Making a Part Inalienable: Folding Kashmir into India’s Imagination – III

It was not until the aftermath of Hindu-Muslim riots in 1931, that the certitude of Hindu claims to Kashmir’s land would be challenged. The British-appointed B. J. Glancy Commission was given the task of examining a wide array of economic and political grievances believed to have caused the disturbances. Its report of 1932 included a criticism of the Kashmir durbar’s partisan functioning in favour of its Hindu subjects to the neglect of Muslims. This was in reference, among others, to the work of the state’s archaeological and research department. The report stated bluntly that upholding Pandit claims to ‘a large number of buildings…at one time temples’ but later transformed into Muslim places of worship was ‘impracticable’ and ‘out of the question’. In light of ‘mass conversions’ to Islam, as had occurred in Kashmir, it was ‘only natural that a number of sacred buildings devoted to the observances of one particular faith should have converted to the use of another religion’.34 Strikingly, the report had invalidated the principle of ‘first peoples’ on the basis of which the Dogras and Pandits had re-imagined Kashmir as ‘originally’ Hindu. Drawing attention to mass conversions re-inscribed Muslims into their history and region. And, perhaps unconsciously, it also redefined the contemporary territory of Kashmir — no matter what lay beneath its historical layers — as Muslim.

However, this recognition of the claims of Muslims to Kashmir’s territory was soon drowned out by the assertion of Indian nationalism’s sole claim to the territory of the subcontinent from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Indeed, since independence in India, there has been a steady recycling and circulation of the rhetoric of vivisection derived from partition narratives, of memories of the bloodbath that accompanied that division, of hyperbolically expressed fears of another partition/balkanization and of a ‘total disintegration of India’ as hinted at by Panun Kashmir. These have served to reinforce dramatically both the image of the nation as geo-body and of its parts as ‘atoot ang’ (inalienable, integral or, literally, unbreakable part).35 And when Kashmiris who happen also to be Muslim demand freedom from this sanctified oppressive entity, their demand is doubly delegitimized for being both ‘communal’ and ‘secessionist’. However, such condemnation is doled out selectively. While Panun Kashmir opposes demands for azadi as an illegitimate demand of ‘Islamic separatists’, their own territorial claims are no less ‘separatist’. Yet neither these nor the proposals of Hindu chauvinists from India for ‘trifurcating’ the territory of Jammu and Kashmir are greeted with the same nationalist opprobrium. These calls can be readily braided into the imaginations of India’s Hindu majority; apparently unlike those of Kashmir’s Muslims.

A Hindu Exodus From a Hindu Land?

There is a wide-ranging nomenclature Pandits access to describe themselves today that represents their understanding of the events of 1989 and their experiences within them. Some call their departure from the valley an ‘exodus’, others an ‘exile’, and still others an expulsion disputing the voluntariness of their exit. Many of those who have made new lives in India or those others living in limbo in overcrowded camps while still awaiting resettlement two decades after their departure speak of themselves as ‘refugees’ or ‘refugees in their own country’. This reference is an indictment of the Indian state first for not protecting them within their homeland and then for neglecting them outside it, challenging at the same time its euphemistic description of them as ‘migrants’. Other radically disposed individuals describe their community as victims of ‘genocide’, ‘ethnic cleansing’ or a ‘holocaust’.36 All these terms meld departure, movement, expulsion, displacement, settlement, and homeland into a narrative of common victimhood suffered by a purportedly homogeneous community of Kashmir’s Pandits.

In a convention held in Jammu in December 1991, Panun Kashmir had defined its demands in a ‘Homeland Resolution’ in terms that would be familiar and unexceptional to many patriotic peoples. These included the ‘establishment of a Homeland for the Kashmiri Pandits in the Kashmir Valley’ referred to earlier and the demand for its full integration with India through a common constitution and, administratively, as a union territory governed by the central government in Delhi. Additionally, the Resolution asked for the return and equitable resettlement of the ‘seven hundred thousand Kashmiri Pandits, which includes those who have been driven out of Kashmir in the past and yearn to return to their homeland and those who were forced to leave on account of the terrorist violence in Kashmir.’37 The number of seven hundred thousand Kashmiri exiles is intriguing. More neutral estimates have suggested a population of 140,000 Kashmiri Pandits in the valley of which a dramatically high proportion of 100,000 were said to have left in 1989 and in the months after.38 Some of these departures are attributed to the machinations of the Indian government specifically through Jagmohan, its appointed governor in Kashmir at the time, who alleged encouraged the non-Muslim population of Kashmir to leave, making arrangements for their exit, so as to clear the ground for military action against ‘terrorists’. At the same time, there are also accounts of calls issued from mosques and of posters and pamphlets distributed widely by Islamist groups who threatened with death those non-Muslims who would not leave the valley. While the reasons for their departure will remain mired in controversy until there can be a careful sifting through competing narratives, disputed facts and memories at variance, that so many Pandits left so quickly belies speculations that this ‘exodus’ was undertaken entirely out of a free choice. Notwithstanding the difficulty of either establishing or disproving the suggestions of direct threats by unnamed ‘Islamist’ groups or of engineering at government hands as a factor, it seems reasonable to propose that large numbers of Pandits left in response to a sense, at the very least, that they, their families, their property and their futures were no longer as secure in Kashmir as they might be outside it.

The figure of seven hundred thousand does not enumerate the exiles of 1989 and after. It refers, as the resolution states, to a much larger collection of Pandits who had departed at different times over the centuries. Given that there is no census of such migration available it must be read as a rhetorical reference and the number an impressionistically gathered one, preserved in and circulated as collective memory. Kashmiris, both Hindu and Muslim, have a long history of leaving the valley and the reasons for this have been various. Many left temporarily to seek work and a livelihood in the cities and towns of Hindustan, or to trade their widely sought after handicrafts, their shawls and carpets and brassware and carved walnut goods. Others left to serve in armies in the kingdoms and empires that surrounded their mountain- encompassed home. Still others traded their calligraphic skills, working as administrators and scribes in these foreign polities, and others writing exquisitely illustrated religious texts and biographies for wealthy families in Hindustan with money to spare and the aspiration to patronize. And then there were those drawn out of the vale in search of protection from the hardships of famine, failed harvests, and other natural disasters. Finally, political and religious persecution drove some to seek freer climes.

Many Pandits today, speaking of their contemporary migration, recall memories of Sultan Sikandar (r. 1389-1413), also known as but-shikan (the idol-breaker), who, living up to his moniker, is said to have persecuted Hindus mercilessly and forced large numbers to leave Kashmir. However, this association across centuries is untenable for being anachronistic. The migration of Pandits today is, of course, not analogous with those of the late 14th to early 15th centuries. Sultan Sikandar may have indeed persecuted Kashmiri Pandits, but he did so from a position of power. The present insurgency in the valley is overwhelmingly the protest of the powerless. And until the causes of the modern Pandits’ departures after 1989 and the identity of those who are reported to have issued threats to the Hindus to instigate it can be ascertained, even the numerical preponderance of the Muslims of the valley does not make their insurgency the arbitrary act of the powerful bearing down on a religiously defined minority. In much current Pandit discourse, however, there is an unspoken suggestion that the valley’s Muslims were somehow complicit in the threats issued to them, creating the impression that they were all assailants and Hindus the only victims. This allusion is fortified through the absence in Pandit narratives of exile of any acknowledgment that many Muslims, too, have left the valley over the centuries, coerced by similar circumstances of poverty, natural calamity, and oppression. Such partial narration suggests that Kashmir’s Muslims today are unaffected by the disruptions of life in the valley and threats to their lives, family and property, whether from the state or indeed from elements espousing political and religious ideologies inimical to theirs.39 The silence about these other victims of contemporary conditions implicates the many Kashmiri Muslims in the actions of a few aggressors.

Azadi for a Nizam-e-Mustafa?

A twenty year old insurgency in the valley rose to a dramatic crescendo in this past summer of 2010 when thousands came out onto the streets of Kashmir to protest the killing by Indian security forces of young Kashmiris, some as young as eight or twelve, for throwing stones at them. This summer was the culmination of a militancy growing over the last two years in which Kashmiris have challenged the Indian government’s writ in the valley largely through non-violent protest. Not insignificantly, agitation in summer 2008 was triggered by rival claims to Kashmir’s land. The state government’s decision to transfer 99 acres of forest land to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board in the Kashmir valley to set up temporary shelters and facilities for the annual Hindu pilgrimage to the shrine drew widespread resistance, one demonstration drawing more than 500,000 protesters at a single rally. But even this peaceful mode of civil disobedience could not exempt it from an older pattern of deligitimation used by the Indian government and even liberal Indians with regard to the challenge in Kashmir. The protests in 2008 and those in the two summers that followed have been dismissed as the work of ‘Islamic terrorists’ and of that other nefarious group of Muslims, the ‘separatists’. Through a remarkable feat of rhetorical short-circuiting, the fact that the majority of the demonstrators are Muslim is sufficient to mark them as illegitimate Islamicist demonstrations. That the slogans of Muslims are inflected in the religio-cultural idiom of Muslims only serves as proof-positive of terrorist and Islamist motivations driving these summer processions for azadi.

This selective condemnation of Kashmiri Muslim actions is justified through wilfully ignoring a history that explains not only contemporary but also much older traditions of protest in the religious mode. Given the nature of the Dogra-ruled state, in which the religious affiliation of the ruler was explicitly tied to his legitimacy to govern, it is hardly surprising that an emerging political assertion by Kashmir’s Muslims from the turn of the twentieth century should have also embodied a religious sensibility.

Instances of the religious basis of national or regional identities are not peculiar to South Asia.  By contrast in the view of one strand of anti-colonial Indian national ideology which rose to dominance at the moment state power was captured, religion was theoretically castigated as a false, because a politically divisive, creed. Yet, paradoxically post-1947 Indian secular nationalism has played no small role in keeping alive a sense of the regional and religious particularity of Kashmir, at the same time as it has worked towards effacing it.  In 1947, at the moment of independence and also the partition of the subcontinent along religious lines, India claimed Muslim majority Kashmir as its prize; a vindication of its secular credentials and a repudiation of Muslim Pakistan’s ‘communal’ politics. In the rhetoric accompanying this incorporation, the Indian nation valorized its achievement precisely by stressing the Muslim nature of Kashmir and Kashmiris. However, the thrust of nationalist rhetoric moved gradually towards erasing Muslim-ness especially since, in light of the new militant mood of Kashmiri self-assertion, it can no longer remain safely part of a secularist state’s project of a controlled ascription of religious identities. It now conveniently wants Kashmiri Muslims, to quote the line of the pro-Khilafat and non-cooperation leader, Mohammed Ali, written in his paper Comrade in 1912, ‘to shuffle off [their] individuality and become completely Hinduized’. To become secular is essentially to be Hindu an Indian nation that has not acknowledged the tenuous nature of its own secular credentials.

The demand of Kashmir’s Muslims is for a legitimate government.  It is the helplessness in which they were placed first by their Dogra rulers and then by Indian politicians, each neglecting to negotiate their legitimacy with the popular constituency of Kashmir that has provoked a militant response and the demand for ‘azadi’. This history is drowned out by the recently amplified rhetoric of protecting from amputation a nation conceptualized as sanctified body. Perhaps the most effective response to those who wish to possess Kashmir as an integral part came in a recent meeting with members of the Indian all-party delegation deputed to Kashmir in September 2010. Gathered in the town of Tangmarg several Kashmiris ‘expressed their frustration that India insists Kashmir is a part of India but suspects Kashmiris of being Pakistani agents and uses that suspicion as justification for its security tactics.’  Which Indian defender of national integrity will answer the question that a Kashmiri in Tangmarg asked: ‘Why don’t you feel our pain if we are a part of your body?’40

(Concluded)

Mridu Rai teaches south Asian history at Trinity College, Dublin. She is also the author of Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects: Islam, Rights and the History of Kashmir. An extended version of this essay has been published in Sanjay Kak (ed), Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada In Kashmir (2011).

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Making a Part Inalienable: Folding Kashmir into India’s Imagination – I
Making a Part Inalienable: Folding Kashmir into India’s Imagination – II