Culture, beliefs, values and mores are what we get from the continuous use and disuse of principles of living and interacting. If we go by popular perception, the subcontinent as a whole is multifaceted throughout its length and breadth. Whether it is social, cultural or physical dimension, the subcontinent is diverse. Kashmir being a segment of this huge geographical entity has not lagged behind from being a blend of dissimilarities and distinctiveness.
Jammu and Kashmir as a heterogeneous amalgam has individualized social and cultural aspects. The three regions – Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh with respect to the religious dominations of Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism have flavours of their own with one contrasting from the other.
As far as Kashmir is concerned, it is the Muslim dominated or Muslim majority region and has an imprint of Western Asian culture including the Persian culture. Kashmiri cuisine, eating habits, ways of living, dress and language all have the influence of the West Asian settlers and their culture which over the time got mixed with the local Kashmiri culture thereby creating a social and cultural rainbow presenting different shades. The source of this confluence is what we know as Kashmiriyat.
In consequence or thereupon, what we are using, what we are following from the very past is nothing but continuous exposure of Kashmiri’s to the foreign elements and subsequent adoption of the same. One thing that is atypical about Kashmiris is that they are arduous believers and open to change.
Taking religion as an example, the Valley that is believed to be Hindu dominated hundreds of years ago readily accepted the new faith with the arrival of Islamic scholars. The spread of religion and teachings in Valley was brisk with the majority endorsing it. Kashmiris were always clear hearted.
The winds of colonialism also touched Kashmir’s soil after engulfing vast region of the Indian subcontinent. Gradual acculturation of western values snowballed into a conflict, a thorn that pricked the societies as occidental.
There is no doubt that technological and industrial revolutions in the west raised the standards of living, the overall life style of the people that were also endorsed by third world countries. They are treated as elites there by imitating or self imposing upon themselves almost every facet of non indigenous lifestyle.
Kashmir valley could not shield itself from these influences and they also got injected in its social and cultural DNA. The fact should never be denied, that accepting any scientific or technological boon should be morally and ethically permissible. This means, if we are modernised with the use of technological innovations or with any kind of positive happening from the west is to be accepted, yet not at the cost of our own culture. Quoting Japan, the most developed and in fact modernised state in Asia, surely not westernised, has never let the western cultural intrusion modify its inherent cultural image.
With the dawn networking and increased connectivity with the rest of the world as a consequence of globalisation, the Valley too has not been immune and has witnessed social and behavioural shift, especially among youngsters who constitute the largest section of the global consumerism. The young have been inspired by western ways of living which is evident from their inclination towards fast food, lifestyle changes, dress sense and mannerism. These changes are not intrinsic to Kashmir’s culture and are perceivable inklings of a habitual social shift. It has its side effects too like educational values taking a backseat, the generation gap widening between elders and youngsters, forces that were more guided by a sense of respect and compassion which have come to an end. Alcoholism and drug abuse that are becoming rampant were not part of this culture and indicate the change. New generation have entirely different role models or icons not in conformity with the indigenous culture or the fine blend that has been hallmark of this society.
Many people still like to refer the Valley as abode of saints and scholars. We have lost on spiritualism and cultural ethos is no surprise. Our core philosophical, religious, spiritual and ideological leanings have undergone a change. For good or bad, the Kashmiriyat is losing its hold and a part of our cultural heritage has been restricted to historical structures, khanqahs, waning architecture, shrines and relics.
It is very painful to see the cultural threads that were woven in thousand years being picked apart one by one. The need of the hour is to think and act. Somewhere in the global rat race we are shedding our cultural hide. If we lose the battle of identity we simple will pass on as anonymous people. The choice rests with all of us.