, over the last few years. The trend is in a more modern and happening way as women adopt to Hijab purely out of choice with slight add-ons.
This is in contrast to the Kashmir of nineties and last decade when militant outfits would ask women to adhere to Islamic dress code and use force to impose their diktats. In 1999, two girls had to be hospitalised after they were fired by militants for wearing jeans. In early nineties, Aasia Andrabi chief of radical women organisation Dukhtaran-e-Millat had launched a campaign in Kashmir, forcing women to wear “Burqa” (veil).
However, this time around women are opting for Hijab on their own will. Ufaaq, a university pass out, who wears bright blue coloured headscarf and dons a Pakistani Kurta with floral designs over chic jeans says she opted for Hijab out of her own choice. “The trend of wearing Hijab with jeans is fashion and within the limits of religion. Most of my friends prefer to wear the combination of jeans and colourful scarves. It looks cool,” she told Deccan Herald.
Asked what has prompted her and her friends to wear Hijab, she said: “Several girls find Hijab trendy. Some admire it as it frames their faces and others are simply relieved that they don’t have to worry about how their hair looks all the time.
“When I joined University, in my class six out of 13 would wear Hijab. While I and three others had been wearing it since college days, the rest started it in the university. But once we passed out, almost all girls started wearing fashionable Hijab,” she added.
While Purdah (veil) is considered as a fundamental part of Islam and it ought to be as simple as it could be, Kashmiri women can be seen making a style statement out of it in the Valley.
The Hijab wearing girls defend blending both western and Muslim cultures. “What is wrong if you look fashionable? If you wear fashionable attire within the limits of religion, there is no harm,” says Shazia, who teaches in a government school.
“The attire has to undergo a change so that we can keep pace with the fast modernising society. I started wearing Hijab out of my own choice during college days. But, I wear it only over jeans as otherwise it looks very medieval,” she says.
The rising inclination of Kashmiri women towards Hijab in a modern way is seen as following in the footsteps of women in the Middle East. “I have been to Sharjah, Dubai and other Gulf countries several times where most women wear Hijab over jeans. The same trend is fast catching up here as more and more young girls in Kashmir are combining Hijab with western outfits to look fashionable,” Shazia adds.
A survey carried out by Kashmir University’s Sociology Department reveals that 66 per cent of women in the Valley have voluntarily adopted Hijab while 31 per cent did it after being persuaded and a mere three per cent did it after being forced. The survey done in 10 districts of Kashmir in 2013-14.
It reveals that 69 per cent of women who practise Hijab were employees in government and non-governmental sector while 27 per cent were students. “As many as 92 per cent of women interviewed during the survey revealed that they practise Hijab due to religious reasons while 3.75 per cent said they wear Hijab due to cultural reasons,” the survey reveals.
Kashmir’s leading sociologist Prof Bashir Ahmad Dabla says that general impression had been created in the country that Muslim women who practise Hijab are usually illiterate, dogmatic, irrational and backward.
“Same impression had been created among Kashmir women. But Hijab practice in Kashmir has created no serious hurdle in the functioning of day-to-day normal social life. There seems to be no co-relation between Hijab and backwardness and illiteracy. Rather there is a correlation between Hijab and education and progress,” he told Deccan Herald.
Dabla says that Hijab was prevalent in Kashmiri society from earlier times after conversion to Islam in 14th century. “But it has increased tremendously in the past few years and this new trend can be explained in terms of exogenous and indigenous developments,” he says.
Elaborating it, he said, while the indigenous refer to educational, economic and political developments in the state, exogenous refer to political, religious and other developments in the Muslim world, particularly in Iran. “This trend represents a self-initiated effort and was not imposed by force,” he added.
Dabla says that prevailing political and religious conditions in Kashmir have supported the practice of Hijab. “While this practice in continuity has influenced the entire way of life, it involved women of all classes, groups and communities in Kashmir,” he added.
Asked to comment on Kashmiri women blending both western and Muslim cultures, by wearing both Hijab and jeans, Dabla said: “Jeans and Hijab don’t go in contradiction to each other. It is just like driving and Hijab. Modern Hijab styles provide them a freedom to look different in accordance with the religious obligations.”