Identity Crisis in Kashmir


We have lost our identity, say many Kashmiris after Article 370 scrapped |  Business Standard News

By Saima Afzal      11 October 2022

It is the prime responsibility of the state to protect, promote and implement fundamental human rights and also to ensure that all individuals without discrimination of race, culture, and religion can enjoy all basic rights and freedom under the jurisdiction. Unfortunately, the people of Indian Illegally Occupied Kashmir (IIOJK) are constantly in denial of their basic rights. Kashmiris have no right to practice their culture and religion freely. Religious scholars, journalists, and social activists are kept under detention without any evidence. Indian forces are freely moving in the streets, and the beautiful Kashmir valley has become an open prisoner and the most militarized zone in the world.

Contemporary, India is trying to win the hearts and minds of Kashmiris by opening cinema halls. But, looks like Kashmiris have rejected the Indian initiative of opening these cinemas. The Kashmiris have dismissed the Indian idea with a strong argument that their only demand from the Indian government is the right of self-determination and not the opening of cinema halls.  On the other hand, India is continuously assaulting the distinct Kashmiri culture and identity and imposing its Hindutva ideology on occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Muslim students have been forced to sing bhajan (Hindu hymn) in schools. The Kashmiri leadership has also shown their severe concerns about the Indian act.

However, Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister of J&K, has also invited the international community’s attention to the forced singing of a bhajan (Hindu hymn) at a school in Kulgam and elsewhere. A video of Muslim students singing the bhajan circulated widely on social media, prompting fierce protests from Muslim organizations. Moreover, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Ulema, comprising 30 Kashmiri organizations, denounced the action and said it was designed to accelerate “the so-called integration of the younger generation with the Hindutva idea of India”. It called this part of efforts to erode the region’s Muslim identity.

Hence, the Kashmiri leadership has also termed such blatant violations of religious rights as highly provoking and intended to create a law and order situation. Indian illegally occupied Kashmir has recently witnessed friction after some prominent religious scholars (Ulema) were arrested and charged under the draconian public safety act in a crackdown on Muslim groups in Kashmir. These arrests were roundly condemned by Pakistan. A Foreign Office statement described the illegal detention of Islamic scholars as “yet another Indian attempt to rob the Kashmiri people of their distinct religious and cultural identity”.

Therefore, the leadership and people of IIOJK are disturbed by the series of religious persecution actions/ events intimidating the Muslim majority segment of the region. In a highly controversial act, the BJP has taken control of the J&K Waqf Board and thus all its properties across the region including Srinagar’s Eidgah, a historical ground for congregational prayers.  Condemning this in a message from jail, Shabbir Shah, vice chair of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), accused the BJP government of infringing the religious rights of Muslims. Other Kashmiri leaders portrayed it as part of the BJP’s efforts to occupy prominent places of religious significance for Muslims throughout the occupied territory. This includes the control of shrines. For the past 100 years or more, Urdu was the official language of J&K. But in 2020, India’s ruling party ended Urdu’s exclusive status by legislation that made Hindi, Kashmiri, and Dogri official languages in IIOJ&K, in addition to Urdu and English. There are moves afoot to change the script of the Kashmiri language from Nastaliq to the Devanagri script. Kashmiri sources in the occupied Valley say this has already been done unannounced and unofficially.

Additionally, the BJP is trying to disempower Muslims and erode their religious and cultural identity in the occupied region. A series of actions to disempower Kashmiris and change the Muslim identity of Kashmir followed India’s illegal annexation of J&K on Aug 5, 2019. With the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which gave the state special status, J&K was bifurcated and absorbed into the Indian Union. This was in blatant violation of UN Security Council Resolutions that bar the parties from bringing about any material change in the situation.

According to the September 2022 briefing by Amnesty International, ‘We are being Punished by the Law’, in the three years since August 2019, “the Indian government has drastically intensified the repression of the people of J&K by subjecting them to multiple human rights violations. These violations include restrictions on rights to freedom of opinion and expression; liberty and o security of person; movement; to privacy; and to remedy and access to justice. The authorities have committed these violations with absolute impunity.”

In brief, these illegal and deliberate actions by the Indian occupational government have only intensified anger and resentment among the people of Kashmir and reinforced their will to resist the injustice of occupation. To conclude, if India wants to win the heart and minds of Kashmiris then she should implement the UN resolution and resolve the Kashmir dispute according to the wishes of the Kashmiri people because a heart and minds of a nation cannot be won with the opening of Cinemas they only are win by providing right of self-determination.

*The author is an independent analyst and holds M.Phil in Peace and Conflict Studies.