Jammu Muslims, Kashmir narratives

The buzzword these days is ‘interlocutors’. For the role assigned to them in my previous column, I had stated that it is misnomer to call the group as interlocutors; better call it a ‘study group’. The group of three interlocutors appointed by New Delhi has been for past one week regularly appearing on New Delhi satellite television channels at prime time and talking a lot.  They in fact have been adding more confusion to their otherwise hazy brief. New Delhi since 1990 has been appointing study groups of journalists, academics, economists and human rights activists for formulating recommendations for the government for ‘tackling’ or ‘managing’ the ‘Jammu and Kashmir crisis’. Some of the groups are officially recognized, some deputed as independent Non Governmental Organization.  In addition to three interlocutors some more Non Governmental Organizations (NGO) obviously not without sponsorship are roaming in Srinagar press enclave and Kashmir University.     

 It has always needed a ‘boiling situation’ in the state for appointment of such study groups or committees.  But during past twenty years hardly a committee or group   has been constituted to negotiate resolution of the sixty three year old dispute. The Kashmir Committee under Ram Jethmalani which apparently was an independent initiative might have been an exception. The committee was constituted during NDA government. From the interview of Jethmalani published in a New Delhi newspaper on Sunday it transpires that he had a brief to negotiate a political settlement with moderate Hurriyat Conference and other like minded groups. In this interview he has stated that he “personally thought the committee under him had practically reached a solution. We had a written agreement with the Hurriyat leaders on five important issues, knowing full well that they were talking to us with the full knowledge and consent of Pakistan. The main points were —violence and terror were to be totally outlawed;

the solution must be acceptable to all parties and sections, which means it included people of Ladakh and Jammu. Extremist positions like scrapping of Article 370 of the Constitution and the demand for secession were to be abandoned by both sides, displaced Pandits have to be rehabilitated with full honor and dignity and that the new dispensation will be a democracy of equal rights, which meant it would be a secular state.” Making scathing remarks against Syed Ali Geelani in his interview he accuses him of blocking the progress in arriving at an accord with Kashmir leaders. This initiative like many other earlier moves failed when it called for an action by the government in New Delhi.  The revelations and accusation made by prominent BJP leader   do merit a serious discussion but in this column I will be endeavoring to drive at a different point that in my understanding is of far reaching consequence that at one or the other point of time is going to have a bearing on the resolution or settlement of the dispute. The issue at hand is making religious division of the state as an edifice for political discourse for prejudicing the resolution of the problem.

Seeing the role played by various study groups or teams sent by New Delhi in right historical perspective it has never been towards ending political uncertainty in the state or finding a lasting solution to the problem that has been engaging generation after generation of people of the state. Majority of these groups targeted at changing the major Kashmir narrative or creating alternative discourses, or discourses within discourses for creating confusion. Some of the study groups and think tanks by giving political content to seven hundred years old great tradition of religious tolerance and brotherhood tried to color the major political narrative of the state in a different shade. Some groups making cultural and ethnic diversity as fort of their studies strived hard to give ethnic, linguistic, religious and regional bias to political narrative of the state.

Most of the studies conducted so far have been   for managing the problem and not for resolving it.  It will be too early to say what findings and recommendations the new team headed by Dileep Padgaonkar submits to the Government at Delhi.  But so far the team seems to be guided by the common New Delhi discourse: ‘That the political aspirations of the people of the state lack unanimity. There is a total discordance between people of different religious and ethnic groups in the state.’ These conjured up discourses are being used to silence the international voices asking for resolution of the dispute.  These discourses about people of Jammu and Ladakh region not having same political aspirations as that of the  people in the valley have found some takers at the international level. And it has been for these discourses that some important scholars like Rodney Jones and Howard Schaffer have been looking at granting of some autonomy to Kashmir valley and porous borders across the LOC as the only solution to the problem that has caused three and half wars between India and Pakistan during past six decades.

Most of these scholars are ‘toddler-ignorant’ about the hard demographic facts and history of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Many of them buying New Delhi discourse believe that the Ladakh is a land of monks and entirely Buddhist and Jammu province   just constitute   Jammu, Kathua and some portions of Udhampur districts only. Many an important opinion maker in India  also rely on the tinted and colored narratives on demography. And while talking about regional political aspirations of the people of the state they mostly base their formulas on misconstrued religious divide between these regions. And believe with certainty that it was valley based problem that could be resolved by giving some constitutional guarantees for assuring autonomy to people living in the lap of mountains.  Most of these think tanks including Kashmir Studies Group USA in their formulas for the resolutions of the problem have been ignoring ratio and complexion of population of Doda, Bhaderwah, Kishtiwar, Poonch, Rajouri  and Kargil areas.  Besides not making  the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir as it stood on 14 August 1947 as part of their discourse  these think tanks and study group have never analyzed the religious, ethnic and linguistic diversity of Jammu province and Ladakh region but have been presenting these regions as religious monoliths of particular faiths. Outside the main political narrative of the state that has been finding resonance on the streets of the state for past sixty years broadly speaking the voices of majority communities in hilly districts of Jammu and Kargil district have never found a mention in the discourses initiated and articulated by the study groups, think tanks and ‘interlocutors’ from outside the state.  True the political aspirations of the majority of people in these hilly areas of Jammu and Kargil are in sync with the aspirations of the majority voice but these have got drowned in the cacophony of the religious divide discourse conjured up by some individuals and NGOs. It is not only in political struggle, even electoral battles that they have identified themselves with the political aspirations of people living in the valley.   

I blame historians, intelligentsia and political leadership of the state for voices of Jammu Muslims getting lost in the din of discourses portraying the state as ‘divided into regions on the basis of religion’.  Historians of the state more particularly from the valley have not been fair and honest to Muslims of Jammu, who suffered most during and after the end of the feudal rule.  They by and large have not been honest to the role played by the Muslim Conference from the region in ending feudal rule in the state. For fear of the rulers in post-1947 phase most of the historians not only downplayed the role by Jammu leaders but almost glossed it over. No historian has so far boldly written that that movement for ending feudal rule was started in 1922 by the Young Men’s Muslim Association founded in 1909. How this group was catalytic in transforming the Reading Room party into political movement is never told. It is this role by the historians that has largely caused disconnect between valley and hilly districts of Jammu province. No intellectual or writer has so far endeavored to challenge the ‘religious divide discourse’ presenting Jammu province for being  a religious monolith having political aspiration different than those in the valley. These hilly districts after 1955 were good part of the plebiscite movement as any other part of Kashmir province but in the post 1990 situation Kashmir leadership failed to reach out to people in the hilly districts of Jammu province thus converting these areas into political islands.

The historians, intellectuals and political leaders need to work in tandem to defeat any political discourses based on the religious divide in the state.

Feedback at Zahidgm@greaterkashmir.com )
Lastupdate on : Sun, 31 Oct 2010 21:30:00 Mecca time