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December 29, 2000

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Amberish K Diwanji

Of Kashmir, nationalism and rights

There is huge optimism in India, Pakistan and Kashmir over the declining violence and the outbreak of peace in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Not for the first time, there is a widespread belief that this round of talks could actually lead to a time-bound and final settlement of this long-festering dispute between the two South Asian states.

Yet, given our history of alternating goodwill and bad blood, it is wiser to wait than hope too much. Any solution has to be acceptable not just to the governments but also to the people. Too much blood has been spilled in the state for both sides to just step back as if the territory mattered little.

What the final shape will be, only time will tell. There are various options being considered, including converting the Line of Control into an international border, or dividing the huge state into territories along religious lines and then parceling them out the Muslim valley to Pakistan, Hindu Jammu and Buddhist Ladakh to India.

Strangely, the latter idea is being opposed by India, saying it never recognised the two-nation theory and by certain Kashmiri politicians who insist that the state must remain completely intact (these Kashmiri leaders would like nothing less than independence, but that is perhaps the most unlikely solution).

Yet, why should a division of Kashmir be opposed? Is Kashmiri territory so sacrosanct that it cannot be split up along its fault lines -- cultural, geographical, linguistic, etc, like so many territories across the globe and over the eons?

The simple answer is yes, if the need arises, Kashmir can be split up. And for Kashmiri leaders to oppose is nothing more than to impose their (Muslim Kashmiri) hegemony over their brethren. They do it in the name of nationalism.

Alas, in the history of political philosophies, there has never been an idea so abused to suit everyone's need as the term 'nationalism.' Albert Einstein called it juvenile delinquency. The concept of nationalism has killed more people than any other idea in human history (or is a close second to religion, the other philosophy smeared with blood).

When the Government of India imposes its will on the state of Jammu & Kashmir, it does so in the name of "Indian nationalism," a nationalism born during India's freedom struggle. Indians insist that Kashmir is part of India, that Kashmiri nationalism (if it exists) is nothing more than a subset of Indian nationalism.

When Kashmiris talk of an independent Kashmir (comprising all the territories once under the maharajas of Kashmir), they do so in the name of Kashmiri nationalism. And Kashmiri nationalists insist that all Kashmiris, irrespective of religion or region, are part of Kashmir and there is no nationalism beyond or below Kashmiri nationalism.

Tragically, both are wrong. A nationalism that is imposed upon others soon transcends into imperialism. Nationalism is never forced from above; it is something one feels intuitively, instinctively, individually. Millions of Indians are proud of being Indians, just as they are proud of being Tamilians, Maharashtrians, Bengalis, or Punjabis.

But nationalism is not bound in concrete. It can and does change over time and territories. Maybe there was a time when the people of Jammu and Ladakh felt Kashmiri, but given the horrendously communal nature of the militants' violence against the Indian state, and the worsening Talebanisation of the terrorists, it is hardly surprising that many non-Muslim Kashmiris today have no desire to ever be part of any political setup dominated by the Muslims of the Valley.

In making that choice, the people of Jammu and Ladakh are only expressing their democratic desire, and perhaps giving vent to the nascent nationalism of Jammu and Ladakh.

In that sense, just as the people of the Valley (mostly Muslims) insist that the Government of India has no right to speak on their behalf, they in turn have no right to speak for the people of Jammu and Ladakh.

Let also the people of Kashmir remember that their history (and therefore nationalism) is very recent. Ladakh, especially, has an awesome history of independence, and it became part of an Indian kingdom only when Zorawar Singh captured the territory and made it part of Ranjit Singh's Punjab in the 19th century. Prior to that defeat, Ladakh was culturally, linguistically, ethnically, different and independent of any Indian empire, even the mighty Mughals could not capture them.

I hold no brief either for communal divisions or calls for independence. But I firmly believe that no group of people who seek freedom should ever deprive others of the same freedom in the name of nationalism. The Muslim Kashmiri's desire to break away from India (and become either independent or part of Pakistan) may be legitimate; but it gives them no right to deny the Jammu or Ladakhi residents the right to disagree and choose another alternative; even if that means splitting Kashmir.

In fact, considering that Kashmiris keep harping on how important freedom or the right to self-determination is, surely they must be the first to recognise the rights of Jammu or Ladakhis (or for that matter, the people of Gilgit, Baltistan, and other regions in Kashmir) to make similar demands. Especially since there is no guarantee of religious freedom!

There is no doubt that the very concept of nationalism will be thoroughly tested and reexamined in the new century, and hopefully the world will come up with a better ideology to strengthen states. And when does a particular community become a nation is a debatable topic, all of which are beyond the scope of this article.

Here suffice to say, regardless of the outcome of the current talks between India, Pakistan and the "people" of Kashmir, let everyone remember that the people of the Valley alone do not make Kashmir, and that there are other peoples in Kashmir whose wishes and desires are very different from what those in the Valley want.

Let all of us respect all the voices, not just those who spoke from behind the barrel of a gun.

Amberish K Diwanji

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