What do Kashmiris think of the dogras?
Travelers to Kashmir are often puzzled by the fact that the poverty that characterizes large parts of India is barely visible in Kashmir: everyone owns a house or at least some land, and the people look healthier and more well fed compared to their Indian neighbors . And this despite the fact that the last two decades have been plagued by war and numerous conflicts that have thrown the Kashmiri economy into chaos. But Srinagar, the provincial capital of Kashmir, is teeming with large and splendid residences that you won't see even in the prettiest neighborhoods of New Delhi.
Of course there are also poor people in Kashmir, but poverty is not as widespread and obvious as in large parts of "India", which the Kashmiris deliberately denote as "India". Under the impression of these observations, it is not surprising that neither generous lending nor abundant subsidies from the Indian government can dissuade the Kashmiris from their fervent desire for independence or even win their hearts.
Even attempts, with the specter of a non-viable autonomous Kashmiri economy or the assurance that the Kashmiri economy would plunge into chaos by annexing Pakistan, cannot curb the desire for an independent Kashmiri. But if the desire for independence arises neither from acute unemployment nor from widespread poverty, what drives the Kashmiris? What makes you wage a struggle for independence against one of the strongest armies in the world for years, in which more than a hundred thousand of your brothers and sisters have lost their lives?
I have broken down the entire Kashmir conflict, which is confusing in its complexity, into two causal factors: opposing interpretations of national and religious claims. Nationalism and religion are absolute ideologies and, as is evident in Kashmir and India, can take on totalitarian traits. They become ideologies in which no compromises can be made with the opponents marked as "enemies".
Rather, the "enemies" serve as a background, even as a contrasting figure, against which one's own national or religious identity is only properly developed. In a Muslim-dominated reading of history, the inhabitants of the Kashmir Valley represent their own homogeneous cultural and ethnic group, which must also express their identity politically through the creation of an independent Kashmir. The claim to an independent Kashmir also results from the colonial past of this region. In the understanding of its inhabitants, Kashmir was determined by others for centuries, be it by the Mughals, the Pathans, the Sikhs, the Indo-Aryan Dogras or, as is currently the case, by India - but also by Pakistan in the "Azad" part of Kashmir.
The desire for independence is fueled not least of all by the agreements that were made between the newly formed states of India and Pakistan during the partition of British India in 1947. The Kashmiris regularly point out that it was none other than India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who solemnly proclaimed: India will honor its obligations to the UN by letting the Kashmiris decide for themselves about their political future. A promise that is still waiting to be fulfilled today.
The Indian reading of the Kashmir conflict follows a different path. There is no room for free and independent cashmere. It is necessary to enforce, if necessary also by means of violence, that the Kashmiris have to perceive themselves as Indians and their country as an integral and inseparable part of India. These two nationalisms, Indian and Kashmiri, do not meet on any point in their views, and neither side is ready to make the slightest concession to the other.
Competing understandings of religion or identities based on religion are the other reason for the Kashmiris' desire for independence. This religious question is inseparable from the concept of the religious "other" in Islamic orthodoxy. The religious "other" can and was and will be dealt with in a positive and respectful manner in the Islamic tradition. But today that represents the approach of a small minority of Muslim eccentrics, most of whom come from the mystical or modern currents of Islam. This minority is largely on the fringes of the Islamic community and its followers are often defamed as deviants. The common notion of the religious "other", on a global level and not only in Kashmir, is shamelessly devaluing and defamatory.
Close contact with non-Muslims or even a cautious approach to their behavior is disapproved and in many cases strictly rejected and condemned. Behind this is the fear that too close contact with the "others" could lead Muslims away from true Islam. Every time the Indian state suppresses the Kashmiris - and newspaper and television reports indicate that this continues unabated - the negative image the Kashmiris have of India solidifies. Under these circumstances, a peaceful compromise between the two parties is still a long way off. In this context it seems quite conceivable that a direct and energetic opposition by the Indian state to any anti-Muslim activism by national-chauvinist Hindus would have induced the Kashmiris not to think so negatively about India and the Hindus as they are now .
To be fair, however, it must also be mentioned that the religious status of the "other" is no less problematic in the general view of Hindus. Over the years, I have endured a multitude of anti-Muslim tirades from Hindus that I have encountered in Hindu-dominated Jammu. The Hindus from Jammu, the winter capital of the provinces of Jammu and Kashmir, had nothing but the choicest swear words for the Muslims. During my studies of Hindu-Muslim relations in Doda, the only district in Jammu and Kashmir where Hindus and Muslims live equally, I have met many self-appointed Hindu scholars and mendicants, and with a few exceptions they looked at them Muslims as unclean fiends who slaughter cows, with whom a Hindu should better not bother. Those Hindus who had had cordial relations with Muslims for decades condemned them in the strongest terms. The problem of negative stereotypes of the religious "other" in Kashmir is by no means purely Muslim.
An Islamic State of Kashmir
Islamic ideologues I met in Kashmir insisted that the causes of the Kashmir conflict were not based on political issues. Rather - and they agree with the national-chauvinist Hindus - it is all about religion, or what they call it, about religion Jihad.
A few years ago I conducted an interview with Syed Ali Geelani, the main ideologist of the Islamist currents in Kashmir and former leader of the Jamaat-e Islami. His word has become law for the masses demonstrating against India in Srinagar today. In that interview he explained to me that the Kashmir conflict is a conflict between Islam on the one hand, and Islam on the other kufr, the unbelievers, be on the other side. Islam, he went on, demands of the Kashmiri Muslims to continue their struggle for independence from India and to found what he called an "Islamic State".
When I pointed out to him that all attempts to found an Islamic state around the world had failed so far, he merely shrugged his shoulders: "They may not have been successful, but at least they tried. We Kashmiris are obliged to do so by our faith at least to try, "he explained quite naturally. But, I asked him, what about the non-Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir, who after all make up almost half of the population? Surely they are not ardent advocates of the idea of an "Islamic State"? "Of course they will support us," Geelani replied like a shot.
"We just have to convince them of the beauty of such a state. In a truly Islamic state like the one we want to establish, every group will have the same rights and everyone will be happy. There will be perfect minority protection. Not like in the Hindu." - dominated India, where Muslims suffer so many disadvantages. " When I asked the same question to Sadullah Tantrey, the now deceased leader of the Jamaat-e Islami in Jammu, he replied strikingly and as if learned by heart: "The Islamic State we are fighting for will be a blessing for the Hindus. It actually will be so righteous that Hindus from India will flock to Kashmir to settle here. "
The status of the non-Muslim minorities
It is rather unlikely that non-Muslims will take these pious assurances seriously - the writings and statements of radical Islamist ideologues against non-Muslim minorities who as dhimmis to be condemned to second class citizens too clearly. The way most Islamic states, especially those who consider themselves particularly Islamic - Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan under the Taliban are examples - with their non-Islamic minorities are also well known. It seems rather unlikely to me that non-Muslims will be inclined to check the veracity of the promises Gilanis and Tantrey themselves.
How the supporters of an independent Jammu and Kashmir can defy the obvious opposition of the Hindus from Jammu and the Buddhists from Leh to their idea again and again that they are the only true representatives of the Kashmiris amazes me again and again. Islamist leaders like Geelani and Tantrey always claim that they are working to ensure that Kashmir as a whole, including the Hindu-dominated Jammu and the Buddhist-dominated Leh, break away from India in order to then establish an independent "Islamic state" or itself connect to Pakistan. Contrary to the representations in some Indian media, it is by no means the case that the Islamists around Geelani or Lashkar-e Tayyeba were able to rally a large following among the Kashmiri Muslims.
I suspect that not many Kashmiris want to be ruled by people like the Taliban or the Jamaat-e Islami. I personally know numerous deeply religious Muslims who insist that radical Islam has nothing to do with true Islam. But many do not dare to openly reject the claims made on their behalf. It could also cost them their lives if they did, as is happening a thousand times over with Indian claims regarding cashmere. And so, caught between different interpretations of nationalism and religion, the violence in Kashmir will probably continue for a long time - until perhaps one day people will be able to develop a less exclusive and more tolerant understanding of the organization of human coexistence .
© Qantara.de 2010
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