Anuj Aggarwal

Kashmiriyat refers to the third pillar of stability in the Kashmir Valley (or simply, ‘Valley’) region, the other two being Insaaniyat (humanity) and Jamooriyat (democracy). The term entered mainstream political lingo during and after the government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India’s Prime Minister from 1998 to 2004. Kashmiriyat is largely understood as a centuries-old conception of secularism, harmony, and tranquillity between the various communities – Hindu, Muslim, Sikhs and Dogras – that reside in the Kashmir Valley.

But, if any of the terms in the lexicon of the Valley has undergone a process of diminishing returns, it is this. The high point of its appeal was under the Vajpayee government that attempted to bring stability to the Valley after putting a leash on a decade-long violent insurgency. The term, however, largely remained undefined. The Vajpayee government used it in its appeal for the composite culture and mutual syncretism, but for the Valley, it always denoted cultural uniqueness and a case for geographical isolation.

For the Valley, the notions of syncretism have rarely surfaced while invoking the idea of Kashmiriyat. The term only breathes occasional life to drown the claims of Pandit colonies, for a section believes that Kashmiriyat is enough for their protection. Otherwise, it is used to insulate – rightly or wrongly – terror strikes from a religious association.

The Union Home Minister, in the follow-up to the 11 July attack on Amarnath Yatra pilgrims, reinvoked the idea of ‘Kashmiriyat’, the Kashmir Valley’s secular consciousness. He received much flak from a section of Indians for doing so, who saw it as being an apparent reflection of his ‘weakness’.

Does Kashmiriyat Exist?

On the offset, it is hard to argue that there is something unique about the Valley in terms of composite culture. In fact, a minuscule inquiry shall reveal the contrary, the decade-long insurgency began with pushing out the Pandits and they continue to be under the crosshair of terrorists ever since. As early as, the 1980s, Jama’at-i-Islami was restructuring the Kashmiri populace to agitate along religious lines, appealing to create a Nizam-e-Mustafa (rule of the Prophet) in the ValleyJama’at-i-Islami has among its disciples, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, chairman of the Hurriyat conference (a conglomerate of separatist parties). Despite his old age, he is one of the most revered separatist leaders in the region and openly embraces the idea of theocratic Kashmir.

No matter how far we turn back into the history, the Valley has always witnessed bouts of intolerance, worst of which came under the reign of Sikandar Butshikan. Butshikan means ‘idol-breaker’, a nickname he very well earned. Numerous temples were razed to the ground under his rule, of which Martand Temple still stands in its ruins, wearing scars of what transpired. Under Mughal rule, the governor Iftikhar Khan forcefully carried out conversions, and was particularly brutal towards the Pandits. On the other hand, under Dogra rule, the Muslims of the valley faced harsh treatment and were often discriminated against by the rulers.

Thus, Kashmiriyat, as an idea of syncretism looks much fabled and overall a manufactured notion. Whatever is left of it is also under fresh assault due to the changing nature of militancy in the Valley since the Vajpayee days, and is increasingly being organised along radical Islamic lines. It is also for the first time that Kashmiri-born militants have outnumbered the ones out-sourced by Pakistan, hinting towards the spread of a fundamentalist Wahhabi strain of Islam in the Valley. Kashmir has witnessed the raising flags of the Islamic State (termed as misadventure by separatists) during protests, to former Hizbul-ul-Mujahideen commander Zakir Musa appealing to establish a similar entity in the Valley. During the recent lynching of Deputy Superintendent of Police, Ayub Pandith, slogans were raised in the honor of Musa, reflecting the tilt of people in Srinagar.

One media report outlined how local dailies in the Kashmir Valley refrained from using the word ‘terrorist’ in their reports on the 11 July attack on Amarnath pilgrims

Amarnath Yatra Attack

The attack, which came on the first weekday after the first death anniversary of former Hizbul commander, Burhan Wani, gunned down by security forces last year, puts a special strain on an increasingly unconvincing idea of Kashmiriyat. The pilgrimage is one of the few Hindu activities that have survived the region ever since the insurgency began. There have been numerous attempts to strangle it or contain its momentum, with attempts hindering the allotment of land to the shrine board, to deadly terror attacks. A complete halt shall give a sense of triumph to the Islamic separatists and highlight the wedge between the two communities that have increasingly become apparent. Previously, the Kausar Nag Yatra was stopped by the then government, under pressure from the separatists.

Although being in power has made it essential for the local People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the ruling party of Kashmir, to condemn the attacks, they have shown no urgency or willingness to tackle the spreading radicalism and domestic terrorism. It doesn’t take much to recall that the first order of business in the valley for PDP was to release Massarat Alam, a terrorist sympathizer and separatist.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the ruling party at the centre, on the other hasn’t pressurised its coalition partner to be firm on the single most important issue for the Valley. The state government’s laxity and insistence of lenity have allowed the terrorists to regain ground, especially in southern Kashmir where the Yatra is conducted. The government hasn’t done much to investigate the channels of propaganda and find effective means of shutting them down. The go-to responses have been a blanket ban on the internet or shutting down telephone services for days or weeks at length. It isn’t helping the cause that state media hesitates in recognising terrorism and tries to by-pass the use of such labels by calling them militants or not addressing them directly.

What can be done?

There is a growing opinion that in order to put an effective leash on terrorism and regain the narrative among the locals, the most effective strategy is to give teeth to the local police. The strategy has been effective in dealing with terrorism in Punjab during the 1980s and early 1990s, where a hardened force under the leadership of Police Chief K.P.S Gill matched the terrorists in strategy, intelligence and propaganda. So far, the state police force has largely been neglected while para-military forces and the army have primarily been entrusted for the valley. But in order to establish a normalcy in the valley, it is essential that the latter two entities fade away eventually.

Although engagement with separatists has rarely borne any result, if at all, but, A.S. Dulat former chief of India’s foreign intelligence arm, the Research and Analysis Wing, argues that they are a reason for hope in the valley. Keeping them in the loop assures there is a safety valve over the Valley emotions. It is also important that these talks remain insulated from media scrutiny; experience has revealed it has done more harm than good when it gets revealed prematurely.

The government should also give due recognition to the people who laid down their lives in the line of duty. It cannot shy away from honouring the martyrs for the fears of offending the valley. The leaders can’t remain aloof from attending the funerals of those brave men as they did for Col. M.N Rai and Lt. Ummer Fayaz. Only when the Valley realises that there is honour in dying for the country than getting killed fighting against it, the narrative of the valley shall change.

Meanwhile, an appeal to Kashmiriyat, which itself appears to be a metaphysical abstraction, is hardly effective and inadequate to assuage the sentiments of Kashmir and the rest of the India.

Anuj Aggarwal is a student of law at Delhi University’s Faculty of Law and former spokesperson for the Delhi University Students’ Union (DUSU).

Views expressed here are the author’s own, and does not reflect any editorial line.

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