An interesting post-partition creation, Kashmiriyat is popular in Delhi than in Srinagar. But what it means and why everybody is talking about it these days, Masood Hussain explains

Kashmiri Muslims performing last rites of Kashmiri Pandit.

(Kashmiri Muslims performing last rites of Kashmiri Hindu.)

“I was happy to see you introducing Kashmiriyat,” Muzaffar Hussain Beig, PDP’s North Kashmir representative in Lok Sabha addressed the PM Narindra Modi in the All Party Meeting on August 13. “For us, it means a centrist between Shaivite Hinduism where the unity of God, fraternity and equality of human being are its foundations, which was later supplemented and enriched by Sufiism. That is Kashmiriyat.”

Beig, a former Deputy Chief Minister and a noted lawyer explained the enigmatic concept. “It has two facets– one is civilizational value and other is the political status. The unique status of Kashmir in the Indian Union was necessary to preserve and foster its civilisational values and tradition. It isn’t a Muslim identity but a mixed identity,” he said. “We need to build a counter narrative centered around this Kashmiriyat”.

As Kashmiriyat has become part of the new trilogy (read with Jumhooriyat and Insaniyat) that Delhi is so keen to project as the new exit window from the ongoing crisis, everybody is asking: Yeh Kashmiriyat Washmiriyat Kya Hai?

Kashmiriyat apparently is a Kashmir-made-foreign word coined to describe Kashmir’s ethno-national, social consciousness and cultural value setup, an effort that failed to emerge on the pattern of Emperor Akbar’s Deen-e-Illahi. It is a recent construction that saw some spadework post-partition and was revived recently to make a political statement. Kashmiriyat links many things including the Sufi Islam which is “tolerant”, shrines, and the Shaivism, the Kashmiri Brahamism that believes in God’s oneness.

A columnist put relevance of Kashmiriat beautifully in an April 2011 write-up: “In the last two decades, an entire generation missed out on Kashmiriyat – the liberal way of life that transcended religion, where Sufism and Shaivism coexisted, and evenings gave way to Sufiana mausiqi, or gatherings by the riverside.”

Kashmiri Pandits at Kheer Bhawani, a KL file Image

(Kashmiri Muslims every year help manage annual Kheer Bhawani Mela for Kashmir Pandits. (Photo: Bilal Bahadur/KL))

Professor Mohammad Isaq Khan, one of Kashmir’s most prominent historians, has investigated the word Kashmiriyat being used during the early 1970s, specifically following the developments led by Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah accord of 1975. “It was coined to discover the roots of Kashmir’s ideological ties with the secular Indian nationalism, based on religious co-existence and cultural pluralism,” Khan was quoted by a researcher on Kashmir ethnicity.

Writing in 2004, Khan insisted that it was used by official and semi-official media to serve the ideological interests of the Indian state and to discover the roots of Kashmir’s ideological ties with the secular Indian nationalism. “He further observers that, during 1975-87, Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims produced literature on Kashmiriyat, that was not only a representation of the rich cultural heritage and ethos of Kashmir but also associated with their perceived threats to their own identity from forces within and outside,” scholar Kamlesh Bamotra wrote in his doctoral thesis Ethnicity and Religion: The Reconstruction of Kashmiri Ethnic Identity at Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

Scholar Chiterlekha Zutshi has not been able to find any evidence of Kashmiriyat in the emerging Kashmir narrative till 1931. But it makes its presence soon after.

“As the majority and the minority community dilemma threatened to bring down the foundations of Kashmiri ‘nationalism’, Sheikh Abdullah turned increasingly to concepts such as Kashmiriyat to provide sustenance to the rapidly crumbling national edifice,” Zutshi wrote in her book Language of Belonging: Islam, Religion, Identity and the Making of Kashmir. “Kashmiriyat did not emerge ex-nihilo from the soil of Kashmir; it was a product of the collusion of Kashmiri and Indian majoritarian nationalism’s, both of which needed to obscure the inherent contradictions in their logic and rhetoric.” Sheikh spent much time and resources in propagating Kashmiriyat after he took over as Kashmir’s first post-partition ruler.

Using past symbols, Kashmiriyat is a vague construct that is open to any kind of interpretation. Many think it envisages secular ethnic identity. “It was also one of the ideological agenda in the nationalist movement against the Dogra rule and a justification for including Kashmir in the Indian union,” believes scholar Reeta Chowdhari Tremblay.

But author Mirdu Rai disagrees. “Erroneously identified as a secular conceptualization of regionalism, this identity relied on building bridges, at particular historical moments, across religiously defined communities to evoke a tradition of culturally based regional coexistence,” Rai writes in her Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects. “Yet the notion of cultural harmony was predicated on the requisite condition of protecting Kashmiri Pandits privileges and a consequent sub-sumption of the interests of the majority Muslims.”

Kashmiriyat, Nandita Haksar, author of The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism: from the Cold War to the Present Day, told Mint newspaper, “is a State-sponsored artificial concept aimed at promoting official national integration”.

A massive pro-freedom rally was held at Kehribal Islamabad on August 25, 2016. (KL Image: Shah Hilal)

(A massive pro-freedom rally was held at Kehribal Islamabad on August 25, 2016. (KL Image: Shah Hilal))

Kashmiriyat was talked about when the then Prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee told Lok Sabha in April 2003: “Issues can be resolved if we move forward guided by the three principles of Insaaniyat (humanism), Jamhooriyat (democracy) and Kashmiriyat.”

Since then, everybody is talking about it, especially those flying from Delhi. Lt Gen (retd) S K Sinha as one of Kashmir’s most controversial governors’ was so obsessed with Kashmiriyat that he assumed the role of the concept’s avtar till he was hurriedly flown back in 2008 summer.

Kashmiriyat is the strongest weapon to fight terrorism,” Sinha would routinely say. “We must reinforce our faith in our rich heritage of Kashmiriyat, to successfully counter this menace.”

The controversial governor actually haunted out some teachers from his pet-project, the Institute of Kashmir Studies in the University of Kashmir, because they did not believe his interpretation of Kashmiriyat and its contemporary relevance.

There has not been any major soldier or a politician of consequence who has not talked about Kashmiriyat, a concept less popular in Kashmir than Delhi.

“On Kashmiriyat,” the then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh said on November 17, 2004, “We need to build the edifice of economic prosperity”.

“I have not come here for any election-related activity,” Ram Jethmalnai of erstwhile Kashmir Committee told reporters on August 8, 2012. “But I really want that there should be peace and love in Kashmir and the true Kashmiriyat which has been weakened should be strengthened.”

“It is true that we were not able to deliver what we could have in a coalition set-up (with National Conference),” Congress President Mrs Sonia Gandhi said on December 11, 2014. “But to keep communal forces away and to safeguard the secular fabric of the state and its Kashmiriyat, the coalition becomes inevitable.”

The last important man to talk on this subject was RSS leader Indresh Kumar. “There is an opportunity in 2014 to get back lost Kashmir and Kashmiriyat into the mainstream,” Kumar said on November 17, 2014.

Even those living on the other side of Redcliff divide understand the plot. “Kashmiriyat is another tactic: even as India insists on distinct regions and ethnic and religious identities within Kashmir, it also emphasises Kashmiriyat, especially in the Valley. This is to debunk the issue of Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan on the basis of its being a Muslim-dominated state on the one hand and prop up India’s secularism on the other,” noted journalist Ejaz Hiader wrote in Friday Times after his return from SAFMA-sponsored Srinagar sojourn in 2005. “Diversity there may be, which is one way of singling out the Valley from the rest of the disputed state, but it makes eminent sense to inject Kashmiriyat in the Valley, just in case the game boils down to the beautiful Vale.”

Scores of women took out a peaceful march towards UN office in Srinagar on August 17, 2016 from Dalgate on the call of united resistance leadership. (KL Image: Bilal Bahadur)

(Scores of women took out a peaceful march towards UN office in Srinagar on August 17, 2016 from Dalgate on the call of united resistance leadership. (KL Image: Bilal Bahadur))

By the way, why the Kashmiriayat is so greatly in demand, right now?

“The unique set of beliefs and the composite culture of Kashmir that evolved over many centuries came under severe pressure in the mid-1980s with the emergence of militant Islam and secessionist forces…the nature of Kashmiri identity started shifting from regional identity to religious identity,” analyzed Kamlesh Bamotra in his thesis. “The fundamentalist connotation and communal confrontation has changed the earlier concept of Kashmir identity, or Kashmiriyat… the composite character of Kashmiri identity began fading away. Kashmiri Muslims began aspiring for freedom from the Indian Union.” He insists: “Ethnic cleansing led to the Islamisation of the Valley.”

“This unique identity (read Kashmiriyat) found no commonality with the strain of Islam represented by Pakistan, echoing more similarities with the secular, multi-ethnic vision of the Indian nation,” University of Oxford scholar Gayeti Singh wrote in master’s thesis. “The fundamentalist strain in the Valley is explained in terms of external influences and in contradiction to the principles of Kashmiriyat, the erosion of which is then outlined as a factor contributing to the alienation of the people.”

This Kashmiriyat sexed-up by vested interests has started impacting Kashmir commentary even by the most influential. “Kashmiriyat (the refined amalgam of Hindu-Muslim culture that characterizes the Valley and surrounding areas) remains; it has been a rallying point for some separatists,” influential American writer Stephen P Cohen said in his presentation to the University of Texas in December 2001. “But (they) must now compete with more virulent forms of militant Islamic doctrine, a form of Islam that had been alien to the Kashmiri population before the 1980s.”

Syed Ali Geelani said on January 29, 2012, that Sufism and Kashmiriyat are being used to distance Kashmiris from their faith. Does that mean Kashmir requires compromising its faith to sustain a fake identity?

Nehru’s fore-fathers and hundreds of influential Pandit families fled Kashmir to fill the vacancies that were created in British India after the mutiny. Even before that Pandit administrators and mercenaries working for Afghan, Sikh and Dogra occupations in Srinagar presided over various emigrations of Muslims artisans and peasantry from Kashmir, the last flock of which formed the sizable chunk of martyrs in Jallianwala Bagh. These demographic upheavals did not impact the religious tolerance that existed in Kashmir.

Now if Kashmiri Pandits who migrated out in the 1990s are keen to return home, they have every right to do so. Kashmir’s religious tolerance does not depend on whether or not Prime Minister Modi makes Kashmiriyat, his new Kashmir outreach.

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