J&K: Social composition of militant movement, some hard facts
by Hari Om on 25 Nov 2010 8 Comments
Much has been written on the so-called Kashmir problem and its solution during the past two decades, yet we are where we were when violence erupted in the Kashmir Valley in the late 1980s. Rather, the situation in the Valley has worsened with each passing day, with both the separatists and the ruling National Conference virtually working in tandem and vitiating the atmosphere in the Kashmir Valley with a view to achieving the unachievable: Separation from India.


Why has no one been able to suggest a solution acceptable to the people of the state? Why have the various think tanks and conflict managers failed to suggest acceptable and workable solutions? Why have the various initiatives taken by the Union Government from time to time failed to break the impasse in Jammu & Kashmir? Why have the three Round Table Conferences convened by none other than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Working Groups constituted by him failed to break the ice in the state? There are many reasons behind these failures and one of the most notable is that no one has ever tried to study the social composition of the militant movement; no one has ever tried to diagnose what ails Kashmir.


All solutions suggested so far are based on the misguided notion that Kashmir means the whole of the state and that the aspirations of the people of Kashmir are similar to those of the people of Jammu and Ladakh. This is not the case. That’s the reason none of the solutions has clicked. Lop-sided solutions never work. This is precisely what has been happening in the sensitive border State.


It needs to be underlined that Jammu and Kashmir is not a homogeneous state in any respect. It consists of three regions – Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. All three regions are geographically, culturally, ethnically, historically and economically distinct. There is nothing common between these regions.


The people of Jammu and Ladakh, who constitute almost half of the state’s population and occupy more nearly 89 percent of its land area, have nothing to do with the ongoing secessionist movement. In fact, they have been vehemently opposing it. Their watchwords all along have been complete integration into India, application of the Union Constitution to the state in full, excluding Article 370 under which the state enjoys a special status within the Union, and adequate political and economic empowerment.


Significantly, Jammu region, the land of the Dogras, also houses approximately 1.5 million refugees from West Pakistan, Pakistan-occupied-Jammu & Kashmir and from the Kashmir Valley itself. They are all Hindus and Sikhs who migrated to Jammu from time to time to escape physical liquidation at the hands of fanatics in Pakistan and Kashmir. One can easily understand what these persecuted and uprooted communities stand for.


Jammu province also houses Muslims, but they are ethnically non-Kashmiris. Bulk of them belongs to the Gujjars and Bakerwal communities, who are basically nomads and inhabit the hilly and mountainous areas of Jammu province, especially the Poonch-Rajouri belt. They are not part of the secessionist movement. Yet Gujjar and Bakerwal Muslims constitute the third largest social group in the state after the Jammu Dogras and Kashmiri Muslims. They are out-and-out for the Indian Constitution. The reason: this statute book provides for political reservation and reservation in government jobs, technical and professional institutions and universities for the Scheduled Tribes. The Gujjar and Bakerwal communities got this status in April 1991 after decades of relentless struggle.


The Pathowari-speaking Muslims, who constitute a substantial chunk of Muslim population in Jammu province and who, like Gujjar and Bakerwal Muslims also inhabit the Poonch-Rajouri belt, are for the Indian Constitution as well. They have been struggling hard since 1991 for Scheduled Tribe status. It’s true there are leaders among the Pathowari-speaking Muslims who vouch for autonomy as demanded by the National Conference, but their support is meaningless because under the kind of dispensation the National Conference has been striving to achieve they would not get what they want because the proposed dispensation, like any dispensation in any Muslim country across the world, does not provide for reservation for any Muslim group on any ground whatsoever.     


The story of Ladakh, which consists of Leh district and Kargil district, is no different. Leh district which is Buddhist-majority also houses many Muslims, mostly Shiite Muslims. The most striking aspect of the situation in this trans-Himalayan district is that all the people, without any exception and irrespective of political affiliation and religious denomination, are one as far as their demand for Union Territory is concerned. All of them want independence from Kashmir and long for a system that enables them to shape and control their political, social and economic future within India and under the Indian Constitution. They have never during all these decades of turmoil in Kashmir identified themselves with the separatists or even with the votaries of autonomy and self-rule. Their battle-cry was, and continues to be, complete integration with India.


As for Shia Muslim-majority Kargil district, it’s true that there is no demand for Union Territory status in this part of Ladakh. It’s also true that most of the people want the unity of the state to be maintained. But it’s also true that they are bitterly opposed to the idea of the state getting more autonomy. Besides, they are rabidly anti-Pakistan and pro-Indian Army. Their opposition to Islamabad is based on the fact that Pakistan has been persecuting their brethren in the Gilgit-Baltistan region and systematically changing its demographic profile to convert it into a Shia-minority region, though originally Shia-majority. Their unflinching support to the Indian Army is based on the fact that they have been surviving and thriving only because of Army presence in their area. The people of this strategic area cannot survive even for a day if the Army is withdrawn.


What about Kashmir? Think-tanks, conflict-managers and certain policy-planners in New Delhi believe Kashmir is homogeneous, which is just not true. It is highly diverse. Kashmir province consists of two distinct geographical zones – mountainous areas and a plain, known as the Valley. The mountainous areas of Kashmir, which constitute more than 70 per cent of the province’s land area, house people who are ethnically non-Kashmiris. They are Gujjar and Bakerwal Muslims, Pathowari-speaking Muslims, Dards, Baltis and so on. There is nothing common between these people and the ethnic Kashmiri Muslims of the Valley. The Gujjar and Bakerwal Muslims, Pathowari-speaking Muslims and Dard and Balti Muslims constitute those segments of society in Kashmir province whose plight is no different from that of the people of Jammu and Ladakh. They represent the socially, economically and politically deprived sections of society. Their political attitude is no different from that of their counterparts in Jammu province.


Even the Valley proper is not homogeneous. It houses Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims, Sikhs and a couple of thousand Hindus. Sunni Muslims are in majority; about 2.8 million. The Shiite Muslims constitute the second largest social group; about 8 lakh. Sikhs are approximately 60,000. An overwhelming majority of Shiite Muslims, like Gujjar and Bakerwal, Pathowari-speaking, Dard and Balti Muslims, is extremely backward. It has no say in the governance of the state. The Shiite Muslims of Kashmir, like their brethren in Kargil and Leh, have no love lost for Pakistan, most notably because Sunnis do not consider Shiite Muslims as real Muslims. Most Shiite Muslims have nothing to do with the ongoing secessionist movement in the Kashmir Valley.  


It is only Kashmiri-speaking Sunnis who are involved in the secessionist movement and violent activities. Even they are not one as far as their political demands are concerned. Their leadership is vertically divided into five groups. Some are demanding merger with Pakistan. Some want independence from both India and Pakistan. Some long for greater autonomy and some seek self-rule from New Delhi. The fifth group is for India as well as for Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.


It is pertinent that almost all the “mainstream” and separatist outfits are controlled by the Kashmir-speaking Sunnis. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who heads the Tehrik-e-Hurriyat; Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, who leads the All-Party Hurriyat Conference; Yasin Malik of the JKLF; Jammu & Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party president Shabir Ahmad Shah; patron and president of the People’s Democratic Party Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Mehbooba Mufti; National Conference president and Union Minister Farooq Abdullah and (son) Chief Minister Omar Abdullah; CPI-M state unit general secretary Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami; CPI general secretary Tukroo; J&K Pradesh Congress Committee chief Saif-ud-Din Soz – all are Sunni Muslims.


Then, the president of the Kashmir High Court Bar Association Mian Abdul Qyoom is a Sunni, as is the president of the Kashmir University Teachers’ Association. Over 99 percent of Kashmir-based commentators are Sunnis. Almost all “civil society” organizations in the Valley are run and controlled by Sunnis. The truth, in short, is that there is hardly any organization in the Valley that is not headed by a Sunni. 


Besides, the Kashmiri-speaking Sunnis have been ruling the roost since October 1947, holding almost all the portfolios with political weight and funds. They elect more than 50 percent legislators to the J&K Legislative Assembly, and three out of six Lok Sabha members. Both Cabinet Ministers in the Union Council of Ministers are Sunnis. All members in the Rajya Sabha from the state are Sunnis. They control the judiciary in Kashmir and have considerable say in Jammu province. They man almost all the positions in the police, revenue and education departments, located in Kashmir. They man almost all positions in the government and semi-government establishments, located in Kashmir. They also man more than 20 percent positions in the government and semi-government departments, located in Jammu province and Ladakh. They control trade, industry and transport. They own big orchards. They swamp educational institutions, including universities and colleges. Last but not the least, Kashmiri-speaking Sunnis are articulate and have the right connections in New Delhi and elsewhere, media included.


This all goes to show that the discriminated against people of Jammu and Ladakh and the marginalized religious and ethnic minorities in the state, who constitute almost 72 per cent of the state’s population and occupy more than 95 per cent of its geographical area, have nothing to do with the ongoing secessionist movement. The secessionist movement is basically confined to the Kashmir Valley and those who are all powerful, well-entrenched, educated and highly prosperous are carrying on the secessionist movement in the Valley. Their bottom line is secession.


New Delhi has appointed three interlocutors on Jammu & Kashmir. Their stated duty is to suggest ways and means to restore peace in Kashmir and resolve the problem facing India in Jammu & Kashmir. If they really wish to do justice to their job, they have no choice but to first study the social composition of the militant movement in the state. They have to adopt a holistic approach, listen to the woes of those who have suffered at the hands of those who have been ruling the state since 1947 and are directly and indirectly associated with the over two-decade-old secessionist movement. They just cannot afford to follow the line others followed while evolving “solutions” to the so-called Kashmir problem. Their fundamental duty is to consider the views of the alienated sections, and it is the people of Jammu and Ladakh and the religious and ethnic minorities who are actually feeling alienated.    


The author is former Chair Professor, Maharaja Gulab Singh Chair, University of Jammu, Jammu, & former member Indian Council of Historical Research

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