Kashmiri Sub-Nationalism – Inclusive or Exclusive in Nature?

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Instead of doubting the genuineness of Kashmiri Sub Nationalism, it is to be respected and trusted in its historical and political perspective without giving any regional or religious colour to the urge for assertion of the same.

By Uzair Simnani

To understand this, one must trace the emergence of the nation-state in India. The subcontinent was for the most part, ruled by various kingdoms, chiefdoms, tribes and it was under Mughal Emperors like Akbar and his successors like Aurangzeb that it became one geographical and political unit as an empire. The idea of India as a nation-state emerged however, during the British colonial rule as a reaction to the British rule. The British sought to control the vast subcontinental space directly or indirectly by bringing the Princely states into a subordinate position. This was possible all the more because the Mughal empire had already started disintegrating in the late eighteenth century.  Poised to justify their effort to dominate the political scene as an imperative for more efficient administrative functioning to support trade, their primary motive, the British played off one kingdom against the other, one identity against the other. It was only during the Independence struggle that various leaders raised the idea of a unified nationalism to combat the idea of British occupation in divided India, a subcontinental space treated as a mere market and revenue mine for the colonial overlords.

The Constitution was crafted in this context with deep regard for the sensitive sub-national identities carved out across regions along ethnic, linguistic, tribal and even religious grounds. The nation’s quasi-federal approach was designed to facilitate the much-needed balance that would ensure that these multiple layers of identities could exist within the broader framework of a one nation. This was the essence of preserving the diversity that remains our strength and unique attribute as a nation.

An honest reflection of the cultural identity of India as a nation bases itself on its unique essence of unity in diversity which is more an attribute of the subcontinental space than an imposed political construct. It can hardly be overlooked how over thousands of years, the subcontinent had witnessed the conquests and consequent regimes of rulers following and patronizing different religious traditions ranging from the Gupta’s, Maurya’s, Cholas, Maratha’s to the Mughals and how each tradition thus patronized, had been absorbed and assimilated in the culturescape to leave behind their unique imprints on the evolving culture to give birth to the India that we see today.

However, despite the underlying common trend in assimilation, there has always concurrently been an undercurrent of sub-nationalism, most evidently seen in the southern part of the country, more visible it seems, after Independence. The threat of states seceding from the Union of India has time and again cropped up, not just from the southern states, but also from the North-east, Punjab with the pro-Khalistan movement and Kashmir.

The quasi-federal design was undoubtedly a master-stroke in approach but it did not imply that the path ahead was smooth and devoid of challenges. The 1956 States Reorganization Act was based on the re-drawing of states as per linguistic identities and a nod to sub-national identities that existed in states such as Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Bengal, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Assam, and other North-Eastern states. This Act came about as a result of struggles for asserting these varied identities which came about during the time as the newly born nation was still finding its feet.

The Indian Constitution gives due protection to age-old regional and tribal societies and their customs of self-governance as in North Eastern Tribal communities like Garos, Khasis, Jaintias, Nagas, etc. where outsiders from other states are barred from owning properties. According to the ‘primordialist’ view of sub-nationalism, “such separate identities (linguistic, ethnic, historical, geographical) date back historically to the period of resistance to the colonial rule. As long as the forces of an occupying foreign power were visibly in control, these local and regional forces were accorded a position of dignity by nationalist leaders within the broad church of the anti-colonial struggle. However, once the foreign colonial rulers left, and power passed to the hands of the nationalist leaders, a new struggle broke out between the new central authorities and their regional adversaries.”(Mitra 1995)This was precisely the case in the subcontinent.

As far as Kashmiri sub-nationalism is concerned, its roots are deeply embedded in history. As Kashmiris our recorded history dates back to 5000 years, nowhere else to be seen in any other part of the sub-continent. There are political roots to Kashmiri sub-nationalism too. Uptil the invasion of a Mughal Emperor Akbar, Kashmir was a separate sovereign political state. Even after coming under the rule of Pathans, Sikhs, and Dogras, it had never directly been part of British India. The special laws pertaining to ‘state subject laws’ had been incorporated into Kashmir’s erstwhile legal and constitutional framework mainly and mostly on the demand of Kashmiri Pandits and Dogra community of the state. Kashmiri Pandits, due to their educated status, feared that civil servants from outside the state may take their jobs and Dogra’s from the fear of being overrun by the powerful landlords and rich aristocracy of neighboring Punjab region. The incorporation of Article 370 in the Indian Constitution in this context, sought to give due recognition to these sub-national urges of Kashmiris, providing a certain level of identity-based autonomy to decide about few things of priority to the community. The best and classical example of Kashmiriyat and Kashmiri Sub nationalism is amply demonstrated by the migrant Kashmiri Pandits who despite being economically well-off as compared to their counterparts living in Kashmir, find themselves often lost in the broader Indian national identity, though being religiously a part of Hindu society. They are known to strongly feel the sub-national identity of race, language, customs, and special religious rites at variance with their Hindu brothers in India.

The other fact of Kashmiri Sub Nationalism is evident from the ravages of the partition which had divided Jammu and Kashmir into two parts, one in India, and the other in Pakistan.

There have been three wars over Kashmir and the current proxy war is going on with no end in sight. This remains a permanent and most disturbing irritant between India and Pakistan to this day.

These currents and undercurrents of Kashmiri Sub-Nationalism are to be understood in its historical, political and civilization perspective. All the negative reactions from the rest of the country instead of giving Kashmiris a satisfaction of being a great secular pluralistic society, give some elements a handle to misuse it for their own nefarious ends.

Instead of doubting the genuineness of Kashmiri Sub Nationalism, it is to be respected and trusted in its historical and political perspective without giving any regional or religious colour to the urge for assertion of the same. Understanding Kashmiri sub-nationalism in its true historical and civilizational context is the first imperative to realising the cause of finding Kashmir its rightful cultural space within the broader South-Asian cultural template.

  • The author is Senior Research Fellow, JK Policy Institute. jkpi.org

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