Gowhar Fazili

From Rising Kashmir, “Kashmiri Marginalities

“To start the argument, we can club the dominant discourses around Kashmir into three broad categories, i.e., the Indian, the Pakistani and the Kashmiri discourses.  While the Indian and Pakistani discourses (as detailed below), accommodate Kashmiri people and the history of their collective struggles only if, and when, these buttress their respective positions, the Kashmiri discourse is quintessentially about these struggles.”

“These dominant discourses of political history are a quagmire of claims and counter claims.  For those who have not borne the immediate brunt of the conflict these generate excitement and passion, and the discourse is consumed through various media like an IPL cricket match.  The Indian state and the nationalists of various hues, including Hindutva, Leftist, Liberal, Secularists, unanimously deploy various moments of Kashmir’s history, including the accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh, the elections held, the wars won, the leaders bought over, the subsidies given, the development achieved, investments made, etc., as indicators of Indian legitimacy and control in Kashmir.  Kashmiri alienation, and separatist movements figure in this narrative, if at all, variously, as consequences of external interference, uneven development, appeasement, result of one-off political mistakes made by previous leaders, etc., which are to be corrected in due course when the Indian democracy matures and so on. This discourse denies Kashmiris any intelligence or capability for autonomous political behavior. It betrays amnesia around the rich history of struggles in Kashmir that preceded accession in 1947 that still continue to inspire Kashmir.

The Pakistani discourse emphasizes the ‘Muslim connection’ and dwells on the disputed nature of Jammu and Kashmir which should have been theirs by the logic of partition.  It focuses on the denial of self-determination to the people and disregard of the UN resolutions, calling for plebiscite in the region.  It recounts the valor with which Azad Kashmir was won, and in their view the continued support and affinity that the majority of Kashmiri Muslims feel towards Pakistan.   Though Pakistan lends moral and diplomatic support to the current separatist movement in Kashmir, it devalues the nuanced engagement and negotiation Kashmiris have had with the Indian state over the last sixty years, largely independent of Pakistan.

The dominant Kashmiri narrative which is at a marginalized position with respect to the other two discourses imagines itself to be at the centre of the current political struggle. It draws from a long history of marginalization that predates modernity, tracing back Kashmiri dislike and resistance against foreign occupation to the Mughal invasion in 1588 and the subsequent progressive emasculation and dispossession of Kashmiris by the Afghan, the Sikh, the Dogra, and in the same league, the Indian regime.  It leverages dates like 16th March 1846 (Amritsar Treaty), when Kashmir was sold by the British to Maharaja Gulab Singh for Seventy- five Lakh Nanakshahi rupees[2],  the excessive taxation to recover this money that followed, leading to the famine of 1877-79 in which a large number of  Kashmiris died; the systematic denial of basic rights and dignity and discrimination on the basis of religion and region under the Dogra regime; the 13th July 1931 Uprising against the Maharaja and the massacre that followed; the year 1953 when Sheikh Abdullah, the first democratically elected Prime-Minister of Kashmir was deposed and imprisoned by India on charges of conspiracy and sedition, arresting along with him the socio-economic revolution that was underway.  It presumes the subsequent elections while Sheikh was in custody for twenty years to have been rigged and the period to have been marked with extreme suppression, corruption and cooption.  It sees changes made over the years to extend provisions of Indian constitution in an attempt to bring Kashmir closer to the Indian union, as bulldozing of the residual safeguards against assimilation.  It cites failure of India to make progress on the various agreements and accords, calling for plebiscite, restoration of autonomy, etc., as illustrations of India’s ‘Chanakya Neeti’ (deceitful policy.)

The significant moments in recent history, like the 1984 hanging of the JKLF leader, Maqbool Bhat, the rigging of 1987 elections, the mass uprising for Azadi, and the repression that began in 1989 when Kashmiri youth took to arms against the Indian state,  and such, form the key markers around which the narrative of victimhood and valor is woven.  Not surprisingly the Indian national days are designated as black days (including the day Indian army landed in Kashmir) and are marked with protest and blackout.  The narrative erases the moments of compromise and relative calm that Kashmiris have enjoyed in spurts in the intervening years giving rise to the educated, middle class which is spearheading the current separatist movement.”

“While the Kashmiri Self is torn between commitments to multiple, overlapping and contradictory identities and interests, like people anywhere else, the fact of being born in a territory, where the conflict around its disputed nature has raged to varying degrees for over the last sixty years, complicates and intensifies concern for some identities at the cost of others.  The political uncertainty impacts different members and groups differently as they choose different strategies to deal with the onslaught from within and without.  To grossly simplify, for example a large majority of Pandits have moved out of Kashmir and many have allied themselves with Indian right-wing parties.  Kashmiri Shia and Sunni Muslims largely identify with the broad contours of separatist politics, Pashtoons are invisible, Gujjars maintain an ambivalent position depending on where they are physically, located.  People in Gurez, Karnah, Uri, who are geographically isolated from the valley and live in close proximity with security garrisons do not manifest sympathy with separatism, or at least do not overtly do so for obvious reasons.  Within the state of Jammu and Kashmir, people of Doda, Punch and Rajori ally with Kashmir or Jammu depending on which of their interests and identities are threatened at a particular moment of time.  People of Kargil gravitate towards Kashmir if and when the Buddhist majority discriminates against them.  Hindu majority areas of Jammu, and Buddhist Leh, have consistently favored India and alleged discrimination by Kashmiri Muslims and their appeasement by the Indian state.

Kashmiri society is variegated along caste, class, community, gender, region, religion and political orientation. These identities contract within and extend beyond the geographical boundaries of Kashmir in different situations and along different questions. Yet it is the collective experience of a shared geography, history, language, culture and meanings that make Kashmiris conversant with each other in a special way, rendering others as outside. The identification with the dominant Kashmiri narrative presented above which at this moment has a favorable bias towards the masculine, Muslim majoritarian identity, depends on where one is located within the crosscutting mesh of identities and experiences and intellectual trajectories.”

“Indian state and civil society often intervenes to rescue Kashmiri women and other marginalized groups from the Kashmiri Muslim male society which is assumed to be patriarchal and dominating.  In any discussion on Kashmir, the question, ‘but what about the women, the Gujjars, Pahadis, Shias, Buddhists, Dogras, Pandits?’ and so on invariably comes up.  The centre is able to subvert the mobilization around a particular marginality, by bringing up the issue of marginalities within and around the claimant group. In turn the mobilization around the dominant discourse tries to suppress or ignore the discrimination within or around itself in response to this subversion.  In case of Kashmir, the demand for the right to self determination is hostage to the question of what happens to the women, shias, Gujjars, Pandits, Hindus of Jammu and Buddhists of Ladakh.  On the other hand the dominant discourse around unresolved nature of Jammu and Kashmir has subsumed other effective marginalities experienced by Kashmiris of various denominations at various other levels.”

“In order to make the larger sense of marginality composite of marginalities within and a principled and strategic alliance with other marginalities without, the process of emancipation of different marginalities has to happen simultaneously. There is need for an ongoing dialogue to negotiate the genuineness of claims of marginality and to resolve conflict of interest and issues of justice in the context of different marginalities working together.  There is need for democracy within the alliances of marginalities.  For Kashmir ‘Azadi’ has to be redefined in terms of and achieved through the notional and substantive emancipation of all the sub-marginalities that constitute it or risk being fragmented or reduced to yet another chauvinistic movement.   It is only this rigorous self definition that will facilitate principled alliances with other movements and conceptions of marginality.”


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