Today, it is not just the incidences of throwing acid on girls that are now becoming the “new normal” in Kashmir, but the Kashmiri society has been facing a myriad of social issues that point to the overall social collapse of Kashmiri society. The epidemic of drug abuse, the plague of eve-teasing in public spaces, especially in modes of public transport, the harassment of girls and women outside schools and colleges are some of the other “new normal” that have become part of contemporary Kashmiri society. It is clear that Kashmir’s turn towards religious orthodoxy has neither stopped nor dented the Kashmiri society’s continuing fall into moral decay.

While it is true that Kashmiri Muslims have today become outwardly more religious than their fathers’ generation, with Kashmiri Muslim men wearing long Islamic beards and nearly all Kashmiri Muslim women wearing Middle Eastern Hijabs, such religion-driven changes in attires have largely been cosmetic only. Kashmiri Muslim society may have adopted the easier part of showing off their religiosity, but they have not exactly absorbed the spiritual and moral teachings of the faith. Many Muslims from other parts of India and the world often point out that Kashmir looks unusually religious with every second man showing off an Islamic beard and every second woman adorned in Hijabs.

I think a big part of the problem lies in the fact that Kashmir’s former secular social fabric has been torn apart.

The forced exodus of the Kashmiri Hindu Pandit community has had a devastating impact on the Kashmiri Muslim society as members of the Kashmiri Pandit community used to be moral conscience keepers of the entire Kashmiri society. By driving them out, Kashmiri Muslims lost the disciplinarian glue that kept all Kashmiris intact in ethical and moral bond.

Orthodoxy and the rise of a puritan and conservative version of Islam also disturbed Kashmir’s former, more liberal, moderate and progressive character, which used to promote healthier artistic and cultural endeavours such as songs, music, dances and more. With the rise of puritan Islam, many of these cultural activities along with their more modern manifestations like theatre, movies and so on, have gone into decline as they clash with orthodox norms of conservative traditions of Islam. What is even more disturbing is the fact that even Kashmir’s pluralistic and colourful Sufi Muslim traditions which are full of celebrations, songs and dances have also come under attack of orthodox religious influences, all of which have aggregately created a disturbing impact on the collective social behaviour of the Kashmiri Muslim society, which has become regressive and has gone more and more inwards.

Such catastrophic social changes that took over Kashmir in the last three decades with the start of militancy in the 1990s not only broke down Kashmir’s carefully crafted net of moral values fabricated by centuries of interactions between Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims, but it also paved way for the rise of religious radicalism and social orthodoxy, which along with instability caused by nearly three decades of violence has had a devastating impact on the social behaviour of ordinary Kashmiri citizens. The subsequent rise of social evils like the growth of drug menace, eve-teasing, the harassment of women and so on, is only a manifestation of this ongoing societal collapse.

There is, however, still a chance to come out of this rapid social and moral decline that Kashmiri society has been facing for the last three decades, the most important of which is to embrace modernity, secularism, progressiveness and liberalism- the kind of values that used to define Kashmiri people before 1990.

Kashmir gave enough chances to religious orthodoxy and that has only made things worst by shrinking the space for liberal and moderate thinking, and turning Kashmiri Muslims into hypocrites, who would wear the hat of religion during the day and then indulge in irreligious activities at night in secrecy.

Kashmir’s younger generation needs modern, progressive and scientific counselling and approach towards various behavioural interactions. The modern youth of Kashmir should not be shackled by the bonds of religious orthodoxy, which often leads to irrational and criminal behaviour. Kashmir’s futile tryst with conservatism and social orthodoxy has only pushed Kashmiri society further deep into the abyss of mental stagnation. We need to guide our youth of Kashmir towards modern, secular and moderate values that used to be hallmarks of a happy-go-lucky Kashmiri of the past, who was honest and morally strong.