ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Gender Politics and Public Sphere

Shrines in Kashmir Valley

Shrines of Sufi saints in Kashmir are an important public space in the larger vacuum of spatial avenues for Kashmiri women. Shrines provide demarcated spaces and roles for women in its property and rituals, and facilitate religious education, socialisation, as well as political mobilisation. Despite being steeped in piety and devotion, mystic legacies and practices still pose as a relatively liberal alternative to the male-dominated public sphere in the valley. Drawing on ethnographic research, this paper seeks to unpack the gender politics in a religious public space and its ramifications for our larger understanding of the public sphere itself.

Pragash, an all-girls band from Srinagar, was widely condemned for its participation in the Battle of the Bands, a local rock band music competition. The grand mufti of Jammu and Kashmir, Bashiruddin Ahmad, issued a fatwa against the band stating that singing is un-Islamic (Indian Express 2013). While the girls were compelled to retract upon this ruling, male participation in such music festivals and other programmes continues unabated. This was not the first time that the competition was being organised, but the first time when a girls’ band participated in it. While criticism against the state is rampant in Kashmir, we fail to see such outrage over gender discrimination.

In this paper, I look at the complex intersection of gender and religion in the public sphere in Kashmir Valley, focusing on shrines. In particular, I examine the nature of spaceprovided by shrines, as public institutions, to the women of Kashmir. Spatial settings profoundly impact a woman’s notion of (her)self and her location in society. Likewise, it is in the negotiations of space and its intersection with gender that power and struggle are discreetly positioned. While this paper endeavours to demonstrate that shrines can proliferate women’s access to public space, it also illustrates that these religious places maintain their own gender patterns. This paper has emerged from my doctoral research project, fieldwork for which was conducted from mid-2018 to late 2019. Insights presented here are based on ethnographic research in different shrines and mosques in the valley, and critical discourse analysis.

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Updated On : 4th May, 2021
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