At the outset I must say that I am a Kashmiri Pandit, born in the 80s in Srinagar and my family (and I) were forced to migrate from the Valley in the early 90s. I have summarized my experience on brownpundits earlier. In this third of a series, I’d like to analyse the reason why Kashmiri Muslims were, and significant sections of Muslims still remain, disaffected with India. [Please note that what you’re going to read is my opinion, which may contain some bias in spite of my best efforts to correct it. Much as I try to remain objective about Kashmir’s politics generally, it is not humanly possible to isolate my thoughts from my experience.]
The short (but simplistic) reason behind the disaffection of Kashmiri Muslims from India is politicized religion, i.e. Islam. However, like all problems in the physical world, reducing explanations to simplistic binaries is never a very good idea. Therefore, some exploration of the context of Islam/Muslims in Kashmir is necessary. What people (especially Indians) should realize is that the group they refer to as “Kashmiri Muslims” is far from being a homogeneous group, and unsurprisingly like any human society not all of them think alike. Secondly, when we speak about “anti-India sentiments” amongst Kashmiri Muslims, one should try to form a nuanced understanding of what exactly is anti-India in those sentiments.
I’d like to begin by a disambiguation about Muslims of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, for the next few paragraphs, before delving into their disaffection (or lack thereof) with the Indian State. Here’s a detailed ethno-linguistic map of the (erstwhile) state of J&K:
The dark oval-shaped region that you see above is the Kashmir Valley, surrounded by the Pir Panjal (< Skt. pira panchala) range. As the figure shows, the dark Kashmiri-speaking region (entirely within Indian boundaries by the way) is circumscribed by the diagonal (descending) pattern which corresponds to Gojri in the legend. The sliver of land, immediately to the west of the Line of Control is patterned differently and is inhabited by Lehnda/Pothowari speakers. To the East of the Valley, we have the Shina and Ladakhi regions, occupying the lion’s share of the landmass of the state of J&K. To the South the pattern changes again as people speak Dogri (< Skt. dvigarta, dialects akin to Pothowari in Pakistan administered regions and to Himachal Pahari), and to the very sparsely populated North, Dardic (Shina, Burusho, Pashai etc) dialects dominate.
Clearly, Kashmiri Muslims form a subset, an important subset (but a subset nonetheless) of the undivided state of Jammu & Kashmir. Non-Kashmiri Muslims of J&K also include some prominent Dogra Muslims, e.g. ex-CM of J&K and a cabinet minister in many Congress/UPA governments, Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Dogri singer Malika Pukhraj (who emigrated to Pakistan), tabla-nawaz Ostad Allah-rakha (Ostad Zakir Husain’s father) etc. This is what Dogri language sounds like (a rather famous Dogri folk piece sung by Malika Pukhraj ironically on PTV – all place names mentioned: Paprole, Lakesar, Nadaun etc are in Jammu & Himachal by the way):
The Gojri-speaking Gujjar-Bakerwals (one of India’s scheduled tribes) are semi-nomadic pastoralists who move from mountains to the Valley with seasons. The Gojri-speaking cattle-herders can be found from Kashmir to Northern Rajasthan (and parts of Indian and Pakistani Punjab in between) and, at least in India, Hindu and Muslim Gujjars self-identify as a single ethnic group. E.g. during the Gujjar-agitation by Rajasthani Gujjars to get Scheduled Tribe status (which implies positive discrimination in education and jobs), Muslim Gujjars of J&K joined the rioting. Gujjars of J&K have also been at the forefront of demands for raising a Gujjar Regiment of the Indian Army and Muslim Gujjars currently form the backbone of the Jammu & Kashmir Light Infantry. Unsurprisingly, the only BJP MLA from a Muslim majority border constituency in J&K is a Gujjar. The Indian SC/ST reservation system, pasture-land and grazing rights and support for Gojri language (part of the Western Rajasthani/Marwari dialect cluster) and culture by the Indian Government over the last 70 years has been a major factor in main-streaming of this community. Muslim Gujjars make up around 20-25% of J&K Muslim population and are a sizeable votebank. Furthermore, Gujjars were traditionally looked down upon by the settled Kashmiri population of the Valley and attitudes to them were no different to notions about, say, gypsies in Europe – an uncouth people who excel at thieving and petty crime. I’ve personally seen various instances of this discrimination first-hand, in one case against Gujjar children. All of these factors make Muslim Gujjars of J&K one of the most stoutly pro-India constituencies.
Furthermore, J&K has Shina and Ladakhi-speaking (predominantly Shi’a) Muslims in the Kargil region to the North of the Valley. They are racially, ethno-linguistically and due to their Shia-belief also in religion distinct from the majority Sunni Kashmiri Muslims of the Valley. Note that Kashmiri Muslims themselves have a Shia sub-group (around 20% of the Valley’s Muslim population and primarily resident in the North of the Valley). Some of the Shia families are actually of mixed Indo-Iranian descent and were instrumental in introducing Persian carpet-weaving skills to Kashmir. The Kashmiri rug trade is almost completely in the hands of the Shia, and all Kashmiri Shia traders plying their trade in rugs and shawls can be found in all corners of the country. Kashmiri Shia too have a strong pro-India bias, and Shia recruitment into the Indian army from North Kashmir villages is commonplace.
The Kashmiri-speaking Muslims (primarily Sunnis) are the predominant ethnic group of the Valley. They are almost completely descended from the Hindu population (of different castes) before Islam came to dominate the Valley from the 15th century onwards. In some cases, the caste-mandated occupational distinction called kram in Kashmiri (< Skt. karma; work, guild) still survives. E.g. Surnames like Wani (K. wonyh < Skt. vaNika; cf. Hindi baniya) is the class of tradespeople and shopkeepers, Batt (K. baTh < Skt. bhaTa; lit. mercenary, soldier), Tantray (K. tantray < Skt. tantriNa; soldier – word attested only in the Rajatarangini for soldiers of Kashmir’s kings), Pandith (K. paendyith < Skt. panDitaH; scholar, teacher, brahmin), Dar (K. Daar < Skt. Damara; agriculturalist feudals of Kashmir Valley, analogous to Jatts of Punjab or the dehghan of Iran), Lone (K. loan < Skt. lavanya; a class of Kashmiri damaras, see below) are common amongst Kashmiri Muslims.
It has to be said that unlike many Muslim communities of the plains on both sides of the Indo-Pak border, Kashmiri Muslims almost never try to concoct any Middle-Eastern/Central-Asian descent, in spite of the fact that Kashmiri Muslims are much more recent converts than say Muslims of Sindh, Punjab or Gangetic belt. However there has been an urban legend about Kashmiri descent from Jewish tribes, which is easily dismissed given zero evidence in any pre-Islamic Sanskrit chronicles of Kashmir (which are numerous and detailed) and no tell-tale genetic imprint. In general, any Kashmiri Muslim will straight-up admit to their forefathers converting to Islam from Hinduism, and I have even known Muslim families (converted Pandits) to hang on to the yajnopavit threads of the paternal ancestors lest throwing them may bring ill will of the departed. Needless to add, Kashmiri Muslims are genetically indistinguishable from the Hindu Pandits.
Given the above background, when one thinks about the views of Muslims of Jammu & Kashmir on India, one needs to keep these important ethnic / religious distinctions in mind. The rest of this post is concerned with Kashmiri-speaking Muslims of the Valley of Kashmir, wherein the disaffection with India is the strongest.
Per se criticism of India is a national right and being anti-some-aspect-of-India is not just expected, but necessary in a functioning democracy. There can be no improvement in functioning of a society or government without voicing criticism and all such “anti-India” activities should be very welcome. Many of the anti-India sentiments expressed by the Muslims of the Valley are very genuine and a person like me would support these over knee-jerk patriotism any day. The vocal opposition to AFSPA, which a draconian law fit for totalitarian states rather than democracies, is a genuine “anti-India” sentiment. So, is the criticism of the Indian State for mass-disappearances of many locals, detentions without trial, encounter killings, torture of innocents and militants alike and other such terrible excesses and the demand for punitive justice in these cases are the duties of every Indian citizen. The rule and due process of the law are not things that a state can suspend at will or apply arbitrarily when it chooses it. Sticking to them, in face of the gravest of provocations, is absolutely necessary for the functioning of a state that would like to call itself civilized. In that respect, India falls way short of the mark.
In all of this, one should not lose sight of who/what is this “Indian State” that has been doing these terrible things. Unlike China, it is not an unelected party of individuals driven by some ideology. Nor is it a military-driven deep state like in Egypt or Pakistan, or a Majles of clerics like in Iran, or an absolute Monarchy like Saudi Arabia. The Indian State is its citizens, who vote for representatives to legislate and govern India. Whatever the state machinery does to citizens in a democracy is their collective responsibility and people can lobby against such policies and remove governments with such policies. The voting out of the Indira Gandhi led Congress government in the aftermath of the Emergency is a case in point. Therefore, nothing really stops the local representatives (elected Members of the Legislative Assembly, of whom, interestingly BJP represents the largest voteshare) from lobbying MPs or Ministers in the Parliament for change of laws.
While referendums are generally a terrible idea in any parliamentary democracy (esp. one as large and diverse and with so many social/ethnic/economic faultlines as India’s), I would not mind an independence referendum for Jammu & Kashmir on the same lines as the Scottish independence referendum either, in fact. The caveat, however, is that the means to achieve that (say via peaceful lobbying of Indian MPs and public opinion) ought to be as moral as the end. Ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri minorities doesn’t quite meet that standard.
In addition to these genuine criticisms, anti-India sentiments amongst Kashmiri Muslims also include a host of other uncharitable views against the Indian State that are genuinely indefensible. These include expressions of any intention of violence against Indian democracy, ethnic-cleansing of minority populations, of support for totalitarian / genocidal states like ISIS or calls for religious war / revolution. It is the expression of this latter category of sentiments that any citizen of India must oppose.
Reports and witnesses said that huge number of people turned up for the funeral of Najar, a resident of Batapora in Sopore, and it was held twice. The witnesses said that body of Qayoom Najar was wrapped in black flag of Al Qaeda and ISIS while slogans in favour of Ansar Ghazwatul Hind chief Zakir Musa were also shouted by mourners.
The evidence is fairly incontrovertible that the people who express anti-India sentiments of the second category are indeed Kashmiri Muslims. The question still remains, why are the second category of views (which are frankly despicable) expressed by some Kashmiri Muslims at all? While, I am no sociologist, and my understanding on this matter could well be mistaken, I think the reason has to do with the total hijacking of the old (and largely bi-partisan) movement of Kashmir’s political independence by right-wing Jamiat-e Eslami or Islamist sympathizing elements from the late 40s onwards.
Himalayan regions like Kashmir (or Nepal, Bhutan etc) have always been politically distinct from the Indo-Gangetic plains. This isn’t just true today but was true from the very early days of Kashmir’s self-image as a single political entity. Note, historical references to Kashmir only refer to the Valley of Kashmir. Unlike other parts of the Indian sub-continent, the medieval history of Kashmir has been very well documented, and ample evidence from the Rajataranginis indicates how Kashmiris then saw Kashmir as a politically distinct entity (more on this in my next post).
The same expression of political independence finds voice in pre-modern Kashmiri folklore as well and many Kashmiri intellectuals (both Hindu and Muslim) bemoaned the lack of independence of Kashmiris, first under the Moghals, then Afghans and finally the Sikhs/Dogras. The movement of political independence from the Dogra monarchy (Dogras being Pahari-speaking Hindu Rajputs of southern Pir Panjal, Jammu and modern-day Himachal) sowed the first seeds of the Azadi movement in the Valley, with both Pandit and Muslim ideologues in support. The largely secular / bi-partisan nature of this movement was solely to democratize the region, by overthrowing the monarchy – much like similar movements in Nepal against the Gorkha Shah/Rana dynasties or even the secular political movement against the Pahlavi Shahs of Iran.
This realization resulted in Nadim’s almost exclusive concentration on Kashmiri. He had written his first Kashmiri poem in 1942 on “Maej Kashir” (“Mother Kashmir”), an appropriate topic for a time when Kashmir was passing through a critical phase with the mass movement slogan “Quit Kashmir” challenging the established Dogra dynasty
However, the “secular” nature of this movement (like other such movements in Iran or West Asia) slowly evapourated as the Islamists hijacked the entire narrative – especially after the Partition and Pakistan’s active support of such “Jehadis”. The rise of Zia-ul Haq in Pakistan, which coincided with the Afghan Jehad and copious amounts of money (Saudi and American) being transferred to the radical Islamic seminaries in Northern Pakistan led to a tremendous shot-in-the-arm for Kashmiri Islamists. That is the time (late 80s) when we witnessed the rise of overtly Islamist tanzeems in Kashmir: Harkat-ul Mujahedeen, Allah Tigers, Lashkar-e Tayyaba, Jaish-e Mohamed etc, who now are inextricably tied to the modern global Jehadist narrative. The ethnic cleaning of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley was a logical implication of this Kashmiri Islamism and remains a bleeding sore.
Today, most of the “Azadi” speak of Kashmiri Muslims is a thinly veiled aspiration for an Islamo-fascist utopia, a kind of Lebensraum for Muslims. Obviously, we already have the first Lebensraum for Muslims of South Asia next-door in the shape of Pakistan, so the mutual camaraderie is rather de jure. This yearning for a Lebensraum also explains the rather recent trend of unfurling ISIS flags from mosques in Kashmir and overt support of Kashmiri militant leaders to the global Jehadist cause.