More Kashmiriyat, Less Islamiyat: Why Demographic Balance Is The Answer

More Kashmiriyat, Less Islamiyat: Why Demographic Balance Is The Answer

by Satish Viswanathan - Wednesday, February 20, 2019 05:41 PM IST
More Kashmiriyat, Less Islamiyat: Why Demographic Balance Is The AnswerStone pelters in Jammu and Kashmir. (Abid Bhat/Hindustan Times via GettyImages)
  • A multi-cultural society in Kashmir is the answer to the crisis, and achieving this requires enormous political will and courage.

‘Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat, Kashmiriyat’ are the three words central to what is now known as the Vajpayee doctrine for Kashmir. Of these three words, the one which starkly stands out is ‘Kashmiriyat’. Its origin can be traced to the rule of Zain-Ul-Abidin, the eighth sultan of Kashmir.

Embodying the once secular and multi-cultural ethos of Kashmiris, it has been used generously by both the mainstream polity in Kashmir and the liberal intelligentsia, while criticising the past and present policies of governments in Kashmir.

However, the ‘final rites’ for Kashmiriyat were performed on 14 February 2019, when local boy Adil Ahmad aka Waqas Commando ploughed his RDX-laden SUV into a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy. This is the culmination of a journey which began three decades ago, when the Kashmiri Pandits were hounded out of their homes and the Valley ‘cleansed’ of their presence. RIP ’Kashmiriyat’. ‘Islamiyat’ defines Kashmir today.

Radical Islam is now all pervasive in Kashmir. The Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizbul Mujahideen and the Lashkar-e-Taiba have all found the Valley a fertile hunting ground for new recruits. This has made Pakistan’s job significantly easier. Why push terrorists across the border when you can rely on eager, fresh-faced local recruits who are happy to do your bidding?

Sections of the Indian media and polity have been reluctant to admit that religion has been the principal driver of separatism and terrorism in Kashmir for a very long time now. The “terror has no religion” trope has been done to death and was out in full display post the Pulwama massacre. Closing one’s eyes and pretending that a problem does not exist will not make it go away. Terror in Kashmir is fuelled by Islamic separatism. But the Kashmiriyat apologists are yet to open their eyes.

China’s Great Leap West

That any feasible solution to the Kashmir problem will have a military aspect is a given. Enough has been written and debated about what role our armed forces must play. But it would be equally prudent to examine what policy alternatives exist. Perhaps, we need to take a leaf out of our neighbour’s book.The Great Leap West of China is an example of how concerted policies can supplement military action in fighting religion-driven separatism.

Conceived in 1999, The Great Leap West was China’s primary weapon in quelling the Uyghur separatist movement in the western province of Xinjiang. It relied on increasing material wealth to not only curb ethnic separatism but also better integrate Uyghurs into the Chinese mainstream. Massive infrastructure projects such as airports, highways, telecommunication lines started dotting the Xinjiang landscape.

But central to this strategy was to also enable large-scale migration of Han Chinese into the restive western province. In the last seven decades, Xinjiang has witnessed a remarkable demographic transformation. In 1949, Uyghurs made up 75 per cent of the population in Xinjiang. Today, Han Chinese comprise close to 40 per cent of the Xinjiang population, almost close to the Uyghurs, who are still the largest ethnic group at 46 per cent.

The economic growth has benefited all ethnicities although inequalities do exist. More importantly, it has been acknowledged that the growing heterogeneity and increased diversity of Xinjiang, has been effective in combating Islamic radicalism. However, it should also be borne in mind that the Chinese state has used other means of cultural repression to terrorise the Uyghur population and is guilty of several human right violations on that front.

The 35A Challenge In Kashmir

The “Indification” of Kashmir presents itself as a viable strategy that could achieve the twin objectives of fighting Islamic terror and reclaiming Kashmir socially. Such a strategy will be predicated on enabling migration into Kashmir without trampling upon the existing cultural and social interests of the native Kashmiri population. But a significant legal roadblock exists.

Article 35A of the Constitution allows the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) legislature to define who a ‘permanent resident’ of the state is. Permanent residents enjoy the following special privileges with regard to employment, land ownership, acquisition of immovable property and settlement in the state.

  • Only permanent residents can purchase immovable property in Kashmir.
  • Only permanent residents can apply for a job in the J&K government.
  • Only permanent residents can join a state run college.

A permanent resident is defined as a person who was a state subject on 14 May 1954, or who has been a resident of the state for 10 years, and has “lawfully acquired immovable property in the state”.

The origins of this article can be traced to the 1927 Hereditary State Subject Order. In 1889, Urdu replaced Persian as the official court and administrative language. This led to increased employment opportunities for Urdu speaking Punjabis. As a result, Kashmiri Pandits and Dogras no longer had a monopoly over government jobs. The Kashmiri Pandit Sabha and the Dogra Sabha led protests demanding guarantee of patronage and employment, restrictions on non-Kashmiris vis-a-vis acquisition of immovable property and government scholarships. These demands were rooted in the idea of the distinct identity and rights of the people of Kashmir — awam-e-kashmir.

Over a period of time, the issue was further compounded by “a large number of Englishmen coming and settling down there, because the climate is delectable and acquiring property”. This led to the emergence of a distinct category of identity for the State’s people – ‘hereditary state subject‘, which was codified in the 1927 order. The Presidential Order of 1954 inserted Article 35A into Appendix 1 of the Constitution. Ironically, the very community which spearheaded a movement to conserve the interests of Kashmiris, was eventually hounded out of the Valley.

An amendment to Article 35A (or repealing it all together) would be the first step towards enabling migration into the state and specifically into the Kashmir Valley. Introducing quotas for non-residents to enroll in educational institutions run by the state government would provide greater impetus towards turning Jammu and Kashmir into an educational hub.

Increased inflow of funds via central grants and budgetary allocations will result in better infrastructure and eventual growth of quality institutions across the state. Kashmir in particular can become a major educational hub and attract more students from across Asia. Increased influx of students from other parts of the country will lead to more diverse campuses. This in turn will create more space for varying ideologies, ideas and thoughts. In the long run, it will help address the problem of growth of religious fundamentalism among the youth.

However, this will be largely contingent on the fact that the local population is willing to welcome non-Kashmiri students with open arms. The hostility faced by non-Kashmiris at NIT, Srinagar, is still fresh in memory. This is a long-term strategy and will undoubtedly have to pass through spells of very strong resistance.

The game-changer, however, would be allowing non-residents to purchase non-agricultural land/property in the state. This will be a massive boost to private investment across the state and will more importantly facilitate the growth of both the primary and secondary sectors.

For example, Kashmir is historically renowned for its quality horticultural produce. Establishment of mega food parks will result in the establishment of both forward and backward linkages vis-a-vis horticulture. Contract farming with private food processing units will help farmer groups and individual farmers get more value for their produce.

Increased private investment across multiple sectors (manufacturing, retail, hospitality, construction) will also result in influx of labour from across the country. The availability of economic opportunities will encourage non-residents to settle down in the state. The demographic of all three major districts — Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh will eventually undergo a change.

The Kashmir Valley will be an extremely attractive destination given its climate and beautiful environs. Kashmir will become heterogeneous, diverse and probably more cosmopolitan. When children are raised in a more diverse community, indoctrination and the growth of religious radicalism will be kept in check.

According to the Indian Human Development Report 2011 prepared by the Planning Commission, Jammu and Kashmir ranks eleventh on the Human Development Index. Despite faring better than other conflict-ridden states such as Assam, Mizoram and Nagaland, Jammu and Kashmir seems to be trapped in a vicious cycle of never ending violence.

Ideally, the prospect of long-term economic prosperity should reduce the incentive to disrupt daily life via violence and terror. But violence and terrorism in Kashmir have ideological and religious moorings. Once there is a boost in private investment and job creation, increased incomes and a better quality of life will invariably follow. While that alone might not be able to guarantee peace in the Valley, it may provide the necessary incentive to get there.

The Legal And Social Hurdles

While a multi-cultural society appears extremely enticing as a hypothesis, working towards it will be a mammoth task. There are multiple legal hurdles that need to be overcome before such a reality can be realised. It calls for enormous political will and courage to even initiate a debate on these constitutional provisions.

The Narendra Modi government could not do so even with a majority in the lower house. With elections around the corner and a possible change in government, there will be no attempt in the foreseeable future to move an amendment to Article 35A.

Even if a future government were to miraculously overcome political opposition and amend Article 35A, the social upheaval that it will engender in Kashmir will be enormous. The mere filing of a petition in the Supreme Court resulted in a shutdown in the Valley. Although the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly passed a resolution in 2017 welcoming the return of the Pandits, it is almost certain that an amendment to a constitutional safeguard will lead to a massive spike in violence, both orchestrated internally and from across the border.

A large section of Kashmiris will not be in favour of ‘outsiders’ disturbing the well-entrenched social status-quo. The threat of a demographic change will trigger Kashmiri youth to mount a stony resistance. Unless private investors are sufficiently assuaged that their investments will be safeguarded, no investment will be forthcoming. Students from other states will also not be willing to study in a highly charged atmosphere.

The central government will have to resort to force, and increased military presence to maintain order. Both the Peoples Democratic Party and the National Conference will have to be brought on board and made to reconcile with the idea of an open Kashmir. Any attempt at a community level engagement will be impossible without the support of these mainstream parties.

It will call for the national parties to put their difference aside and use bipartisan realpolitik. It might take years of drawn out dialogue and purposeful societal outreach (accompanied by mind-numbing violence) before the transition can be said to be satisfactorily complete.

But when the transition does happen, both Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris may look forward to a truly peaceful future. Imagine a native of Arunachal Pradesh, after a hard day’s work in one of Kashmir’s numerous factories, enjoying a plate of delicious biriyani at an Andhra mess and later washing it down with piping hot tea at a Thalassery tea shop. That would be ‘Kashmiriyat’ at its finest.

Satish Viswanathan tweets at @satishv1987.

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