Kashmir – where are you heading?
Do Kashmiris want to be part of Pakistan? Do Kashmiris hate the idea of India? Do Kashmiris want an independent state of Kashmir, to be free of both Pakistan and India? All of us have asked ourselves these questions, particularly so after the recent state election in Kashmir.
At one time Kashmir was certainly another country, but that was hundreds of years ago, until the Mughals (1586), followed by the Afghans, the Sikhs and then the British took control. In fact at one time Kashmir was a Buddhist learning centre, but Islam took root in the 14th century, starting with the conversion in 1323 of Rincana, the first king of a new dynasty from Ladakh. There were ups and downs but mostly the Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists lived peacefully together.
By the time the British left in 1947, Kashmir and India had been one for hundreds of years. However, the burning question in 1947, at the time of partition of India was: Who does Kashmir belong to? India or Pakistan?
Wars were fought between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, but what was worse was the tragedy of Kashmiri people…the rise of insurgency, the destruction of their economy, the invasion by foreign terrorists who escalated violence and drove the Kashmiri Hindus out (mass killings of Kashmiri Hindus), the suppression of the voice of the Kashmiri people by the central government and crimes the Army committed in its zeal to fight terrorism. So the recent elections in Kashmir where for the first time 61% of ordinary Kashmiris participated was something to exult about. This was a bigger turnout that even what the rest of India usually sees!
But analysts have warned people not to read too much into this as they feel that the desire for freedom is still intact in Kashmiri hearts. The separatists feel the same way. They feel that high turnout at the elections was not a “setback for the region’s dwindling cohort of violent separatist militants and their alleged backers inside Pakistan’s spy agency.” People are doing it solely for water, electricity and employment, not because they are agreeing to be a part of India, say the separatists.
Maybe the Kashmiri people want electricity and water from India and not India itself. But it also means that the separatists knew well in advance the mood of the people. Why else would they bring down the level of violence in the Valley? Kashmir has seen a reduction of violence, and in the past year it is said to be the lowest in 17 years! And The United Jehad Council (forum of 14 Kashmiri separatist groups) had said that no guns would be used to keep people indoors during the elections. The Kashmiris have had enough of violence. They have had enough of being forced not to vote. Many of these groups did denounce the elections however, and had given a call to boycott them, but the Kashmiri people did not heed these calls.
They have not voted just for water and electricity though. They have voted for peace. The ballot over the bullet. This is most significant. Even if they want some kind of autonomy or want to be separate from India, they certainly don’t want to do it the violent way. The terrorists have led them down a garden path littered with bodies. Let’s hope that the separatists keep in tune with the aspirations of the Kashmiri people.
Whether Kashmiris want India or Pakistan or whether they want an independent country is something that we will never know for sure, because according to the UN resolution self determination can only happen in Kashmir if Pakistan vacates the part of Kashmir they took by force. We all know that Pakistan will never vacate the Kashmir they grabbed from India.
However, it is now believed that the Kashmiri freedom struggle has become more nationalistic in nature, a movement that does not see Kashmir as a part of India or Pakistan. Their disenchanment with Pakistan could well be because of the violence that country has exported into Kashmir and also because they probably know that they will never get the kind of cultural freedom they want in Pakistan due to the extremism there. Also, Kashmiris happen to be Shias, while the majority of Pakistanis are Sunnis. There is a Shia-Sunni divide in Pakistan. There is the instability and economic turmoil in Pakistan which could not be inviting for Kashmiris.
However, the Kashmir disenchantment with India lies deep. It lies in their hatred of the security forces and past injustices by the central government. They also see themselves as culturally different from India.
…the Kashmiri Muslims were never orthodox, and they lived under the influence of such Sufi saints as Nuruddin Rishi, the valley’s patron. The initial movement for independence, led by JKLF, began as a struggle for an independent, secular Kashmir, neither part of India nor Pakistan. It was also partly a class struggle; the majority of its members came from the lower middle and peasant classes. It was the struggle of a people who had over the years felt alienated from mainstream India, neglected and taken for granted… the problem really began after the Indian government brutally sought to crush the independence movement, when it was taken over by fundamentalists.”
In his new book “Curfewed Night” he explains it all, his resentment against the separatists and against the Indian government and says that an independent Kashmir is what is needed and what many want.
But the truth is that if Kashmir leaves India to form an independent country, Pakistan or China will swallow it up. In any case this is a theoretical scenario as India will never let go as letting go of Kashmir negates the very idea of India – a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, pluralistic and multi-religious entity. As far as India is concerned, if Kashmir is let go, there is no reason to hang on to any part of India. The country might as well be broken up into little pieces.
Why don’t Kashmiris love the idea of India? The idea of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, pluralistic society? Why should they want to start a country based on a single culture?
And if Kashmiris want to go because they are a majority Muslim state, if they want to carve out an Islamic state for themselves, they should first see the kind of freedom that people in Islamic states have. Kashmiris are simply not cut out for this. Their kind of Islam is different and a very tolerant one. Do they believe they can become a religious state (the state has been purged of the Hindus to a large extent by the terrorists) and not be taken over by zealots?
But more important, does a country founded on the basis of a similar culture, ethnicity, and religion, succeed? Is it possible for a successful democracy to be founded on such narrow values? Can it ever be a free and developed? I think it is like going backwards in time, when little kingdoms were founded on this basis. Pluralistic societies may have problems but they can be solved and we are seeing this change in the United States.
(Photo sourced from topnews.com)
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