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ISSN 2582-2241


The Kashmir Question 1



Relevant questions and possible answers for resolving the crisis in Jammu & Kashmir.


THE KASHMIRI AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST ZAFAR CHOUDHARY made two perceptive comments at the Roundtable Discussion on resolving the problem of Jammu and Kashmir, held in June 2017, when several novel proposals were presented. Mr. Choudhary noted that these proposals were prescriptions without “the pain of diagnosis,” and further that the proposals merely considered one or two constituencies within Kashmir and ignored the rest (Epilogue, February 2011).

These observations are as valid today as they were when he first made them. Indeed, we need a clear diagnosis with the interests of all in mind before we can present a prescription. Towards this purpose, three fundamental questions are important: Who is a Kashmiri?  In nearly 30 years since 1987, what has been lost?  Why insurgency in Kashmir? I propose to consider these questions, and, having considered them in a broad manner, I wish to address further the question: What is to be done?


Who Is a Kashmiri?

The answer to this question is not as simple as may appear in the first glance. It is amazing that those who rush to give their opinions on the Kashmir problem fail to ask this elementary question. While it is reasonable to suggest that the opinion of Kashmiris must be considered in arriving at a solution, absence of clarity on who a Kashmiri is leads to confusion.

It may be argued that Kashmiris are those who share Kashmiri as their mother tongue. This shared linguistic identity lends itself to a division in terms of religion, for it is clear that there are Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Hindus. Further, among Kashmiri Muslims there are strong differences between Shias and Sunnis. On the other hand, it may be argued that all the people of the state of Jammu and Kashmir are Kashmiris in an extended sense.  If this is the case, then we have to consider Dogras of the Jammu region, and Ladakhis of the Ladakh region, as well. Kashmiri, Dogri, and Ladakhi are different languages. To add to the complexity, there are other languages such as Gujari of Gujjars, originally nomadic people who have retained their cultural identity. Dogras are mostly Hindus, and Ladakhis are Tibetan Buddhists or Shia Muslims.

While Kashmiri Muslims are visible, Kashmiri Hindus, popularly known as Kashmiri Pandits, are invisible. These invisible Kashmiris find hardly any mention in a discussion on Kashmiris. These Kashmiri Hindus are often described as 'migrants' because they left Srinagar and other places in the Kashmir Valley in 1990, especially after the night of 19 January 1990. Indeed, they were not migrants who left their homeland voluntarily for a better future, but refugees who were forced to flee under threat when they were given the option by Islamic activists reportedly to “convert, leave, or perish.” The Hizb-ul-Mujahideen is believed to have played an active part in their forced exodus. It is not uncommon to describe what happened to Kashmiri Hindus as an act of ethnic cleansing. Estimates of how many persons actually left vary, but by the end of the year almost the entire community was forced out, many of them finding shelter in the camps of Jammu and elsewhere. According to the World Factbook of the Central Intelligence Agency, about 300,000 Kashmiri Pandits from Jammu and Kashmir were internally displaced as of 2006. They are yet to be settled.

Not only Kashmiri Hindus, but also Dogras, Ladakhis and Gujjars feel resentful about Kashmiri Muslims dominating the discussion on the entire state. Speakers at a seminar conducted in Jammu by the Jammu for India movement in September 2016 raised concerns, for example, over ‘Islamic domination,’ and Kashmiri Muslims pretending to represent all the people of the state. This was reported in newspapers under the heading, “After Ladakh, Jammu joins ‘azadi from Kashmir’ chorus.” The Dogras of Jammu have not forgotten terrorist attacks believed to be by the Lashkar-e-Toiba on their Raghunath temple in 2002. Thupstan Chhewang, the member of parliament from Ladakh, is reported to have said that the people of Ladakh do not want to remain with Kashmir and wish to secure for themselves union territory status. Gujjars, though mostly Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir, feel sceptical about their numbers being properly represented in different censuses, and demand their language be safeguarded, going so far as to demand separate statehood.

To answer the question raised earlier, Kashmiris have a linguistic identity which has been fractured on a religious basis. A clear distinction exists between Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Hindus. Other people living in the state of Jammu and Kashmir also have principal linguistic identities as Dogras, Ladakhis, and Gujjars. An important minority such as Sikhs has its own identity and has been on the receiving end as well. The massacre of 36 Sikhs in Chittisinghpura, on 20 March 2000, is still remembered. It was carried out, as is generally believed, by the Lashkar-e-Toiba.


What Has Been Lost?

The loss of Kashmiri Hindus needs to be emphasised as it is often overlooked. An entire community has been thrown out of their original homeland and made refugees in their own country. This is not to overlook other losses. The actual deaths during the period are likely to be less than 100,000, including those of security personnel, but the number is certainly very large and growing. Deaths, injuries, tortures, abuses, rapes, missing persons—these human miseries have caused havoc for individuals and families. Common Kashmiri Muslims have suffered much. Women bear the brunt of such a massive upheaval.

There have been major economic losses as well due to the insurgency. More depressing is the cost of missed opportunities. A peaceful state of Jammu and Kashmir could have opened up opportunities at all levels for reaping benefits from new technologies—a software and hardware hub, pharmaceutical industry, service industry with digital support, revitalised traditional economic activity such as tourism.

The future Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru as a young child with his parents Motilal and Swarup Rani Nehru. The Nehrus were a prominent family of Kashmiri Pandits. Photo in the public domain, courtesy Wikicommons.

Less tangible but more damaging is the change in mentality. If the social landscape of the Kashmir Valley has been changed, the mental landscape is being changed too. A brief reference to the past is relevant here. Kashmir is known to have been an abode of rishis, the inspired saints or ascetics of ancient times who sang hymns for the welfare of humanity. Nobody illustrates this tradition better than Lalla, born in the first half of the 14th century, seen as a Shaivite as well as a Sufi mystic. Called , Lalla influenced the poets who followed her, notably Sheikh Nur-ud-din, referred to as Nunda Rishi by Hindus, and venerated by both religions. There are many legends about these mystic aspirants, notably how Lalla nursed the infant Nur-ud-din when he refused milk from his own mother. These were the expressions of the coming together of Shaivism and Sufism in the local context of Kashmir. This coming together was moved by the spirit of ‘peace with all’ which had its influence on the social life of the common people.

This tradition could be given the name kashmiriyat as has been done. But, unhappily, it is being turned into an exclusively Muslim tradition in Kashmir, denying Hindu connections, and is being increasingly used to refer to the devotion of Kashmiri Muslims to the shrines of Sufis, a devotion that is in turn under attack from the radical Islamic influence that has come from outside the country. If it is denied that Lalla was born into a Kashmiri Hindu family, then her connection with Sheikh Nur-ud-din becomes a Muslim story.

Kashmiriyat, moreover, is being seen as a political move going back to the Kashmiri leader Sheikh Abdullah to define Kashmiri nationalism in the context of the unique history of the Kashmiri people. Thus, kashmiriyat gets connected with azadi, or freedom, the buzzword of Kashmiri politics, a word which has been used in a very flexible manner to mean many different things. From being used as a bargaining counter by successive state governments to extract more grants from the central government, it has been used to mean autonomy, independence, independence from India, leaving the door open for joining Pakistan, or more clearly joining Pakistan. Thus, an attempt is made to politicise a plural cultural concept and align it with a unitary political concept.


Why Did Insurgency Begin in Kashmir?

An answer to this question requires a detailed analysis. What can be briefly stated is that a combination of factors has played a role. The failure of the government of India in developing a clear policy, and the failure of local governance that has often been seen as the failure of the central government must be noted. Also, protests and measures to control them have often formed a vicious circle, leading to further escalation of conflict.

The role of Pakistan cannot be denied. We need to recognise the compulsion of the Pakistani oligarchy, dominated by the top brass of the armed forces, which rules in its own interest, and which has learnt to use Islam as an instrument of central power. It is in the interest of this oligarchy to keep the conflict with India alive to protect the prominence and privileges of the armed forces. Recent research publications, especially by C. Christine Fair, Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army's Way of War (2014), shed further light on the role of the Pakistani army. Fair has shown with much evidence how it has sustained a proxy war in Kashmir since 1989 using Islamist terrorists. The will of the oligarchy has prevailed so far.

Pakistan has exported jihad to Kashmir and used Kashmiris as pawns. It has sent a ‘guest’ like Mujahideen and also sent back local ones after training them. Moreover, sustained efforts have been made over the years to wean Kashmiri Muslim youths off their Kashmiri heritage and turn them into the soldiers of an imported version of Islam. Madrasas and mosques have been used systematically for the purpose. The struggle has been against the Kashmiri version of Islam. Even Sheikh Nur-ud-din, the patron saint of Kashmir, was not spared. His shrine at Charar-i-Sharief was turned by the Mujahideen into a battleground in encounters with the Indian armed forces in 1995, causing extensive damage to the town and the shrine.


What Is to Be Done?

We must raise this question with knowledge of what has happened, and in the spirit of sympathy and responsibility. The right to self-determination in the case of Kashmir raises the question of the rights of minority groups as well. If a referendum is held and the most desired wish of the separatists is fulfilled, which is in itself greatly doubtful, it is difficult to see how, with a referendum, the partition of the state into at least four parts can be avoided: Kashmir partitioned into two to accommodate Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Hindus, and then the two regions of Jammu and Ladakh, each in turn with its own minorities. Is it sustainable or even desirable? Can a leader like Syed Ali Shah Geelani of the Hurriyat be trusted by the minorities as he openly talks of his belief that Muslims constitute a separate nation, and they must aspire wherever they live to create ‘an Islamic dispensation’ so that they may live fully in accordance with the rules of Islam? Is this a statement in the interests of the Kashmiri people, or just a religious statement?

Should Kashmir be partitioned on the ground of religion, and what impact will it have on the secular fabric of the country that is already under threat? Can such a move be seen in isolation without considering likely repercussions? Any secular person must ask whether an adventure in a state with less than thirteen million population, not even the size of greater Calcutta, should be allowed to jeopardise the future of more than 172 million Indian Muslims and with them the future of the entire country. Indian Muslims have shown considerable inner strength in condemning terrorism. Should the larger Muslim community in India not play an active role in finding a solution to the Kashmir problem?

Some further thoughts may be briefly shared. It is in the interest of the right-minded people in India to see Pakistan prosper. In the well-being of the common people of Pakistan lies our own well-being. We need to do more to promote friendship at the people-to-people level. In saving the people of Pakistan from their oppressive oligarchy lies the possibility of saving Kashmir, and indeed, the subcontinent. We need to remember that Bangladesh could escape from it only by a painful separation.

Also, political leaders in New Delhi, Jammu, and Srinagar need to behave with greater responsibility. Concern with short-term selfish gains must be replaced by an awareness of the enormous price that is being paid because of the unresolved problem. Further, the state of Jammu and Kashmir must be brought on the course of development that benefits the common people, not an exclusive elite. Moreover, the vicious circle of protests, attacks, and killings needs to be broken. Above all, there is a need for a healing touch for all.

As far as the people of Jammu and Kashmir are concerned, has all been lost? I hope all is not lost. The state has long been mired in the morass of negativity. A conscious effort needs to be made to get out of this situation, to find the way forward, to move from despair to hope. Towards such an effort, an atmosphere of hope promising peace, prosperity, and dignity for all needs to be created, and further, all out effort needs to be made in all sincerity to actualise it.

Surendra Munshi, Dr. Soz. Wiss., is a former Professor, Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta. A sociologist, independent researcher and consultant, he is a Member, Programme Council, Forum 2000 Foundation, Prague. He has co-authored The Intelligent Person’s Guide to Good Governance, and co-edited Good Governance, Democratic Societies, and Globalisation. He writes editorial page articles on issues of current interest and participates in panel discussions. He has moderated panels with such distinguished world leaders as the Dalai Lama, Frederik Willem de Klerk of South Africa, and Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar.

[1] This article is based on my presentation at the Roundtable Discussion, “Jammu & Kashmir: The Way Forward,” on 6 June 2017, organised by CENERS-K at the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, and the Tollygunge Club, Kolkata. The article draws upon my earlier publications on the theme.