Kashmir: A diaspora or a conflict

‘Kashmir’, a fragmented domain among three states (India, Pakistan and China) in south Asia is one of the tarnished issues of peace in this region. It was a British policy to let them strife through ages so that neither of them can emerge a trio in polarity.

In discussion of the Kashmiri diaspora there are at least three distinctions that significantly complicate discussion and analysis.

The first of these is more polemical than factual and describes the area (or a portion of it) of the former princely state under Indian administration as a captive diaspora held hostage within India. It is a rhetorical construct employed by those who favour the independence of the former princely state (or portions of it) from the two successor states to the British Raj rather than an empirically accurate description of a sociological entity bound by ties of community.

A second, and more mainstream, distinction refers to Kashmiri’s (mostly from the Valley of Kashmir) living elsewhere in India and includes: Pandits (Hindus) who fled the Valley in 1990 and live as refugees in the Jammu region (but living a luxurious life); and the mostly Muslim traders and merchants from the Valley who reside in Goa, Mumbai, Kolkata and other commercial and tourist centres in India and whose remittances are an important source of income for many families in the Valley.

Whereas the first group departed due to a fear of violence that largely still prevents their return, the second fled due to the diminished tourist traffic and economic opportunities that followed the outbreak of violence and occasionally return there for family reunions and business reasons.

Finally, there are the foreign diasporas of which the Kashmiri diaspora in Britain, centered in the town of Luton, are the most active.

Most Kashmiri migration to Britain occurred post the 1947 partition from areas under Pakistani administration; almost two-thirds of Kashmiri’s in Britain are from Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Indeed, the Kashmiri diaspora in Britain has developed a dual importance as both a key source of funding for secessionist groups in Kashmir, and a site for the development and articulation of Kashmiri identity beyond the restrictive control of Indian and Pakistani nationalism and its agents.

Similarly, the relationship between diaspora and homeland actors in the articulation of a sense of Kashmiri national identity (Kashmiriyat), and the prosecution of the political and military campaign from India, has been dynamic and iterative.

While the politics of “Azadi” had permeated the British diaspora prior to the outbreak of widespread secessionist violence in 1989, the insurgency clearly had a transformative effect by promoting trans-Kashmiri solidarity and motivating the assertion of a distinctive Kashmiri identity.

Until the role of foreign diaspora is considered, secessionist violence in Kashmir appears to fit neatly under rubric of grievance-based causal factors.

Economically the state remains a “basket case” and one of the poor Indian states – per capita GDP is approximately half that of neighbouring states and the 13th lowest in India.

With a stagnant economy characterized by inadequate infrastructure and a dependency on central government largesse that raises serious doubts regarding the viability of an independent Kashmiri state.

Similarly, the greater size and diversity of the Indian economy, combined with security and other problems in Pakistan, mean that from a “greed” perspective Kashmir is better off remaining a part of the Indian Union.

In contrast, there is a long historical narrative of injustice and suffering pertinent to a grievance-based justification for Kashmir’s secession.

To explain, political activism against central authority in Kashmir may be traced back to the 1920s and opposition to the policies of the Hindu Dogra Maharaja in a princely state that was predominantly Muslim.

Various Anjuman (religious societies) sent delegations to the Darbar (court of the native ruler) to seek reforms to redress the disadvantage suffered by mostly illiterate and impoverished Muslim Kashmiris.

Opposition intensified and was spearheaded by the All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference (later renamed the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference) which was founded by a figure that came to dominate Kashmiri politics, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah (1905–1982).

In the 1930s, Abdullah capitalized on the inability of the state’s first Muslim graduates to secure positions in the state’s administration, which was heavily monopolized by Pandits (Hindus) before widening his agenda to demands for social, political and agrarian reform, employing the universal language of suffering to justify a move to a secular political discourse while allying with the Indian National Congress and its charismatic leader, Jawaharlal Nehru.

This idiom of suffering and victimization at the hands of outsiders has pervaded Kashmiri political discourse since the harsh rule of the Dogras (1846–1947), and before that the Sikh (1819–1846) and Afghan (1752-1819) empires, and continues today among secessionist groups that seek to remove Kashmir from Indian sovereignty.

We may, of course, question the accuracy of such portrayals and the degree to which they are the product of political elites seeking to mobilize popular sentiment behind their cause.

Nonetheless, the narrative of suffering, injustice and external malfeasance remains the dominant factor in the justifications given by elites and ordinary Kashmiris who seek the region’s secession or a greater degree of autonomy from India.

An important, but frequently neglected, factor in understanding the longevity and trajectory of secessionist violence such as that which exists in Kashmir is outside assistance. Because secessionists typically confront a numerically larger and better-equipped adversary, assistance from external actors is crucial to ensuring the viability of an armed struggle.

Reluctance to set a precedent that might lead to their own dismemberment limits overt support from states (Kashmiri secessionists have received assistance from Pakistan, although its nature and scope are disputed).

More common is support from diaspora, that is families, communities and religious networks integrated in a territory by a host state, who have left or been forced out of their traditional residence in a homeland state. There need of the hour is to establish peace politically using the end of socio political diaspora.

Author is a research scholar (Economics) at Department of Agriculture Economics, Aligarh Muslim University, UP. Views expressed are author’s own.