Kashmir Series: The Kashmir Conflict and the Muslim Identity in India (Part 2)

By Ritu Sushila Krishan

HISTORY OF KASHMIR

The Islam practiced in the Kashmir valley differs from the one practiced in the rest of the country and also in Pakistan. It was this difference that gave the Valley its clarion call for freedom in the name of Kashmiriyat – which since 1930s has come to be defined as “a reflection of a peerless tradition of regional nationalism, standing above petty religious rivalries” (Rai, 2004). This loosely defined term, just like many other politically useful terms, has been used to set the people from Jammu and Kashmir apart from the rest of the India, has been the rallying point for individuals and groups seeking a separate state. However, it was the context and demography of the state that eventually necessitated the use of religion (Sharma, 1985). The history and context of Jammu-Kashmir played an important role in shaping the development of events in the Valley. Islam was not brought to Kashmir by attackers and the people were not converted at gun point. Rather, the people willingly converted and started following the Sufism strand of Islam.

Religion started gaining traction in public/political sphere in 1846 as British installed ‘alien’ Dogra Hindu ruler in the state of Jammu and Kashmir without any consideration for the denizens of the state. The Dogra-Hindu state saw the Hindu minority community of Kashmiri Pandits flourishing. Forming a mere five percent of the population of the state, the community was profusely represented in the state administration and government machinery. In the run up to 1947, the year in which India gained independence and Pakistan came into existence, the religious nature of the state has triggered inter-religious rivalries to stake claim on the politico-economic resources. July 13, 1931 is being referred as the beginning of the Kashmir’s struggle for freedom. Juxtaposed to the ongoing Indian struggle for freedom, on this day 22 demonstrators and a policeman were killed in Srinagar (the capital of Jammu and Kashmir) while challenging the legitimacy of the Dogra rule (Rai, 2004).

At the time of independence, the Hindu ruler of the Muslim -majority state signed the Instrument of Accession with India on October 26, 1947, in lieu of the New Delhi’s military support against the Pakistan-backed tribesmen from the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP). The tribesmen had attacked Jammu and Kashmir to forcibly liberate the Muslims of Kashmir.  The subjects of Hari Singh, who have started an uprising in 1931, under the leadership of Sheikh Abdullah accepted the Instrument of Accession along with the assurance of the Indian government to protect the autonomy of the state. Then Prime Minister of India Jawahar Lal Nehru, himself a Kashmiri Pandit, promised plebiscite to the population of Jammu and Kashmir to decide the future course of the state. By November 1947, both India and Pakistan formulated public positions that would make difficult for both of them to retreat (Lamb, 1993).

Kasmir Study Group

Source: Kashmir Study Group (www.kashmirstudygroup.com)

In what would remain the main bone of contention between India and Pakistan, New Delhi took the matter to the United Nations for resolution. As a UN enforced ceasefire came into being, one-third of Jammu and Kashmir was under Pakistan’s control. The UN Resolution passed in August 1948 offered a multi-point solution. The resolution asked for returning to status quo before the 1947 that entailed withdrawal of Pakistani troops and tribesmen from the state and in the meantime territory evacuated by the Pakistani troops will be administered by the local authorities under the surveillance of the UN commission. At the same time the Indian government was to remove bulk of its forces from the state paving way for plebiscite and final resolution of the conflict. However, both India and Pakistan have not adhered to the resolution and further strengthened their foothold in their respective parts of the state.

In supporting the decision to accede to New Delhi, Sheikh Abdullah identified more similarity between the basic tenets of the Idea of India that is Secularism and Kashmiriyat. Nearly a year after Jammu and Kashmir leader Sheikh Abdullah defended India’s stand in his speech in the UN Security Council Meeting[1] by saying: “It was because I and my organization never believed in the formula that Muslims and Hindus form separate nations. We neither believe in the two-nation theory, nor in communal hatred or communalism itself. We believed that religion had no place in politics. Therefore, when we launched our movement of ‘Quit Kashmir’ it was not only Muslims who suffered, but our Hindu and Sikh comrades as well.”

To get a clear picture about the conflict, a popular myth that assumes that the dispute of Kashmir is all about the ‘cohesive and homogenous’ people of a shared ethnicity seeking the right of self-determination, needs to be busted. Presently the assumed cohesiveness and homogeneity of the populace of Jammu and Kashmir is contrary to the ground reality. The religion-wise breakup of the population as per the 2001 census showed that the Muslims constituted the predominant religious community of the state at 67 percent, Hindus came next at 29.6 percent, Sikhs 2.23 percent, Buddhists 1.16 percent, Christians 0.14 percent, and others form the remaining part. The population was also divided into three main geographical regions of Hindu majority Jammu, Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley and Buddhist-populated Ladakh. While the denial of the right of self-determination has led to the alienation of the population of Kashmir Valley, the neglect of the other communities socially, economically and politically – Hindus and Buddhists – have created schism between Jammu and Ladakh’s relations with the state government-based in Kashmir. The situation can be summed up that contrary to the assumption of Kashmiris being a ‘homogenous, monolithic’ group; it has many small communities each striving for a better socio-economic development and a political space for itself (Behra, 2006). This mistaken impression often results in assessing the relation of only the Kashmir valley with the Indian state and not that of the whole state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The demographic realities of the state further add to the complexities of the conflict. On one hand, the continuous encroachment of the Indian government of the promised autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir and the meddling with political institutions in the valley has alienated the now educated and better informed youth of the valley (Ganguly, 1996). And on the other hand, the constant refusal of the Kashmir-Muslim headed government to share power with other communities forced Jammu and Ladakh regions to seek a greater integration with India has pushed the regions of Jammu and Ladakh towards the Central Government (Behra, 2006). It was not before 1990s that the call for freedom took a violent turn and an armed insurgency began in the state. The rising insurgency in Kashmir found an ally in the radicalisation taking place in Pakistan following 1971 war. This eventually led some leaders in Kashmir to seek a separate homeland for the Kashmiri Muslims – which constitute nearly 99 percent of the population of the Kashmir Valley after Kashmiri Pandits were driven out by the violent campaign against them in 1990 by militants. The crystallized divisions became evident in 2008 as the protests of the Kashmir Muslims against the land transfer to the Hindu Amarnath Shrine Board were met with not only equal but more vocal protests by the Hindu in Jammu Region[2]. The Kashmir conundrum is a classic case where ‘minority rights and justice’ forms the central issue. The Buddhist and Hindu community in the state reject independence for the state for the fear of being dominated the majority Muslim community, which in turn has similar misgivings regarding the Hindu-dominated India (Cohen, 2013). In its quest to prop up Kashmir as the jewel of Indian secularism, the Indian State has also reinforced the Muslim community status of the majority of the population in the state. The Kashmiri Muslims also do not shy away from asserting their different identity and as often seen in the support of Pakistan Cricket Team when it plays against the Indian team.

Over 60 years after the issue was highlighted, India and Pakistan have tried to rationalize their contention around Kashmir, by touting as important for their respective water security. Many major rivers have their sources in the state. But the state is still an emotive issue between the two countries. In a nutshell initially the Kashmiris – both Hindus and Muslims- had considered themselves vitally different from their counterparts in the rest of the country. But, the movement that started against the “unequal relationship” between the rulers and the ruled that gave way to communal bias as “political consciousness” spread to Kashmir.

Author Biography

Ritu Sushila Krishan has been a Journalist working in India for 8 years, and for better part of her stint she has been covering defence and strategic issues along with social conflicts. Presently she has been pursuing her Masters degree from Willy Brandt School of Public Policy and interests herself in conflicts revolving around religion.

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[1] The UNSC Meeting was convened on February 6, 1948 to hear India’s complaint against the attack of the Pakistan-backed tribesmen who entered Jammu and Kashmir to liberate Kashmir by force. (Sheikh Abdullah’s statement to Security Council Official Records, Third Year, Nos. 16-35, Feb 6, 1948.

[2] For more detailed information on the subject read Roy, Arundhati (2008), “Lands and Freedom”,  The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/aug/22/kashmir.india

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Sources

 

Behra, N. C. (2006). Demystifying Kashmir. Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press.

Cohen, S. P. (2013). Shooting for a Century: Finding Answers to the India-Pakistan conundrum. HarperCollins Publishers Indua.

Ganguly, S. (1996). Explaining the Kashmir Insurgency: Political Mobilisation and Institutional Decay. International Security, 21(2), 76–107.

Lamb, A. (1993). Kashmir: A Disputed Legacy. Oxford University Press.

Rai, M. (2004). Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects: Islam, Rights and the History of Kashmir. Permanent Black.

Roy, A. (2008, August 22). Land and Freedom . The Guardian.

Sharma, P. (1985). The National Question in Kashmir, 13(6), 35–56.

Sheikh Abdullah’s statement to Security Council Official Records, Third Year, Nos. 16-35, Feb 6, 1948

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Image: ‘2000 years old Sree/Siri Sharada Devi Temple, Sharada, Kashmir, Pakistan‘ by Irfan Ahmed, released under Creative Commons 2.0 license.

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