Cringe not creativity: Are Kashmiri social-media influencers normalising misogyny?

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The image of a Kashmiri woman is being trivialized in reels, videos, skits in the name of creative freedom.

Sehrish Hayat couldn’t take it anymore when a certain “singing sensation” resorted to mean and malicious name-calling of women in the name of “spreading laughter in a depressed place like Kashmir”. In disgust and discontent, she deactivated her social media handles and went offline to “retain her sanity”.

The aspiring architect was getting annoyed with the “rampant abuse” in reels and videos for some time now. The threshold came when a young songster denounced Kashmiri women as “she-devils”.

“And yet,” Sehrish wonders, “the song is being celebrated by many dimwits as some amusing anthem. Even young girls are grooving over it.” Celebrating cringe, she adds, has now become a ‘cool’ thing in K-internet. “It’s fine to create a laugh-riot with cheap thrills, but targeting women is offensive.”

Like Sehrish, several voices are now ringing in the virtual world calling out these social media influencers for their misogynistic content and capers.

In the recent past, Kashmiri netizens stormed in reaction to an ‘entertainment video’ that overnight attracted the attention of audiences across gender and age. The social media satirist was pushed to apologise after his “excuse me” track “denigrated and hurt” the sentiments of the community. 

“The image of a woman is being targeted for ages,” says Mehnaz Ali, a Srinagar-based lecturer. “But now, she’s being targeted by social media influencers in their songs, reels, videos or dramas etc.” 

Beyond this online noise and nuisance, people of Kashmir have always been fond of local talent. They’ve showered their love and appreciation upon artists who made them giggle during some trying times. Comics like Nazir Josh aka Ahed Raaz in their prime were the icons of comedy in the valley. But then came a lull, before a new crop of comedians appeared on social media. 

Drawing parallels between new and old comedians of the valley, Dr. Ayash Arif reckons that the old-timers would produce powerful content without denigrating women.

“Social media is an important as well as powerful medium of communication, but if handled wrongly, it can portray a very wrong image of women,” Arif, a noted Kashmiri TV artist, whose comic-chemistry with late Shadi Lal Koul would create a hit prime time show during Kashmir’s Doordarshan days. “Editorial control over camera and content is much-needed.” 

Despite veterans issuing caveats over new-age “creativity”, women continue to face slurs in amateurish videos being produced for garnering “views and likes”. Some recent songs like “cxale cxale cxale” and others—openly resorting to name-calling—are now feeding social media and getting popular amongst youth. 

“This viral trend is exposing our community’s mindless content consumption habits now,” reacts Rutba Khan, a media scholar. “We need checks and balances. You can’t just produce spiteful content and pass it off as entertainment.” 

But not everyone seconds Rutba on the need of having filters on social media. Some of them defend the controversial content in the name of freedom of speech. 

“In Kashmir,” says Mehvish Qazi, a young music artist, “we already have a lot of curbs and curtailments on content. And now, if an artist’s voice will be gagged, then we’re only choking our creative space even further. An artist only shows the image of the society and creates music as per its taste.”

But Ayash Arif isn’t convinced with the idea of resorting to name-calling in the name of “creative freedom and space”.

“Artists should show the mirror to society, but it’s their responsibility to respect the intelligence of people,” Arif says. “We need to understand that our Kashmiri audience is in gloom. They’ve seen tragedies after tragedies. So we must be sensitive while producing content for them.” 

But free-streaming of misogynistic content defies such mindset. Instread, a raw and impulsive social media diatribe is targeting Kashmiri women. 

“It’s nice to see young Kashmiris giving vent to their creativity, but they need to be sensitive towards society’s sensibilities,” says Akhtar Hamid, a TV artist.

A Doordarshan veteran — “the one who anchored the ship abandoned during the hostile situation” — Shabir Mujahid reckons that social media satire should be handled with care. 

“During my period of working in theatre, artists would focus on social themes,” says Mujahid, who retired as deputy director general of Doordarshan. “But now the show is mostly driven by social media and the content produced is devoid of humour. I believe political infallibility is one of the reasons for this unprofessionalism.”

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