Kishtwar: an example of structuring communalism

Kishtwar is a typical example of how to structure communalism, how to breed hatred between communities, how to empower one community, while disempowering the other, how to structure the security mechanism where one community reigns supreme and other community feels threatened. Kishtawar might be an example of structuring communalism, however it needs to be studied as an event in the long drawn-out historical process.



Communalism and sectarianism in South Asia is a product of distorting history. In South Asian subcontinent, structuring communalism has become a politician’s staple, a historian’s art, a political analyst’s technique, a sociologist’s pastime. In this subcontinent of migrants, fresh entries have been labeled as intrusions by the older migrants, especially so, if the fresh batch of migrants carried a different religious denomination. Dravidians of south were followed by Aryans of north. Aborigines living in the vicinity of Jamna and some indigenous Advasi tribes were thus rendered to be an insignificant minority. Aryans settled in Indo-Gangetic basin, the historical event stands captured in a moving couplet of Allama Iqbal:

Aye Abrood-e-Ganga, Woh Din’h Hai Yad’h Tujko

Utra Teray Kinaray Jab Caravan Hamara

O, Ganges, remember ye the day

Our caravan landed on your bay

Wile as the as Dravidians and Aryan shared a religion, though with subtle variations, the Turko-Mongol migration from 12th to 16th century with a fair sprinkling of Persians carried a different religion to the one already established in south Asia. Turko-Mongol migration incidentally took affect from the same central Asian land mass from which Aryans had migrated, a millennia or two earlier. Central Asians in that epoch of bygone ages moved to Iran and onwards to India and some moved west to Germany. Northern Indians, Pakistanis, Iranians and Germans thus share the racial feature.

The historical landmarks of people of ancient times moving from one land to another freely, when there were virtually no borders between nations, if they could be called nations at all evolved into ages, where borders came up. That was later, earlier we see central Asia devastated by Mongols absorbing the invaders within a few generations. Genghis Khan, the Mongol and his progenies like Halaku destroyed the essence of golden age of Muslims in Baghdad of Abbasids (750-1258 A.D) yet within a few generations central Asian Turks mingled with their invaders—Mongols. Thus we see Tamerlane (Timur) a Turko-Mongol holding in his sway central Asia and making inroads into South Asia. Sultan Mahmood of Ghazni came and went several times. Later Aibeks, Gouris, Lodhis, Pathans and Mughals came. It has to be understood than none of these dynasties came as religious crusaders to spread a religion, but their forays were just an expansion of their sultanates. 

With 12th to 16th century sultanate expansions, conversions did take place, however there are no solid evidences of coercion by rulers with a different religion denomination than the predominant religion of South Asians. Conversions were the result of a class structure prevalent in South Asia. However, it has to be admitted that the ancient South Asian religion had an inner resilience, a spiritual tuning to the extent of resisting mass conversion. Central Asian sultanate expansion had nothing to do with carrying a message. The message that led to almost total conversion of Iranians, Syrians, Egyptians, Jordanians, and the central Asians, had ceased to be the purpose of sultanates. However instead of reading it in that context, the sultanate expansions were differently viewed. And continue to be viewed in different context with historical distortions having a free sway.

What was simmering over centuries resulted in first recorded communal clash in Mumbai in 1893. With the South Asian majority campaigning for political rights, centuries of sultanate rule were constructed as alien rule along with two centuries of British rule. Forgotten was the fact that following incursions of Timur and Sultan Mahmood of Ghazni, Aibeks, Gouris, Lodhis, Pathans and Mughals made south Asia their home, just as Dravidian and Aryan migrants had done earlier. And just as Aryans made Germany their home, just as Mongols settled in central Asia to make a Turko-Mongol mix, just as Greeks and Romans mingled to result in Greco-Roman cultural blend that set-up Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire in European periphery—Constantinople [Turkey]. In an earlier age Rome based Western Roman Empire had made slaves of Greeks, as ancient Greece collapsed under Roman onslaught.

In a changing world of yore, where cultural mixes, religious conversions were the norm, historical events need to put in realistic context, recorded exactly as per the sequence of events. In South Asia however historical distortions however have coloured perceptions. With majority rightly campaigning for political rights, not much provision was left for carrying minorities along. Hence assertion of majority political rights and aspiration of minorities ran like parallel lines without a meeting point. Secularism in word hardly meant secularism in deed. Partition was seen as the way out, however that too left many a problem unresolved, mainly Kashmir issue. There are other issues though; however problem remains weird interpretations of history across the communal divide. Geographical divide in 1947 failed to resolve the communal divide. It manifests in one form or the other, the bitterness refuses to fade away.

Incidents like the one in Kishtwar are just various manifestations of a historical process. There were rumblings for quite some time that security-wise one community is being empowered, while the other community is feeling disempowered. Government failed to take prompt notice of the divide building up in Chenab valley, in spite of what happened in Gool. Chenab basin and Pir Panchal region in J&K has a sensitive mix. However both these regions do not seem to be on the priority list. What happened in Kishtwar is highly unfortunate, though not un-expected, official agencies failed to anticipate what was coming. Hence, the security mechanism was hardly in place to combat, what was so imminent in forthcoming. Government was virtually caught on the wrong foot.

CM Omar Abdullah might be right in concluding that political parties are queuing up to cash the sectarian and communal divide, as 2014 poll draws closer. Having said or tweeted what he had to on the issue, what he did not spell out was what the official agencies did to combat the outfall. Clear line needs to be drawn out between his role as a leader of his party—National Conference and his duty as the chief political executive of the state. Events bear out that he has failed to visualize the distinction. But then the question arises—is he the only south Asian leader who could be accused of failure or is it general malady of south Asian leadership. Events—one after another bear out that problem of communalism has hardly been addressed at macro level relating to historical distortions and coloured perceptions or at micro level to combat events like the one in Kishtwar…any answers please?

Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]

Feedback on: Iqbal.