Rethinking Culture: Towards Development of the Shia Community of Kashmir

By Shugufta Mir and Nousheen Fatima

A culture of opulence and extravagance plagues South and East Asia. It is common knowledge that the religions of the East advocate judicious spending in all matters but it has been observed as to how culture trumps this in practice. A point in case is the lavish affair that weddings turn into. The same practice is observed in all sub-cultures as frivolous expenditure is equated with community prestige. As the relationship between religion and culture is reciprocal, religious systems are locked in a circle of mutual influence with social norms and patterns of social organization.
Religion plays a vital role in the cultural life of different spaces. It is deeply rooted in people’s experiences and influences the socio-economic and political direction of societies. All world religions maintain male social dominance within societal structures and women are more inclined to participate in religious life.. The status of women in society is an outcome of the interpretation of religious texts and of the cultural and institutional set-up of religious communities. Within this inquiry, two categories of culture are particularly relevant, social culture and individual culture.
Social culture pertains to people’s forms of social organization-how people interact and organize themselves in groups. Ideological culture relates to how people think, value beliefs and hold as ideals. The borderlines of a culture will not necessarily be coextensive with the constitutional realm, different cultures may co-exist concurrently. There may be a diversity of culture on the basis of ethnic or religious differences, hence within the constitutional realm there may be a dominant culture and minority subcultures or there may be a mosaic of subcultures. There may be diversity of institutional cultures within the constitutional framework. Even in religiously or an ethnically homogeneous society, the cultural norms may vary at the levels of family, workplace and state.
Beyond the constitutional realm, there is a developing international or global culture. This global culture is on the one hand generated by states and on the other is increasingly determinative of the limits of state power and states constitutional culture. In this system, gender equality or inequality may be accepted conceptually same in subcultures. In practice claims against gender equality have been made largely underneath one of the monotheistic religions-Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The distinctive script of monotheistic scriptural religions is clear. They have a conical text with authoritative interpretations and applications, a class of officials to preserve and propagate the faith, a defined legal structure and ethical norms for the regulation of daily lives of individuals and communities. Religion is hence an institutionalized aspect of culture with bureaucratic institution that is focal point for economic and political power with the society.
Culture and religion are frequently treated as different categories in some ways; nevertheless in the context of the defense against human rights principles, they also have much in common, religion as a part of culture must both influence and be influenced by social and ideological culture. In contrast to the claim to religious freedom, cultural difference is often asserted at abstract level. Gender perpetuated by patriarchy varies from one culture to another. The differences are due to cultural legacies, historical development, geographic location, and last but not least the religious norms which predominate in society. It is apparent that the study of the status of women in religion also reflects the status of women in society as a whole.
Within secular states, religious sects are often a haven against social and cultural change and act as a barrier against rationalized and scientific explanation. The Shia community has a common culture of mourning throughout the globe in the months of Muharram and Safer which has religious sanctity. But beyond this culture, there is a prominent “culture” in Shias of Kashmir which is commonly known as “Marsi Khaniyas”. As both the authors belong to the Shia community thus they could act as participant observers. “Marsi Khaniyas” are not celebrated in the months of mourning (Muharram and Safer). These two months have religious sanctity of celebrating such gatherings. The writers have a question in mind: Do these “Marsi Khaniyas” have any religious logic or is it a ritual only established by culture? Does it provide any minority consciousness or helping in building selective consciousness of belonging to (molvi suhabi, Aga suhabi, Abassi)?
The majority of women belonging to the Shia community of Kashmir inherit the traditional value system. Mostly women are socialized under such a culture. What kind of development has it given to them? These gatherings are characterized by huge spending of money. Is this very particular part of culture like “Niyaz’’ “tabarook” “sadka” etc.? How such spending is fruitful to the community?
One of the authors , working on status of Shia women has found that rate of literacy among Shia women in Kashmir is low as compared to state literacy rate. Only 24 percent of women are occupying modern occupations.The phenomenon of“status discrepancy” was commonly recognized between spouses. The “status consistency” among spouses is absent in the community. There is desperate need of marriage counseling cells in the community, skill development centres, yateem trusts, and educational institutions in the name of “Hussani”instead of these “Marsiyas Khaniyas”. The said work on the status of Shia women has thrown a spotlight on the sub-culture, and consequently, the community, is stagnantly a homogeneous system, bonded, isolated and stubbornly resistant to any social change that knowledge should have brought about. So let us join hands to rethink, reflect on and reshape our culture. The money which we spend on these established cultural rituals should be spent on and for the development of the community to make it a part of the global culture at large.

—The authors are Doctoral scholars at the University of Kashmir. They can be reached at: and