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The Kashmir Series: The Kashmir Conflict and the Muslim Identity in India (Part 3)

India, Kashmir Dispute and the Muslim Identity

The idea of nation itself has undergone a sea change and today nations can be accepted as a set of ideas around which an identity is being constructed to define who belongs to the country and who do not. But for India the restructuring of nationalism took place just at independence as Pakistan was carved out as Muslim Homeland. India instead of choosing the nationality of race decided to opt for the nationality of territory cutting across religions (Varshney, 2002) and was home to nearly 13 percent of Muslims at the time of independence.

The secularism of India has been anchored in the Constitution of India, but the Hindu-Muslim cleavage never healed in the post-independent India in the presence of the nationalizing host state of India, presence of national minority of Muslims, in whose name an external national homeland was claimed in 1947 in the name of Pakistan (Brubaker, 1996). And the revival of Kashmiri freedom movement aided by the insurgency from across the Line of Control (LoC) dividing India and Pakistan (Swami, 2007) considerably shaped the Muslim Identity in the rest of the India as well. Symbol selection and manipulation by politically active elites of both Hindus and Muslim communities have shaped the Muslim Identity in the country (Copland, 2014) and Kashmir has been an important symbol that has epitomized this struggle. Kashmir continues to shape the identity and the domestic politics in India.

The predicaments of the Muslims in the rest of India owing to the Pakistan’s intervention in Kashmir were duly expressed by a group of non-Kashmiri Muslims in a Memorandum to the United Nations in 1951. Signed by 14 distinguished Indian Muslims of that time, the memorandum questioned Pakistan’s constant announcement about their “determination to protect and safeguard the interests of Muslims in India”. “This naturally aroused suspicion amongst the Hindus against us and our loyalty to India was questioned,” said the memorandum. Regarding Kashmir and its impact on the fortune of Muslims it said: “In its oft-proclaimed anxiety to rescue the 3 million Muslims from what it describes as the tyranny of a handful of Hindus in the State (Jammu and Kashmir), Pakistan evidently is prepared to sacrifice the interests of 40 million Muslims in India – a strange exhibition of concern for the welfare of fellow Muslims. Our misguided brothers in Pakistan do not realise that if Muslims in Pakistan can wage a war against Hindus in Kashmir why should not Hindus, sooner or later, retaliate against Muslims in India?”

At the same time failing to gain support of the minority communities of Hindus and Buddhists in Jammu and Kashmir, the leaders of Kashmiri Muslims, even Sheikh Abdullah, pitted the movement against the subversion of the right of the self-determination of the Muslim-dominated Kashmir by the Hindu-majority India (Varshney,1991). The divide along communal lines became more evident during the summer of 2008 as the whole valley broke out in agitation and a stone-pelting population was dealt with heavy hand by security forces. Booker Prize winner and political activist Arundhati Roy talking against the Indian occupation in the Valley in her Essay said: “It allows Hindu chauvinists to target and victimise Muslims in India by holding them hostage to the freedom struggle being waged by Muslims in Kashmir.”

Many scholars, including Samuel Huntington, have pointed out that the economic modernization generates a politically conscious community that seeks greater opportunities for physical, social and economic mobility. Others have also identified that in most of the contemporary poly-ethnic societies developmental needs expressed in terms of cultural values, human rights and security (Brown, 1997).  This could not be more evident than in the situation of the Kashmir Valley. A close scrutiny of the situation shows that the employment among the youth remains abysmally low, in stark resemblance of the situation for the majority of the population during the rule of the Hindu Dogra King (Ganguly, 1996).

The antinomies of nationalism of India and Pakistan and the question of Muslim Identity in India can be extrapolated to the Myron Weiner’s model explaining ‘The Macedonian Syndrome’. The model has three actors – an irredentist state, an anti-irredentist neighbor, and a shared ethnic group crossing the international boundary (Weiner, 1971). The ethnic group has to be in minority in the anti-irredentist neighbor. The situation gets exacerbated as the two neighbors have a disputed territory. Since Partition Pakistan continues to have irredentist claims on the Kashmir Valley and the rest of the Muslim population of the anti-irredentist India. The Muslim community being the national minority of the country is also a key- actor in this triadic relation.

The situation can also be understood in the light of the triadic configuration used by Rogers Brubaker while explaining the National Question in the New Europe as the boundaries were drawn cutting across communities similar or different from each other. Brubaker saw the relation between nationalizing state, national minorities and external homelands. As per this configuration, nationalizing states are poly-ethnic and are still in the stage of nation-building making it imperative for them to promote to varying degrees the language, culture, demographic position, economic flourishing or political hegemony. Then there are self-conscious national minorities striving for greater cultural or territorial autonomy.  Muslims are the national minority sof India and not Sikhs, Jains or Buddhists. Therefore the Kashmiri Muslim’s demand for more freedom has a negative impact on the greater Muslim Identity in India. And the triad is completed by an external national ‘homeland’ of the minorities. Pakistan on the basis of common religion with the Muslims of India have been closely monitoring their situation and closely protest alleged violation of their rights and assert its obligation to defend their interests. A case in point would be the resolution passed by the Parliament of Pakistan to denounce the anti-Muslim communal riots in Gujarat in 2002.

The separatist leaders have been constantly invoking the common religious thread between Kashmir and Pakistan to assert secession from India.  In 2008 separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani said during one of the protest that Islam would guide the struggle and that it was a complete social and moral code that would govern the people of a free Kashmir. He said Pakistan had been created as the home of Islam, and that that goal should never be subverted. He said just as Pakistan belonged to Kashmir, Kashmir belonged to Pakistan (Roy, 2008). It is such stances of the Kashmiri leader that given fodder to the Hindu chauvinist outside the Valley and then the ensuing stereotyping of the rest of the Muslims and their putative nationalism towards Pakistan.

The triangular relationship is also exhibited in the clash of the informal symbols of nationalism prevalent in the Valley and the formal nationalism as promoted by the Central Indian government. For instance as the insurgency started in the Valley in 1990s, celebrations of events associated with the Indian nationhood such as Independence Day and Republic Day are not celebrated by the masses. Whereas, the Pakistan backed militant groups designed social calendars to mobilise the masses and included events like Pakistan’s Independence Day. In the same fashion, cricket matches between India and Pakistan served an important political function as the Kashmiris cheer the Pakistani team. The efforts of the Indian Central government in generating national symbols have also been thwarted by the exposure of the Kashmiri population to Pakistan radio and television that have been instrumental in giving an alternative version of the Kashmir issue and strengthening the religious bond between Pakistan and the Kashmir Valley. This aided with the alienation of Kashmiri Muslim masses has put up questions around the legitimacy of the Indian authority (Tremblay, 1996).

While Pakistan can hardly afford to give formal citizenship to the Muslims of the country, its continuous monitoring of their situation and interference in their affairs; and privileges given to the Muslims from the Kashmir Valley and the rest of the country has given rise to two mutually antagonistic nationalisms – one towards India and other towards Pakistan. The recent example has been the suspension of 67 Kashmir Muslim students from a university in Northern India after they rooted for Pakistani team during a cricket match on March 3, 2014 and the immediate response from Pakistan and Pakistan-based terror outfit Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD) separately offering scholarship to the expelled students highlighted this third party intervention attempting to exploit the existing fissures in the society[1].

Just like the Valley of Kashmir secessionist movement was waged in Punjab. The economically strong backbone of Punjab helped it bounce back as opposed to Kashmir where one crop season and the militancy had destroyed the economy. Sikhs, who have been victims of the carnage of 1984 following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, are performing really well and are respected across the country. This is in complete contrast to alienation faced by the Kashmiri Muslims and the aspersion it casts on the Muslim Community in the country as general. The other factor complicating the complex issue is the support of Pakistan that has been created in the name of providing a secure future to the South Asian Muslims and thus seen as the ‘external’ home for the Muslims of India.


Under international Law, a state has the right to protect its citizens even when they live in other states. But they cannot legitimately claim to protect their ethnic co-nationals living in other state and holding the legal citizenship of that state. While Kashmiris right to strive for self-determination is indisputable, Pakistan’s irredentist claim on the basis of a movement that saw a resurgence in 1990s (considerably long time after Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession with India) complicates the situation.

Monitoring is the key aspect of the triadic relation and Pakistan – projecting itself as the homeland of South Asian Muslims – take complete leverage of that situation. Pakistan backing the movement in Kashmir, can react back on the nationalizing state that is India, where the minority might be accused of disloyalty in reaction. Hindu fundamentalists have already been holding the “attitude of Muslims that Muslims were different from the nation” as the main reason of the country’s partition (Varshney, 2002). They contend that the success of movement in Kashmir is deemed pernicious for the secular fabric of India and will have a ‘domino-effect’ in the poly-ethnic society of India. In India the question of minority is intricately linked with the Kashmir conflict and to many the conflict reflects a struggle for the creation of Pakistan – an event commemorated as a tragedy in India and celebrated in Pakistan as a momentous occasion.

Pakistan might be exploiting its ethno-religious ties with the Kashmir valley driven by geo-political reasons and denotes an “unfinished” business” of the partition. But India, trying to save its secular fabric, finds it difficult to hand over the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir to a ‘Muslim’ Pakistan just because of the religion. Moreover, so when the existence of this minority puts a question mark on the creation of Pakistan itself (Cohen, Shooting For A Century, 2013).

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] Support for the Pakistani cricket team is nothing new in Kashmir. It is seen as another way of expressing anger against the Indian state, a reflection of a protracted ethno-national conflict. Late in November 2011, a court in Srinagar acquitted 12 men, 28 years after they were accused of digging a pitch at the first International match held at the Bakhsi Stadium in Srinagar. It was an India Vs West Indies tie, in 1983. The 12 Kashmiris were accused of attacking the pitch during the lunch break. The match became a legend in Kashmir, the home side booed by supporters of the separatists and eventually losing the game.


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

Brubaker, R. (1996). Nationalism Reframed: Nationhood and the National Question in the New Europe. Cambridge(pp. 55-76): Cambridge University Press.

Cohen, S. P. (2013). Shooting for a Century. Brookings Institution Press.

Copland, I. (2014). Islam and Political Mobilization in Kashmir , 1931-34, 54(2), 228–259

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

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

Tremblay, R. C. (1996). Nation , Identity and the Intervening Role of the State : A Study of the Secessionist Movement in Kashmir. Pacific Affairs, 69(4), 471–497.

Swami, P. (2007). India-Pakistan and the Secret Jihad: The covert war in Kashmir, 1947-2004. Routledge.

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

Varshney, A. (2002). Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life: Hindus and Muslims in India. Yale University.

Weiner, M. (1971). The Macedonian Syndrome : An Historical Model of International Relations and Political Development. World Politics23(4), 665–683.


Image Credits: ‘Dal Lake in Kashmir’, by Ritu Sushila Krishan


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