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How Vlogger Amreen’s murder is an attempt to silence women artists from Afghanistan to Kashmir

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The killing of Kashmir's first entertainment Vlogger and YouTuber, Amreen Bhat, has left behind big shadows of fear

Amreen Bhat (35), Kashmir’s first entertainment Vlogger and YouTuber, shot dead in terrorist violence at her home in Budgam’s Chadoora area on Wednesday, 25 May, has left behind big shadows of fear. In the last 24 hours, at least 6 female singers and artists made frantic phone calls to a senior television and theatre producer, whispering to him that they were all frightened after Amreen’s brutal assassination. They were advised to be ‘calm’.

Married in 2012 and divorced in just two months, Amreen discovered a small livelihood in her petty performances in some songs and drama serials at Doordarshan Kendra (DDK) Srinagar. Soon she quit television and explored better opportunities in social media—Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok. As her followers and subscribers multiplied on all platforms, she became the sole bread-earner for her small family—an elderly father, Khizar Mohammad Bhat, and sister Razia who lives at the same parental house with her husband and 11-year-old son Farhan, at Hushroo, 20 km from Srinagar.

Amreen’s assassination—6th of this kind since 8 March 2022 in Budgam which was perceived to be a militancy-free district in the last 25 years—happened in 13 days of the Kashmiri Pandit official Rahul Bhat’s murder at his office in Chadoora, just 4 km from Hushroo.

Early in the morning on Friday, 27 May, Police and security forces claimed to have killed both the assassins of Amreen Bhat in an overnight encounter at Aganhanzipora, Awantipora. They were identified as the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba terrorists Shahid Mushtaq Bhat of Hafroo, Chadoora, and Farhan Habib of Hakripora Pulwama.

Also read: Kashmiri TV actress shot dead by terrorists

Unlike other killings, no terror outfit or a front organisation claimed responsibility of Amreen’s assassination. “I can say a Muslim is killing a Muslim and it’s no azaadi. It’s called terrorism. Please wipe out this terrorism”, Khizar Mohammad Bhat (66) said. “She was my family’s only bread-earner. She took care of the whole family. She would take me to Jammu for 5-6 months every winter. She was my son, not daughter”, Bhat said, refusing to identify the killers.

Razia said she was milking a cow when two young strangers appeared and asked her son Farhan about Amreen. “Farhan went in and called out Amreen to see the two guests. As she came out to the veranda, one of them told her that they were her neighbours and wanted her to sing at a wedding in Budgam. She pleaded that she was not a singer at weddings. Thereupon the youth whipped out a pistol and opened fire. Amreen rushed into the house but they chased her and shot her dead inside”, Razia narrated, while claiming that she would not recognise the killers.

“They were not wearing masks but I can’t identify them. I don’t know who they were”, she added. Farhan sustained a gunshot injury in his arm.

While Amreen was declared ‘brought dead’ at Srinagar’s SMHS Hospital and interred in the village graveyard late in the night, Farhan was discharged after medical treatment on Thursday.

Most of the people in Kashmir believe that the young woman lost her life due to her popular video reels on the social media platforms but nobody wants to blame outright on the militants.

The valley vlogger’s death occurred at a time when the Police had seized the first haul of the 15 highly sophisticated US-made pistols which, according to an officer, were found with 15-round magazines. “Our conventional Chinese pistols have 8-round magazines. These American pistols, which have been smuggled straight from Afghanistan in the last few months, have the capacity of firing 30 rounds from twin magazines”, said the officer.

As of now, there is apparently no evidence of the Taliban fighters having infiltrated into the valley but the fear is building up after a series of pistol attacks on soft targets. While the consignment of 15 US-made pistols was seized in Chhanapora, Srinagar, 5 more were recovered last week from the terror operatives who rolled a grenade into a wine shop and killed a salesman at Baramulla.

Of the 26 foreign terrorists—14 from Jaish-e-Mohammad and 14 from LeT—as many as 6 have been killed in the two encounters in Baramulla and Kupwara in the last 24 hours. “It indicates an increased infiltration of the jihadist cadres from Pakistan. If they are enforcing puritanical form of Islam, in which every entertainment from cinema to social media is strictly proscribed, in Pakistan and Afghanistan, how could they tolerate it in Kashmir?” an official asserted.

Interestingly last weekend the Taliban emirate in Afghanistan issued a decree, asking all female television hosts, anchors and presenters to cover their entire body from head to toe. Even as violence against female artists and singers has seen a thaw in the last few years, quite a number of them have been killed for defying cultural and religious diktats in Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

In recent times, popular Pashto singer Ghazala Javed (24) was shot dead in Peshawar in 2012. Television and theatre performer Bushra (18) was killed at Nowshera, 150 km from Islamabad. Pashto singing sensation Gul Naz aka Muskan was gunned down in Peshawar in June 2014. Stage actress Sunbul was also shot dead in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in February 2018. Actress-singer Reshma was shot dead allegedly for honour killing by her husband in Nowshera Kalan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in August 2018. Famed Pashto singer Sana was stabbed to death by her brother in Swat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in August 2019.

Amreen’s killing has brought back traumatising memories of some clerics and jihadist groups issuing diktats against everybody associated with the glamour and entertainment industry in Kashmir. They view such activities, particularly by women, as “immoral and un-Islamic. Defiance caused death on several occasions. There have been statements and one burqa-clad women demonstration against the three fashion shows, which also had female participants, in the last two years.

Amreen’s growing popularity in social media is believed to be an irritant for the jihadists enforcing the puritanical form of Islam from Afghanistan to Kashmir. She had 26,700 followers on Instagram and 15,600 subscribers on Youtube. Many of the hundreds of her short videos—lip syncing and dancing on Bollywood hits and popular Urdu ghazals—had been hugely liked by the valley’s young generation. Some of her reels had touched 1.3 million to 1.9 million hits.

In Kashmir, all entertainment outlets stand banned by militants. All wine shops, video kiosks, beauty parlours and cinema theatres were closed down under the militant threat in August-December 1989. There were scores of grenades and firing attacks on cable operators, dish antennae and a cinema theatre. Over a dozen cable operators were killed in different attacks.

Even after technology and the internet changed everything and militants lost control of the entertainment industry, diktats were issued and enforced about dress codes of women. In 2012-13, chief cleric Mufti Bashir-ud-din got the valley’s first all-women music band ‘Pragaash’ closed with a fatwa. On certain occasions, there were threats and armed attacks on beauty parlours.

A number of the artists and officials associated with Doordarshan were also attacked in the 1990s. Those killed in the terror attacks included Director of DDK Srinagar Lassa Kaul and drama artist Shamima Akhtar who was shot dead in downtown Srinagar. Radio newsreader and engineer Mohammad Shafi Faryad, Bashir Ahmad Bhat and TV anchor Altaf Ahmad Faktoo were also shot dead in Srinagar. The list of martyrs not in uniform is long.

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