The notion of being a “male” stems from an anatomical perspective. It does not include other parameters that identify, define, and recognise gender dimensions within people who exhibit specific physical anatomy that qualifies them to be biologically “male.”
In bio-medical terminologies, a “male” is an individual who possesses specific biological characteristics usually defined by their sex.
Conversely, from a socio-cultural point of view, having mere physical and biological male traits does not necessarily qualify an individual as a “man.”
A striking difference exists between a “male” person and a “man” in Kashmiri society.
Our society constructs certain norms that expect certain behaviors and impose multitudinous norms on people that regulate the discourse of masculinity in Kashmir and determine the definition of “man.”
Some examples of these socially constructed notions include “being able to provide for the family,” “being head of the family,” “a person who never cries,” “ a person who can do hard physical labor,” etc.
These socially constructed notions, rather norms, are artificial and differ from place to place and context to context. This article explores the masculinity perspectives in Kashmir and aims to answer the question - How do we define a ‘man’ in the collectivistic and patriarchal society of Kashmir?
This will also aid in analyzing the social drivers that lead to its construct and retribution and elucidate a nuanced picture of its pitfalls.
The socio-political power dynamics have played an essential role in determining the indicators to define individuals and identities in our societies. Kashmir is a geographically sensitive, volatile, and important region for three big nations of the sub-continent. It is often termed a “battleground” because of its ongoing conflict and instability, exposing it to vulnerabilities of insurgency and fear.
The most predominant masculine trait that qualifies a male person as “man” in Kashmir is the feeling of being strong or powerful, both physically and mentally. As such, the words “power” and “strong” are almost synonymous with the word “man” in Kashmir, therefore, deducing the qualification of man as “a person who holds power and is strong.”
However, this definition is dependent on the changing dimensions of power, for example at the macro level, “Power” from one perspective may refer to being ideologically or politically associated with a ruling entity that holds influence over governance, accountability, and decision-making mechanisms.
In contexts like Kashmir, where socio-political systems continue to be male-dominated, it strongly influences how men are perceived and defined in our societies.
Consequently, such power dynamics also percolate at household levels (micro-levels) where a person who makes the decisions or ‘calls the shots’ is considered powerful and thus declared as “Gharuk Khandaar” (the man of the house).
Given the day-to-day situations in a conflict-prone zone like Kashmir, male members of the families are expected to be the guardians or protectors of the family. This notion of being “the protector” induces authoritarianism within a person and a sense of power that imposes unimaginable expectations on male members.
The most common of which is being the provider and, in many contexts, the sole provider or earning member of the family. In such circumstances, to qualify as a “man,” a person has to be a protector, provider, and regulator of the family.
Kashmiris live in a collectivistic society where cohesiveness and collectivism, or belonging to a particular group (faith, sect, class, caste), has co-existed for centuries. Kashmir has a history that is deep-rooted in religion and religious beliefs. It is home to people of diverse faiths, making it vulnerable to religious radicalisation and sectarianism.
There is no denying in admitting that the socio-political leadership in Kashmir has been dominated by men for centuries. Compounded with rigid orthodox beliefs and the society-induced expectations of becoming a “man,” coupled with strong intergenerational religious beliefs, often put men in positions where they resort to controlling the other, primarily female, members of their families.
This adds another socially constructed masculine trait for qualifying as a man: “he must control and regulate the female members of his family.”
Culturally, Kashmiri men are expected to make decisions regarding, and take care of the female members of their families. If the father, the chairperson of a family, passes away, the elder son is expected to take his place. This includes and adds responsibilities to providing for families, arranging a marriage for siblings and themselves, and then providing for their own nuclear family.
This situation is amplified in some contexts. Due to the socio-cultural and gender norms that restrict female mobility, women and girls are not allowed to attain education, work, or pursue their careers. They are instead married away early so that they can “handle” their in-law’s place, often referred to as “panun ghar” (own home).
Consequently, if there are no male members in the families, it entails invisible suffering and layers of vulnerabilities. Such circumstances put females in a boxed-in state and make them vulnerable to gender-based violence rampant in Kashmiri society.
At the same time, it also adds layers of burden upon men putting them in unreasonable circumstances having to live up to the socially constructed masculinity. Men who fail to achieve such socially constructed qualifications are taunted, shamed, ostracised, and isolated in our Kashmiri society.
From a gender perspective, “man” is an umbrella term that envisages individuals who identify as male, irrespective of their sex and fidelity to social constructs. Our definitions of “man” require diversity, acceptance, inclusion, and tolerance.
Our society needs to be open to the diverse identities and talent that both men and women possess, be acceptable and inclusive to those who do not fall under the socially constructed normative definitions, and be cognisant of the minorities.
I hereby call upon young Kashmiri professionals to reflect on the topic of masculinity and gender because a nuanced understanding of masculinity in Kashmir will not only aid in improving the mental health outcomes in Kashmir but will also empower women and girls.
School, Darasgah, and Madrasa teachers need to ensure that youth are not influenced by socially-constructed ideas or taunted, shamed, or emancipated to sustain in solitude. Finally, our society must promote women and girls equally as men as boys at all fronts of empowerment to achieve harmony, equity, and social justice.
Ateeb Ahmad Parray is a global health researcher who works in the areas of health systems and policy research with a focus on marginalised populations
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.