By Promod Puri
The division of the Indian sub-continent in 1947 generated a persistent hostility between India and Pakistan, a hostility dominated by clashing territorial claims over the Kashmir region.
On the international stage, the Kashmir problem is viewed in diplomatic, political, government and media circles, with the understanding that the region has a single entity – geographically, religiously, linguistically and culturally. The complexity of the Kashmir problem can be unfolded when viewed from the divergent realities that exist in the region.
Involved in the Kashmir tangle are also the regions of Jammu and Ladakh along with Pakistan-controlled Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas.
Historically the present geopolitical formation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir happened in the middle of the 19th century. Sikh ruler, Maharaja Ranjit Singh annexed the territories of Jammu region in 1819, and then sold it to his Dogra commander Gulab Singh in 1820, and crowned him the King. In 1834 Gulab Singh annexed the kingdom of Ladakh, and in 1846 the Kashmir region was ceded to the Dogra king under a treaty with the British government, who then was ruling most of the sub continent.
Dogra dynasty ruled the state for almost a hundred years.
Under the Dogra rule, the state comprised a huge territory of over two million sq. km., touching boundaries of Afghanistan in the north, China in the north and east, present-day Pakistan in the west and India in the South.
As India was fighting for independence from the British, so were the people of Kashmir Valley seeking their freedom from the autocratic rule of the Dogra regime which ultimately ended in October 1947. Following that, the region underwent into major political and communal turmoil which significantly changed the hundred-year-old map of the state in which Pakistan controls the north-western area of Gilgit and Hunza known as Northern Area and South-west area known as Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
The Indian part of the state with its three distinct regions Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh together don’t make a coalescent political entity as both regional and sub-regional differences in terms of history, physiography, ethnicity, language, and culture are remarkably very sharp.
According to the 2011 census, the present population of the Indian part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir is 12.55 million, of which Jammu region is 4.4 million, Kashmir region has 5.4 million and Ladakh has over 236,000. In the Pakistan ruled state of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, the total population is 4.6 million according to some latest estimation, and in the Pakistan-controlled Northern region, the population is 1.8 million.
Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists are the major religious groups in the state whereby Islam leads the faith with 67% of the population, followed by Hindus 30%, Sikhs 2%, and Buddhists by about 1%. Minority faiths in the Indian held areas of the state include Christians and Jains. Muslims are almost 100% in the Pakistan part of Jammu and Kashmir.
While a clear majority of the dominant Muslim faith in Jammu, Kashmir, and Azad Kashmir are followers of the Sunni sect, in the Kargil district of Ladakh and in the Northern Areas, except Gilgit, the majority of the population follows the Shia sect.
Contrary to the popular belief that all the people of the Indian controlled Jammu and Kashmir speak Kashmiri language, the fact is that according to the 1981 census 40% speak the language, and the rest 60% constitute the non-Kashmiri speaking population.
Whereas Hindus of the state mostly speak Dogri language, non-Kashmiri Muslims speak various languages and dialects depending upon the region they inhabit, and accordingly, there is quite a cultural variation among them.
The primary language in the Kashmir region is, of course, Kashmiri, and in the rest of the state, there is an abundance of languages and dialects. Moreover, each language or dialect is not confined to any religious group.
Kashmir is inhabited by Pre-Aryan and non-Aryan races, Jammu by an Aryan race, and Ladakh by Tibetan and Mongolian races. All the three regions have distinct geographical, historical and cultural backgrounds which influenced the character and the role of religion in each one of them.
Kashmir region developed its own character based on its un-interrupted history of five thousand years. Originally inhabited by pre-Aryan tribes, Kashmir accepted Vedic, Buddhist, Saivite and Islamic faiths, retaining the essence of the beliefs, rituals, and practices of each of them while taking pride in its pre-Islamic achievements in the fields of philosophy, culture, and politics.
Unlike Kashmir, most parts of Jammu are mountainous and sub-mountainous. Its pluralistic society is almost entirely of Aryan stock and Dogri language is spoken by the single largest community of both Hindus and Muslims who culturally and politically dominate the region.
The Pahari speaking community lives in both the Kashmir and Jammu regions of the state. In the Pakistan-controlled region, they speak the same language with small dialectic differences. The Pahari community is predominantly Muslim. The Hindu and the Sikh members of the Pahari-speaking community, who had to migrate from the Pakistan-held area of the state, mostly live in Jammu district.
Ladakh, the third important region of the state, enjoyed its own status for centuries as part of the celebrated Silk Route. As an entrepot of trade between India, Central Asia, and Tibet for centuries Ladakh was a confluence of cultures. But its geographical position has helped it preserve its ancient culture and ways of life almost intact.
It was thru Ladakh that Mahayana Buddhism, which was born in Kashmir spread to Tibet, China, and Japan. The Buddhist owe their loyalty to Lamas who have their own discipline and hierarchy. They used to go to Tibet for religious training. But after the Chinese intervention in Tibet and the flight of the Dalai Lama along with some of his followers Tibet has lost its status as a source of religious and spiritual inspiration. Buddhists who inhabit the Leh district constitute 50 percent of Ladakh population.
In Kargil area of Ladakh Ulmas have a hold on Shias who constitute the overwhelming majority of Muslims and 48% of Ladakh’s population. Some of them have had their theological training in Iran and owe their loyalty with its Shia leadership.
An important facet to the Kashmir problem which is rarely discussed and reported is the situation in the Pakistan-controlled part called Northern Areas which is constitutionally separate from Azad Kashmir.
The Northern Areas joined Pakistan in 1947 thru a local revolt against the Dogra regime which had a small army there and was unable to control the revolt. In 1948, the region was formally merged with Pakistan under the Karachi agreement between leaders of the Azad Jammu & Kashmir and Pakistan, but without the participation of anybody from the Northern Areas.
The Northern Areas comprise five districts, but none of them has any ethnic-cultural affinity with any of either India or Pakistan parts of the state.
Different identities of the people on both sides of the Line of Control are established irrespective of their religious affiliations.
Jammu and Kashmir have far more religious, linguistic and cultural diversities than any state in India and Pakistan, and even in any other South Asian country.
If the interests and urges of the people with such multifarious identities could be reconciled, the diversities themselves would have been a great source of strength for the state. But the failure to recognize and reconcile them became its biggest weakness. The divergent character of the state is not widely known. Rather the religious temperament is overtly manifested.
Nobody can deny the role of religion and religion-based identities in shaping human behavior. But no identity is monolithic. There are other identities that cut across religious identities and play an equally significant and decisive role in determining this behavior.
With enormous diversity existing in the State of Jammu and Kashmir in terms of geography, religion, and culture that a wider look at the Kashmir problem reveals the regional aspirations of its people. These aspirations are very much reflected in the heterogeneous composition of its Muslim population as there are Kashmiri speaking Muslims, Gujjar Muslims, Pahari Muslims, Kargil Muslims, Dogra Muslims, and several other linguistic-based Muslims.
The regional aspirations of the people in the state based on their languages, cultures, and customs are felt much more vividly and emotionally on both sides of the border in the Jammu region than in the Kashmir valley.
It was primarily Jammu region which was divided in 1947. And this is where thousands of people, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs with allied linguistic and cultural backgrounds had to migrate in brutal sectarian bloodshed when they left their centuries-old habitats within the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.
JAMMU: A CLUE TO KASHMIR PROBLEM
The regional aspirations of the Jammu region on both sides of the border constitute a clue to tackle the Kashmir tangle. The bonds of language and culture between the two parts of the state are what the leadership of both India and Pakistan need to further cement in order to make an effective beginning in understanding the fuller dimension of the Kashmir problem.
As far as the Kashmir problem is concerned Pakistan basis its argument that it is a Muslim majority region. True, the demographic data confirm this fact. But this should not be the sole argument for it being a part of Pakistan. India’s position is that Kashmir belongs to it because the autocratic ruler of the former Kashmir state signed an accession treaty with India. And the state’s constituent assembly had passed the resolution to accede with India.
While India and Pakistan are engaged in their on-and-off parleys and frequent skirmishes for decades including two wars, the divergent urges of the region itself have been suppressed for too long. The moment these are released and recognized the Kashmir problem opens up beyond religion and politics.
So where the parties can start or restart to resolve this longest outstanding problem on the world political scene.
The first step as far India is concerned is to smooth out wrinkles of ethnic, political and economic imbalances in the three regions of the state. Satisfying the regional aspirations of the people along with the economic uplift thru equal opportunities will not only ease the internal tension significantly but will bring a lot of stability and peace to the region. And the same goes for Pakistan controlled parts of the state especially the Northern Areas.
Secondly, both India and Pakistan in their endeavors to resolve the problem must open up the borders in the state, more significantly in the Jammu sector, to let the people with same linguistic and cultural affinities move and interact freely.
A cordial and enthusiastic atmosphere can be created at the grass-root level where linguistic and cultural realities can effectively compete with both religious and political considerations to determine the future of the region thru a referendum.
In this social and non-political scenario, the agenda of the referendum deciding the future of the region – if it will be part of India, Pakistan, or remain independent- would be the answer most inclusive of the region’s diversity.
Recognition of diversities existing in the entire area of Jammu and Kashmir at its pre-partition status followed by a referendum are critical if a permanent resolution to the Kashmir problem is to be found for a sense of ultimate peace in the region.
And peace is what people in the region are passionately waiting to breathe.
(Promod Puri, a native of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, resides in Vancouver, Canada, he is a writer and former editor and publisher of the South Asian Canadian newspaper, The Link, and ex-editor of Native Indian newspaper, The New Nation. He is the author of a recently published book titled “Hinduism beyond rituals, customs and traditions”). His website: promodpuri.com