The battle for the hearts and minds of Jammu and Kashmir – a wrong war

Posted on August 11, 2008. Filed under: India, Kashmir, Muslims, Politics |

Today, traders from Kashmir Valley fruit markets swelled in ranks by political activists and villagers amounting to around 50,000 marched towards the Uri sector in their official intent of breaking through the LOC for economic reasons. The state police failed to stop them as expected, and it now falls to the Indian Army to stop them actually breaking through to the sensitive Uri sector. The Hurryiat, which definitely had a hand in this march, (the traders reportedly asked the Hurriyat for support) is gloating over the “success” of this march, as it has been successful in taking the Kasmiri Muslims back to their 80-90’s agenda of joining Pakistan in the hope of unifying the Muslim Ummah of “Kashmir”. Most “secular” Hindus join Islamic apologists in claiming that conversions in India were voluntarily undertaken by “oppressed” “lower castes”. This is a hypothesis never concretely tested – and is typical with Indian historians, the hypothesis was converted into a conclusion. There are two problems with this “caste oppression” theory – the “horrendous” caste system is supposed to be unique to India, but conversions have not proceeded beyond the 25% mark on an average in spite of 1000 years of “friendly” exposure, whereas conversions have been much more complete in areas outside of India, such as in Indonesia (only a small proportion of which had exposure to Indic cultures in the historical past) or Persia, or central Asia, – by the caste oppression theory these societies must have been almost 4 times more “caste” riddled than India. The second problem is that genetic studies conducted on North Indian populations indicate that “upper caste” Hindus and Muslims share common ancestry – this is also quite obvious from anthropometric considerations – such as complexion, and facio-cranial characteristics. Conversion could have been a much more complex process of adjustment by local Hindu elite to preserve their lands and influence as well as the defencelessness of more vulnerable sections of Hindu and Buddhist populations open to extortion of “protection money” or Jiziya by Muslim marauders as well as frequent raids of looting, slaughter and enslavement (there are indirect records of such raids in late pre-Islamic period Indian texts – something Prof. Thapar will never bring up – such as the Lekhapaddhati – as this will be an example of a written record from the side of “victims”, and therefore by her theory admissible as evidence of trauma on the part of “non-Muslims”).

One of the first tasks of Islam after being able to militarily dominate an area or a population is to erase all traces of previous cultures. This is why there is such a strong emphasis in the core Islamic texts on destruction of cultural icons, shrines, temples, places of worship, of “unbelievers” – this serves two purposes, the show of strength of “Islam” and the psychological effect on “unbelievers” that their “gods” are unable to protect their own. But longer term, this is part of a more sinister strategy – as Muhammad was definitely shrewd enough to realize that cultural icons were the concrete material connections of a community to its past – and this is why it is so important in Islam to not only destroy a shrine of a previous culture but to build a “Islamic” shrine on it, so that no visible traces of the previous icon remains overground. Following this of course Muslims will insist that their “cultural icon” can never be destroyed, although they did and can freely destroy in the future anything they consider belonging or representing that of “unbelievers”. This is why, wherever Islam militarily triumphs, it also insists that the history of that region started with the advent of Islam in that area, and everything before was “darkness”. (In Bangladesh, for example, history starts around 1000 CE).

Indian historians have allowed and taken part in this Muslim claim of erasure of history of the communities before they converted – and the modern crisis of Kashmir has been a result of this. Kashmir’s past was strongly linked to Indian heartlands, and even if it was geographically in the periphery, its long historical connections to Indian culture is revealed in the as yet surviving (after Harsha and his Muslim iconoclast successors) in the presence of such significant Shaivite centres such as Amarnath, Shankaracharya temple, Martanda (Sun) temple near Anantnag, Pandrethan etc.

Realpolitik made New Delhi neglect Jammu economically for a long long time, and the current widely popular agitation has gained wind from popular discontent, just as the march towards the LOC by Kashmiri Muslims have gained from popular discontent – which perhaps also stemmed from long disruption to the economy deliberately employed by the militants as well as encouraged by Pakistan.

An intensive campaign should start to revive the study and memory of Kashmir, and the converted Kashmiri Muslim’s pre-Islamic past and putting it firmly in the public discourse without flinching from or suppressing any “uncomfortable” details. Simultaneously, the fruit production in Kashmir valley should be modernized to food processing industry, and given the difficulty of developing actual industrial infrastructure in the hills (some should definitely be constructable) with a spread of the industry into Jammu. At the moment the fruit trucks from the valley pass through Jammu and locals get little benefit from this trade. Mutual dependence between the valley and Jammu in a strong, correlated, and value added industry will go a long way towards solving the persistent problems. At the same time both regions should be placed in their common, pre-Islamic cultural context, consciously as part of public discourse.

Kashmiri Muslims should not be treated as “different”, we have to remember that in many instances they were reluctant converts, and a section of the Hindu elite prevented them from returning to the “fold”.

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