Female YouTubers of Kashmir
Making a mark
Kashmir has long been renowned for its beautiful valleys and mountains, and tourism there has significantly expanded. To draw in more visitors, JK Tourism also staged a number of roadshows across the nation. And some people from Kashmir have taken over social media sites like YouTube and Facebook to present a unique viewpoint and a peek of the amazing spots to visit in Kashmir.
One hears so much about Kashmir's natural splendour. Even more gorgeous when viewed through Kashmiris' eyes. Bright young Kashmiris' dedication and attention to detail is evident in the countless vlogs, photos, and social media posts of many YouTubers. However, male YouTubers predominate among Kashmir's content producers. There aren't many female YouTubers in Kashmir, and the few who do aren't well known or backed by the community.
Faizul Manzoor, a 20-year-old hailing from Barzulla, Srinagar, is recognised as the first female vlogger from Kashmir. She put in a lot of effort to establish herself as a popular YouTuber in Kashmir.
Manzoor says that despite various prejudices that used to be expressed about her, her mother gave her a lot of support. She maintains hope, nevertheless, and keeps moving forward in her quest to achieve her goals.
"I started my YouTube career in 2019, but that was after Article 370 and 35A were repealed. My YouTube career couldn't get off to a good start since the internet was interrupted for over a year and then its bandwidth was decreased to 2G, which made it difficult to upload videos," she says.
"Kashmir is the most militarised region, and because of any incident, the internet generally gets suspended or the speed sometimes gets reduced, creating a lot of problems for uploading any video and maintaining connectivity with the outside world."
Ulfat Rafiq, another recognised vlogger from Kashmir, goes by the moniker "hijabi vlogger," well known for documenting her daily life. She is from the remote Baramullah district of Kashmir, and pursuing a BTech in civil engineering.
"I started my YouTube experience in 2020. When I started, there were very few female vloggers, but because society did not support them much, they retreated. That was the day I realised how well supported male vloggers are in society.
"If we look at the list of Kashmir's most popular YouTube channels, we'll see a pattern: almost all of them are created by or primarily feature men. I was quite disappointed by this. So that was the day I made the decision to start vlogging, and my primary concern was how to change people's perceptions to show that women can succeed in content creation.
"So I came up with a plan that greatly assisted me in establishing my reputation in society and progressing in this profession with the help of others. I decided to wear a mask over my face and cover my head. I wear a mask because I want to uphold Islamic customs," she says.
Rafiq says she earns close to Rs 10,000 a month with her three weekly vlogs. "When I started making videos, I realised there was a lot of competition, but I still believed I would become a successful YouTuber and, in some small way, be able to assist people."
At first only her mother, sister, and a few close acquaintances were aware of her vlogs.
"When my father learned about my channel, he initially expressed reluctance, but after watching me receive honours and praise, he gave me his support and counselled me to conform to cultural norms."
"My opinion is that if the girl doesn't adhere to her Islamic rules and customs, our society will not support her. However, our society will still accept and support a man if he does something that is also against our beliefs," she explains.
"In general being a YouTuber (besides gender) is also difficult as our Kashmir always faces internet shutdowns. If you consistently provide material, viewers will remember you, and if we stop they will cease remembering us. In the event that the valley's internet goes down, my audience will drop by 90%."
Another emerging YouTuber, Munazab Tahir, a 10th grade student who hails from the Srinagar district of Kashmir, thinks that "For a sizable portion of Kashmir's youth, shattering preconceptions might be difficult. Many Kashmiri families are a little hesitant to let their kids pursue unconventional vocations. They urge them to pursue traditional vocations and work in positions that provide stability and financial security.
"It's not that those families are paranoid, of course. The region's progress has so far continuously fluctuated. Parents therefore want their children to make a significant contribution and create a more secure and promising future for themselves."
"The good news is that things are evolving. Youth who might have otherwise spent years stuck in traditional employment and schooling are now breaking free. While many have dabbled with singing, some have established themselves as authors and poets. On the other side, some have become YouTube vloggers!"
Tahir further added, "YouTube vlogging may not be a novel idea or anything that demands an exclamation point everywhere, save from Kashmir. Vlogging attracts attention in a traditional community like Kashmir, particularly among women."
"It hasn't been simple for me, though. My parents first disapproved of my passion but subsequently came to support it after learning more about it. In Kashmiri society, which is still largely male, I still have difficulties. Many Kashmiri men prefer to see women restricted to the home and performing household duties, and I still do receive a lot of criticism and even abuse on social media by guys who consider themselves preachers."
This is because "Society believes that a girl doesn't have any right to come under limelight. However, if your parents are supportive then nobody is going to raise a finger on you, and then you will hardly pay attention towards society."
Concluding, "Although we say that gender discrimination doesn't prevail much nowadays, it still exists. Females are still inferior and males are considered superior."
Cover Photograph - Faizul Manzoor