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Kashmir Series: The Kashmir Conflict and the Muslim Identity in India (Part 1)

The popular assumption among the masses in India about the “Muslim Separatism” that got manifested in the partition of the country is that Muslims had a choice of political identity but they chose one based on religion (Robb, 1991). The assumption got impetus with the turn of events in the Kashmir valley and the constant irredentist claim of Pakistan. And even as Kashmiris tried to separate themselves from Muslims of the rest of India, the developments in the Valley did influence the shaping of Identity of Muslims in the rest of the country.

Territory has always played a pivotal role in inter-state rivalry. And John A. Vasquez has said that the value of territories increase due to their strategic locations; like if they provide access to sea or are source of water. But territories acquire another important dimension if they are home to ethnic and religious communities that form part of the neighbouring state (Paul, 2005). The state of Kashmir presents one such enduring conflict where the separatist demands in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, coupled with the irredentist claim of Pakistan, has helped in shaping a narrative in India. The popular assumption in India is that the ‘Muslim Separatism’ has been manifested in the form of the country’s partition in 1947 and the prevalent notion is that Muslims had a choice of political identity but they chose one based on religion (Robb, 1991). This has resulted in an unintended linking of the Kashmir’s demand for greater autonomy or separate state with the identity of Muslims in the rest of India.

This series is an examination of how the tangible material like the territory of Kashmir has been accorded intangible and symbolic values bringing the conflict to an impasse. During the course of this series the impact of the conflict over Kashmir[1], the only Muslim-majority state in India, on the Muslim Identity in the rest of the India will also be deliberated upon using Rogers Brubaker’s triadic configuration of nationalizing states, national minorities and external national homelands. This model will bring out the difference between the Sikh secessionist movement waged in Punjab during 1980s[2] and the demand of Kashmiris’ for self-determination that is a heady mix of contentions along ethnic, religious and territorial lines, irredentism, hyper-nationalism and; interstate and intrastate conflict. It is both cause and effect of the rivalry between India and Pakistan.

The Indian secularists consider the state’s accession to the Union of India as imperative for the four pillars of the its foundation – Secularism, Democracy, Federalism and Nationalism (Ganguly and Bajpai, 1994). Pakistan, on the other hand, staked its irredentist claim on Kashmir as a Muslim-majority territory contiguous to it. The vigour of Pakistan’s claim increased more so after East Pakistan broke off in 1971 to form Bangladesh, discrediting the very idea of Pakistan as the home to the South Asian Muslims[3].

The interference of Pakistan in the movement in the Kashmir that has its genesis in 1931 owing to the unequal relationship between the ruler (the Hindu Dogra King) and the ruled (a poor Muslim Peasantry), meant that over a period of time the movement aligned itself along the communal lines (Talbot, 1949).  It is accepted that it was not the differences between the two religions – Hinduism and Islam – that resulted in communalism but “communal politics and ideological practices that transformed religious differentiation into communal cleavage” (Chandra, 1996) and (Brown, 1997). But the failure of the ‘secular-nationalist’ forces to deal with the communal problem despite its commitment to secularism and national unity, in the pre-independence country played an instrumental role in the rise of communalism. Also, the rise of political self-consciousness among the elites in the second largest community in the country – that has been rulers of the country during what is popularly termed as the Mughal Era – suddenly projected itself as minorities (Akbar, 2011) – led to the partition of the country into India and Pakistan[4].

The bloodshed that ensued partition bequeathed both the countries with a heavy burden of the past. And, as Muslims projected themselves as National Minority – a political stance to claim certain collective cultural or political rights – they created a triadic nexus between India-Pakistan and the Muslim community (Bowem, 2002). This triadic nexus also got extrapolated in the politics of Kashmir and the players involved – India and Pakistan – got bound by their intractable positions as the clamour for independence gets stronger among Kashmiri Muslims.

Further, the manifestation of the Kashmir dispute along religious lines has bolstered the strength of the Hindu nationalists across the country, who have pinned the issue to the question of the loyalty of Muslim community as a whole towards India (Varshney, 1991). The Muslim Community has also witnessed an increase in political consciousness among communities and a sense of affiliation to the larger Muslim population cutting across geographical boundaries with the advent of modernity (Chandra, 1996). In this backdrop, the issue of freedom pursued in the Kashmir Valley, has made its “inalienable” association with India’s nationalism. In a polyethnic and multi-religious society like India, Nationalism is a set of ideas, both learned and manipulated (Bowem, 2002).

The state of Jammu and Kashmir has also been heavily polarized today, in contrast to the one at the time of India’s independence, as evident from the mass protests of Hindus and Muslims that arose following the Amarnath Yatra Land transfer issue in 2008[5] (Tremblay, 2009). The Kashmiri Pandits (Hindus) continue to be in exile since their exodus from the Valley of Kashmir in 1990, the generation of Kashmir Muslims since then has grown without any memory of co-existence with other community. Moreover, the Hindus of the Jammu region for long have been grieving against the social, economic and political partisan politics played by the politicians of Kashmir and wants merger of the state with India. The populace of the Kashmir Valley in turn has long been holding New Delhi responsible for snatching away its right for self-determination. In a nutshell the communal politics in the state of Jammu and Kashmir is a reflection of the communal tension in India as a whole, but with a role reversal, as the national minority community is in majority in the state.

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.


[1] For the sake of convenience, Jammu and Kashmir will be named as Kashmir in the series.

[2] The secessionist movement in Punjab saw, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordering military action against the Sikh secessionist leaders and Indian Army’s tank rolled into the holiest shrine of the Sikhs – The Golden Temple. This enraged the Sikhs, and to avenge this Indira Gandhi’s Sikh bodyguards assassinated her. The assassination was followed by the worst anti-Sikh communal riots in the history of independent India.

[3] India-Pakistan war in 1971 is one of the four wars the two countries have fought. India had defiantly supported and trained the Mukti Vahini under the leadership of Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman. The Bangladesh had erupted against the political, cultural and lingual subjugation of the East Pakistan by the then West Pakistan. The dismemberment punched holes in the theory propagating religion as the basis for the formation of a nation.

[4] While projecting Muslims as the National Minority the leaders of the Muslim League assumed the Muslims of India to be a homogenous entity. For more information read Chandra, Bipan, “Communalism in Modern India”,1996.

[5] In 2008 the Congress-led state government led to the transfer of around 99 acres of forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) to develop temporary shelters for the Hindu pilgrims visiting the shrine. This led to a round of mass protests in the Kashmir Valley, much to the contrary of the Indian Central Government’s claims of arrival of a stable peace in the region.



Bajpai, S. G. and K. (1994). India and the Crisis in Kashmir. Asian Survey, 34(5), 401–416.

Bowem, J. R. (2002). The Myth of Global Ethnic Conflict. Alexander Laban Hinton ed. Genocide:An Anthropological Reader, Blackwell, Oxford, UK.

Brown, M. E. (1997). The Causes of Internal Conflict an Overview . Cambridge : MIT Press.

Chandra, B. (1996). Communalism in Modern India. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House Pvt. Ltd.

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

Robb, P. G. (1991). Muslim Identity and Separatism in India: The Significance of MA Ansari, 54(1), 104–125.

Tremblay, R. C. (2009). Kashmir’s Secessonist Movement Resurfaces: Ethnic Identity, Community Competition and the State. Asian Survey49(6), 924–950.

Varshney, A. (1991). India, Pakistan and Kashmir: Antinomies of Nationalism. Asian Survey, 31(11), 997–1019.

Vasquez, J.A (2005). The India–Pakistan conflict in light of general theories of war, rivalry, and deterrence. Thazha Varkey Paul ed. The India Pakistan Rivalry: an Enduring Rivalry, Cambridge University Press, UK.


Image: ‘Wagah Border Closing 06‘ by Stefan Krasowski, released under Creative Commons 2.0 license


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