Building an appropriate counter-narrative to the false narrative spread by the power brokers of Kashmir is essential to understand the entire issue in its correct perspective. Generally, the power brokers confine themselves to a few districts of Kashmir while ignoring the aspirations of the vast majority of the other two regions
Unfortunately their narrative that the 2000 sqm Valley represents the entire state of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh reflects the aspirations of the people in the state are identical or nearly identical and that the contradictions among them are only region-specific is clearly fasle. Their narrative hovers around the theme of Kashmir being a “political problem” that needs political solution and nothing else. This false narrative does not enjoy any support in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Some saner Kashmiri voices like that of Haseeb Drabu and Muzaffar Hussain Baig have dared to challenge that narrative, but the bullies have succeeded in cowing them down.
From left: Former CM of J&K Mehbooba Mufti, NC president Omar Abdullah, Congress president Rahul Gandhi, and separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani
The state of Jammu & Kashmir is like a bouquet comprising of many religions and ethnic groups. However, the political aspirations and needs of the people of Jammu and Ladakh constitute more than half of the state’s population and inhabit about 90 per cent of its land area, and that minority Kashmiri pundits and majority Muslims are in conflicts.
The largest region of the State is Ladakh. It has a land area of 96,701 square kilometres. The region’s population is split roughly into half between the districts of Leh and Kargil. 76.9 per cent of the population of Kargil is Muslim (mostly Shia) while that of Leh is 66.5 per cent Buddhist. The Jammu region is next in size. It has an area of 26, 293 sq. Km and is predominantly Hindu (63 per cent) with 32 per cent Muslims and 5 per cent others including Sikhs. The Kashmir province, with a land area of 15,853 sq. km is predominantly Muslims with a sprinkling of minority Hindus and Sikhs. While the majority of Muslims are Sunni, Shias constitute 15 per cent of the State’s population.
The state of J&K is, in fact, a blend of several ethnic groups. Some of the social and ethnic groups in the state are Kashmiris, Dogras, Gujjars and Bakerwals, Paharis, Baltis, Ladakhis and Gaddis, etc. Dogras are spread all over the Jammu region. Paharis, Gujjars and Bakerwals inhabit the mountainous regions of the state. The Muslim population of the state can be broadly divided into Kashmiri Muslims inhabiting the southern portion of the Kashmir region, Shias, Paharis, Gujjars and Bakerwals, Balti and Dard Muslims.
- The recent proposal of NC backed by PDP and Congress for granting regional and sub-regional autonomy is also an attempt to divide the state on religion and regional lines
- “It is an ISI sponsored religious war in Kashmir. It is not a fight for political freedom or choice between India and Pakistan but between heaven and hell,” Baig is reported to have said while speaking during a discussion “Kashmir: the way forward”, organised by a Delhi-based think tank
The composition of the population is indeed an important factor and cannot be easily overlooked or ignored but the apologists of “political problem” just do that. For instance, Shias and Gujjars and Bakerwals in the state in general and in the Kashmir region in particular, vehemently oppose the concept of “Azadi”, the merger of the state with the theocratic, feudalistic and medievalist Pakistan and pre-1953 constitutional position. They perceive that they would be treated no better than the Muhajirs, Shias, Ahmediyas, Sikhs, Hindus and Christians in Pakistan. They fear that fundamentalist Muslims spurred by Wahabi ideology will not let them co-exist equally and peacefully.
Three-time Chief Minister of J&K and a former Union Minister both in UPA and NDA-led Governments, whose party has directly or indirectly ruled the State for about five decades, Dr Farooq Abdullah continues to harp, “Kashmir is a political issue, and it cannot be resolved through economic packages or other concessions. This crucial issue can be resolved only through political means.” Ironically those who enjoyed the fruits of power since October 1947 and filled their coffers with the liberal funds received from the Central Government are spearheading the campaign of alienation from India, feel cheated by the secular and democratic ethos and are in the forefront of challenging India’s sovereignty, unity and integrity. Even, the Sunni Muslims, votaries of “Political Problem,” are a divided house with four different voices of Azadi, merger with theocratic Pakistan, autonomy/self-rule and complete integration with India. This shatters the myth of “political problem” to the extent that it is a mere tool for sustaining the political survival of the power-brokers.
Another oft-quoted plea is the UNSC resolution and the plebiscite. It is a fact that it was Pakistan that refused to comply with the provisions of the UN resolution 47 which required complete withdrawal of occupied areas by Pakistan and total pull out of its army. Pakistan not only avoided plebiscite but later also illegally ceded a large portion of the territory to China. To throw the towel in the spanner, Pakistan changed the demography of POJK, particularly the Shia dominated Gilgit-Baltistan. Thus, plebiscite and UN resolution have become redundant, and the issue is similar to flogging a dead horse.
While Haseeb Drabu sees the problem as social, veteran PDP leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig sees it as a fight to choose between “hell and heaven”, a religious movement. “It is an ISI sponsored religious war in Kashmir. It is not a fight for political freedom or choice between India and Pakistan but between heaven and hell,” Baig is reported to have said while speaking during a discussion “Kashmir: the way forward”, organised by a Delhi-based think tank. Though, Geelani had long back defined the struggle as “Azadi barae Islam” the power brokers were reluctant to accept the same. Undoubtedly, what Kashmir is facing today can easily be defined as a “religious problem.”
Terrorism and Islamisation are two sides of the same coin in the present day Kashmir. Zakir Musa does not mince words when he says that the struggle is not for Azadi but establishment of Shariat and Islam. For the young terrorists who call themselves Mujahideen, the movement is mainly Islamic, and the political part is secondary. They are determined to retain the monolith character of modern Kashmir and hate the word secular, and the concept of composite culture sounds very alien to them. The jihadis are motivated by ISIS ideology which believes in barbaric elimination of those who dare to differ with them. The aim is to make Kashmir an exclusively Islamic state, and they abhor the idea of “inclusivity”. “Islamism and Wahhabism are the only ideologies that promise paradise towards killing and butchering other people in the name of Islam,” says Imam Twahidi, a progressive and modern Muslim cleric. This is what Muzaffar Baig is referring to a choice between “Heaven and Hell.” It is this ideology that drives educated Kashmiri youth towards militancy and terrorism, the desire to attain ‘Jannat’.
It is the fear that prevents the saner people from expressing themselves freely and accepting the presence of the elephant in the room. Growing radicalisation is the root cause of all the problems in Kashmir today. The effort is being made to spread the arc South of Pir Panjal as well. There are enough indicators to confirm the theory of “religious problem.” One cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that there is resistance to the return of Kashmiri Pundits who were forced to leave their hearth and homes under the shadow of a gun in the early nineties, coerced by the slogan of “Hum kya chahte Azadi, Azadi ka matlab kya? La ilaha illallah” (What we want ‘azadi’, what does Azadi mean? There is no God but Allah). Having succeeded in hounding out the Hindus, Sufism was gradually replaced by hard-line Wahabism. The other indicators are waiving ISIS flags from the ramparts and minarets of mosques and during funeral of terrorists, proliferation of radical madrasa education, non-condemnation of killing of innocents by terrorists, frequently labelling the JK police personnel as infidel, blaming Indian agencies for Sunjuwan attack just because the soldiers killed there were Muslims, mourning the deaths of terrorists but not condemning killing of Indian soldiers, opposing the grant of land for raising structures for smooth conduct of Amar Nath Yatra, not condemning barbaric killings of non-Muslims by Muslims like ISIS and opposing removal of Article 35A but supporting Rohingyas to live in the State.
Salafi-jihadis dream of converting Kashmir into an Islamic State and then use it as a launch pad for their final assault termed Ghazwa-e-Hind. Unfortunately, the two Kashmir based political parties fighting for the political space in J&K are also using religion to enhance their political survival. Though they claim to be secular, their actions and deeds are nothing but communal. It is pertinent to mention here that though the word secular was included in the preamble of the Constitution of India in 1977, it has yet to be included in the J&K Constitution due to the reluctance of these parties. The recent proposal of NC backed by PDP and Congress for granting regional and sub-regional autonomy is also an attempt to divide the state on religion and regional lines. It is a sure shot recipe for disaster and disintegration of the state as it furthers Musharraf’s plan for the division of the state on the basis of religion and formation of a Muslim-majority Greater Kashmir.
Thus, the counter-narrative is obvious. Kashmir is not a political problem but a religious problem. Islamisation of Kashmir is not acceptable to the other two regions; Jammu & Ladakh. J&K has known the world over for its composite culture and multi-religious society. Like the Muslims live happily in Hindu-majority Jammu and Buddhist majority Ladakh, there is no reason for denying the same to Hindus and Sikhs in Kashmir. Even all sections of Muslims in Kashmir are not in favour of a monolith Kashmir but want a heterogeneous, composite Kashmir. Fear of gun and terror of Jammat-e-Islami and Ahile Hadith prevents them from airing their views openly. There is an urgent need to smell the coffee and accept the problem. Sufism is the soul of Islamisation in Kashmir and its replacement by alien Wahabism cannot be granted permanency. Peace cannot return to J&K till Sufism returns.
(The writer is a Jammu-based political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst)