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Official's Suspension For Wearing ‘Pheran’ Rakes Row In Kashmir, Mufti Calls It Is ‘Prejudice To Traditions’  

The denigration of the traditional Kashmiri attire—‘Pheran’, worn particularly during harsh winters has sparked outrage among political circles in the valley.

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PTI
Former Jammu and Kashmir CM Omar Abdullah with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in Pheran | Photo: PTI
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The suspension order of a forest guard in Kashmir has created a furor after politicians, including the erstwhile state’s former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, targeted the administration over the order laced with casteist undertones.

Besides, the denigration of the traditional Kashmiri attire—‘Pheran’, worn particularly during harsh winters has sparked outrage among political circles in the valley.

The suspension order had been issued by Langate’s Divisional Forest officer for the suspension of forest guard Bashir Ahmed.

“...one forest official namely Bashir Ahmed Dhobi was found wearing 'Pheran' and looking like a shepherd...,” the order read.

The order triggered a backlash with Mehbooba Mufti lambasting the administration over it.

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“Langate’s Divisional Forest officer has suspended Bashir Ahmed, a forest guard for wearing a 'Pheran'. The subsequent order smacks of prejudice towards our traditions by deriding him for ‘looking like a shepherd’. Are shepherds subhuman? Insensitive & arrogant. Hope local admin takes action immediately,” she wrote on microblogging-site X.

Later, the administration expunged the words from its order stating that the words had inadvertently found mention.

‘Pheran’, Kashmir’s Indigenous Apparel

However, the rage boiling beneath the comforting ‘Pheran’ had found its vent already, with many Kashmiris including Mehbooba Mufti finding the move as prejudiced and denigration of cultural traditions.

‘Pheran’ is Kashmir’s indigenous apparel associated with the region’s culture. A traditional Kashmiri attire, it is worn by all the people irrespective of caste, colour or gender.

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Pheran is a long loose coat or cloak, which is traditionally made from wool or tweed and worn as protection from the winter chill.

There are different patterns and styles of 'Pherans'. Kashmiri women wear colourful ‘Pherans’ with embroidery work called as ‘Tilla Pheran’. Over the years many officegoers or the people who move out of their homes to work in Kashmir usually wear trendy Pherans to their workplace.

Decades back, Kashmiris used to wear 'Pherans' stitched out of light material over their bodies in summers also, however, that is rarely seen nowadays. Though Pheran has made a comeback for summers even, but it is mostly of cotton and symbolizes a fashion trend, particularly among Kashmiri girls.

The genesis of word ‘Pheran’ remains a mystery, however, many believe it could be derived from the Persian word for shirt—‘perahan’. Some opine ‘Pheran’ has been derived from a Greek word ‘apron’. Others also say ‘Pheran’ has Tajik genesis ‘peraband‘. The linkage of ‘Pheran’ with Central Asia by historians has its roots to centuries back in Kashmir’s tryst with Central Asia through Silk Route.

Kashmir’s ‘Pheran’ has its roots back to 15th century and is believed to be an important part of Kashmir’s culture and tradition. Winters in Kashmir are incomplete without the Pheran. The word on the street is that you are not a Kashmiri unless if you have not ventured streets during winter amid snowfall donning a Pheran with ‘Kangri’ (Kashmiri firepot) inside it.

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The combination of 'Pheran' and Kangri for Kashmiri symbolises warmth. Pheran means coziness even in the times of modern apparels including jackets and other woolens.

Infact, many scholars believe Pherans was introduced by Mughal Emperor Akbar to “tame” Kashmiris and restrict their martial skills forwaging a rebellion against his empire.

Australian author Christopher Snedden in his book,‘Understanding Kashmir and Kashmiris’ writes: “In 1586, the Mughals under Akbarhad compelled its men to wear 'Pherans' to diminish the Kashmiris’ martial instincts and skills.”

Snedden believes the move “severely restricted Kashmiri men’s ability to engage in combat because it hindered unfettered movement, including preventing the easy and rapid drawing of knives or swords from their scabbards.”

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When Pheran Landed People In Trouble

Unlike today, when Kashmiris wear Pherans unhindered in and outside their homes. There was time when wearing a Pheran outside the homecould land a person in trouble. It was during tumultuous 90’s. It was when Valley’s landscape used to rattle with thuds of bombs and bullets. During those days, a Kashmiri boy wearing a Pheran outside his home was viewed with suspicion by security forces.

The militants donning ammunition used to don Pherans to camouflage their appearance from the gaze of security forces. However, there was no ban on wearing Pherans.

In the winter of 2014, there was an instance when the Army had asked media not to wear Pherans to the presser due to “security reasons”. However, the move had infuriated the lensmen and penmen. Also, then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had expressed his resentment. On that day, journalists wore colourful Pherans to the event as a mark of protest. Later, the witty Army Officer heading that event had pacified journalists with his anecdotes.

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There have been instances in Kashmir in recent years, where there has been controversy on Pherans. It was after the administration had issued an order to their employees for not wearing Pherans to the workplace.

Pheran in literature

Pheran is intrinsic to Kashmir. Even writers have used Pheran to symbolize Kashmir. The world acclaimed Kashmiri writer Mirza Waheed’s ‘The Collaborator’s' cover page has got a boy donning Pheran amid snow.

Pheran in Bollywood

Even Bollywood has used 'Pheran'  to showcase elements of Kashmir. From Khans to Bollywood’s Kapoor’s, the Hindi cinema has shown Valley’s mesmerizing hues in 'Pheran'. Be it Salman Khan donning Pheran in ‘Bajrangi Bhaijan’, Sanjay Dutt in ‘Lamha’ or Shahid Kapoor in ‘Haider’, a written by Kashmiri journalist and writer Basharaat Peer, Bollywood’s lens has also captured Kashmir’s Pheran.

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Pheran in politics

The traditional attire has also been used by politicians across the spectrum to make a statement. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared in a 'Pheran'  during his first address as the prime minister in Kashmir. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi during his Bharat Jodo Yatra also donned Pheran in Kashmir last year. Even former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is said to be fond of colourful Kashmiri Pheran.

Even wearing of Pheran is Kashmir now is celebrated on a particular date—December 21st, when ‘Chillai-Kallan’—harshest 40-day winter period begins. It is now touted as “International Pheran Day”. In Valley’s changed political landscape, several youths in the winter of 2022 wearing pherans cat-walked near the 'Ghanta Ghar' (clock tower) in Srinagar's city centre Lal Chowk in their efforts to promote 'Pheran' and showcase "changed Kashmir".

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