‘Split personality syndrome’
When East India Company started consolidating British imperial control over India by the mid-eighteenth century, it was directly pitted against the Muslims who had been ruling India since the eleventh century. Understandably then, for Muslims the loss of power and position of privilege was much more profound than what was felt by any other religious group. This is why the “first war of India’s independence”- the mutiny of 1857 – was primarily a manifestation of Muslim uprising against the British imperial forces. While as the British forces were successfully able to deal with the revolt given its superior military might, in order to keep the chances of future unrest at bay, something needed to be done on the political front.
Aware of the general dislike for Muslims among the majority Hindu community, British colonialists started sowing the seeds of distrust between the two communities while simultaneously patronizing Sikhs who were until then broadly viewed as a sect within the Hindu fold. “Divide and rule”, as the strategy has come to be known in Indian history, ensured an unchallenged British hegemony (Raj) in India for the next couple of centuries. However, at the same time, it drove wedges so deep among various religious communities that the religion itself became the marker of peoples’ identities, much more potent and stronger than any other pointer. As the historical evidence suggests, it is safe to conclude that the religious fundamentalisms in the subcontinent have its roots in India’s colonial past.
Interestingly, its contemporary manifestations have, besides dividing the subcontinent along religious fault-lines into three separate nation-states (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh), also polarized more than one-sixth of the world’s entire population on the basis of religious particularism. Indeed religion has certainly played a key role in defining the contours of nationality in India. Drawing both from the historical accounts as well as contemporary scholarship, one could also make out how religious sentiments were and are still exploited to reach the political ends. For instance, the evolutionary curve of various religious (Hindu, Muslim and Sikh) fundamentalisms in the subcontinent shows the socio-political ramifications of religion on the contemporary politics of the subcontinent — where the mixture of religion and politics have given birth to a dangerous cocktail that fuels ethnic and communal strife every now and then.
When militancy broke out in Kashmir towards the end of nineties, it was primarily an ethno-nationalistic uprising triggered by what was then viewed as lack of development and the manipulation of democratic principles and norms by the Government of India and its subsidiary governments in the State. However, during the subsequent years, the freedom discourse in Kashmir became increasingly impregnated with identity politics wherein religion was strategically slipped in to become the dominant feature of the insurgency. After over nearly three decades of political turmoil, which has claimed nearly hundred-thousand lives, a common Kashmiri is today at the cross-roads of confusion, having little idea as to whether the fight is for the assertion of political rights or religious identity. Simply put, a movement that was political during its inception has over the years been completely hijacked by the religious rhetoric, which is at variance with the traditional Kashmiri ethos based on religious syncretism and pluralism.
What went wrong? How and why religion became the dominant factor of an uprising that began purely on a nationalistic plank? Who is fighting whose battle in Kashmir today? Are Kashmiris fighting for the assertion of their political rights or for a much broader pan-Islamist cause? While as all these and many more questions merit a careful scrutiny in light of the available evidence, it goes without saying that the entry of religion into the movement for civil and political rights has added to the complexities of Kashmir conflict. Going by the ongoing trends wherein the militant groups with pan-Islamic agenda are the formidable force, the dominant underlying current of the secessionist movement in Kashmir today is based on religious sentiment. Needless to say that the conflict is now increasingly being viewed as a Hindu-Muslim clash, which goes contrary to the very ideals and foundations of the movement that was centered on Kashmiri nationalism.
The common Kashmiri Muslim today is the victim of what can be termed as “split personality syndrome”. While his ethnicity, culture and language guide him towards the historical legacy of religious tolerance and symbiosism, concocted and narrow interpretations of scripture and tradition by fundamentalists are pulling him towards exclusiveness. This internal conflict at the intellectual level is further sharpened by the import of pan-Islamic ideologies and institutions.