By Rekha Chowdhary
Jammu and Kashmir is a highly diverse society going through conflict in an intensified manner. Diversities are so placed in this state that a complex social and political environment is generated. Firstly, there is no clear-cut context of ‘majority’ and ‘minority. Majority in one context becomes minority in another. Even when groups assert their collective strength and numbers, they claim their status of marginalization. Hence one can see a multiple context of ‘minority perceptions’ in the state. Despite being part of the largest religious group of the state, the Kashmiri Muslims perceive themselves as a minority in the context of the larger reality of India. Their perception of marginalization emanates from the context of the relationship of the state with India, especially the intrusion of the Centre in the politics of the State and disregard of the local political aspirations. The Hindus of Jammu and Buddhist of Ladakh, though majority in their respective regions, perceive themselves as minority not only in the context of the Muslim majority character of the state but also in the Kashmir-centric political and power context of the state. The sense of deprivation and minority lies deep in many other ways ‘the Kashmiri Pandits perceive their minority status vis-à-vis the Kashmiri Muslims, the Muslim of Jammu perceive their deprivation both vis-à-vis the Hindus of Jammu as well as Muslims of Kashmir. Similar is the situation of the Muslims of Kargil who perceive their marginalization both in the immediate context of the Buddhist domination in Ladakh as well as the power centre in Kashmir.
What is important about these multiple minority perceptions is that the status of minority and deprivation is not merely defined by the demographic factor of religion but also from other categories. Besides the religion, the factors of region, tribal or caste status as well as economic backwardness define the sense of minority. Regional backwardness and discrimination therefore remains the constant discourse both in Jammu as well as Ladakh regions. In this discourse, Kashmir is portrayed as the centre of power and other regions facing ‘neglect’ and ‘deprivation’. The regional context of backwardness is countered by the sub-regional context of deprivation. Whether in the Kargil belt of Ladakh, or in the Doda or the Poonch Rajouri belt of Jammu region, one can see this discourse of sub-regional deprivation and neglect. Apart from the regional and sub-regional perceptions of marginalization, there are other similar perceptions based upon the caste and tribal factors. Besides the dalits and OBCs suffering from minority perceptions, there are Gujjars and Paharis who perceive themselves as marginalized groups. Other than these, there are varieties of displaced people due to the conflict situation (the ‘Refugees’ from across the LoC or the International Border), the people living in the far flung areas and those living near the LoC who perceive themselves as neglected and deprived.
Secondly, there is an overlapping context of identities. Though a distinction on the basis of a particular category can be established, yet the social identities operate in a rather fluid manner. There is neither a singular nor a homogenous character of identities. Overlapping context makes each identity internally differentiated.
The complex nature of diversities determines the nature of politics as well. To begin with, there is a divergence of political aspirations which leads to a multiple Identity Politics. As one can see, apart from the Kashmiri identity politics that informs the political movement in Kashmir, there is a range of other kinds of identity politics that makes the internal politics of the state quite vibrant. While some of these political identities operate parallel to each other, many others are located in a mutually exclusive and contradictory relationship with each other.
However, not all identity politics operates within the same paradigm. There is a layered context of the identity politics with each layer having a different context of its expression. The first layer that encompasses mainly the Kashmiri identity politics makes claims that are rooted in the nationalistic or sub-nationalistic aspirations of the people. The second layer of identity politics locates itself within the power structure of the state and operates at the regional and sub-regional levels. The third layer of identity politics situates itself in the context of collective marginalization on the basis of tribal, caste and other categories.
Nature of Conflict and implications vis-à-vis Diversity and Divergence
There is specificity to the context of conflict in Jammu and Kashmir which can be historically located in the identity politics of Kashmir. This identity politics does not have similar roots in other parts of the state ‘that is, in the regions of Jammu and Ladakh. There is, therefore, a political divergence that exists between Kashmir on the one hand and these two regions on the other. The political divergence coincides with the diversity that exists at the regional and sub-regional levels.
However, despite the specificity of the conflict and its location in ethno-nationalist politics of Kashmir, conflict has had implications for the whole state. Not only during this present phase of conflict when a large part of the state has been affected by the incidences of militant violence, but even before that people all over the state have been affected by the conflict situation. The division of the state in 1947-48 periods created a situation in which large number of people were displaced. Many people living in Muzzarabad, Mirpur, Kotli, etc., the parts of the state that came under the control of Pakistan, migrated to various parts of Jammu region and were forced to live the life of refugees. The Line of Control not only divided the territory between the Indian administered and Pakistan administered Jammu and Kashmir but also divided families. These divided families are mostly located in the Poonch-Rajouri belt of Jammu. The brunt of conflict was also felt by the people living around the Line of Control. They had to face the day to day hazards of shelling and mining.
During the present phase of conflict, militancy has impacted people outside the Valley of Kashmir in numerous manners. Apart from occasional militant attacks in various parts of Jammu region, there have been long term implications of militancy for this region. Due to concentration of the militants in the upper reaches of the mountainous areas of Doda, Poonch and Rajouri, the normal life of these areas has been seriously been affected. Militants in these areas, especially in Doda belt have often indulged in selective killings with the intention of provoking communal response.
As the implications of conflict are extended beyond the context of its specific location, certain political responses are generated which attribute complexity to the politics in general and the process of conflict resolution in particular. Firstly, within the state itself the ideology of nationalism becomes the ground of contestation. The ideology of Kashmiri nationalism/sub-nationalism which is asserted to challenge the homogenized model of Indian nationalism, is itself contested within Jammu and Ladakh. It results in extending the context of conflict from the level of India-Kashmir relationship to Intra-state level. As the conflict extends from its external to internal context, it sharpens the regional and sub-regional identities.
Secondly, conflict in itself impacts on the nature of diversities and the plural nature of the society. During last two decades of conflict, the plurality of the state has faced the challenge from various directions. There are situations like mass-exodus of Kashmiri Pundit community from the Kashmir Valley which has generated a sort of permanent crisis in Kashmir. The Pundits, a miniscule but influential minority formed very important basis of diversity. With their exodus from the Valley to Jammu and other parts of India, a sort of crisis of identity has been generated within this small community. Though Hindus, this all-Brahmin community has been having a distinct identity recognized more on the basis of their regional (Kashmiri) characteristics rather than their religious affiliation. Uprooted from the Valley, they fear their assimilation in larger Hindu identity and thereby losing the distinct character of being ‘Kashmir Pundits’. However, the implications of the exodus of Kashmiri Pundits are much larger for the Valley of Kashmir. For a predominantly Muslim society, Kashmiri Pundits, though miniscule in number, formed the basis of diversity. Spread all over the Valley, they formed a reference point not only for it’s the syncretic past but also for its composite present. However with the exodus of Kashmiri Pundits, Kashmir has become one-religious society and there is a whole generation of Muslims which has not experienced the life of diversity.
Apart from this, the challenge to the plurality of the State has come from the over-simplified and simplistic responses to the conflict. In many such responses, diversity and political divergence are exaggerated for the sake of putting forth the argument that the state is an artificial unit and needs to be reorganized or rather divided into more compatible units. Though region is generally identified to be the basis of such reorganization, there is an underlying assumption of the division of the state on religious basis. Throughout the history of conflict, many such divisive formulas have been offered. These include the Dixon Plan, the Chenab Formula, the Kashmir Study Group Formula etc. In all these formulas, the division of State is suggested in such a manner so as to separate the Hindu majority areas of Jammu region from the Muslim dominated area of Kashmir. The Muslims dominated areas of Jammu region are also generally included in the Kashmir region.
The biggest challenge, however, presented by the social diversity and political divergence is the process of conflict resolution. With identity politics operating in divergent directions, many a times in contradictory mode, and any movement forward becomes very difficult task.
The divergence, however, is not difficult to tackle, if an effort is made to address it. One can start by celebrating the diversity and plurality of the state. With all kinds of diversities ‘religious, linguistic and cultural ‘the state is an interesting mosaic. It is important to note that different ways of life are accepted at the social level. It is a mixed society where there is space for all kinds of people. And despite all kinds of problems at the political level, at the inter-community level there is not much tension. Plurality is the living reality of the state.
The smooth social life can pave the way for a political consensus as well. However, a conscious process has to be initiated to evolve that consensus. The integrity of the state and the rejection of any ideal of division of the state is the first point of consensus which is acceptable to most of the stakeholders in the state. The plural and secular character of the state are the other basic fundamentals on the basis of which further movement for building the consensus can be made. However, to move further, it is important to go beyond the stated positions and enter into a dialogical mode. To be in a dialogue, it is important to go beyond the ‘exclusive’ positions and think about solutions that are inclusive in nature.
Rekha Chowdhary is a Professor of Political Science at Jammu University. She is the author of Identity Politics in Jammu & Kashmir.