Framed by the slit in her veil, Shehzada Batloo’s eyes were level and strong. If there were tears in them for the son she had lost to police bullets, they have dried long ago. “I think all mothers should feel proud if their sons are martyred,” Ms Batloo later said of her teenage son Samir Batloo, who was shot after the mob he stood with charged at a police post in Srinagar’s Fateh Kadal area. “I believe my son will vouch for me in the hereafter,” she continued, “and I will be rewarded with an abode in paradise.”
Across the Pir Panjal mountains in Jammu, Kuldip Kumar Dogra dramatically committed suicide at the end of a speech in which he demanded land for Hindu pilgrims at Amarnath. Hindutva leaders held out Dogra’s death as a model for emulation — and their audiences responded. Protesters have proved willing not just to die but to kill.
Ever since the Shrine Board protests broke out in June, a cult of death has flourished in both Jammu and Kashmir, as both Hindutva groups and Islamists have engaged in what they represent as a war for civilisational survival. For the most part, the intensity of the protests has taken commentators by surprise, conditioned as Indian public discourse is to see Jammu and Kashmir as a land that lies outside the saga of communalism in South Asia. Hate, however, is an organic part of the State’s history.
“There is no Hindu or Muslim question in Kashmir,” Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah said in 1948, “we do not use such language.” His words were, at best, a comforting fiction. As Jammu and Kashmir moved towards Independence, both Hindu and Islamic neo-fundamentalist movements acquired strength in the region. Communal skirmishes punctuated the course of the freedom movement. In 1931, after Dogra troops killed 28 protesters in Srinagar, Hindu-owned businesses and homes were targeted. More communal violence broke out that September.
Partition entrenched the communalisation. In Kashmir, Muslims watched the large-scale communal massacres in Jammu with fear. Sheikh Abdullah later described how deeply the experience had scarred his constituents. “There isn’t a single Muslim in Kapurthala, Alwar or Bharatpur,” Abdullah said, noting “some of these had been Muslim-majority states.” Hindus in Kashmir had their own fears — fears driven by Pakistani state support for tribes engaged in a campaign of cleansing.
Freedom ought to have meant the birth of democratic institutions which could address these anxieties. Instead, elites in both Kashmir and Jammu accelerated the communalisation process. Navnita Behera Chadha, the leading scholar of regional conflicts in Jammu and Kashmir, has noted that the State’s Constituent Assembly secured “a clear concentration of powers in the valley through disproportionate representation.”
Kashmiri elites used their new power to redress the historic grievances of their region’s Muslims. However, they demonstrated little regard for competing claims from Ladakh and Jammu. For example, the National Conference worked to give Kashmiri Muslims greater representation in the bureaucracy. However, it marginalised Hindu Dogras, Muslim Gujjars, and Ladakh residents of both religions.
Five years after Independence, the Praja Parishad launched an agitation against Sheikh Abdullah’s policies. Its leaders — an alliance of landlords and business elites angered by the redistribution of their assets — called for the abrogation of Article 370, the removal of Dogra imperial laws that allowed only State subjects to purchase land and the full application of the Indian Constitution. “Ek desh mein do vidhaan, do nishaan, do pradhaan nahin chalengey,” went the Praja Parishad slogan: “One nation cannot have two constitutions, two flags and two Prime Ministers.”
Sheikh Abdullah used the rise of the Jana Sangh-linked Praja Parishad to stoke communal fears in Kashmir. In one speech, he claimed that the Parishad was part of a project to convert India “into a religious state wherein the interests of Muslims will be jeopardised.” If the people of Jammu wanted a separate Dogra State, Sheikh Abdullah said, “I would say with full authority on behalf of the Kashmiris that they would not at all mind this separation.” Sheikh Abdullah had, tragically, transformed himself from a spokesman for all the State’s people into a representative of Kashmiri Muslims alone.
From 1977, the unresolved strains between Kashmir and Jammu became increasingly sharp. In order to fight off competition from the Jamaat-e-Islami, Sheikh Abdullah began to cast himself as a defender of the rights of Muslims. He attacked the Jamaat’s alliance with the Janata Party, “whose hands were still red with the blood of Muslims.” National Conference leaders administered oaths to their cadre on the Koran and a piece of rock salt — a popular symbol of Pakistan. Abdullah’s lieutenant, Mirza Afzal Beg, promised voters that he would open the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road to traffic. It paid off: the National Conference was decimated in the Hindu-majority constituencies of Jammu but it won all 42 seats in Kashmir.
When the 1983 elections came round, politicians learned from experience. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi conducted an incendiary campaign in Jammu, built around the claim that the discrimination the region faced was because it was part of ‘Hindu India.’ Across the Pir Panjal, Farooq Abdullah and his new found ally Maulvi Mohammad Farooq — secessionist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s father — let it be known that they were defending Kashmir’s Muslim identity. Matters went from bad to worse. At a March 1987 rally in Srinagar, Muslim United Front candidates, clad in the white robes of the pious, declared that Islam could not survive under the authority of a secular state. MUF leaders built their campaign around the sale of liquor and laws that proscribed cow slaughter, which were cast as threats to the authentic Muslim character of Kashmir.
Jammu and Kashmir’s two-decades Islamist war sharpened the pace of communal polarisation. Although Muslims in Kashmir were the principal victims of a jihad fought in their name, few politicians in the region proved willing to confront Islamists head on. Hindutva groups in Jammu adroitly leveraged the situation to cast the conflict as a Hindu-Muslim contestation.
Young people are being martyred for this cause; the Shrine Board violence is a crucible in which these hatreds are being forged into white-hot steel. In both Jammu and Ladakh, the shrine war has strengthened forces which want the State divided on religious lines — a dramatic reversal of the situation in 2002, where the Jammu State Morcha, which called for such a Partition, was decimated. Islamists in Kashmir, too, have made it clear that they see Partition — and the incorporation of the Muslim-majority areas north of the Chenab river into Pakistan — as the only way out of the crisis.
Partition plans for Jammu and Kashmir aren’t new. In 1950, even as India and Pakistan were still struggling to emerge from the communal holocaust which had claimed between half-a-million and million lives, the United Nations-appointed mediator on Jammu and Kashmir, Owen Dixon, suggested that a solution to the conflict in the State might lie in replicating the logic of Partition.
Dixon’s plan, at the time, was rejected in both India and Pakistan. However, the iniquitous structure of State politics gave it continued life. The former Sadr-i-Riyasat, Karan Singh, was among those who put out variants of the proposal, on one occasion advocating the merger of Jammu into Himachal Pradesh, and turning Kashmir into a separate Muslim-majority State. Secessionists such as Tehreek-i-Hurriyat chief Syed Ali Shah Geelani and People’s Conference leader Sajjad Gani Lone; Hindutva groups; and the Pakistani state have all propagated variants of this theme since.
In 1999, the National Conference itself issued a blueprint for Partition. Based on the proposals of a committee, on which opposition groups, religious minorities and the Jammu region were unrepresented, the State government advocated the creation of six new provinces. Muslim-majority Rajouri and Poonch districts from the Jammu region as a whole would constitute the new Pir Panjal Province. Udhampur’s single Muslim-majority tehsil, Mahore, was to form part of the Chenab province, while the rest of the district was to be incorporated into Jammu. Even the single districts of Buddhist-majority Leh and Muslim-majority Kargil were to become separate provinces. Later, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh threw its weight behind the Hindu chauvinist groups in Jammu which had revived the movement for the division of Jammu and Kashmir into three States on ethnic-religious lines.
Now, the project has ripened. In Kashmir, Islamists argue that the violence in Jammu — amplified through the publication of fictitious accounts of large-scale killings of Muslims and the destruction of mosques — is the true face of India. Muslims, they claim, have no future.
Hindus in Jammu, for their part, have been told that the expulsion of Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir Valley is a precursor to their eventual fate at the hands of the State’s Muslim leadership. Faked statistics have been used to claim that the Muslim-dominated Jammu and Kashmir government denies Hindus representation.
Politicians in Kashmir and Jammu have done little to try and dam this rising tide of hate. Where Hindutva and Islamist groups have held dozens of protests, not one major political group has held peace rallies. No effort has been made, either, to build institutions that cut across social fissures. Kashmir and Jammu have separate bar associations, chambers of commerce, professional guilds of doctors and engineers — and even press associations. For all practical purposes, the residents of the two regions are social strangers, tied to each other by nothing but business — and hate.
In 1947, Mahatma Gandhi saw in Kashmir “a ray of hope in the darkness.” In the midst of this apparently permanent eclipse, Jammu and Kashmir desperately needs leaders who can point its people in a direction where they might see it.
6 months ago