kashmiri culture and westernization

Bounded by the scenic Himalayan Mountains, Kashmir, also known as Pirvaer (land of Sufis and Saints), is famous for its majestic scenery. Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Muslims live here, with Muslims being the majority. Despite the religious divide, however, they live with a common identity called Koshur.

 Besides for its obvious beauty, Kashmir is known for its rich and diverse culture. Kashmiris are a humble, peace loving people and, above all, they are known for being very hospitable with an almost zero-percent crime rate against tourists1. But for all its uniqueness, Kashmir is caught in a battle of cultural genocide and globalisation-induced westernization. Let me tell you about Kashmir.

The language of Kashmir is called Kaeshir. A very beautiful language belonging to the North-Western group of the Indo-Aryan branch of Indo-European languages. It is the largest of the Dardic languages with seven million speakers around the world 2.

Kashmiri culture is also reflected in the clothing of its people. The Khan dress or “Pathani suit” topped with a Sadri (waist coat) is common for men. Shalwar with traditional Kasaba (headgear) is the popular attire of women. Pheran (a knee length, loose cloth, similar to a cloak) is common between all men, women, and children. Pherans are not only worn in winters, but are also used to cover the body; for centuries, they were worn by Kashmiri women as a sign of modesty. The pherans worn in summer are made out of light fabrics in accordance with the heat.

But unfortunately, through foreign pressed papers and our digital screens, westernization has slowly crept into the minds of young Kashmiris, as it has done with the cultures of many other regions previously. In the face of enforced cultural genocide from its neighbours, this loss of cultural identity is more severe now than ever before. These days, you can only ever find a Kashmiri wearing a  Kameez Yazar (Khan dress) on Fridays. The pheran which has its unique and simple design has also been given a western touch. People now prefer to wear pheran that must resemble an English coat. Some don’t wear a pheran at all. Today, it’s deemed as an old dress worn by old people.

The loss of a strong identity isn’t only psychologically damaging; besides being philosophically nonsensical, you only need an ounce of brains to see how ludicrous the entire trend is.

The steady death of Kashmiri handicrafts is something I find mind boggling. It was, at one point, a symbol of Kashmiri tradition renowned across the continent for its unique quality and design. Today,  a negligible number of people in Kashmir practice this magical art. What’s really strange to me is that if people actually took up the occupation, it could help in boosting the fragile economy and making Kashmir self-dependent. The craft is still in demand and would’ve had  a positive impact on international markets in representing Kashmiri culture. But the work requires patience, time and deep love with culture to create a masterpiece; it would seem as though today’s youth have none of these. Somehow we prefer unemployment and wastes of time on social media and gaming over a meaningful and honest craft.

یَہْ طرظِ مَغرِبْ شکر ژِ با سٲے

 رلێتھ چھُ اتھ منٛز ذہر جوانؤ

Ye tarzi maghrib shaker xe basyoi..

 raleth chi ath manz zahar jawanoo..

The style of west that you find sweet and attractive,

It is actually a poison disguised as a sweet for you, oh young man.

This is a Kaeshir couplet. This beautiful language is worst hit by westernization. It is gradually leaving our homes. Kashmiris now feel shy to speak in their native language. People, especially the youth, often raise their decibels only when it comes to speaking in Urdu or English. And if someone speaks kashmiri in a public place, they are assumed to be illiterate. Moreover, over the past few decades, a new trend is being witnessed in Kashmiri families: most parents raise their kids in an environment where they prefer to speak in English and Urdu; the child is barely taught a single Kashmiri word. Almost everyone judges you with a predetermined set of prejudices if you don’t call your parents mom and dad; you’ll be the old fashioned typical Kashmiri guy. Earlier, we called our parents babaa (dear Father) and mouji (dear Mother). With the leaving of our language, our culture and customs like respect and love for the elders have left too.

I have a funny story from my childhood. My parents wanted me to meet Dr. Parveena, a fellow Kashmiri, of course. Dr. Parveena was the first person who held me in her arms and welcomed me to this world. There was nothing that stopped me from meeting the doc, except a strange and a very funny condition. Her condition was that I must be fluent in English. If I had to meet her, I had to speak in English with her. It’s been more than 20 years now, and I still haven’t met her. Sure, it sounds funny, but in Kashmir, it is a matter of pride if your child can speak English. If the child isn’t comfortable with the English language, it is a shame for its parents. 

One’s culture is one’s identity, and language is like an ornament to that identity. When a people of any region start feeling ashamed to practice their traditions, it’s a telltale sign of a more serious problem: that they are mentally caged and therefore the end of their authentic identity is near. They can never attain freedom until they rediscover their roots; a feat easier said than done. If we feel ashamed of who we are, then it is the end of our being. And so the people can be easily suppressed and defeated.  

It is a harsh reality but we need to say it as it is: us kashmiris are gradually getting caged in westernization; our culture and identity are under constant threat. It’s pathetic that we give more respect and honor to a person who is dressed like a hip-hop dancer over the one who chooses to stick to modesty and their culture – no, the latter are labeled as illiterate.  In our times of rapid globalisation, the youth should be active and proactive in contributing to preserving our culture. These signs are a wakeup call to our youth; like we have one chance to save our ‘climate’ I’d say we have one chance now to save our culture. There is an open war ongoing against native cultures in the contemporary world, whether or not we want to admit it. The choice is ours: do we give in, side with the oppressors or do we stand up for our identity?

This is my story in Kashmir. I’m sure you have your own wherever you’re from. And your dilemma is probably the same as mine. So what will you choose?


1 Greater Kashmir, one of the leading newspapers of Jammu And Kashmir, on March 7, 2019 quoted “According to a report of Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), there has not been a single incident of crime against foreign tourists, including females, while 284 such incidents have been reported during the period of past two years in other states of India”. Same such statement was also quoted by The Indian Express on 23 Feb, 2019 which read as “J&K only state with zero crime record against tourists”. 

2  “Abstract of speakers’ strength of languages and mother tongues – 2011” (PDF). Retrieved 2 July 2018. The precise figures from the 2011 census are 6,554,36 for Kashmiri as a “mother tongue” and 6,797,587 for Kashmiri as a “language” (which includes closely related smaller dialects/languages).

Copyright © 2021 Shahid Shabeer Malik

About the Author

Shahid Shabeer Malik is pursuing Computer Engineering in Delhi India. He is from kohru, Langate, Kashmir. His write-ups can be found at asnaav.com and inversejournal.com.
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