Whose Kashmir is it anyway?

Last Updated: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 - 17:19

Sitting afar, for most people Kashmir is shorthand for the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Whoever lives in Kashmir is probably a Kashmiri from a distance. This is not really unlike other parts of the country. For example all folks in southern states become Madrasis for many. Or everyone in Karnataka becomes Kannadiga (not a Coorgi or Tulu). With the Telangana issue recently, many folks now know the diversities inherent within Andhra Pradesh. This is convenient and natural. Given the renewed recent interest in the state, it makes sense to zoom in and take a look at this state of Jammu and Kashmir and its 1.25 Crore inhabitants (2011 Census) up close. The state has remained close to 1% of India`s population post `47.

The diversity in J&K is in language, ethnicity and religion. The main reason for that is the geography. Jammu Region is divided by the Pir Panjal mountain range from Kashmir (yes, Kashmir is one region in the state) and Ladakh. Kashmir is a valley between the Himalayas and Pir Panjal. Ladakh is the third region which is a mainly a plateau and is separated from Kashmir by the mountain pass Zojila. Part of Ladakh is Kargil district where the most recent war with Pakistan was fought and to its north is the famous Siachen. Pakistani forces wanted to capture the hills in Kargil which would have given them control of the route from Kashmir to Ladakh. The recently in news Kishtwar is in the Jammu region and part of the Chenab valley.

If we consider the erstwhile Maharaja`s Jammu and Kashmir (the one we see in India`s map), the large projection in top left is Gilgit-Baltistan. This region was part of the Pakistan occupied Kashmir but is now a separate region under Pakistan. General Musharraf, before his Kargil adventure, became famous as the butcher of Gilgit where he massacred the local Shia population. Then there is also the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir which has parts of Jammu region and Kashmir region. We will focus on the area in India (census numbers too, are for area with administrative control).

The geographical enclaves have led to evolution of separate major spoken languages like Kashmiri (in Kashmir), Ladakhi (in Ladakh) and Dogri (Jammu region) which are pretty different from each other. Dogri is similar to Punjabi, Ladakhi to Tibetic and Kashmiri is quite unique in its evolution. Gojari, Punjabi, Hindi and Pahari are other major languages recognised in the state. In just the Doda region (from which Kishtwar district was created) the additional spoken languages are Bhaderwahi, Siraji, Kishtwari, Kusalee, Poguli and Sarodi. The state was politically united relatively (historically speaking) recently in 1846 by Maharaja Gulab Singh. Before that almost each district had its own Raja. The language differences signify that the state has historically not had great connectivity within the state too. This linguistic map would illustrate the diversity even better. This is why modern connectivity like the new Kashmir Railway project is of immense importance which intends to connect Jammu and Srinagar via rail and also Srinagar to Leh (Ladakh) in the future. Also important are projects like the Mughal Road, essential in uniting the regions within the state.

When it comes to size, Ladakh is the largest region but with just 2.5% of the state`s population. Kashmir valley is the smallest but with the maximum 55% of the population. This makes the valley very densely populated. A little known fact is the huge scheduled tribe population in the state of nearly 11% of total. The key tribe being the Gujjars. Nearly all of them are muslims and comprise of nomadic tribes said to have come from Rajasthan long ago. It was famously a Gujjar who first alerted the Indian Army to the Pakistani invasion in 1965. There are other diversities inside the regions too. Around 3.5 Lakh Kashmiri Pandits who used to live in the valley have been displaced due to violence and are in the Jammu region or have moved to other parts of India. Kargil region of Ladakh is primarily inhabited by Shia muslims of Tibetan ethnicity. Overall Kashmir is estimated to have a Shia population of 10%. The Shia-Sunni riots recently in Budgam in the heart of Kashmir reminded all of the uneasy relationship of minorities in the valley. On the other side, almost the entire population belonging to the scheduled castes in J&K is Hindu and lives in the Jammu region. However, the majority of Hindu population is upper caste.

A summary of the ethnic diversity of the state is reproduced here from the Geography of Jammu & Kashmir (by Majid Hussain). According to him, ‘the various ethnic groups of Jammu and Kashmir state though intermingled have their areas of high concentration. For example, Kashmiris are mainly concentrated in the bottom of the valley; Dards occupy the valley of Gurez, Hanjis are confined to water bodies of Kashmir; Gujjars and Bakarwals are living and oscillating in the Kandi areas; Dogras occupy the outskirts of the Punjab plain, while Chibhalis and Paharis live between Chenab and Jhelum rivers. Moreover, there are numerous small ethnic groups like Rhotas, Gaddis and Sikhs which have significant concentration in isolated pockets of the state’.

Although it is good to get a short, simple glimpse of the diversity of Kashmir, it should mainly reassure us that it is no different in this regard than any other state in the country. Like the rest of the country, youngsters of Kashmir also want to become IAS officers, cricketers, engineers and doctors. Their aspirations also need an environment of peace and rule of law like any other state. Growing urbanisation with a young, restive population is also a similar challenge most states in the country face. Very similar to the India Against Corruption brigade, the urban Kashmiris also believe in the universality of their beliefs that need no validation since they are self-evident and shared by all who they know. The challenge in J&K is compounded by a tough neighbourhood and the separatist sentiment amongst many folks in the valley. This diversity of Jammu and Kashmir can be protected only in a liberal, democratic republic. Otherwise the many people of Kashmir cannot fulfill their destiny. However imperfect, the Indian republic is the only diverse, plural republic of its kind in Asia. It must not fail in its duty of letting young aspirations find its goals.

DNA/ Saurabh Chandra



First Published: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 - 17:19

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