While India continues to be the world’s largest democracy, the Jammu and Kashmir conflict that has been festering for over 70 years remains a blemish on the mosaic of “integrated states” constructed by the Union of India.
With constant internal threats and threats from across the border, addressing the Kashmir conflict has become more necessary than ever.
The state of Jammu and Kashmir has three provinces — Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. All three provinces have different cultures, traditions, languages and even religions, making it difficult to construct a narrative around a ‘common identity’. The lack of this common identity has lead to each province having its own interests and allegiances.
Let us first consider the case of the insurgent movement in Kashmir, which many say has gained passionate civilian support, and has received a forceful military response. Erratic, often unprovoked, encounters between the two ends have given Kashmir bruised memories.
Infamous incidents of mass violence, such as the Gawkadal Massacre, the Sopore Massacre, and rapes in Kunan Poshpora, have taken place in the region. The human toll goes up to thousands. Amnesty International reports that over 2,700 unmarked graves have been discovered in Kashmir, while there have been 8,000–10,000 “enforced disappearances” since 1989.
The Victimhood Card
With its claim of victimhood, a large part of Kashmir advocates for secession from the Indian State. It is pertinent to mention here that majority of the population of Kashmir being Sunni Muslim has made the secession movement somewhat Islam-centric.
On the other hand we have Jammu, which presents its own idea of victimhood concerning the historical cultural subjugation to Kashmir. The absence of a Hindu Chief Minister since the accession to India, over a period which has only seen one Chief Minister from the Jammu region, has created another religion-based identity within the state. This has led to Jammu becoming more possessive and vocal of its Hindu identity.
This is what lies at the heart of the Jammu and Kashmir conflict- deadlocking Hindu and Muslim identities that are opposed to each other, trying to paint the state saffron and green respectively. There is a serious danger to the secular, syncretic society that Jammu and Kashmir was famous for prior to the rise of militancy in the 1990s.
A Clear Divide?
The tussle between the two prominent regions and religions became more visible than ever in the 2014 State Elections when Muslim-dominated Kashmir gave its mandate to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), claimed by many to be a ‘soft separatist’ party, while Jammu showed its support for the Hindu-centric Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP).
With the recent turn of events, i.e. the fall of the PDP-BJP alliance that was ruling in the state, things don’t seem to be changing for the better. The imposition of Governor’s rule, owing to its dark and blood-bathed history, only worsens the situation by antagonising state authority further for people of the Kashmir Province.
As Pratap Bhanu Mehta observes, the discourse of Kashmir has become suffocating due to the fact that people’s beliefs have started to become a product of their identities.
With two identities competing against each other, the possibility of finding a common ground and solving the Jammu and Kashmir conflict in its entirety has been reduced to a bare minimum.
(Sadam is a 19-year-old Political Science Major. His interests include politics, activism and poetry, all of which he attributes to his memories from Kashmir, the place where he grew up.)
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the author’s personal views.