Cultures differ in their values for speech as the expression of individuality. In 'individualistic cultures' like European and North American, speech and self-expression hold a lot of importance. Self-expression is a notion closely associated with a horde of positive concepts, such as freedom, creativity, style, courage, self-assurance and even healing and spirituality. Freedom of speech symbolizes one's ultimate freedom to be yourself. In contrast, speech and self-expression do not hold the same degree of importance in the more 'collectivist cultures' such as East Asian, South Asian, etc. Thoughtful and self-disciplined speech is often valued above speech and is practiced with relatively great caution because the potential negative social implications of speech (losing face, disruption of group harmony, receiving criticism from others and relationship concerns) are more salient in these cultures than in Western regions. Thus speech and self-expression are not commonly and routinely encouraged or emphasized in East Asian cultures. 

Traditional cultural expressions such as music, dance, art, designs, names, signs and symbols, performances, ceremonies, architectural forms, handicrafts and narratives have always been a part of Kashmiri culture. In modern times cinema was added to this repertoire and there was a bustling culture of cinema and theatre in the Valley with movies of Akira Kurosawa and David Lean being screened for avid movie goers in the famous cinema halls of Paladium, Regal Cinema, Shiraz, Broadway to name a few. Until 1989 happened. 

I recently came upon Jason Burke's Guardian article about the 'cultural wars' that had been triggered by the adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet by the Indian film director Vishal Bhardwaj into the movie 'Haider'. For me the irony is not lost that 'Haider' shares the same screen writer whose poignant memoir of the turbulent 90s (Curfewed Nights) made a mark and opened the door to Kashmiri writers on the global scene – those very 90s which saw the shutdown of cinema halls across the Valley. Any subsequent attempts at reviving, restoring, reopening the ruined, occupied, and damaged cinema houses has met with instant backlash from 'the usual suspects' with grenades hurled on the very first day of inauguration many times. 

The onslaught has not stopped, with the recent rant of Asiya Andrabi, a self-styled Supremo of the Dukhtaran-e-Milat on not allowing cinema halls to open sparked fresh controversy, considering how accessible movies are because of the Internet and technology available. Now it is so very dumbfounding to me that a besieged and repressed population insists on having its oppression, grief, pain and loss, of more than two decades documented through rap songs, cartoons, male band performances and through the traditional cultural expressions of culture like art, sculpture, paintings, etc, as well as powerful rehashes or adaptations if you may, of great plays of the Western world. 

Why then this selective permission for what is allowed and what is not allowed, who is forbidden and who is not forbidden?

Kashmir is a collectivist cultural region. The whole population caters to the tribal mentality. The tribes' rules, norms, mores, and traditions prevail over the individual and self-expression is frowned upon; freedom of expression rarely encouraged. Since the 90s the dent in the multiculturalism and plurality of lifestyles has been pronounced. There is a 'mullahgardi' of culture going on where in diktats are issued as to what the people can, should, or must see, hear, listen to. I find it very hypocritical that if Gazans of the Sherjaiya neighbourhood can sit for an open air screening of the recent Karama Gaza Film Festival amidst the ruins of their city recently decimated by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) what is stopping us? Nothing presents a blatant paradox to me as these two: an underexposed, manipulated, fascist woman proclaiming to lead Kashmiri women to freedom and the Gazans exercising their right to culture, creativity and self-expression.