Religious homeland : modernization of primal greed

Posted on July 1, 2008. Filed under: India, Politics |

Over the last one week, the valley of Kashmir under Indian control has been up in flames. Indian as well as foreign media covered street protests, and clashes between the state authority and security forces on one side, and youth parading in the streets on the other side. The videos are uncannily similar to footage of Palestinian teenagers throwing stones at Israeli military. The main issue apparently is about the proposed transfer of about 100 acres of land to a religious trust which manages the Hindu holy shrine of Amarnath to build resting places and other facilities for thousands of tourists and Hindu pilgrims coming from the length and breadth of India, who cover the roughly 40 km trek to the cave-shrine every year. The demonstrators main objection is that they fear Kashmiri land is being handed over to non-Kashmiris, and that their identity is being diluted. The situation is also compared to Palestine, where according to some of the spokesperson of the agitators, land was surreptitiously taken over by buying, or handing over to trusts.

The problem in this comparison is that, where Palestine and Israel is divided mainly over claims of ethnicity, here the claims happen to coincide with the religious divide between Islam and Hinduism. Even more strange is the fact that the majority population of Muslims are not ethnically distinct from their Hindu and Budhdhist counterparts, who predominated the whole area before the advent of Islam in the 13th and 14th century. The non-Muslims still dominate the eastern part whereas the Muslims dominate the western part.

The history of conversion of non-Muslims of Kashmir into Islam is a fascinating story of conversion by military conquest from the western side, and is reflected in the geographical distribution of faiths in the region. It is not brought much to the attention of the media, that during much of the 90’s when the jobless Taliban and Mujahideen of Afghanistan were turned loose onto Kashmir after the Soviet withdrawal, a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing of remaining pockets of Hindus among the majority Muslim communities of western Kashmir took place. Most of the Kashmiri Pundits, the Hindu brahmin of Kashmir were forced out of Kashmir. This is however consistent with the Quranic and Hadith-ic exhortations to clean up non-Muslim areas and consolidate Muslim lands geographically. From this core religious tenet, it is easy to see why any muslim community will try to impose spatial homogeneity and consolidation of its own religion where it has gained sufficient numerical, political and military strength, by either forcing non-Muslims to convert, or leave the place altogether. In fact, wherever Islam has gained numerical majority the tendency of spatial consolidation is manifested – non-Muslims are either pressurized to convert, or move out to the periphery. This manifests in the histories of the middle-east, central Asia, north-west India, Malaysia and Indonesia. Since any non-Muslim culture in contact with Islam can be interpreted as having practices or beliefs that do not conform to Islam, or if these cultures resist subjugation of their resources, territories to Islam professing regimes, then such cultures can be declared to be infidels or unbelievers or insulting towards Islam, (the strategy is well illustrated as early as the raid against the small Jewish desert settlements led apparently by the Prophet of Islam himself – source : Sirat Rasul Allah – translated by Guillome. A) and therefore worthy of invoking Jihad against them.

Beginning in the tribal raids by Chitrali tribesmen in 1948, on the eve of the accession of the then native princely state of Kashmir to the Indian Union, whose main business appears to have been the abduction of Kashmiri women, the subtle and not so subtle three prong ethnic cleansing pattern evident in historical Islam has been employed : forced conversion, eviction and expulsion, abduction and enslavement or forced marriage of non-Muslim women, forced appropriation of land and property. In the fierce clamour to show that it is the poor innocent Kashmiri Muslim who is being slaughtered at the hands of ruthless fanatic Hindu India, the other side of this human tragedy was the cruel and sad casualty. The West in its daydream of proximity of the Judaeo-Christian-Muslim traditions and the felt need to put the “heathen” “pagan” and “barbaric” Hindu in their proper “place”, who had also committed the heinous crime of nosing up to the commies in USSR, remained completely silent about the plight of the non-Muslim Kashmiri.

If Kashmiri Muslims try to say that ownership of land by a minority community amongst the lands of the majority is an attempt to dilute the culture and demographic identity of the majority, then should this logic be taken up the majority Hindus in the other areas of India, where muslims are a minority almost everywhere?

Maybe the Kashmiri Muslims should be given the option that their land will be guaranteed by law to be in their possession only, but in return no Kashmiri will be able to own land or property anywhere else in India! Additionally that no land on the approaches to the numerous Muslim shrines scattered around India can be handed over to Muslim religious trusts! How would that feel – as before the troubles, a significant proportion of the Kashmiri Muslim workforce had to go out of the state for their livelihood!

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