August 2001 News

Militants want Islamic Code in Kashmir, but flay acid attacks

11 August 2001
The Times of India

Srinagar: Militant Muslim groups in Kashmir condemned on Saturday another outfit that sprayed acid on two unveiled women this week in a drive to impose the Islamic dress code even as a campaign to tackle rising ''immorality'' among Kashmiris gained momentum in the state.''People should get hold of these people (attackers) and teach them a lesson,'' Salim Hashmi, spokesman for Kashmir''s dominant separatist group the Hizbul Mujahedeen, said. ''Our group will not tolerate crimes against women,'' he said. A previously-unknown militant group, Lashkar-e-Jabbar, took responsibility for the attack on Wednesday, saying it was the beginning of a drive to impose an Islamic dress code on Kashmiri women. The attackers sprayed corrosive liquids that can be bought at local stores on the skin of two local Muslim women, accusing them of being ''immodestly'' dressed because they were not wearing veils. The women were treated in hospital and discharged. Hizb and other major militant groups have dissociated themselves from the attacks, while urging Muslims to follow Islamic practices. Hashmi said the attack ''is the work of anti-movement forces, who are out to undermine our armed struggle.'' The Pakistan- based Lashkar-e-Taiba also condemned the attack and warned Saturday of ''dire consequences'' for the attackers. ''Our group believes that people should adhere to the principles of Islam, particularly in these hard times,'' a spokesman for Lashkar-e-Taiba, Abu Marsad, said. ''But we will not insist on men to sport a beard or women to use a veil.'' The acid attack has sparked fear among the state''s women and triggered a debate about freedom of choice. ''The veil should be a woman''s choice, not her compulsion,'' said Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, head of the influential Kashmiri political-religious group, Jamaat-e- Islami. ''Motivation yields result, force doesn''t.'' Ahsan Untoo, chairman of non-governmental Human Rights Front, agreed. ''There is an urgent need to educate the people to desist from acts signifying a degradation in morality,'' he said. ''But it needs a peaceful campaign and not coercion.'' However, the campaign appeared to be gaining momentum, as other acid attacks against unveiled women were reported and posters appeared in mosques urging people to make their women wear ''decent'' dresses. Reports from southern Pulwama district said men were growing beards and women had started to use veils. Shopkeepers in Lal Chowk, the main street in Srinagar, Kashmir''s summer capital, said sales of black silk used for making a veil or long robe, had increased, with a corresponding fall in the sale of see-through clothing. ''Over the past two weeks the demand of veil silk has increased,'' said one shopkeeper. And over the past fortnight, young men have been appearing in the mosques to tell people to follow an Islamic way of life. Even the local imams have joined the campaign. Friday sermons are directed at what is seen as a ''rising immorality'' among the Muslims in Kashmir, and need for remedial measures. ''Dresses our women are wearing indicate the day of resurrection is not far away,'' roared the voice of an imam over loud hailers in Srinagar''s Ahle Hadees mosque on Friday. ''For Allah''s sake please follow the Islamic dress code and save yourself from falling in hell fire.'' The campaign has some support. ''Who so ever is enforcing the veil is doing a great service to Islam in Kashmir,'' said Tanveer Ahmed, a college student. Muslim militants in Kashmir have banned beauty parlours, liquor shops and cinema halls in the territory since armed militancy broke-out in 1989. It has claimed at least 35,000 lives.


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