Continuing Conflict In Kashmir

Muslim Milieu in a Hindu Land

Bibekananda Ray

The Jaish-e-Mohammad mayhem on a 78-vehicle CRPF convoy on Jammu-Srinagar Highway at Pulwama on 14th February (Valentine's Day), killing 44, had the air of deja vu, i. e. , "having occurred before". About 2½ years ago, on 18th September 2016 four armed JeM militants launched a pre-dawn ambush on Indian Army brigade headquarters in Uri, near the LoC and lobbed 17 grenades, killing 17 Indian troops. A gun battle ensued for six hours, taking toll of all the four militants. In retaliation and to pre-empt further JeM strike, the IAF did a 'surgical strike' on 29th September on some terrorist launch pads in POK. In the same manner, to retaliate and to pre-empt further mayhem by the Islamic group, 12 IAF combat jets struck some alleged terrorist training camps at and near Balakot on 26th February. They reportedly gunned down a Pak F-16 on 27th, while the Pak Air Force felled an IAF MIG-21 and captured its pilot, Wg. Cdr. Abhinandan Varthaman, who had bailed out from the burning plane but his parachute fell in POK. He was returned to India after two days on 1st March night, apparently under international pressure or threat. A full-scale war was averted for the time being, but people in both countries fear that besides a conventional war, both sides (by 'miscalculation', as Pak PM, Imran Khan warns) may make insane uses of nuclear arsenals to clinch victory. Incidentally, surgical strikes are common offensive of every Air Force, a number of which were carried out by the IAF since 1948 on Pakistani soil; they are too common to brag about by PM Modi. In the last 71 years since 1947 Pak and POK-based militants and terrorists mounted numerous assaults on Indian forces and civilians at Pathankot, Baramula, Punch, Kupwara, Uri, Siachen, Rajouri, Kargil etc. Azad Kashmir (13, 297 sq. km. with a population of over 40 lakh, as per the 2017 census) along with Gilgit-Baltistan is referred to by the UN and other international organisations as "Pakistan administered" (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, or POK, according to India). It is one-sixth of Gilgit-Baltistan. In the east, Azad Kashmir is separated from J&K by the Line of Control [LoC], the de facto border between India and Pakistan. These were in addition to losses in three wars, forced by Pakistan in 1965, 1971 and 1999 (in Kargil). India never made any first strike against Pakistan but only resisted and retaliated against some of these, militarily.

Why have these two neighbouring countries who were one before 1947 come to such a pass? Why is this 70-year itch not healing? To answer such questions, one has to have a look at Kashmir's history, geography, society, economics and culture. Kashmir is one of the oldest intractable territorial disputes in the world, dating back to 1948. The paradox is that the mountainous territory is a Muslim-majority region with a Hindu-cum-Buddhist past. Until mid-19th century, 'Kashmir' meant only the Kashmir Valley spread between the Himalayas and the Pir Panjal range; thereafter, it denoted a larger area, the Indian State of Jammu & Kashmir, comprising three regions- Jammu, Kashmir Valley and Ladakh. Srinagar is the summer capital; it shifts to Jammu in winter. Jammu's numerous shrines attract tens of thousands of Hindu pilgrims every year, while Ladakh is renowned for its remote mountain landscape and Buddhist milieu. Even now, Shiva temples abound in rural Kashmir, although Hindu worshippers have become fewer. To the north of this territory lie Pak-occupied Kashmir (POK), Gilgit-Baltistan (British name: 'Northern Areas'), China-occupied Aksai Chin and the Trans-Karakoram Tract. People in ancient Kashmir were Hindus and later some became Buddhists; in the 9th century, many Kashmiris were Shaivas. In 1339, Shah Mir became the first Muslim ruler of Kashmir and founded Shah Mir dynasty. It came under Mughal rule from 1586 to 1751 and thereafter, until 1820, a part of Afghan Durrani Empire. That year, the Sikhs, under Ranjit Singh, annexed Kashmir. In 1846, after the Sikh defeat in the First Anglo-Sikh War and upon purchase of the region from the British under the Treaty of Amritsar, the Raja of Jammu, Gulab Singh, became the new ruler. The rule of his descendants, under the paramountcy (or tutelage) of the British Crown, lasted until the Partition of India in 1947, when J & K was claimed by both Pakistan and India.

In ancient and medieval times, Kashmir achieved a Hindu-Buddhist synthesis. Mauryan emperor, Ashoka is said to have founded the old capital, Shrinagari, now in ruins outside modern Srinagar; it was a stronghold of Buddhism and visited by East and Central Asian Buddhist monks. Adi Shankara is said to have visited the Sharada Peeth, an abandoned Saraswati temple in present-day POK in the late 8th or early 9th century, opened its southern door by defeating, in debate, the scholars of various disciplines and ascended the throne of Transcendent Wisdom of that temple; it is, mentioned in Rajatarangini, Kashmir's history in Sanskrit, composed by poet Kalhana in 1148. Kota Rani was a Hindu queen of Kashmir until 1339 and saved Srinagar from frequent floods by digging a canal, Kutte Kol to connect to Jhelum river.

Kashmir is rich in agriculture, growing rice, corn, wheat, barley and oats; its cold climate favours asparagus, artichoke, seakale, broad beans, carlet runners, beetroot, cauliflower and cabbage. Among fruits, pears, apples, peaches, walnut and cherries are grown in abundance. Yellow saffron and mustard fields extend to horizons in winter. Chief trees are deodar, firs and pines, chinar, maple and birch. Its herds of sheep give world-famous cashmere wool which is exported and used at home to knit Pashmina shawls, silk carpets, rugs and kurtas; its pottery-making is a cottage industry. Srinagar is known for its silver-work, papier-mâché, wood-carving, and the weaving of silk.

Sadruddin Shah, alias Lhachan Gualbu Rinchana, a Buddhist prince from Ladakh was the first non-Hindu ruler of Kashmir from 1320 to 1323. Son of Ladakh chief, Lhachan Ngos-gruba (1290 to 1320), his other names were: Rinchana, Richan, Rinchan Shah, Rinchan Malik, Malik Rinchan. He and Lankar Chak from Dard near Gilgit played crucial roles in Kashmir's subsequent political history; they were granted Jagirs (feudatory estates) by the King. Dardistan, coined by Gottlieb William Leitner to mean northern Pakistan, Kashmir and parts of north-eastern Afghanistan, was inhabited by Dards who spoke Dardic languages. Mentioned by Pliny the Elder Ptolemy, and Herodotus, the Dards might have been of Aryan origin and were converted to Islam in the 14th century. In the 13th century Lankar Chak was the ruler of Dardistan. Dissensions among the rulers and foreign invasions paved the way for the Muslim rule in Kashmir from 1339, when Shams-ud-Din Shah Mir ascended the throne in Srinagar, founded the Shah Mir dynasty and converted many Hindu-Buddhist scholars to the Islam. By the late 1400s, most Kashmiris embraced the Islam. Emperor Akbar conquered Kashmir, taking advantage of internal Sunni-Shia divisions, ending the local Muslim rule. In 1586 he added to it the Kabul Subah but Shah Jahan (who called it 'paradise on earth') carved it out as a separate Subah with capital in Srinagar. In 1751 Ahmad Shah Durrani of the Afghan Durrani dynasty annexed Kashmir, defeating but reinstating Emperor Ahmad Shah Bahadur's viceroy, Muin-ul-Mulk; Afghan rulers brutally repressed Kashmiris of all faiths until the 1820 Sikh triumph. In 1819, the Valley was conquered by Ranjit Singh of the Punjab; Kashmiris initially welcomed Sikh rulers until they turned out to be hard taskmasters. A young scion, Gulab Singh who enrolled in the Sikh Army and distinguished himself in campaigns, gradually rose in power and influence; in 1822, he was anointed Raja of Jammu. The Sikh regime passed a number of anti-Muslim laws, like death sentences for cow slaughter, closing down of the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar and banning of the Aajan, the Muslim call for Namaz. Kashmir attracted Europeans, many of whom wrote of the abject poverty of the vast Muslim peasantry and weavers as well as exorbitant taxes imposed by Sikh rulers, forcing many farmers move to the plains of the Punjab. After a famine in 1832, the Sikhs halved land tax and gave interest-free loans to farmers, making Kashmir the second highest revenue-earner for the Sikh Empire. During this time Kashmiri shawls became known worldwide, especially in the West. In 1845, the First Anglo-Sikh War broke out. Gulab Singh kept himself aloof until the battle of Sobraon in 1846 and proved himself to be a useful mediator and trusted advisor of Sir Henry Lawrence who concluded two treaties. By the first, Lahore (i.e. West Punjab) was handed over to the British and by the second, Gulab Singh was paid 75 lakh rupees in exchange of the hilly region on the east of the Indus and the west of the Ravi (i.e. the Valley of Kashmir). Constituted between 1820 and 1858, the Princely State of Kashmir & Jammu (as it used to be then) combined disparate regions, religions, and ethnicities. Ladakh was ethnically and culturally Tibetan and its inhabitants practised Buddhism. In the south, Jammu had a mixed population of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs; in the densely populated central Kashmir valley, the population was overwhelmingly Sunni. However, there was also a small but influential Hindu minority, the Kashmiri brahmins or pandits; in the northeast, sparsely populated Baltistan had people ethnically related to Ladakh, but they practised Shia Islam. In the north, also sparsely populated, Gilgit Agency was an area of diverse, mostly Shi'a groups; in the west, Punch was Muslim but of different ethnicity. After the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, in which Kashmir sided with the British and subsequent change to direct rule by the Queen of England, J & K came under the suzerainty of the Modern Kashmir was created, rather off-handedly, by the British after the first defeat of the Sikhs in 1846; a district of united Punjab connected it to India. Undivided Kashmir was one of the 552 (out of 565) princely States that merged with India in 1947 after Independence. Frightened by an uprising in the western districts and an armed invasion by Pashtun or Afghan tribes, its king, Maharaja Hari Singh signed accession to India instrument on 26th October 1947. India air-lifted troops into Kashmir, the next day. Evidences poured in of Pakistan's complicity in instigating and supporting the invasion. Since 1947, Jammu & Kashmir has become a bone of contention among three countries—India, Pakistan and China. India-ruled J & K is spread over some 43% of the geographical footprint, having 70% of the population. Pakistan sprawls over roughly 37% and China over the remaining 20%. Expectedly, this has rendered J & K world's most militarised zone that witnessed three major wars in 1948, 1971 and 1999 with Pakistan, numerous border skirmishes, high mountainous warfare, insurgency, Hindu exodus and internal civilian unrest.

Poverty and backwardness of Muslims in J & K have been appalling and chronic. Most of them are landless labourers who work as serfs for absentee landlords. They are heavily taxed, discriminated legally and are forced into bonded labour without wages, causing large migration to Punjab. For almost a century, a small Hindu elite ruled over a vast and impoverished Muslim peasantry. Forced to docility by chronic indebtedness and having little or no formal education, or awareness of rights, the Muslim peasants had no political representation until the 1930's.

[The writer was Editor-in-Chief of Sainik Samachar (1983-1988)]

Vol. 51, No.37, Mar 17 - 23, 2019