Ethnic Perspective of the Kashmir Issue

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Fatima Ali Shah;

India is a highly polyglot society with more than three hundred diverse ethnicities and sixteen hundred different dialects. If one takes a clue from the “ancient hatred thesis” of ethnic conflict in the historical context of India, one would reach the inevitable conclusion that these different ethnicities have remained, implicitly or explicitly, antagonistic to each other, particularly, because India was never an administrative state in the literal sense of the term before the advent of British in India which bequeathed a self-ruled, monolithic, and secular Indian state after 1947. The post-1947 India tried to accommodate and manage the “ancient hatreds” of different ethnicities under the veneer of secularism, but that was more of a product of elite consensus among the liberal, educated founding fathers of India rather than that of the popular opinion.

However, in the late 1980s “elite manipulation thesis of ethnic conflict” comes into play, wherein the Hindu elite of the country, particularly that of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) unifies the sentiments of predominantly the Hindu ethnicities under the rubric of unified Hindu identity and the project of Hindutva. This especially excluded the Muslims and other non-Hindu minorities from the religion-based national project of India. Whereby the Hindu elite, like the Nazis, clamored to the wrongs of the past and mobilised mainstream sentiments against religious minorities.

This enterprise of Hindu nationalist elites has remained highly successful so far. The concrete example of this trend is the phenomenal victory of BJP in the last general elections, which made an erstwhile cow-belt party of Northern India that was just confined to the plains of Ganges, a pan-Indian political party. In such a context, the plight of Kashmiris is going to worsen more for they have always remained a thorn in the eyes of Hindu hardliners in India. In mainland India, Muslims are being framed and targeted through legislations like the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which enshrines the process of naturalization and citizenship on an ethnic and religious basis. Furthermore, Hindu vigilantism is going high against Muslims in all urban and rural centers of mainstream India.

This trend of ethnic exclusion of Indian Muslims is now going to spill over to worsen the plight of Kashmiri Muslims for whom BJP politicians have discovered terms like “The Final Solution” from the Nazi jargon. Abolition of Article 370 and 35-A stripped Kashmir of its special status in the Indian Federation, allowing for Hindu settlements in the region and for the ethnic readjustment of Kashmiri Muslims to change the demography of the region. Moreover, the BJP-led central government has bifurcated the Hindu majority of the Jammu region from the Muslim majority Kashmir valley. It reflects how the ethnic perspective informs the policy approach of the incumbent Indian government. Furthermore, recently Genocide Watch has warned of racial, ethnic, and religious cleansing of Kashmir Muslims by the Indian military and paramilitary forces in lieu of the abolition of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.  If the zeal and zest of the Indian government are not checked at once then there is great danger that a substantial ethnic conflict may escalate in the disputed region.

(Fatima Ali Shah is a student of International Relations at National Defence University, Islamabad.)