Small Wars Journal

Hegemonic Masculinity & Gender Performativity – An Examination of Masculinity’s Role in the Radicalization of Kashmiri Men

Sun, 04/10/2022 - 12:00am

Hegemonic Masculinity & Gender Performativity

An Examination of Masculinity’s Role in the Radicalization of Kashmiri Men


By Lark S. Escobar


Kashmir article



            Gender performativity in Indian Kashmir reflects specific notions of masculinity according to behavioral expectations and ideals established through the prevailing patriarchal hegemony, which leads to violent extremism and radicalization of Kashmiri men. Patriarchy is the institutionalization that empowers certain men over everyone else in society, bestowing privilege upon that particular population through the systemic marginalization of women, ethnic minorities, or other protected-class identifiers (Segal & Walby, 1991). In other words, patriarchal hegemony propagates gender roles that maintain control over the feminine members of society. Because patriarchy is socially constructed on the basis of gender biases, various behaviors, roles, and social symbols may be construed as feminine or weak.  The gendering of types of labor, exclusive power-holding within the government, domestic violence, other violence, policing sexuality, and the objectification of women in the public sphere (the male gaze) are all products of hegemonic masculinity in Indian Kashmir (Mulvey, 1989; Segal & Walby, 1991). These indicators reflect the performance of masculinity as it is currently valued in the patriarchal context. 

In any society, masculinity is a socially-constructed phenomenon in which patriarchy is promulgated within and across social classes of that society (Carrigan et al., 2018; Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005; Shaw & Lee, 2019; Williams, 2020). This phenomenon necessarily privileges the dominant masculinity over other masculinities deemed to be feminine and often includes an element of homophobia and the objectification of women (Donaldson, 1993). Hegemonic masculinity is characterized by hierarchies of power that idealize brutality, toughness, and violence, as well as other indicators of social status, including wealth and power (Donaldson, 1993; Williams, 2020). 

Arguably, another fundamental element of patriarchal hegemony is performative masculinity. These are behaviors that men display to manifest their masculinity in society (Butler, 2006). These socially-prescribed behavioral ideals validate maleness among both men and women (Butler, 2006). These behaviors shift over time in tandem with the fluctuation of cultural developments and values. Such cultural changes also may be provoked in response to evolving power dynamics, such as colonization and decolonization. During the decline of colonization and the transition into decolonization in Islamic societies, particularly the Middle East and the Kabul-to-Kashmir belt, power dynamics shifted rapidly, resulting in cultural changes that sought to promulgate new norms of masculinity. The performance of these norms has created a social context ripe for the systemic oppression of women, the glorification of violence, and other specific indications of maleness.

This paper focuses on the performances of masculinity in Indian Kashmir, including the contextual factors supporting radicalization, violence, and patriarchal hegemony. The contextual factors include gender norms, literacy, religious literacy, languages spoken and taught in Kashmir, information behaviors, socioeconomic status, political context, and the legacy of colonization.  This paper does not seek to excuse the practices of patriarchy, political violence, or radicalization or weigh in on other judgments regarding the armed conflict in Kashmir.  It does not offer solutions to the political violence in Kashmir, nor does it attempt to provide recommendations. Although some may believe that patriarchal hegemony is a product of Islam, this paper instead avers that the performance of masculinity in Indian Kashmir is an independent phenomenon. This paper considers how patriarchal hegemony is evidenced through the socially-transmitted norms regarding masculinity in the Islamic context of Kashmir, focusing on performed masculinity norms that promulgate radicalization, terrorism, and irregular warfare.

The Background of Armed Conflict in Kashmir


            The evolution of violence in contemporary Kashmir is the vestiges of the British partition of India and generations of historic kingdoms before that. Kashmir was situated along the silk road and became a hub for trade and handicrafts since the third century B.C., but especially under the Mughal Empire starting in the 15th century (UNESCO, 2022). Under different empires, the various periods of rule created a complex legacy of competing groups, religious identities, and a fractured cultural heritage.

For example, in Kashmir, a traditional item of clothing called a feren originated from foreign clothing or fashions; similarly, woven carpets, pashminas, and paper mache handicrafts are local arts initially imported from modern Iran, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. These handicrafts have been adapted to reflect aspects of Kashmiri society, as seen with the chinar leaf motif, incorporated in woven and painted handicrafts. The chinar trees are symbols of Kashmiri identity, which originated from the Moghul Empire period in the Moghul gardens– once again, an import. Kashmiri homes used wood stoves for heating in the 1950s but have since reverted to the practice of using baskets for coals called kangri. These baskets were imported into Kashmir and thought to have come from Italy several hundred years ago. Thus, the very emblems of Kashmiri identity are laden with the history of foreign influences.

This richly complex backdrop of the residue of empires is further complicated by the British partition of 1947.  When the British Empire decided to grant India independence, the administration of the princely states within India became a controversy. The result of the conflict between the states and Delhi was that those states would maintain semi-autonomous status, which was enshrined and codified in the constitution. At the same time, discussions regarding a separate state with a majority Muslim population produced the modern state of Pakistan. The division of both land and people involved dangerous and traumatic forced migration–the largest in modern history. The influx of people moving across the border included thousands of instances of violence (including) sexual assault and murder. 

The phenomenon of rape happening in this situation is considered a defacement of the male patriarch’s property, as women during this time were viewed as objects belonging to the patriarch, so the sexual assaults against the women were interpreted as attacks on the status of men. As a result of the rapes, many families decided to kill the victims if the victims had not already committed suicide or been killed (Menon & Bhasin, 1998). One solution is for the girl to marry the rapist; however, in many situations, this was not considered due to the victim already being married, the victim being of a different religion, or the victim no longer being in the locality where the rape occurred. Some Kashmiri families opted to relocate across the newly-formed border into Pakistan, but many decided to remain in the Indian state territory. Some extended families thus had been divided. This intense period of violence between states and between nations within the states is the foundation of modern violence in Indian Kashmir. The context of occupation would prove ripe for new iterations of violence to emerge.

Types of Violence in Kashmir

In the aftermath of the partition, new patterns of violence began to develop in Kashmir. Although states claim a monopoly on violence for the sake of domestic stability and defense against external threats, the use of force leads to potential human rights abuses according to international legal norms. The culture of these abuses may be vestiges of prior colonial rule, as well as a consequence of competition between peer groups within a state. Because the state is uniquely positioned to use violence, the state likely has the budget and training to use a variety of types of violence. India and the state of Kashmir are no exceptions.

 In Kashmir, the government is two-tiered. The local, state government is the first tier, and the central government (federal) is the second tier. The central government controls the Indian armed forces, and the state government controls the police and some paramilitary forces. Regardless of which level of government is employing violence, Kashmiri citizens may be targeted using any of the following types of violence: tear gas, rubber bullets, actual bullets, batons and lathis,[1] gender-based violence, destruction of property, as well as harassment and humiliation. In response to perceived or actual abuses, militants who may be Pakistani foreign fighters or Kashmiri locals may use these types of violence: rock-throwing, physical assault, destruction of property, actual bullets, and homemade bombs. The following figure is a table that compares each actors’ type of violence.



Figure A. Types of violence used in Indian Kashmir

Type of Violence



Tear gas



Rubber bullets




Actual bullets



Batons and lathis (sticks)



Gender-based violence




Destruction of property




Harassment and humiliation







Physical assault







It is critical to note that in the past, Indian armed forces used additional types of violence against Kashmiris, including rape and sexual assault, physical assault, as well as cruel and unusual punishments such as forcing people to stand naked in the snow and pouring cold water on them (Batool, 2016). These instances of violence occurred in 1991 in the case of Kunan Poshpora (Batool, 2016). Although these acts clearly violated human rights norms, they were considered permissible under a law called the Armed Forces and Special Powers Act (AFSPA) (The Government of India, 1958). Essentially this law allowed the military to use any means they saw fit to deal with security conditions on the ground and provided them immunity. The gender-based violence in Kunan Poshpora drew international attention, which led to a series of half-hearted investigations. In spite of the lack of justice for victims, the international attention created sufficient pressure for the central government to find the political will to repeal AFSPA. It is no longer lawful for the military to resort to those methods in India and in Kashmir.

            Kashmiri men experiencing humiliation and other types of state violence are highly susceptible to radicalization and recruitment into militant outfits, leading to the inclination to engage in the aforementioned types of violence associated with militants. Every time there is an encounter between militants and the Indian armed forces, the cycle of retaliation resumes. This phenomenon is due in part to local gender norms for Kashmiri men.

Local Gender Norms

            Traditional gender norming in Indian-occupied Kashmir is heavily tied to local religious interpretations of Islam that had been influenced by Islamist revival movements originating in Pakistan and include ideological underpinnings from the Deobandi movement, the Saudi Wahhabi movement, and broad Salafi influences connected to Palestinian movements and al Qaeda. Thus, Kashmiri gender norming is typified by men being the primary wage earners outside of the home and women being relegated to domestic work such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, and childrearing.

Other divisions of labor are also made on the basis of gender identity; for example, men are responsible for procuring charcoal, wood, and other fuel, whereas women are responsible for tasks such as preparing all of the tea services that happen throughout the day in Kashmiri society. Men are allowed to own and drive cars, but women are only allowed to use auto-rickshaws or drive mopeds. Another gendered behavior regarding transportation is that women are required to sit sideways so as not to straddle the back of a motorcycle or moped because of concerns involving women’s hymens and issues of perceived modesty. Further, women cannot ride in auto-rickshaws with other unrelated male passengers but are permitted to be transported by an unrelated male driver because there is a physical barrier separating the bodies of passengers from the driver. Other gendered behaviors include men’s free movement whereas women’s movement is controlled, men’s freedom to smoke, but women are prohibited from smoking, men’s freedom to travel outside of their state unaccompanied, and women generally cannot travel unaccompanied.

            Food behaviors reveal further gender-norming dynamics. When Kashmiri families sit down to eat, either the oldest male in the family’s hierarchy or the highest wage-earning male is served first using special crockery of his choosing. Women never eat first unless all of the men are currently outside of the household, and women are rarely served protein. Women serve the meals to the men, who may eat only with other men or they may choose to eat all together as a family. It is up to the man to decide. If no women are available and no girls are available, the meal might be served by high school or middle school-aged boys underscoring the ranking within the male hierarchy.

            Another key gender dynamic in Kashmir is that the patriarch (the male head of household) decides who the girls in the family will marry and when the girls will get married; grooms are selected from among paternal cousins. The male head of household might be the oldest patriarch out of all the extended family, the father of a family, the eldest brother living in the house, or the highest wage-earning male, depending on who is living in the house at that time. That decision-maker controls most of the decisions in the household including if a daughter can go to the hair salon prior to attending a relative’s wedding. When daughters get married, they are transferred from living in their father’s house to her husband’s parents’ house (patrilocal).

            Another reflection of Islamic cultural norms is gender segregation behaviors. There are several significant ways in which men and women are segregated in Kashmiri society.  One example of this is when women are nearing their due dates for giving birth. The women return to their parents’ homes (or in the absence of living parents the eldest sister’s household) and will give birth there and remain there for at least forty days after the baby’s birth. Within the patrilocal system, married couples typically live in a single bedroom inside a larger household. However, when extended family members visit, which is often, men will sleep in one area of the house altogether such as on the top floor, and women will stay in another area. Sleeping segregation is also strictly enforced during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Another example of gender segregation is that all women may be restricted from certain mosques and may not enter to pray. Rather, they have to pray on the grounds surrounding the mosque. This exclusion of women from holy spaces is due to the perceived impurity derived from the potential for menstruation.  Segregation behaviors and local gender norms are evidence of patriarchal hegemony and the performance of masculinity in Kashmir.

 Gender segregation in society is just one indication of the prevailing gender norms that both privilege men and disempower women.  Further, women may experience other forms of marginalization and human rights violations due to traditional gender behaviors.  As is common in many Islamic contexts, women are obligated to be sexually available on demand for their husbands unless they are gravely ill or have just given birth. It is still considered acceptable for men to beat women as long as they do not seriously injure them, so domestic violence remains a persistent social problem. Although Indian law technically allows for women to file for divorce, social repercussions create structural barriers as women are expected to endure abuse without complaint. Another Islamic cultural norm is that child marriage is not uncommon and may be done to alleviate poverty in a female child’s household. Men are allowed to marry as many as four women, although that remains relatively rare in mainstream Kashmiri society.

            In addition to the marginalization of women through segregation practices, girls experience gender segregation at earlier ages, too.  All levels of school are also gender-segregated, although teachers might be of either gender. Increasingly, levels of female educational attainment exceed that of their male cohorts. For example, women are now becoming scientists, an occupation previously reserved for men. Although girls’ level of education is exceeding that of boys, and there is some improvement in women entering previously-inaccessible sectors of the workforce, men are still the primary beneficiaries of most forms of employment. Local gender segregation practices continue to promulgate the marginalization of women through patriarchal hegemony. These norms complement other gendered behavior performances such as fashion trends for men and women. 

Gender in Kashmiri Fashion

Another conspicuous difference in behavioral gender displays can be seen in attire. Men are free to wear Western-style clothing such as loungewear, business suits, or jeans in public, whereas women generally wear traditional clothing like salwar kameez. Women are usually discouraged from wearing makeup except when they are attending weddings.

 Men and women use different styles of shawls as a further demonstration of how men are privileged in the culture. For example, men will use shawls that may be the size of a twin bed sheet, whereas women wear a stole-size garment. Women’s items will be brightly colored and may include decorations such as gems or embroidery embellishments, whereas men’s garments are usually a more neutral solid color and may feature a thin border of embroidery. Another gender difference in decoration can be seen in the jewelry of men and women. Women may wear both silver and gold jewelry without restriction, but men are prohibited from wearing any gold and usually favor sterling silver rings adorned in semi-precious gemstones, which are thought to have spiritual value within Sufi-influenced sectors of Kashmiri society.

            Sociocultural and religious customs prohibit girls over age eight and women from having most forms of physical or sexual contact with males other than their husbands, both in Kashmir and greater India. This phenomenon enables male perpetrators to exploit women and girls while evading accountability for sexually-based crimes due to the taboo and potential victim-blaming, regardless of who the perpetrator is. Some local tribal taboos are so powerful that women who were victimized in the period immediately following the 1947 partition were killed by their own family members, who feared that women and girls would never be restored to “perceived honor” due to this trauma (Menon & Bhasin, 1998). Potential victims face serious personal risks for reporting crimes for these reasons. Some of the risks they face are from the perpetrators as well as their own communities or even family members. There is no gender-sensitive reporting or investigation mechanisms available for victims that would ensure safe and private reporting of victimization. Thus, it is impossible for women to seek justice without further placing their personal security at risk.

            Another very visible gendered norm in Kashmir concerns exercise. In general, women may only go on walks in public, whereas men may play cricket openly, go running in public, or utilize a gym for weightlifting. Further, in the Dal Lake District Srinagar, men may paddle boats for pleasure or for water taxis, but women may only be passengers. In the tourist skiing district in the mountain area known as Gulmarg, women who ski are from other states in India or foreign tourists; however, it is possible that Kashmiri women can ski if they know how to ski and can afford to do it. The majority of skiers are men and boys. These publicly observable exercise behaviors reflect the divergent expectations for women and men in Kashmir. Hegemonic masculinity affects most aspects of daily life and identity for Kashmiris- as seen in food behaviors, spiritual observances, fashion behaviors, and even exercising.  All of these examples of local gender norms play a role in the signaling of identity and the correct way to be male in Kashmir. 

Kashmiri Terror Groups

One aspect of performing masculinity in Kashmir is to seek opportunities to display aggression against the state and against the Indian government. For some individuals, this interest leads to participation in violent extremism or joining terrorist organizations, a variety of which are active in Kashmir today.  One among them is Lashkar-e-Taiba (L-e-T), an ethic-Kashmiri group founded by Hafiz Saeed, Abdullah Azzam, and Zafar Iqbal in 1987. They organized themselves in response to grievances by Kashmirs regarding the federal administration of the state (Fair, 2013; Jamal, 2009). They had roots in other violent extremist militias backed by Pakistan (Fair, 2013; Jamal, 2009). Some groups that materialized opted for a non-violent political party identity. In response to some of the groups’ departure from the annexation of Kashmir by Pakistan, “Pakistan inserted a new family of Pakistan and Afghanistan-based groups into Kashmir, encouraging them to directly compete with older, more ethnically Kashmiri groups” (Fair, 2013). Pakistani fighters were usually ethnic Punjabis, not indigenous Kashmiris.

Pakistan was experiencing a peak in extremist Islamic fervor, encouraged by General Zia ul-Haq, aimed at radicalizing Pakistan from 1977-to 1988 (Tellis, 2010). This political campaign heavily influenced the group as the founders were members of the armed wing of the Markaz Dawat-ul Irshad (MDI), the Center for Proselytization and Preaching (Fair, 2013). The mission of the group was to pursue the creation of “a universal Islamic state through tableegh (preaching) and jihad” (Fair, 2013).  L-e-T, a proxy for the Pakistani armed forces, executes campaigns of violence in Kashmir and beyond (Tellis, 2010).  Terrorism, like gendered food, fashion, labor, education, religious observances, sexual expectations, and violent protest, is another instigator of local gender norms in the Kashmiri context.

Contextual Factors

            To better understand the phenomenon of the performance of gender as it is conceived through the lens of hegemonic masculinity in Kashmir, it is important to examine the socio-economic context, the contemporary security context, and the historic context of gender norms. This section also gives special consideration to the role of language in radicalization, as it is a significant contributing factor to the broader security context. Both the socio-economic and the security landscapes shape contemporary gender norms and are key contextual factors in the radicalization of Kashmiri men.

Socioeconomic Context

Both India and Kashmir as a state within India can be identified as developing economies. Poverty contexts include the inherent risk of marginalization of sub-groups due to resource scarcity, food insecurity, and a lack of access to participation in government.  In other words, elites who are beneficiaries of the current economic regime occupy the available political spaces, leaving lower-class populations to squabble over remaining resources. Because resources are limited and power reinforces this marginalization, the sub-groups are pitted against one another.  Disempowered and marginalized individuals may attempt to regain lost power and economic security by “othering”.  The practice of “othering” further impoverishes minority groups, including women, while simultaneously empowering men. This phenomenon intensifies every time the economy declines in Kashmir, particularly as a result of a natural disaster that impacts the agricultural sector or government-imposed curfews/internet blocks impact small businesses. 

While Kashmir is eager for economic opportunities, growth is slow, restricting internal standards of living and public infrastructure development.  The combined territories of Jammu & Kashmir (J & K) have a GDP of thirteen billion USD (Ministry of Statistics, 2019).  Kashmir ranks twenty-first among the states/territories of India in terms of GDP contribution (Ministry of Statistics, 2019). The growth of J & K, in terms of nominal GDP, is 15.5 percent (Ministry of Statistics, 2019). According to the Reserve Bank of India, Jammu and Kashmir's GDP growth rate has fluctuated from -3.2 percent to 17.7 percent in a matter of just two years.

 J & K is “among the better states” in India when it comes to Per Capita Income (Ministry of Statistics, 2019).  “The predominant sector of the economy of Jammu and Kashmir is agriculture, which supports about 80 percent of its population” (National Informatics Center).  Key crops in Kashmir include saffron, apples, rice, grains, peas, beans, lentils, sunflower seeds, pumpkins, zucchini, cotton, and tobacco, although these crops can vary from season to season and year to year. Generally speaking, Kashmiris are especially proud of their apple production, and it is fairly common for someone within an extended family to be an apple cultivator.

Due to climate crises and natural disasters, the agricultural sector remains unstable. When bad weather destroys apple crops it not only affects national apple supplies but also impoverishes large swathes of Kashmiri society. In years of crop loss, food scarcity spikes within Kashmir and the families impoverished by the crop loss are more inclined to seek aid from external sources of money or food support such as terrorist groups and political parties funded by foreign state sponsors. Further, when these families are impoverished, they cannot afford the school fees required to enroll their children in local education opportunities. So, when the Indian government closes Kashmiri public schools due to curfews, families rely more heavily on private education.

Economic instability is particularly stressful for patriarchal heads in the patrilocal system because their ability to feed their family informs their family’s survival. In addition, men are responsible for providing housing for the whole family and assume high-interest loans in order to build houses. Thus, when the economy fluctuates due to climate circumstances or political practices, men feel the brunt of these changes. Men who are unable to feed their families or pay their loans experience extreme humiliation and acute distress. All of these conditions prime men for radicalization due to the combination of humiliation and impoverishment.

The Security Context

Patriarchal hegemony is also evident in the violence between security forces and the Kashmiri people– another important contextual factor in understanding the radicalization of Kashmiri youth as part of masculine performativity.  In other words, when the state is aggressive, whether it’s the army or police, Kashmiri boys learn to be aggressive (Myrttinen et al., 2020).

In the state of Kashmir, the police are Kashmiri people (usually men); however, they may function under the effective command and control of the Indian armed forces during encounters between civilians and the army. At times, the police may carry out operations at the army’s behest to create the appearance of deniability of the military. Further, like most police forces around the world, there are plenty of instances of brutality against civilians.

For example, in October 2018, the Kashmiri state police fired tear gas canisters on the roofs of houses surrounding an open-air market. They did this under the pretext of needing to flush out two alleged civilian combatants they claimed had run into a home and hidden. None of the market-goers had seen anyone running or ducking into any of the nearby buildings. The tear gas canisters spread the gas in a several-mile radius around the market, and soon the streets were filled with elderly people choking and crying from the effects of the chemical weapon used to flush them out of their homes. The alleged militants were never seen or found.

The state police were acting on behalf of the Indian army. Had the army fired the canisters themselves, it would have been a violation of IHL. However, because the police fired the canisters and created a cordon, this was not an illegal act under international law. This is the type of behavior that causes the local civilians to view the Kashmiri police as corrupt and illegitimate.

            Another example of police brutality in Kashmir can be seen in the case of Burhan Wani. His militancy stemmed from a negative encounter with police involving intimidation, humiliation, and unnecessary violence. This instance reflects how police brutality feeds narratives that lead to radicalization and damage the relationship between the police and the citizens they are supposed to protect.

In the past, the Indian armed forces enjoyed immunity against any potential crimes they committed while carrying out their assigned duties. The most famous example of crimes against civilians includes the Poshpora incident, in which dozens of Kashmiri women and girls were assaulted by Indian armed forces personnel under the pretext of trying to discover the whereabouts of militants they thought had entered the village. No militants were seen by locals or ever found from this operation. The result was that entire families were shamed due to the infringements against their honor, casting them into social and economic marginalization and ruining any prospects for the victims to marry.

Kashmiri men cite this example of oppression and gender-based violence as justification for violent extremism, radicalization, and displays of violent resistance. The injuries against honor are perhaps more powerful than the actual violations against the women and girls because they are interpreted to be attacks against men. In the same incident, men were allegedly tortured by Indian armed forces personnel, including being stripped, forced to stand in the snow, and having cold water thrown on them.

Other allegations include abuse and torture using farm equipment, although the full details were never documented as local police were also threatened by the Indian armed forces and rendered helpless. Reporting gender-based violence remains taboo in Kashmiri society and was poorly investigated, leaving the entire village in want of revenge. Other Kashmiris were outraged at the time of the incident and many times thereafter, using the incident to facilitate recruitment into militant outfits.  Kashmiris also cite it when they call for violent resistance at otherwise peaceful demonstrations. These famous examples of humiliation and state oppression carry extra weight in Kashmir due to the history of Kashmir’s struggle for self-determination.

Political grievances in Kashmir represent another key contextual factor in the radicalization of Kashmiri males. The primary grievance regarding the abrogation of Kashmir’s ability to govern itself remains a central concern of citizens, an ever-present source of distress and humiliation. Kashmir enjoyed semi-autonomous status from the partition period until the revocation of constitutional article 370. This significant change in Kashmiri status in August 2019 provoked an outcry among Kashmiris (Buchanan, 2019). The Indian government responded by immediately imposing a curfew to prevent potential violent civil resistance and protest of this change. The imposed curfew began on August 5, 2019, and continued until the 5th of February 2020, causing Kashmiris to be stuck in their homes for six months. One consequence of this protracted lockdown was that many local businesses were forced to permanently close due to the lack of business and no income to pay rents and business loans, plunging many families into poverty. The inability of men to provide for their families was humiliating and considered an affront to their human dignity. The grievances of Kashmiri men grew. These curfews are often coupled with internet shutdowns under the guise of deterring violence.

Another aspect of the security context of Kashmir is the use of internet blackouts. India leads the world in the use of this tactic as a mechanism for controlling civil resistance and potential violence. When India shuts down Kashmir’s internet, that means all data for cell phones is deactivated. The security measure impacts all smartphone applications, including GoogleMaps, WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, and business websites. Effectively, all communications are halted, and sometimes even calling is blocked completely to prevent organizing that might allow people to engage in violent resistance.

These internet blackouts adversely impact small businesses. For example, Kashmir is a hub for tech support and web development. One such firm runs a major American medical insurance website, so when the internet is blocked, that website can go down, impacting people around the world. Further, internet blocks prohibit journalists from reporting. Essentially, these blocks function as a media blackout as well as the security measure to deter violence that India claims it is. When communications are blocked, it does inhibit people’s ability to organize and protest, so it could potentially mitigate the violence temporarily, but ultimately the use of these shutdowns foments more anger directed at the central government of India. This practice merely kicks the can down the road.

India’s internet shutdown tactic is not unique to Kashmir, but it has a considerable impact on Kashmiris’ quality of life. Since 2012 when tracking of internet shutdowns began, 321 of India’s 557 shutdowns were in Indian Kashmir (SFLC.IN, 2022). These internet shutdowns usually correspond with imposed curfews and school closures. This practice became particularly concerning during the Covid-19 pandemic because education in India was fully remote. During 2020, the Indian government shut down Kashmiri internet 129 times in total– only slightly below the all-time high of 134 shutdowns in 2018 (SFLC.IN, 2022). Thus, Kashmiri children lacked access to education for most of the school year. Having access to school is only one aspect of education and its role in violence in Kashmir. Children who are not in school are vulnerable to recruitment and radicalization because they are not occupied for many days in a row. The combination of being idle and also feeling frustrated by the exclusion from school become a powerful motivator for revenge. Thus, the lack of access to school becomes its own security concern. Because boys have more freedom of movement without parental supervision and may be sent out of the home to complete errands for the family, there are many opportunities for them to connect with other boys who may be eager to engage in destructive behavior, including acts of violence.

Even when school is in session, it remains a problematic contextual factor. In India, including Kashmir, public education is not entirely free because families must pay book fees and uniform fees, and lunch is not provided. Public schools have low-quality education compared to private schools and may be located far from rural areas. Thus, low-income families in rural areas cannot afford to send their children to public school due to transit costs or to private school due to enrollment costs and may rely on education through local programs provided by terrorist organizations or local mosques. The state government does not well regulate private schools, although they are considered superior by citizens. Regardless of which type of education students have access to, several additional contextual factors emerge regarding the language of instruction in schools.

Language of Instruction

            Another contributing contextual factor to the phenomenon of the radicalization of Kashmiri youth is the language shift from Kashmiri to Urdu, which also reflects the foreign influences of Pakistan. For at least the last ten years in Indian Kashmir, the language of instruction in state-run public schools has been Urdu, a Pakistani language. Urdu is not an indigenous language in Indian Kashmir, although it may be more common in Pakistani Kashmir since Urdu is the language of instruction in public schools in most of Pakistan. In the past, the Kashmiri language did not use an Arabic script and did not resemble Arabic or Persian styles of writing but used a completely different alphabet. Because it was difficult, only elites had access or interest in Kashmiri alphabet literacy, and it became largely an oral tradition.

Between the phenomenon of the Kashmiri language becoming an oral language and the prevalence of Urdu usage, there was a lack of interest in teaching Kashmiri in Kashmir’s public schools. Now, in rural schools and some public schools, Kashmiri is taught using the Urdu script, not the traditional Kashmiri script, a solution drawn from the ease of the Urdu script but protecting the indigenous language. This is a significant issue because the use of Urdu has created a barrier for many parents in understanding their children's online activities as they may not have enough knowledge of Urdu to understand propaganda disseminated on social media. Thus, it is easy for children to be radicalized over social media without their parents’ knowledge.

Additionally, the infiltration of Urdu into Kashmiri public schools has caused a pivot in Kashmiri youth identities, as the Pakistani influences are translated over social media that the children consume. The result is a departure from older generations’ cultural identity and an array of hybrid iterations of Kashmiri identity. Another effect is that the youth have more positive inclinations towards Pakistani annexation than older generations. The Urdu language widens the gap between different sectors within Indian Kashmir. The use of Urdu as a language of instruction in public schools, combined with the general lack of literacy among parents, results in prime conditions for the recruitment and radicalization of Kashmiri boys through social media on their smartphones.  Further, boys can access content their parents are not aware of, such as telling their parents they are following a cricketer on Instagram who is really posting radical content reflecting hypermasculine ideals. 

Gender Analysis

Honor-based culture is an iteration of patriarchal hegemony and includes several key features. One of these features is that lost honor can be restored or reclaimed through acts of violent aggression. Another is that consequences of gender-based violence include victim humiliation, group honor deprivation, forced exclusion or rejection of the family of the victim from society, victim shaming and shunning, economic isolation of the family, reproductive isolation of the victim, escalation of adjacent or unrelated grievances, and engagement in a frozen conflict.

Another feature of honor-based culture is cycles of revenge and retaliation, exacerbated by situations such as the circumstances surrounding the partition period and post-partition period, intergroup and intragroup violence, and more broadly, gender-based violence against women. The manifestation of patriarchal honor-based culture is the advent of gender norms and cultural traditions that correlate to masculinity ideals and the performance of masculinity.

Throughout the predominantly Muslim populations from North Africa to Indian Kashmir, during the decline of the colonial period, the elite class known as the effendiyya, sought to restore a sense of personal dignity and social class status, as being subjects of colonial rule diminished perceptions of honor particularly as men under colonial rule were portrayed as weak compared to their stronger foreign colonizers (Jacob, 2011). As a result, in the interwar period, effendi culture, a form of hypermasculinity evidenced through body-building, emerged (Jacob, 2011). Effendi masculinity persists even today in all of the territories formerly impacted by British colonial occupation (Jacob, 2011). 

Another aspect of effendi culture is another vestige of British colonial rule, that of criminalizing male homosexuality. In the British colonies, sodomy was outlawed, although many of the occupied colonies had long histories of male homosexuality. Sodomy was punishable by death under British rule, which codified gender-based violence against homosexual men and brought a social focus on shaming homosexual behavior. Thus, the potentially effeminized version of masculinity became undesirable and even dangerous. The precedent was set that homosexual men could not be viewed as worthy of honor or deemed full men in society, further reinforcing an exaggerated focus on stereotypical performative masculinity that complemented bodybuilding culture.

Researcher Farha Ghannam (2013) explores traditional gender roles and how masculinity norms are transmitted, maintained, and reinforced, not only by men but also by women. She avers that broader social norms dictate the dehumanizing ideal male stereotypes that limit possible masculine trajectories within the patriarchal landscape.

It is important to note that while women contribute to promulgating patriarchal norms that include valuing hypermasculinity women are not responsible for fixing men.  There may be a temptation to put the onus on the women in terrorists’ lives to deradicalize the male militants. Although women may reinforce gender norms and stereotypes of performative masculinity this problem stems from patriarchal systems in the context of the late colonial and post-colonial periods. In other words, this phenomenon is occurring at a systems level and is not the responsibility of individual women in these contexts to solve.

Traditional gender norms and social dynamics in formerly-colonial territories struggle with these concerns, regardless of religious affiliation, ethnicity, tribal affiliation, or nationality within the territories’ boundaries. Individuals may be particularly susceptible due to personal circumstances and seek to restore personal or family status through their masculine performativity and although women may encourage or reward this behavior, they are not responsible for the circumstances and cannot be assumed to be the solution for mitigating violence associated with masculine performativity and extremism. Rather, solutions must come at the macro level including addressing human security concerns in the affected territories including infrastructure development, economic aid, and especially education and religious literacy.

Another aspect of this phenomenon that requires consideration is the role of responsibility of other societies. For example, prejudicial tropes resulting in the characterization of Muslim men as terrorists coupled with actions that can be perceived to be humiliating or traumatic further social narratives that pressure Muslim men to seek restoration of honor and power.

Recalling that victims of gender-based violence in Islamic societies, particularly those that were former British colonies, may be forced to marry the rapist reflects “purity” culture. Purity culture did not begin during the colonial period or even with the advent of Islam, but its own context predates both. This cultural phenomenon is related to the notion that menstruation makes women impure and that only virgins who are not menstruating can be considered pure and valuable patriarchal property. 


            All of the contextual factors in Kashmir work in concert to produce outcomes of radicalization and violent masculinity. The following discussion attempts to deconstruct this phenomenon through the analytical lens of performative masculinity and patriarchal hegemony. The discussion includes one part on gender, information behaviors, religious illiteracy, and radicalization.  The next part focuses on masculine performances on social media, and the final part concerns foreign influences on Kashmiri masculinity.

The discussion unpacks the relationship between gender norms, radicalization, and violent extremism in Indian Kashmir.  Another correlation exists in the nexus of literacy levels, socio-economic status, and vulnerability to humiliation, all of which promulgate an inclination toward specific performances of masculinity. Perhaps most significantly, men are expected to publicly display anger towards local police and Indian armed forces by engaging in public protests that women generally do not attend. Some protests have involved women, such as the funeral procession of local hero and militant Burhan Wani, but this is less common than daily instances of civil resistance involving potential violence.

Further, teenage boys may follow high-profile cricket players, bodybuilders, and local militant figures on social media. Girls are not allowed to follow these male figures on their social media and are restricted to only following immediate family members and same-gender cousins. Thus, young male Kashmiris have unmonitored internet activity and develop cultural expectations regarding displays of masculinity related to Kashmiri identity.

Gender, Information Behaviors, & Radicalization

 Throughout the region in the past, the radicalization of men occurred through the use of extremist lectures on cassette tapes, as most adult males were not literate, and propaganda had to be distributed in an audio format. The Kashmiri people were used to playing the Qu’ran and also (non-extremist) sermons on cassette tape using radios they kept in their kitchen, so it was easy to feather in propaganda using this technology.

At the beginning of the wave of Islamic radicalization that began in the 1990s, charismatic speakers would do the equivalent of contemporary televangelists delivering emotional appeals mixed with religious teachings; as their followings grew, so did their boldness, including overtly extremist content. Due to the lack of central authority in Islam, it is possible for many competing sources of authority to vie for power in interpreting and promulgating their interpretation of the best way to be Muslim. Over time, cassette tapes were replaced with video recorders and eventually smartphones.

Most young Kashmiri males have attended public school and have some level of literacy in both English and Urdu. With the rise of literacy, it became very common for illiterate parents to depend exclusively on their more educated sons, deferring power and decision-making authority to these boys. Most families allow their sons to own a smartphone even if the parents cannot monitor the consumed content on the phone. Most parents in Kashmir speak Kashmiri, which has some overlapping vocabulary with Urdu but is a distinct language. Propaganda shared through social media apps such as WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook is generally in Urdu. These are the prime conditions for the radicalization of young Kashmiri males. Their parents are not good at using phones, are unaware of the nature of the content they consume, and the boys have disproportionate power and authority than generations past.

Information Behaviors & Religious Illiteracy

In addition to family dynamics and shifts in power from parents to children, information behaviors in Kashmir reflect a gap in local awareness of broader Islamic knowledge and practices. Ordinary Kashmiris lack knowledge regarding the various branches, sects, and denominations within Islam and across other religions. This lack of knowledge makes it difficult for them to distinguish between the various groups in the religious landscape, particularly as folk Islam and pre-Islamic tribal traditions are held as standard mainstream interpretations and practices. Further, as knowledge of in-group doctrine is low, misconceptions and misinterpretations about other groups are high, adding further confusion to Kashmir’s religious landscape.

Information behaviors[2] regarding religion collate into two streams: preachers in mosques and social media. Generally, in Islam, prayer leaders focus on messages regarding the greater jihad, which is the struggle for self-mastery and includes topics such as charity, integrity, honesty in business dealings, repentance, etc. However, due to various waves of Islamist revivalism in Kashmir (initiated by elements within Pakistan), sermons are increasingly common to focus on the lesser jihad, including the incitement of violent political extremism. One clear example of this phenomenon is the local adoration and veneration of social media televangelist Dr. Zakir Niak (not a credentialed medical doctor). This Deobandi preacher promulgates a Wahabi culture with a Salafi bent, normalizing the use of emotional appeals to manipulate Muslims lacking religious literacy. He is held in high regard because of his reputation for enticing conversions into Islam, which impresses Kashmiris, who fail to investigate the credibility of Zakir Naik. Essentially, his teachings create a cult following within Kashmiri youth. Zakir Naik is also affiliated with other social media televangelists who promote extremist ideas, such as Bilal Phillips. The blind consumption of these men’s teachings imports foreign interpretations of Islam into the Kashmiri landscape.

Masculine Performances on Social Media: Burhan Wani Case Study

The cycle of violence as performative masculinity in Indian Kashmir can best be seen in the case of Burhan Wani. Wani (an Indian Kashmiri folk hero and militant)–highlights the capacity for radical individuals to become social media influences for terror. Wani, whom most Kashmiris regard as a martyr, not a terrorist, had Instagram blitzes to promote the nationalist narrative and show off his weapons and terrorist training (BBC News, 2016).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Burhan Wani was a high school drop-out from Tral, Kashmir, who was harassed by the police while goofing around outside with his brother (Gowen, 2019). After the police beat him up without obvious justification, he stood up to the illiterate, unprofessional, and abusive police (Bukhari, 2016; Dasgupta, 2017).  Unlike many militants in Kashmir, Wani’s parents were both literate and-- in fact-- teachers (Dasgupta, 2017).  In a suspicious incident, Khalid, Wani’s brother, was killed by Kashmiri state police.  The police asserted that Khalid was shot to death, but his body was bad enough that Kashmiris broadly disbelieved the police (Dasgupta, 2017).  Wani was devastated by the unexpected loss of his brother and became radicalized against the Kashmiri government and the Indian government. 

Wani became the new face of Kashmiri Islamist militancy. He began a campaign posting videos of himself playing cricket (a high-status marker- a key cultural indicator of local pride and “coolness”), making jokes, posing with guns and military fashion, and ridiculing local police on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Whatsapp (Dasgupta, 2017; Deccan Chronicle, 2016; Gowen, 2019; Henry, 2018; Rafiq, 2016). His influencing behaviors were notable not just because of the glorification of violence and “tacti-cool” culture but because he was the first radicalized Kashmiri to show his face and use his real name on social media.  He took obvious pride in criminal activities, a bold move respected by other young Kashmiri boys (Dasgupta, 2017; Gowen, 2019; Rafiq, 2016). He instantly became a star among the informal and formal cricket leagues throughout Kashmir.  Boys as young as nine were following his posts on Instagram and coming to see him play in cricket games.  These children brought a fresh wave of militancy to Kashmir, and their numbers exceeded the number of foreign militants for the first time in the territory’s modern history (Henry, 2018). Several of Burhan Wani’s social media posts promoting the “tacti-cool” culture are featured in images 1 and 2. 

Image 1.  Burhan Wani poses in “tacti-cool” gear with guns (India TV News, 2016).


















Image 2. Burhan Wani poses with a machine gun in a military uniform (OpIndia, 2020). 





By using all of his social media platforms, Wani recruited over 100 new fighters for his Hizbul outfit (Dasgupta, 2017; Gowen, 2019; Irfan, 2016).  He carried a bounty of 1 million rupees (approximately 14,000 USD) on his head, which led to a tip-off regarding his whereabouts. 

The tip successfully led Kashmiri police to find him in an abandoned house, and a shoot-out ensued, which led to Wani’s death (Henry, 2018). Usually, Kashmiri informers are kept confidential because they will become direct targets for the militants.  In this case, the home where Wani was captured was burned down in retaliation for his death, as Wani’s supporters believed that locals had informed the security forces of his location and betrayed Wani (Deccan Chronicle, 2017).  The mob also destroyed an apple orchard belonging to the family who owned the land where the home was situated (Deccan Chronicle, 2017). The public outrage at his death cemented his fame as a folk hero.  

 Wani’s elevated status as a martyr includes terror recruitment implications that will reach far into the future of Kashmir.   This method of recruitment through social media influencing parallels similar occurrences of ISIS in Iraq.  Social media-influencing promises to be an effective method of recruitment that exploits state mismanagement of security conditions for terrorist groups worldwide.

Foreign Influences on Masculinity and Radicalization

Kashmiri culture has historically reflected numerous foreign influences and interests, including importing ideas about gendered behavioral norms transmitted through religious interpretations, handicrafts/arts, and education.  Over time, foreign influence in Kashmir has expanded to foreigners' political ideologies and extremist interpretations of Islam through social media. 

In the past, most Muslims in Kashmir were Shi’a Muslims as Persian and Ottoman artisans and preachers arrived in Kashmir, spreading both religion and handicrafts such as paper mache, carpet weaving, and pashmina making. In both cases, ideas were transmitted by men from these Ottoman and Persian Shi’a communities to Kashmiri men as they taught them foreign practices.  Inherently, this transmission between men ensured a flow of information remained exclusive to men. Due to the economic tie to these foreign communities and the empowerment of economic privilege given to artisans, the practice of transmission and the actual ideas became an integral part of the domestic socio-economic landscape. 

The dominance of Shia-linked cultural norms in Kashmir changed with the advent of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which flooded the region with Gulf recruits that came to join the anti-Soviet Mujahideen forces. These men transmitted their interpretation of Islam, spreading Wahabi Sunni and even Salafi practices from Kabul to Kashmir. As regional proxy wars intensify, outside actors (Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan) ratchet up their influence within the state. These states sponsor legal, semi-legal, and illegal activities in Kashmir, ranging from madrasa programs and food relief to armed conflict.

These foreign state-sponsored activities engender a warm reception among Kashmiris because they seek to fill gaps in community needs within the state. In other words, they garner favor because they do what the government does not. Thus, the social climate is primed for accepting religious interpretations and practices promulgated by those states. This phenomenon results in particular vulnerability to manipulation through propaganda in the context of religious illiteracy and information behaviors. The combination corresponds to young people using smartphones and social media. As boys use their smartphones to blindly consume propaganda through social media, they become ideal targets for recruitment and radicalization. In addition to the televangelist content, the youth are exposed to the glorification of violence and displays of hypermasculinity, such as men flexing their arm muscles while posing with weapons. For example, Instagram posts of Kashmiri youth outfitted in tactical gear while brandishing weapons advertise the glory of violence throughout the region. Kashmiri information behaviors give additional power to the social media influences in the lives of Kashmiri boys. They remain at particular risk for radicalization and experience pressure to display violent interpretations of masculinity.



In the context of Indian Kashmir, patriarchal hegemony is evidenced through socially-transmitted norms of performed masculinity that promulgate radicalization, terrorism, and irregular warfare. Violence in Kashmir is one element of masculine performativity for the Indian armed forces and Kashmiri citizens. Generational poverty reinforces the narrative of state abuses against Kashmiris in the form of economic marginalization, which further promotes radicalization. The abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A have further eroded the relationship between Kashmiris and all levels of government, encouraging an atmosphere of civil resistance which may lead to further cycles of violence. Thus, the performance of masculinity can be characterized as effendiyya culture, which seeks to restore honor to men. These socially-constructed ideas about masculinity and patterns of violent behavior harm Kashmiri society and risk security at the local level.




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[1] Long, thin wooden sticks used by police for beating citizens

[2] Information behavior describes how people search for and use information, which includes information transmission, information seeking, information distribution, information exchange, information avoidance, information processing, identifying sources of information, and the awareness of information.

About the Author(s)

Lark S. Escobar is both an international educator and student scholar, interested in genocide prevention, cultural memory, religious heritage, human rights, international law, terrorism studies, and human security in MENA, Central Asia, and South Asia. She has taught in seven countries in higher education contexts, including creating and implementing an American English & Culture degree at the National Military Academy of Afghanistan where she was an academic, gender, and culture advisor, heading the English department for NATO headquarters and designing and conducting university faculty professional developing and secondary educator training throughout the Middle East.

Twitter- @LarkAbroad