Shujaat Bukhari is a Srinagar-based journalist. Currently Editor-in-Chief of Rising Kashmir, a Srinagar-based daily, he has in the past been Bureau Chief of The Hindu. Shujaat has survived three assassination attempts during his challenging career. He did his Masters in Journalism from Ateneo de Manila University, Manila as a fellow of Asian Centre for Journalism, Singapore. He is a recipient of the World Press Institute (WPI) USA fellowship and Asian Centre for Journalism Singapore fellowship. He is a permanent fellow at both institutions. Bukhari has also been a fellow at East West Centre at Hawaii USA. Quite a fellow!
The Ramadan Effect
Come Ramadan, life in Srinagar and other parts of Kashmir valley shifts gear. Markets close by early evening, traffic disappears and people head indoors to break the fast. Life virtually comes to a standstill with people rushing to loudspeaker-fitted mosques in the wee hours of the morning. Hardly anyone can afford to miss the prayers. The longest spell of prayers known as Taraweeh is the last part of obligation the Muslims have in this month. With Ramadan falling in the summer with longer days, this one takes a longer time and ends only by 11 pm.
This Ramadan though, is a first in many aspects. Kashmiris have been braving the toughest Ramadan this year – sixteen hours of fasting and sweltering heat. After 30 years the long fasting days have returned as the Muslim calendar recycles with 10 days difference every year. “We are having long days and the scorching heat is unbearable but we are happily fasting”, says a young student Mudasir who is fasting for the first time in life.
What is now becoming more interesting, and can be noted very evidently in the Ramadan months, is that in the last 21 years Kashmiri society has witnessed a change in the mindset of youth who are moving closer to religion for attaining spiritual solace. More and more youth are thronging mosques with headgears akin to those used in Arab countries. “We are Muslims and following the basic principles of Islam shapes our identity as Muslims. Summer or winter does not come in the way of keeping fast when your faith is unshakable”, says Mujtaba Ahmad a college student.
A recent survey conducted by the Union Home Ministry suggested that more and more youth are turning to adopt Islamic ways in Kashmir. It maintained that the media was playing an important role in shaping them up like this. The study, a perception survey of media impact on the Kashmiri youth, has come out with a key finding that 61 per cent of the Valley’s youth are listening to religious sermons while 58 per cent are those who listen to Bollywood songs. http://iriis.in/pdf/IRIIS-REPORT-Media-Impact-on-the-Kashmiri-Youth.pdf
This year is also the first time the people in Kashmir are debating the issue of toning down the volume of loud speakers in the mosques. Many of them feel that putting them on high pitch is against the spirit of Islam and infringes upon the privacy of a person who prefers to invoke Allah’s mercy in solitude. On facebook and twitter the debate has intensified with the majority opposing the use of loudspeakers except for Azan (a call to faithfuls). However, there are traditional clerics who think that it’s necessary to use them to involve people in the exercise of seeking God’s mercy even if they are at home. The debate is, however, raging.
Ramadan brings changes in the schedules of life in Kashmir. Until July 21, when the blessed month began, Srinagar was host to scores of conferences with people from different parts of India cooling off in the relatively cool environs of Kashmir. All the conference centers were full of guests and most of the committees of Parliament would make Srinagar their favourite destination to discuss the implementation of various schemes. But the arrival of Ramadan has brought everything to a grinding halt.
Organising public lunches and banquets is not prohibited in case it is for non-Muslims, but the atmosphere in Srinagar is such that even the government avoids such an exercise to show respect for the month. The official meetings in Civil Secretariat are missing the cutlery at the tables as all the meetings go dry. In case there are non-Muslims in the functions or meetings, food is served to them, thus keeping the spirit of not “punishing others” alive.
In this month the shopping standards are also different. People make special purchases of dates with a special affinity for Arabian dates which generally come from outside. Since Kashmiris are known mutton-eaters, the sales of mutton and chicken increase manifold in this month. Use of firni (a sweet dish) is also common during this period as is the variety of fruits and juices.
But not much has changed for tourists here. They continue to enjoy hospitality and no restriction on their movements. Srinagar’s Boulevard is the busiest street in the evening, with tourists moving around and enjoying the beauty of Dal Lake. In tourist spots such as Gulmarg and Pahalgam, Ramadan and the brisk tourist season go hand in hand. Religion does not come in the way of economics in Kashmir, but for the locals the lifestyle surely changes.
Image Source: [http://www.flickr.com/photos/kash_if/2894425771/]