Amir Khusrau once said
“Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast,
Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast.”
“If there is a paradise on earth,
It is this, it is this, it is this”.
Mughal Emperor Jahangir had once sung this verse when he saw the beauty of the Kashmir Valley. The state of Kashmir is endowed with precious natural resources but unfortunately, it now suffers an identity conflict. The state of Jammu and Kashmir as I studied in my geography class actually is part of three nations India, Pakistan, and China. The western and northwestern parts as Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan lies in control of Pakistan. The eastern part of Ladakh region is part of China as Aksai Chin. And, in actual Pakistan even shares a border with China in its northeast in which it receded parts of the region in Northern Kashmir and Ladakh (Trans Karakoram Tract) to China in the 1963 Sino-Pakistan agreement. So, the map of J & K which I studied in my geography class has only 45 % of its region within the control of India. So, why I was made to study the whole of J and K within the territory of India? Because of the fact that India doesn’t recognize the regions occupied by Pakistan and China as legal. It means there is a dispute between three powerful nations over one state. While the border disputes between India and China have been relatively peaceful, the dispute between India and Pakistan over J and K is full of violence, wars and cross border terrorism sponsored by Pakistan.
Maharaja Hari Singh, a Hindu ruler of a Muslim majority state wanted Kashmir to be an independent state but due to the invasion of Pashtun tribesman backed by the support of Pakistan, the Maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession to India in October 1947. However, it had one condition that the ruler of the state shall enjoy autonomy to frame its own laws. The Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir who drafted the constitution of J and K maintained that the state is an integral part of the Union of India. The state of Jammu and Kashmir enjoys special autonomy except in matters related to Defense, Foreign Relations, Communication, and Finance under Article 370 of the Constitution of India which had become a permanent feature of the constitution as the Constituent Assembly of J and K dissolved itself without abrogating Article 370. It means that the state legislature of Jammu and Kashmir has jurisdiction over most matters and the Union Legislature doesn’t have jurisdiction over items in the concurrent list of Constitution of India with regard to J & K. People from other states can’t buy land in J and K but that feature also goes with states like Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Nagaland and the UT of Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
United Nations has suggested a plebiscite to resolve the Kashmir issue under a Plebiscite Administrator by the UN but before that, it suggested that Pakistan withdraws from J and K as the very first step of action. That never happened and the UN Security Council Resolution 47 failed. India had also raised its concern over the sovereignty of the state and the recommendations being advisory in nature only helped to maintain the status quo.
Thus, India has only 45 % of the state under its actual control in which it had given autonomy to the state as suggested by the Instrument of Accession as well as the Constituent Assembly of J and K who framed the Constitution of J and K. It suffers aggressive and powerful neighbors on both sides of this state and therefore, maintains a large number of military personnel to defend this state. Post-1990, it suffers a new kind of cross border terrorism by Pakistan which puts the sovereignty of the state in danger due to groups that want to benefit from its identity crisis. Pakistan has a disappointing history of military rule, suffers from an internal crisis of democratic lapses, military coups, and Inter-Services Intelligence led anti-Indian ideologies. It’s not a secular nation like India neither it has established democracy successfully as India has done.
Jammu and Kashmir can be thought of as three regions. Kashmir that has a Muslim majority, Jammu that has a Hindu majority and Ladakh that has Buddhists as the majority population. Ladakh is sparsely populated and the region, therefore, has very few seats in the state legislature. Jammu is relatively peaceful and most of the violence happens in the Kashmir region of the state.
Living in a conflicting region many Kashmiris suffer from an identity crisis and therefore, aspire for self-rule and want Kashmir to be an independent region. This may sound anti-national to many Indians but they are not able to empathize with people who are raised in a zone of conflict, suffer from an identity crisis and are often subjected to all sorts of ideological brainwashing by Pakistan or ISI sponsored terror groups. Kashmiris hate Pakistan even though the majority of the people belong to the Muslim community. But, they don’t have a strong sense of liking for India too. The reason being no one would like the army to interfere in their day to day life. Instances of human rights violations by the army in the past is a part of their local narrative. Therefore, they throw stones. Many of the young locals take violent steps and are misguided by terror groups. They become terrorists, are killed eventually but in the eyes of many Kashmiris, they remain a voice for their redemption. However, the army has often helped in times of crisis such as the Kashmir flood in 2014 and their presence ensures security to the disturbed valley. The ethnic cleansing and migration of Kashmiri Pandits also form a part of the local narrative. This suggests the potential dangers of inter-religious conflict that is in contradiction to the identity of Kashmiriyat
Under these circumstances, it’s quite important that the state of Jammu and Kashmir currently under governor rule gets to vote to elect members of the state legislature. The date of the elections is not far. It’s a nice fact that Kashmiri people vote in a good percentage. They seem most comfortable to relate to the identity of Kashmiriyat, autonomous rule as guaranteed by Article 370 of the Indian constitution. They are Indian Kashmiris who don’t want the interference of the Union of India in their day to day lives. It’s very important that we hear to their voices even though that seems anti-Indian but in actual it’s anti-military interference. It’s very important that they feel the idea of a secular India in their daily lives as well as follow on that which is what Kashmiriyat means. The elected government in good faith shall work to restore peace in the valley. It shall work to put an end to corruption and prevalent nepotism as pointed by Shah Faesal who had quit IAS to take part in the political solutions. He can be regarded as a role model for Kashmiri youth. Taking violent steps as misguided by terror groups is not a choice that can help Kashmiris. Becoming a part of the bureaucracy and political governance can surely help them. A peaceful and wiser way can lead to better solutions without the pain of lost lives of civilians, misguided civilians, and the military personnel.
The central government should not only look in the matters they are legally endowed to but also make sure that is done in a more rational manner. Some of which can be –
- Banning the use of pellet guns
- Introducing highly trained army personnel in civilian dresses who understand the meaning or identity of Kashmiriyat. Many of them can be Kashmiris themselves who will not only be educated in this manner but also get jobs and help restore peace in the valley.
- Making sure that the wrong narrative of the terror groups does not pollute the minds of young men. This can be done by putting the identity of Kashmiriyat right from their childhood education. This shall foster a secular environment as well as they should understand and take the correct issues in a rightful manner. It shall be the duty of the state legislature to ensure that. Not doing so makes them liable for their own mistakes.
- Hearing their voices at all the levels of governance.
- It is also equally necessary that the army personnel be aware of injustices in the past and pause for a moment to understand that there are vested forces who want disturbance in the valley and that lives on both the sides have suffered.
Hence, it’s a two-pronged game that needs to be played with patience. It’s a game of construction and constructive destruction that can’t be achieved without the rightful involvement of Kashmiris.