12 Oct 2020
It is the concept of “Kashmiriyat” which gives an insight into various narratives on the Kashmir conflict. Understanding the “Kashmiriyat”can help to understand the current socio-political conflict which has engulfed the state for several decades. Further the cultural and political trajectories of Kashmiriyatthrough time will help toidentify the motives of the metamorphosis of Kashmiriyat(from a cultural to a politicalentity), as well as the political circumstances and the causalities of the diverse uprisings in Kashmir.
“It’s time to isolate Pakistan, and build consensus between New Delhi and Srinagar for a solution to Kashmir” Speaking in the Lok Sabha on April 21, 2003, about his just-concluded visit to Jammu and Kashmir, former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee spelt out his perspective on the way to deal with the complex issues concerning Jammu & Kashmir. He spoke of major economic projects in areas such as the development of road and rail infrastructure and promoting employment for the youth. He asserted: “The gun can solve no problems. Issues can be guided by the three principles of insaniyat (humanism), jamhooriyat (democracy) and Kashmiriyat (Kashmir’s legacy of amity).” While “Kashmiriyat” constitutes the core of the regional and territorial dispute, it has varying meanings for various aspects. Prof Irfan Ahmed and D P Saklani, research Scholar of Garhwal University claim that: “At present Kashmir is passing through turmoil due to many unfortunate reasons and intolerance. The hatred, mistrust and communal enmity has brought bad name to Kashmir. In such a horriblesituation, the study of Kashmiriyatis significant which may present a useful enquiry inestablishing the loss of serenity and peace in Kashmir.”
In simple terms “Kashmiriyat” can be defined to be representing the “ethos ofbeing Kashmiri having origin or affiliation toKashmir. Itdoes not only mean simply a harmonious relationship cutting across religious andsectarian divisions or pluralistic tradition, but it is a far wider concept that has grown over centuriesof historical process.
Kashimiriyat´sidea can be traced to the historical past of Kashmir. In the 13th century, the main religions of the valley (Hinduism and Buddhism) encountered Islam. The newreligion seemed appealing to many of the inhabitants of the region who converted to Islam. Such religious and cultural encounter created a new culture by assimilating various ethno religious traditions and beliefs that were shared among the different communities. It came to be called the Hindu-Muslim “Rishi-Sufi” movement. The success of Islam in Kashmir is strongly linked to the fact that Sufi Saints wereable to cope with the cultural differences and managed to live collectively together. Also, Sufism is a division of Islam which does not preach strict orthodox values hence thisfacilitated cultural assimilation.
Kashmiriyat, for a long time, became a binding force between the peoples of various religions and cultures. Kashmiriyatwas the mainstream definition of shared religiosity between Hindus and Muslims, of peaceful coexistence. Indeed, the region’s essence is a mixof religious Hindu and Muslim costumes, beliefs, manners and rituals. In fact, this idea isstrongly supported by the Indian government as a mean to justify unity among Kashmiris.
As per the work of T. N. Madan (a Kashmiri himself), Kashmiriyatconstitutes of the key elements of the love of the homeland (kashir) and common speech (koshur), besides similar costumes, practices, visits to shrines and reverences to relics, folk lore andfolk music, etc. These created an image of mutual recognition and togetherness that can be perceived physically and culturally. The fact that there is a secular trait in the nature of the term Kashmiriyathas now become more contestable after the unrest and growing division of religious and cultural identities.
Other authors such as M. I. Khan believe that Kashmiriyatwas the gradual outcome ofmutual adaptation of various pre-Islamic religious traditions and the great tradition ofIslam. To him, the Rishis(holy Vedic Hindu sage, saint or inspired poet) were the main exemplars of the developing of such a dialectic process. Regardless of the different opinions aforementioned, they all designate Kashmiriyatas an “ideology” (an ideology is composed of three key elements: body of doctrine, myth and belief).
Another view is that Kashmiriyatis not an ideology, but rather a behavior pattern shared by Pandits and Muslims in the region. It is perceived as the sense of mutual support which still not wholly free of tensions. In other words, this notion refers toa pluralistic culture of tolerance, but does not represent syncretism.
On the other hand, Pakistan’s government defines Kashmiriyatas a territorial conceptualization avoiding a cultural or religious formulation. Thus, this means that Pakistan considers Kashmiriyatas the equivalent to Kashmiri citizenship.
This term is a powerful socio-political instrument which helps to identify and shape different groups in the Kashmir area. However, there is still a lack of clear association between the term and the groups that pretend to belong to “Kashmiriyat”. The vagueness of the term itself is quite controversial, since everyone in Kashmir can use it to outline a different political agenda. The use of Kashmiriyatcannot be attributed to any partyor specific religion, since it has been used by all of them disregarding their beliefs and causes.
As is evident many of the elements belonging to the concept of Kashmiriyatare cultural aspects. Even though many centuries have passed (and there is a religious difference among the diverse ethnic groups in Kashmir) most of the Kashmiri traditions remain very close to their original form. Indeed, modernization is transforming costumes and rituals at a fast pace. However, the whole of the native people (who call themselves Kashmiri) are trying to stick with their traditions.
Most of this cultural legacy can be traced back to the early 13thcentury in Kashmir. It was during this period that Islam finally reached the Kashmir region. The transition process from a Hindu kingdom to the first sultanate happened in 1339 with arrival of Shah Mir and massive conversion of the region into Islam. The Muslim practices became quite appealing to the Kashmiris being a suitable alternative to the ongoing Medieval hierarchical Brahmanical society with its socio-political order being incredibly elitist, hierarchical, privilege-based and deeply grounded into an unjust caste system. The fact that Islam did not have any hierarchy among the different people composing the society, made the religion appealing for those without privileges and for the masses.
The interactions of the distinct cultures and religions with Islam changed completely the cultural dynamics of the Kashmiri region and it soon became the dominant religion in the area. However, cross-cultural interactions were notunusual for Kashmiri people such as Buddhist traits among Kashmiri Shivaism, impact of Sufi saints and missionaries which marked the creation of anew Sufi order within the sectby assimilation and adaptation mechanism. This can be interpreted as the Islamization process of Kashmir as well as the Kashmirization of Islam. Besides, Kashmir being a hub for trade as well as a destination for many missionaries, scholars, and travelers, also had their own impact on Kashmiri culture and identity which shaped the uniqueness of Kashmiri culture aswell as its own religious syncretism. However, since late 90’s when the security crisis unraveled, the ancient practice ofamicable religious steadiness began to fade away.
Terrorism has become a major issue adversely affecting development of the region. Peace in the region can only be achieved if state sponsored terrorism by Pakistan is brought to an end and development of the region is given the requisite boost. Terrorism is not only costly because it damages infrastructure, but it also takes the lives of innocent people. Development of the region alongwith fighting terrorism is an extremely complicated task.
Pakistan sponsored terrorists aim to destabilize the Indian & state government and have wider influence (even control) over the area. Pakistani government through the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has played an active role. However, the fact of the matter is that even Kashmiris now realize that these terrorist groups residing in Kashmir are there just to fulfil a pan-Islamic orjihadi perspective of uniting the Muslims of the world and to finally establish a Caliphate. They do not share the idea of self-governance of Kashmir.
While one cannot deny the fact that there have been great efforts from several decades, abrogation of Article 370 seems a decisive solution under the current state of affairs in the area. Pakistan is unlikely to cooperate and will exploit religious and terrorist groups using the secessionist claims as a way to implement their more radical agendas.
The independent Kashmir is certainly not an enviable option for Kashmiris considering the vast fragmentation among the local inhabitants not only politically but also ethnically and religiously, in addition to ever ready Pakistan who has claims on it. Besides, the economy of the region is extremely fragile. Thus there is a need to revive the true essence of Kashmiriyat in mutual coexistence. The most viable solution appears to be the developmental steps taken by the government post abrogation of Article 370 and consistent focus on growth and development of the region. This implies that a new definition of Kashmiriyat will have to be coined to pave way for development of the region by changing policies and inclination to help the native people on either side of LC. The most pertinent issue is obviously curbing terrorism and creating a safe environment that would immediately foster the development of local economy and make the region sustainable.