The Kashmir Problem — Can it ever be solved?

By N.V.K. Murthy

India has been free for more than sixty years. So has Pakistan. But the future of Kashmir is still disputed. When India became free in 1947, the British colonialists left behind a conglomeration of over five-hundred native states, big and small, ruled by Rajas and Nawabs, as well as large provinces directly administered by the British within the Indian territory. Perhaps the British were hoping that these states would keep warring with each other forever coming to the British for succor, offering them ample opportunity to exploit the resources of all those states in return. Unfortunately for the British, most of the states decided to accede to India in return for sumptuous annual purses. Only a few recalcitrant states held out — like Hyderabad and Travancore in the south of India and Jammu and Kashmir in the north. Travancore acceded fairly quickly thereafter. Hyderabad became a part of India after the brief police action taken by the government of India in 1949. Jammu and Kashmir was adamant. Raja Hari Singh of Kashmir refused to accede to India till his own safety was threatened. To understand the situation of Jammu and Kashmir, one has to go back in history.

Majority of the people of Kashmir today are Muslim, with a small minority of Hindus. The most prominent Hindus are the Pandits, the Brahmin class. But the Muslim and Hindu populations of Kashmir have a common culture and most importantly, a common language, Kashmiri. If you talk to any Kashmiri he will refer to his feeling of “Kashmiriyat” with pride. What is this Kashmiriyat — this feeling of being a Kashmiri? To comprehend this, one has to go back centuries in the history of the sub-continent. One could even go back to the beginnings of human civilization in that part of the world. According to proto-geologists, the Indo-Pak subcontinent had broken off the main landmass of Eurasia, and was swirling anticlockwise as far below the equator as it is today north of the equator. Slowly this island called “Jammu dweepa” in Hindu mythology began moving upward and finally crashed back into the Eurasian landmass in the vicinity of present-day Himalayas. This crash of the tectonic plates gave rise to the Himalayas which rose from the ocean bed and today have become the highest and most formidable mountain peaks in the world. The tectonic plate of the island seemed to have gone under the tectonic plate of the main landmass causing the south face of Mount Everest, the side facing India, to be steeper than the north face which is lies outside India and Tibet. The creation of the Himalayas thus made the Indian subcontinent suitable for human inhabitation. Before this happened, and even now, to the north of the Himalayas, there is hardly any agriculture because of the cold arctic winds, while to the south you have the fertile plains of Punjab, UP and Bihar. This is because the high Himalayan peaks protect the southern valleys making them capable of raising edible crops. No wonder a great poet of the subcontinent, Muhammad Iqbal, referred to the Himalayas as the “Woh Santari Hamaara, Woh Paasbaan Hamaara” — those sentinels of ours, those guardians of ours — in his great poem — “Saare Jahaan Se Achha”.

The Muslim Turks were neither the first nor the only people who came to this subcontinent from the north. What attracted hordes of Mongols, Greeks, Turks, and others was a warm, agriculture-friendly climate of the subcontinent. Earlier it was thought that the Aryan civilization originated in this part of the world. But recent archaeological and philological evidence has shown a lot of commonality between great civilizations spanning all the way from the Himalayas to the Persian Empire. People also thought that the earliest Indian civilization was pastoral and settled agriculture came much later. During the colonial rule of the British, archaeologists found remnants of what is now called Indus valley civilization. These remnants are spread over a vast area from Mohenjodaro in the north (Sind, Pakistan) to Harappa in the south and west (Saurashtra, India). These remnants speak of a highly organized urban civilization which existed long before the pastoral Aryan civilization came in. How and why an urban civilization disappeared followed by the appearance of a pastoral civilization, is one of those mysteries which scientists and archaeologists are still trying to unravel.

Over the last few centuries, many myths have developed within the subcontinent and need to be closely examined, if not corrected. One popular myth is that Urdu is a language alien to India. In fact Urdu has no home in the world except India. This was a language which was developed in the military regimental camps of the Turks and Persians who came to India. Urdu was not the spoken language of any region of present-day Pakistan but was adopted as the official language. However, Urdu was and still remains the spoken language of millions of people in Bihar, UP and Madhya Pradesh in India.

Another myth is that the Muslims in India are invaders. While some of the Persian and later Mongol invaders may have been Muslim, the Mughals made India their home and changed the whole tenor of history. The Mughal emperor Akbar even had the ideal of establishing one universal religion called “Dīn-i Ilāhī” in his empire. Though he did not succeed, it remains a fact that both Islam and Hinduism as practiced in India are extremely syncretic in nature. This is where “Kashmiriyat” comes in. It is believed that Islam was first introduced to the Kashmiris in the northern part of the state by Persian Sufis who fled Persia because of the oppression by the fanatical Muslim priesthood. Even to this day the shrines of these Sufi saints in Kashmir attract the followers of both Muslim and Hindu faiths. Muslims of Kashmir don’t eat beef as a goodwill gesture towards their Hindu brothers, and as to the Pandits in Kashmir, they relish mutton. So among their other commonalities their common food is a great cementing factor.

This sort of mutual effect between the Hindu and Muslim communities is seen in other parts of the country too. For example, down south in peninsular India on the west coast near the Jog falls there is a minor port called Bhatkal. This was the center of a Jain kingdom. The Jains were very strict vegetarians and among other practices one that stood out was that they ate their evening meals before sunset to avoid eating any worms accidentally. This Jain practice of eating the evening meal before sunset was adopted even by the other communities in the area, including Muslims. One prominent member of this community, C. K. Jaffer Sharief, was a well-known congressman of Karnataka and was the railway minister of the country for some time.

During the 1980’s and 1990’s some vested interests spread propaganda that because of the Muslim tradition of polygamy allowing four wives, the Muslim population of the country would increase tremendously and in time the Hindus would become a minority. However, this myth was soon dispelled when census data showed that the rate of increase in the population of the Hindus was much greater than that of the Muslims. One has to keep in mind all these myths while discussing the Hindu-Muslim divide in the country vis-à-vis Kashmir.

On the eve of freedom of the country, the redoubtable leader Sheikh Abdullah (whose grandson Omar Abdullah is the current Chief Minister) led an agitation against the autocratic rule of Raja Hari Singh. After partition of the country into Pakistan and India, Pakistan engineered a raid on Jammu and Kashmir consisting mainly of tribesmen from the Northwest Frontier Province who almost reached the doorstep of Srinagar. These raiders were opposed by the people of Jammu and Kashmir under the leadership of Sheikh Abdullah. While the people of Kashmir were resisting these raiders the king himself fled Srinagar and sought protection in Jammu. It was at that late hour that Raja Hari Singh finally signed the treaty of accession to India. This is how Jammu and Kashmir became a part of India. Some argue that the accession treaty was signed by the ruler and was not the choice of the people — that it was a situation created by the British when they left India, handing over sovereignty of various states to the heads of those states. Such a problem did not arise in the other states, but in Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan approached the United Nations with a complaint. After protracted debates the Security Council passed a resolution suggesting a plebiscite in the whole territory of Jammu and Kashmir with the armies of both countries moving back to their positions before the partition. However, this plebiscite has not happened over the last sixty odd years. At this time even the United Nations has accepted that such a plebiscite is not practical.

Now a little background to the partition itself will be in order. The idea of partition owes its genesis to what happened in UP in 1935 when the British tried the experiment of diarchy. Under this experiment there was limited autonomy of the states, which functioned with elected legislators. At this point of time even Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the first President of Pakistan, was a member of the Indian National Congress. However during the election, and even earlier when candidates were chosen, the Muslim population of UP which formed a sizeable minority felt that justice was not done to them in the choice of the number of candidates. Thus began the distrust between the two communities. This distrust was exploited by the British colonial power, which in turn led to the formation of the Muslim League and the ultimate partition of the country.

The people of the two countries, India and Pakistan, have more in common than differences. Culturally, linguistically and in terms of civilization — they are one people. Only religion separates them. While there is a small minority of non-Muslim population (including Hindus) in Pakistan, the Muslim population in India is a large minority of 14 %. One is tempted to quote poet Iqbal again. He wrote in the same poem “Saare Jahaan Se Achha” the following words — “Mazhab Nahin Sikhata Aapas Mein Bair Rakhana, Hindi Hain Ham, Watan Hai Hindustan Hamaara” (Religion does not teach us to foster enmity amongst one another, we are Hindi and our motherland is Hindustan). This is very evocative and one utopian solution would be for India and Pakistan to forget all that has happened in the past to get together and become one great nation again. But one must realize that this is an unrealistic dream.

Let us remember that the greatest achievement of Nelson Mandela was not the ending of the apartheid in South Africa — it was what followed after the truth and reconciliation commission between black and white people, under his joint leadership with Bishop Tutu. With that as backdrop one may be allowed to dream about reuniting India and Pakistan in the future. For the present we can only try to prepare the ground for such reconciliation by recognizing the present line of control as an international boundary between the two countries. Both India and Pakistan could allow maximum autonomy in their respective territories of Jammu and Kashmir. Already people on both sides of the boundary are feeling that together they could prosper. Together they can ponder over the relative merits of a secular state versus a religious state dominated by one religion or the other. The world over people seem to be veering in favor of a secular state which recognizes a set of universal human rights, with the rights of worship of minorities guaranteed. Perhaps this is the future of Kashmir?

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