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28 August, 2008

Kashmir and Jammu are burning

JAMMU PROTEST: AP Photo by Channi Anand

For weeks Jammu and Kashmir State has been burning. More precisely, the capital cities of Srinagar and Jammu are burning. In Kashmir valley, sometimes serious acts of violence occur even outside Srinagar. But such events occurring outside Jammu city in Jammu province is extremely rare. The media have been describing the current events as unprecedented. But the valley has witnessed such events on several occasions since Independence. This does not mean we can write off the events as routine. The reference to the past is intended to underline the need to take steps to prevent recurrence of such events.

The present troubles were precipitated by the dispute over allotment of forest land to provide amenities for Amarnath pilgrims. They show that communal forces have succeeded in a large measure in destroying Kashmir’s secular traditions. Along with the extremists who have gained the upper hand in the Muslim majority Kashmir valley, the Sangh Parivar, which has been stoking up communal passions in Hindu majority Jammu bears responsibility for this.

The journey to the Amarnath cave shrine, located at an altitude of more than 4,000 metres in the Himalayan ranges, is a difficult one. The main attraction of the temple is the ice Siva lingam formed as water drops falling from the roof freeze. To reach the cave one has to travel 45 kilometres along a narrow mountain path on foot or on pony. Since parts of the path lie buried under snow for nine or ten months in the year, the pilgrim season lasts only about two months. There have been occasions when many died because there is no place where one can take shelter if there is snowfall during the journey. About 25,000 people undertake the pilgrimage each year. Most of them are from outside the State. And most of them are elderly people. Since extremism made its appearance, pilgrims have been facing security threats.

There is a reference to Amarnath pilgrimage in Rajatarangini, believed to be a 12th century work. At a later stage, the pilgrimage stopped. No one even knew where the cave was. About 160 years ago, in the time of Gulab Singh, whom the British had installed as the king, a Muslim shepherd while moving with his flocks chanced upon the ice idol in the cave. Thereafter the pilgrimage began again. The king decided to give the shepherd’s family one-third of the temple’s income.

Only subjects of Jammu and Kashmir can buy land in the State. In the tribal regions of the country, too, there are laws to prevent people from outside grabbing land. It is another matter that encroachers are able to grab land with the help of politicians and officials. Interested parties propagated in the valley that allotment of land to the Board which is charged with the task of making arrangements for the pilgrims will help people from outside to settle in the State. The ineptitude of the Governor and the political leadership made matters worse. Cancellation of the order allotting land to the Board led to protests in Jammu.

Hindu communal organizations in Jammu adopted the barbarous method of blockade, which is widely used by political, labour and student movements in Kerala. Kashmiris were perturbed by the paralysis of traffic along the 300-kilometre long national highway running along the mountainside. It was mainly through Lahore that the people of the valley maintained contacts with the rest of the country before Independence. It was after Independence that the Jawahar Tunnel at Banihal which helps cross the Pir Panchal range that separates the valley from Jammu was built.

The agitation by communalists in Jammu helped the separatists in Kashmir immensely. The slogan ‘Azadi’ (freedom) is now resounding all over the valley. There are two groups among the separatists. One wishes to make Kashmir a part of Pakistan. The other hopes for the status of an independent state. Both have their roots in Muslim communalism. Events in Kashmir and Jammu show that, basically, Hindu communalism and Muslim communalism are not enemies, but friends who help each other grow.

The problem in Jammu and Kashmir is a result of the partition of the subcontinent. Those who are upset by the Azadi slogan must remember that we are not hearing it for the first time. It was this slogan that the maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir raised when the British divided the land on communal basis and left. The princely regimes in Travancore, Hyderabad and Junagadh also dreamed of independent states. The Independent Travancore project was demolished by the people of the state. India extinguished the hopes of the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Nawab of Junagadh through military action. India deposed and arrested Sheikh Abdullah, who was prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir, in 1953 as he was suspected to be entertaining hopes of Independence under American inspiration. He was a leader who saw India as one. I had first met him as a journalist when he was out of office for two decades, most of it in detention. He asked me where I came from. “From the other end, from Kerala,” I said. “Both ends must pull together,” he immediately observed. “Only then can the country move forward.” That is not a thought which can originate in a secessionist mind. Yet, from this we cannot deduce that the idea of an independent Kashmir never entered his mind. It was circumstances that turned Jinnah, who started out as a nationalist, into an advocate of Pakistan. It was circumstances that made Mujibur Rehman, who should have become prime minister of Pakistan, father of the Bangladesh nation. Those who are stoking regional sentiments in Jammu are helping to spread the message of Independence in the Kashmir valley.

The present revolt in Kashmir has prompted at least some individuals to react in a different manner than before. Arundhati Roy’s statement that Kashmir needs to be liberated from India and India from Kashmir is an example. But it is foolish to imagine that peace will reign in the subcontinent if Kashmir is handed over to Pakistan or made independent. As in 1847, Independent Kashmir remains an impractical proposition. Even if India and Pakistan are ready to honour its independence, it cannot survive. Like many other small states of the world it will come under the influence of some big country. If Kashmir had become part of Pakistan in 1947, Kashmiris would have sought India’s help to gain independence earlier than the people of East Bengal. For the kashmiriness of Kashmiris is stronger than the bengaliness of Bengalis.

Basically, the problems in Kashmir are no different from those in other states. Because of geographical and historical circumstances the sense of alienation of the Kashmiri Muslims finds expression in the political sphere mixed up with their Islamic identity. There is only one solution for the problems of Kashmiris as also of other peoples: they must be assured equality and equal opportunity in political, economic and social spheres. This is the task of Manmohan Singh and company, not the National Security Adviser and the Army chief.
Based on column ‘Nerkkazhcha’ appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated August 28, 2008.

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