I can recall vividly my first foray into the cyber world of racist dribble dribble against Azad Kashmiris courtesy of a small group of ethnonationalists fighting over Kashmir.

It began like this.

People everywhere want to learn something about their past. I did too. I was born in the UK. The first member of my direct family to come here was my maternal grandad. He was a veteran of the British Indian Army. Terms can be misleading, so I should point out that he was from Kashmir State, a distinction that gets overlooked for political reasons that I’ll be discussing presently. 

My grandfather fought for the Allied Powers during WW2, and was involved in the military operations against the state forces of the Princely State, an indigenous uprising against an Autocratic Ruler. This is what my dad tells me. 

Maharajah Hari Singh Bahadur, the last Ruler of Kashmir wanted Kashmir State to become a sovereign and independent State, and so he signed a standstill agreement with the newly constituted country of Pakistan – this was important, because Kashmir’s lifeline to the World went through Pakistan, and not India. One can draw comparisons with how Russia is now impeding Ukraine’s wheat from reaching the world.

India refused to sign a standstill agreement with Kashmir State, but resigned itself to the possibility that Kashmir would join Pakistan because of its Muslim majority, which was the logic of partition; contiguity of regions, and the religion of the majority. 

Sensing weakness on the part of the Maharajah, the Pakistanis covertly infiltrated the State, and the Maharajah was compelled to accede Kashmir to India to save his people (nationals) from “marauding forces” and his own life. He was eventually airlifted to safety, and then dethroned by the Indian Government, pensioned off, and not allowed to return to the State. The decolonised Dominion of India had determined that it would be a Republic based on democratic values for the enfranchisement of all people, and not just native agents or elites who had, inadvertently, propped up British colonialism. Of the 250 thousand British Indian soldiers, approximately 210 thousand were native Indians, the rest comprised of an officer corps that was made up of Europeans. On the eve of Partition there was also 565 Princely States, or Native States, ruled by Indian Princes, who owed an oath of allegiance to the British Crown, and had their own private armies. 

Ordinary subjects of British India were mostly unhappy with this status quo, because it was rooted in economic exploitation and social degradation of peoples, who, otherwise were marginalised by deliberate policies. 

Approximately 3 months after partition, an uprising occurred in Kashmir State in what became Azad Kashmir by disgruntled and disbanded soldiers unhappy with how they were being treated by an Autocratic Ruler, who happened to be a Hindu, whilst the majority of his subjects happened to be Muslims. The rebellion was aided by tribal incursions from what was then the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), covertly, and directed by the newly constituted Pakistan Army. 

Afterwards, Pakistan began to propagate the idea that the Kashmir Uprising was a Muslim rebellion against Hindu autocratic rule, which it wasn’t. It patently wasn’t. It was an anti-taxation movement spurred on by past grievances, similar to how America’s Settler Movement fought the British Crown in its own War of Independence, 1775 – 1783 CE. 

When British India was partitioned on the 15th of August 1947 between the old India and the new Pakistan, Muslim soldiers in what became Pakistan elected to join the Pakistan Army, which is what my maternal grandad did and his peers. These guys were not nationalists of Pakistan per se, but, it could be said that they were patriots of the new country. 

Of the 1.5 million Indian soldiers who fought for Britain during World War I, approximately 400 thousand comprised Muslims. In fact, when one does a tally of Muslims involved in the war, soldiers and labourers from some 19 countries, ex-colonies today, 4 million Muslims were actively engaged in duties. It is quite interesting that critiques of colonialism from the perspective of colonised “memories” – projected backwards, always ignore how large numbers of the colonised made colonialism possible in the first place.  

My maternal grandmother passed away in Azad Kashmir, and my grandad got married again. He passed away in the UK in 1984. I was a young child at the time, and I accompanied his body to be interned in the ancestral graveyard. And so, what about the rest of the family, relatives and distant cousins? It’s pretty much the same. Dad had uncles and cousins who fought in World Wars I and II, having become soldiers voluntarily. 

The British Indian Army was an important recruiter in the area, and Muslims did not have any of the anxieties anti-colonial activists embody today, when thrashing the evils of European Colonialism. Because of how certain segments of the wider population were classified by colonial ethnographers through what was, in effect, a pseudo race science, entry into the Army was permitted for “martial races” and those from landed (agricultural) backgrounds. 

My paternal grandad died in Baluchistan working on the railways as a telegraph operator. He was among a small group of people who could read and write. He died in his 20s orphaning his only surviving child, and leaving behind a young widow, who would never remarry again for almost 70 years. She lived well into her 90s and described vividly what I would describe as a prolonged period of downward mobility, only to be rescued, dramatically, by her family emigrating to the UK. She was a rich source for the transmission of oral history, and a lot of what she told me was supported by the historical record despite having no access to books. She passed away in the UK where’s she’s buried.

My grandfathers’ generation were an industrious lot, they left their homes in search of work and travelled thousands of miles. They had an indomitable spirit to deal with whatever life threw at them.

A lot of them never returned home.

Decades earlier, I’m told of relatives who worked on the British merchant ships docked in Bombay, this was the norm back then. Most of the people from Kashmir State, or the wider areas around the old market towns linked to trade and soldiering sought greener pastures. What became Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (I’m trying to use the correct terms), was peripheral to centres of power, although this is not to say that it wasn’t integrated within the wider structures of Empire. As I will explain in due course, the Mirpuri label is an ascription for a District, that’s geo-administrative and of malleable proportions, it had never been used as an ethnic or regional identity, which is how it is being instrumentalised today for political reasons.

Some adventurous expatriates of Jammu & Kashmir State on their various journeys across the world courtesy of the merchant navy, jumped ship, and ended up in the New World. One of my dad’s cousins settled in America, years before any of them came to the UK. This is earlier than the 1950s and predates the repetitive history that is being celebrated on BBC platforms by Asian commentators extolling the commonwealth immigration story of the 1960s that closely approximates to their past. There is a purported authenticity of identity to such stories that seem to trump the authenticity of the stories being told to British audiences, selectively. Azad Kashmiris are missing from the stories despite being the pioneers of South Asian immigration to the UK.

Who gets to narrate history?

So, there you have it. We can get snippets of history from the personal stories of forebears, narrated to elicit a deep connection with the past, even when imagined, which should not be conflated with invented. Benedict Anderson’s pioneering ‘imagined communities’ is an excellent introduction to how nationalistic identities have emerged, and the myths associated with the supposed origin of countries. There is always an imaginative component to how we narrate past events even sincerely.

Nationalism is a story that morphs with other stories, and people who are upwardly-mobile tend to approximate to the stories of the powerful, what sociologists call the “dominant group”. It is always representatives of dominant groups who get to memorialise their stories for everyone, and not the dispossessed, whose stories linger in oral tradition. If the dispossessed challenge the dominant status quo, their stories are erased, akin to how some people are being non-platformed and cancelled in the name of affirmative action – the new liberal ethic. This is one way of knowing which people in a society hold genuine power, even precariously.  

Still, none of this told me anything about the distant past. I wanted to learn something substantive about the history of Azad Kashmir, without getting bogged down by the politicisation of that history. I wanted to learn the origin of its culture through cross-cultural references; how the region emerged within the documented history of older territorial configurations; where did the language come from?

Who exactly were the distant forbears of modern-day Azad Kashmiris, and where did they come from? Within the wider discussions of Indology and Indo-European Studies, did they originate from Central Asia, or West Asia, through migrations that date back to the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC), where Neolithic Iranian Farmers merged with Central Asian Steppe Nomads, forming a hybridised population which eventually migrated into the Iranian Plateau and North India? This is a fascinating history. It was said of this population that they were the first to identify with the word ‘Arya’, but the word Aryan carries racist connotations courtesy of German Nazi misappropriation.

When one looks at how the word Aryan was used by the original progenitors of the word, it implied nobility, and not race, language, or ethnicity. The Achaemenid Emperors, Cyrus the Great and Darius the Great, 6th century BCE, were born into this heritage, as were the Rulers to the East, who would go on to create Tribal Confederacies called the Aryavarta, or the Aryan Realms. Populations fused and coalesced with other populations giving birth to ancient Iranians and ancient Indians, and an array of other nationalities. Iran means ‘the land of the Aryans’; Arthur Comte de Gobineau, a French Aristocrat visited Persia in the 1850s and was fascinated by its history. He helped popularise the idea that Persia’s ancient Rulers like India’s ancient Rulers were originally of Aryan descent. Subsequent populations were greatly “mongrelised” unlike the Germans, who, according to Gobineau, represented the truest specimen of Aryan descent-claims. Subsequently, in 1935, the Shah of Persia changed his country’s name to Iran, an ascription that had historical precedent. I began to realise how ancient history with a documented legacy could be repackaged through newer political priorities. 

The Homeland Question

Was South Asia the original homeland of the Indo-European dispersals? It has been an argument put forward by some Indian scholars, vociferously, with little acceptance from their European counterparts, who seem captivated by an Indo-European past that puts them at the centre of the story. West-Central Asians and South Asians become incidental to that story despite being the source of the actual memories; Vedic texts, the Avesta and archaeological inscriptions all point in that direction.

“I am Darius the great king, king of kings, king of countries possessing all kinds of people, king of this great earth far and wide, son of Hystaspes, an Achaemenid, a Persian, the son of a Persian, an Aryan, of Aryan lineage.” Naqsh-e-Rustam inscription, dated 521 – 486 BCE.

The great Prophet Zoroaster or Zarathustra, was also an Aryan, who may have lived 1500 years before Christ to appreciate this history. But even this narrative becomes redacted when online trolls take ownership of the various writings committed to extolling the conjectural nature of the history, reducing decades of contested scholarship to y-chromosomal haplogroup myths in ways that would seem unintelligible to the population geneticists researching the old migrations, and the material cultures created in their wake. 

These were the sorts of questions that intrigued me. I wanted to learn about the regions that intersperse Azad Kashmir from the disciplines of archaeology, cultural anthropology, and the historical accounts from different literary traditions via Sanskrit and Pali Prakrit texts, which include the Hindu and Buddhist canons; ancient Greek and Latin writings; and even classical Arabic travelogues dating to the period Muslim Arabs first invaded “al-Hind” (India) from the direction of Baluchistan. 

I was curious to learn what population geneticists had to say, and their controversial finding that there may have been some truth to the endogamous caste system for about 2000 years, something rejected by scholars operating within the social sciences, and for good reasons too. The evils of the Nazi Regime and its plan to breed into existence a pure “Aryan” race, and out of existence a pseudo-white race comprised of inferior beings has seldom left the conscience of Western Academia. 6 million “Semitic”, i.e., Middle Eastern Jews were exterminated on the basis that they were not genuinely white and European (Nordic), which is an interesting proposition given that the historical Jesus of Nazareth, and one third of the Christian Godhead, was of Jewish descent. In western literature, such contradictions make for great ironies – a recurring device in Greek Tragedy. 

There are, of course, ideological undertones to such narratives, which reduce the supposedly historical attempts to narrate past events through genome-wide studies into ideological wars. Online trolls fabricate this history, spewing disinformation that then pops up all over the place, discrediting the original ideas of the geneticists.

Oral memories are powerful things, so I consulted my parents, but their anecdotes about distant ancestors were of no use. The history they narrate is personal and predictable – “…there were 4 brothers, and one converted to Islam, and we come from his progeny”. Almost every British Azad Kashmiri I’ve spoken to has been told the same account, it’s either four brothers or two brothers! Aside from academic books on history, and you need to be pretty discerning to know what you’re looking for, the only other resource is the internet, a major impediment to learning accredited facts given the amount of disinformation out, I discovered, courtesy of political propagandists and those satelliting off their diatribes. 

The ethnonationalists of Hindutva India and Islamist Pakistan, not to be conflated with ordinary Indians and Pakistanis – good decent people in my mind – are fighting over 85000 square miles of Kashmir State territory, which doesn’t belong to them. They have created an insufferable environment, so toxic that they’ve become intruders into each other’s conversations.

I wanted to steer clear of this hatred. I thought I’d better avoid the use of the term ‘Kashmir’, and I dropped using the term Azad Kashmir for Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, given both words are an invitation for Pakistani-Indian trolls. I started to use the word ‘Pahari’, an innocuous low-status word for mountain regions; Pahari simply means from the mountains and can be used for an array of unrelated people. It gets conflated with the prejudice and bias of Plains People from North India and Pakistan, upwardly-mobile “citified” people approximating to the new power structures in their respective societies. There is an enormous body of knowledge that shows how this prejudice emerged, and from which direction it comes. I had my eyes on the Western Himalaya – the north westerly lands, and the mountain passes through which the old Nomads entered India – lands eastwards of the River Indus, which is the Persian-Greek word for India.

So, what would most people do in my situation?

What would you do?

What did I do?

I typed Mirpur into the Google search engine. I thought I was being smart. Like most British Azad Kashmiris, my grandparents originated from areas north of what is today the dissected District of Mirpur. I wanted to start my journey into the past from this innocuous and inoffensive location. 

It was at this critical juncture that I discovered through a complete accident of fate that Mirpuris were being problematised because of occupation politics connected to the Kashmir Conflict.

A word or two about Mirpur

Mirpur used to be a sub-district of Bhimbar which included Rajouri before its reconfiguration during the 1900s. The idea of Mirpur postdates this area’s documented history, and it emerges within the ecology of Bhimbar. In the olden days, the region between the Rivers Jhelum and Chenab mapped onto another region called Chibhal, or Jibhal according to how Mughal writers transcribed the word. It was the Mughals around the end of the 1500s who began the process of reconfiguring the territories they conquered through the help of native tribes incorporated into a system called the Jagirdari System. 

A Jagir is a fief (landed estate) and a Jagirdar is a fief holder, usually borne to a kinship lineage, connected to a particular fictive ancestral group of varying status, deploying an array of nobility titles that today have become meaningless given they’ve been adopted by lots of disparate groups claiming connections with the old heritage. The old titles have become popular names disconnected from the past that I wanted to research.

In centuries preceding the emergence of the Turkic Muslims Rulers, Chibhal mapped onto another historical region called Darvabhisara, or the Abisara of Greek writers, which was incorporated within a wider region that included Gandhara and Kamboja. Ancient Indian writers postulated that the inhabitants of Darvabhisara were of Khasas descent, explicitly subsuming them within the larger confederation of the Aryavarta – the Aryan Realms. 

Kashmir like the neighbouring region of Urasa was a less influential region within a larger political-cum-tribal centre of power, but its ruling families were connected to the larger regions. The Kashmir of ancient history had always been a peripheral region, but the history of the more powerful regions became ensconced into its own retelling of a shared and imagined history from the vantage of the 12th century CE, when a court official named Kalhana wrote a chronicle of Kashmir’s Kings that stretched back thousands of years. The Rajatarangini, (literally., ‘the River of Kings’) was expanded on by subsequent writers that included Jonaraja. Crucially, it was written in Sanskrit to appreciate which literary tradition was being used in the amalgamation and rewriting of ancient stories and legends. This “history” in the loosest possible sense of the term was then incorporated within Mughal writings, having been translated from the Sanskrit into Persian; see Akbarnama of Abu’l Fazl. A lot of Azad Kashmir’s ancient history can be extracted from Persian and Sanskrit texts, without even making recourse to Urdu-Hindi – the lingua franca of today’s India-Pakistan.

The Mughals would call the Jagirdar System the Zamindar System; the Zamindar were landowners connected to a system of patronage and nobility. The Jagirdari System predates the Mughals by centuries. It is akin to a feudal system that characterised the absolute monarchies of Feudal Europe, but different in notable ways. Mirpur, and by that term, I do not mean a disinvested and shrunk District of the same name, but the entirety of Azad Kashmir, had never been part of India, or the Pakistan that emerged out of the Hindustan that was conterminous with the North Indian Plains. Interestingly, the concept of Hindustan is actually a Muslim concept, which Pakistani ethnonationalists have volleyed into the lap of Indian ethnonationalists.

At its largest breadth, the expansive District, or Zillah Mirpur, included Mirpur, Kotli, Bhimbar and Rajouri (Tehsil or sub-districts). The second largest valley within Kashmir State – a geographical and geological space, and which constituted an important population centre for the recruitment of soldiers, the Andarhal Valley – (literally, ‘the area between the hills’), was located within Mirpur District. Andarhal gets wrongly confused with Old Mirpur, a small market town and a tribal settlement that dates back to the middle of the 17th century. 

Expansive Mirpur had always been a geo-administrative unit of territory, and not the locus of cultural history best explained through cultural ecology, which in the case of Andarhal spreads deep into mountain country. When one looks at migrations, and the flow of cultural norms, this area is a recipient of cultures coming northwards and spreading across valleys until it reaches the plains of North India – Punjab and Hindustan. But, if one reads Indian-Pakistani ethnonationalist accounts of Mirpur’s history, it is as if the culture has come from the direction of the Punjab, and this primarily because of politics. It thus goes without saying, geographically and geologically, the entire area of Mirpur District was located within the undulating Hills-Mountains of the Western Himalaya, a mountainous region with a separate history to the North Indian Plains. Native cultures are shaped by their own physical ecologies, and one can see this in the words used to describe an environment and the foods eaten courtesy of a region’s fauna and flora.

But, even these innocuous facts of history seemed to be contested by the ethnonationalists, who wanted to relocate Mirpur in the Pakistan Punjab, which is saying something about the actual agenda of political propagandists. They wanted to erase Azad Kashmiris from their distinct and specific cultural ecology because of deeply ingrained insecurities and anxieties about possible territorial solutions that do not include them (Occupiers) in the greater scheme of native representation. 

Kashmir State

Kashmir, as my readers should know already, is a third country being fought over by India and Pakistan. Its fate is similar to that of Eastern Turkistan, where the Turkic Uighur comprised of enormous religious diversity are being erased from their own homeland, with the explicit support of countries like Pakistan, which otherwise likes to embroil itself into the affairs of Muslims across the Middle East. The three countries occupy parts of Kashmir through military force, and not because of the natural aspirations of the people, which is a legal right under international law, to which both Pakistan and India are signatories, disingenuously I add. 

I ask my readers to spare a thought for the Turkic Uighur and what is happening to them, as the entire Muslim World abandons them because of China’s emerging role in the International Order. Thus, a question about Kashmir’s territoriality is deliberately collapsed into nonsensical debates about sub-regions, ethnicity, religion and oddly, caste, to deliberately undermine consensus through irrelevant and divisive talking points. 

This tactic is taken wholesale from the Authoritarian Rulebook, which promotes a singular identity for itself whilst problematising the plural identities of those it occupies; the Romans had a term for this stratagem, “divide et impera” (divide and rule).

Colonial administrators understood the perils of ‘dividing and ruling’ improperly in the way I’ve tried to explain, and borrowed insights of what constituted Indian geography from previous rulers which included the Mughals, the Delhi Sultanate, Arab writers/travellers and Rajput Rulers, many of whom were of foreign extraction themselves. 

The Agnikul Rajput, (the fire-born Rajputs), a group that was distinguished from the Solar and Lunar Rajputs, were said to have been the amalgamated descendants of the Hephthalite, Xionite, Hun, Kushan, Scythian and others, who had been gradually settling India from around the end of the 1st century BCE until around the 5th century CE. They were followed by another group of nomadic peoples famed for equestrian skills, who were called the Turushka (Turks). They converted to Buddhism, long before contingencies started to convert to Hinduism or Islam.

It is one of the misconceptions of ethnonationalists extolling Hindutva Nationalism that Indian Muslims converted to Islam from Hinduism, the majority constituting low-caste groupings escaping the persecution of the caste system. It is simply not true, aside from being contradictory when the same ethnonationalists decry western misreadings of ancient Hindu texts such as the Manusmriti, they, ironically, deploy caste-related slurs to stigmatise Muslims – low-caste Hindu converts to Islam, who, incidentally ruled India for a 1000 years. Social status (prestige) and power go together, it is the rulers who have privilege, and not the ruled, who approximate to the cultural and social norms of the Rulers. In the case of India and the caste system, Muslims of Central Asian extraction ruled India for a very long time, coalescing into the older nobility structures, and one can see how Rajput art, dress and courtly culture influenced the Mughal court. These documented norms expose the simplistic propaganda of ethnonationalists arguing that Indian Muslims were foreigners and low-caste at the same time. Insecurities are behind a lot of the claims to delegitimise Muslims as an authentic embodiment of Indian history. Contrary to ethnonationalist claims, Islam has become indigenous to India, in much the same way Christianity has become indigenous to Europe.

It was this history that I wanted to explore outside the strictures of politics, and which is documented in the works of professional Historians and Archeologists, and others studying nomadism, which requires a certain ecology. The nomadism of Central Asia had been moving in the direction of the Iranian Plateau and contiguous regions in the North West, where it was less impactful on the population given the size of India’s population, exponentially high on the Indo-Gangetic Plains. The mountainous regions of the subcontinent have never been able to support the enormous growth of populations either. 

The history of nomadism behind the emergence of lots of identities in the subcontinent that include the Jat, is being forcibly erased, ironically reduced to a primordial identity linked to the Panjab and farming. The earliest Arab-Muslim accounts of the ‘Jat’ located the progenitors of this population in the Sindh region. Writing in the 8th century, Arab writers described the Jats (Zuta) as “war-like”, explicitly mentioning that the Jat were recruited into the Armies of various rulers. Jats were described as soldiers and bodyguards, others rose to the rank of administrators and generals. This is exactly how lots of the Turushka became soldiers and rulers in “India”. The Arab rulers diverging from the Sassanian Rulers attempted to make the Jat a sedentary population, and they did this punitively.

Interestingly, the Zuta had a presence in the Iranian Plateau and Iraq, and it is said that the celebrated founder of the Hanafi School of Islamic Law, Abu Hanifah originally belonged to this lineage/background. He was wrongly identified as a Persian on account of how a myriad of overlapping identities were collapsed into a singular narrative. This nuanced history is becoming unfashionable because of the incessant demands of ethnonationalists, who want to rewrite it akin to the political priorities of the Italian Fascists and German Nazis of the 1930s. 

One can see huge parallels.

Ancient literary traditions were connected with the patronage of rulers, and sectors of society associated with courtly culture and trade. Ethnonationalists do not like the idea that Hindu and Buddhist Rulers could have been foreign converts to Hinduism and Buddhism. They are trying to overturn centuries of insights that point in that direction.

Colonial writers had their own anxieties, but they were keen to understand the actual history of the peoples they had vanquished in order to co-opt them. They resorted to the geographies of ancient Greek and Persian writers, some of which were based on Alexander’s incursions into the area. These insights matter, because they blow a hole into the ethnonationalist propaganda that forcibly incorporates Kashmir State into Britain’s post-1947 successor states.

British India

The political unit we call India is the creation of British colonialism, and it came into existence courtesy of new technologies and communication systems that connected periphery regions with a centralised bureaucratic structure for the purpose of commerce and economic exploitation. The idea of India, when one turns to the documented history of territorial polities overlapping the region called Hindustan, a successor term to the Arabic ‘al Hind wal Sindh’, was, in effect, a Muslim construct, but this doesn’t sit well with Hindu Nationalists, and strangely, Pakistani Nationalists either.

The English trading mission of the 1600s that morphed into a military conquest of an expansive British India during the 1770s, created Pakistan in 1947 for reasons that were not necessarily conducive to the interests of the newly-constituted Pakistanis. Muslim Pakistan was essentially a gift to North Indian Muslims, breaking ranks with Indian freedom fighters, who were resolute that they would remain independent of any post-colonial machinations. They belonged to an entirely different tradition to the ethnonationalists now claiming the earlier struggles. The Congress Party remained neutral during the Cold War.

In terms of the Muslim League, not one of the pioneers of this Movement spent a day in a colonial prison unlike the activists of the Congress Party fighting for an independent India based on socialist principles. Pakistan was Britain’s solution to remaining relevant in a post-colonial India, something Pakistan’s nationalists have difficulties accepting. The Pakistan Army is a remnant of that priority, which might explain why it remains a burden on a society that is being squashed under its boots. The Pakistan Army fulfilled its role during the Cold War, when the Soviets were defeated in Afghanistan 10 years after its invasion. 

When Pakistan imploded in 1971 after a history of brutal repression against East Pakistani Muslims, the “Panjab Army” – (this was how the soldiers were described by East Pakistanis at the time) – committed a genocide against ethnic Bengalis. The West looked away, Pakistan was too important for it to be dragged to the Hague and indicted for warcrimes.

At the time I was exploring this history, I wasn’t doing politics. I’ve always been comfortable with a global world that doesn’t have borders. I grew up in the UK and have been impacted by the norms and values of that society, so I recognise the way I think may not be how others think. I’ve never been afraid or ashamed to say what I think because it causes discomfort to people, even if I’m forced to reappraise what I believe to be true. I understand how bias works and try to critically reappraise whatever I’ve learnt of history through accredited sources. I accept that I could be wrong on any number of propositions, because I’m not ideologically driven.

Moreover, I’ve never cared for the diatribes of ethnonationalists decrying European colonialism whilst exhibiting the same tendencies. To me, these attitudes smack of incoherence. 

I was simply trying to understand the history of Azad Kashmir as it pertained to natives who had memories older than partition. I thought Mirpur would be a good place to navigate my journey, self-censoring in the process.

So, what came back from the google search engine?

Dribble Drabble

I’m speaking about soul-destroying characterisations that are so offensive, racist, prejudicial, bigoted, outlandish and cringeworthy, it would make bonafide Nazis shudder with embarrassment. Quite literally, you could detect the foreign accents behind the disparaging comments placed in the mouthpiece of an array of different identities, even British Mirpuri women, who, apparently, hate the fact that they were born to Mirpuris in the UK.

The whole thing seemed staged and contrived to effect a certain take-home message. The content seemed to cause a ripple effect, triggering nonsensical debates about whether Mirpuris were Kashmiris. The ethnonationalists, who were embroiled in these discussions, would typically accede to the point that Mirpuris were not Kashmiris. The clue is in the word ethnonationalism, the idea that nation states must be connected with languages and ethnic groups – imagined memories according to Benedict Anderson. 

Curiously, the ethnonationalists, borne of enormous diversity themselves courtesy of mutually unintelligible dialects, separated by thousands of miles of tracts, were instrumentalising singularity for Kashmir, whilst celebrating diversity for India and Pakistan. Ironically, they were doing this in the Hindi-Urdu language empowered by the colonialists they abhorred. It was colonial administrators who codified the grammar of Hindi-Urdu in order to communicate with their subject populations, and not the ethnonationalists surfing on the same colonial tide. Classical Arabic is the sacred language of Islam. Sanskrit is the sacred language of Hinduism. Hindi-Urdu was a language empowered by the British to appreciate ironies; it was colonial administrators who codified the grammar of the language and then deployed it in the lower echelons of British India, creating false linguistic identities on the back of scripts associated with religion; “divide et impera”!

The same reductionists would then don the hat of equality campaigners, and complain about white supremacists and their racialist claim that “P**** can’t be British”. It didn’t seem at all bizarre to them that they were making the claim “….Mirpuris can’t be Kashmiris…” because, apparently, “…they are Punjabis…”, that they were engaged in a sordid form of race science that would call into question India and Pakistan’s internal coherence. Why should Panjabis live in India and Pakistan, and not have their own nation state, if indeed, Pahari speaking Kashmiris are not permitted to coexist with Kashur speaking Kashmiris in an independent Kashmir State? 

The 19th century idea that languages and ethnicities can create nations has no backers anymore. It was an idea that had no corresponding history up until the point it was instrumentalised by colonial powers dividing the colonies they created. Today, how dialects were adjudged to share the same origin myth per the old colonial priority, would call into question whether the dialect spoken in Azad Kashmir is the same language as the one spoken on the Panjab Plains, which it clearly isn’t. 

This would be akin to saying Spanish and Portuguese are related, so therefore Portugal must be collapsed into Spain, and it has no right to have a separate history to Spain because Spain occupies Portugal. The Portuguese language is then quickly demoted to that of dialect status, Spanish being the mother-language. The protagonists are not linguists, ethnologists or political scientists, but propagandists and manipulators, so, we can easily see the ulterior motives.

This is dirty politics at play in its raw nakedness, but for Azad Kashmiris it didn’t stop there. The ethnonationalists would then become migration experts, conjuring up a fictitious history about how Azad Kashmiris ended up in the Western Himalaya. Selectively quoting irredentist type claims about castes/clans and their supposed homelands, they would try to rubbish Azad Kashmir’s connection with Jammu & Kashmir. They would argue that Mirpur had never been part of Jammu, let alone Kashmir, and that Mirpur was the homeland of the Jat, which means Mirpuris are Panjabis, because the Jat are Panjabis. It was just assumed that if a people shared a caste/clan background, that would necessarily mean that they descend from the same region, revealingly, “always from India”, an idea that is so crass that it proved to me that the propagandists lacked a basic literacy in the ideas they were espousing. 

Downward Mobility Vs Upward Mobility

Fictive genealogies, (the clue is in the word fictive), are fictions. These fictions are not simply passed down from generation to generation, they are adopted, and oftentimes, invented and reinvented by upwardly-mobile people, who would like to write themselves into celebrated historical events. Some people do this to escape prejudice and stigma (African slaves related to African Kings), others do this to get ahead in life, see Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Ubervilles and the Dubeyfields; the former having misappropriated the identity of the latter, ironically. It has become the staple of British culture to laugh at the more simplistic antics of ‘social climbers’ when they become upwardly mobile, and one can see this in the comedic portrayal of Mrs Hyacinth Bucket, (Mrs Bouquet). These attitudes go beyond code-switching, which is not necessarily linked to social status, but different linguistic environments.

It is much easier for non-landed groups to morph into new identities because they are mobile, approximating to the dominant groups they hope to coalesce into thanks to social adaptability. Moving into new areas – usually urban ones, is the story of the modern world. Rural people have become prosperous in the process of urbanisation, a phenomenon linked with globalisation and economic growth. 

Ambitious people of formally humble origin try to reinvent their pasts to overcome the stigma of once being poor and downtrodden, which is a good indication of what is being prioritised. It is far more difficult for landed groups with substantial roots in an area to simply uproot; conflict being one notable exception. For instance, tribal settlements are named after ancestors, which is an indication of who the old ruling nobility were, and this continues to hold true for entire swathes of Pakistan, even as the ethnonationalists want to change the names of the old non-Muslim settlements. Dominant groups connected with their ancestors and settlements never voluntarily give up the memory of their past except during times of conflict and social tensions. This is what happened to the House of Windsor, the supposedly English Royal Family, of German descent, from the branch Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Queen Victoria, for instance, was a native German speaker. Her inner court spoke German natively. The Mountbatten surname was anglicised from Battenberg because of widespread anti-German feelings during World War I.

It is one of the more curious facts of history that the English royal family since the time of Duke William the Conquerer, of Norman-French speaking Danish-Viking descent, have never been English, ancestrally, per race claims, if indeed, there is such a thing as an English native, satirised by the poet, Daniel Defoe in his poem, theTrue-Born Englishman’. 

England

Etymologically, England is named after the Angles, who came from outside the British Isles, centuries earlier. The Angles, we are told, alongside a loose confederation of Germanic tribes that included Jutes, Saxons and Frisians, invaded and settled a Celtic speaking land during the 5th century CE that had been conquered centuries earlier by Latin speaking Romans. The Angles eventually became embroiled in a war with Scandinavian Vikings, and lost. If population geneticists are correct, the ancient Britons who built Stonehenge, 2950 BCE, lacked the genome that characterised subsequent populations with roots in the Central Asian Steppe (Indo-Europeans), being more closely related to Anatolian Neolithic Farmers. Contemporary Britons and Europeans in general descend from European Hunter Gatherers, Anatolian Neolithic Farmers and Central Asian Steppe people. 

Understanding the contradictions borne of primordialist-type thinking would give perspective to the delusions of ethnonationalists, who think in primordial terms, shouting “God save the Queen”, and then arguing there’s no “Black in the Union Jack!” 

Saint George’s Flag, or the Flag of England dates back to the 17th century and was adopted by English seamen in international wars. St George, the Patron Saint of England was born in what is today Turkey in the 3rd century CE, having had links with the then Roman Province of Palaestina. He had never set foot in England, which during his own lifetime did not even exist as an idea; his emblem – a red cross on a white background – was adopted by English Kings during the 13th century CE, subsequent to hagiographical writings that presented him as a virtuous martyr for Christianity. He thus became the Patron State for various Christian Kingdoms.  

Downward mobility has been the norm for lots of landed groups with claims of ancestral pedigree, whilst upward mobility has been the norm of people moving into new spaces, inventing their past by adopting honorific titles. This is absolutely the case in Pakistan where honorific titles of vanquished groups have become family surnames. 

In the case of citified Pakistanis – (upwardly mobile Pakistanis), one frequently encounters people claiming a foreign-origin to celebrated Muslim Rulers, who only a generation or two ago, had migrated from rural areas into market towns, that became cities, receiving patronage from the Central Government. On the eve of Pakistan’s creation in 1947, only 7 percent of the country was urban, to give perspective to Pakistan’s actual history as a frontier region to India, and this holds true for the expansive megacity we know of as Lahore, that contained the much smaller Mughal city of Lahore. 

Mughal Lahore was important because it was the route to Delhi from Central Asia via the mountains and rivers that meandered their course into the Plains of North India. Mughal Rulers seemed to have a lot of affection for the ruling tribes of the native Indians they incorporated within their own extended networks; they seemed to have less affection for the peoples they ruled, and this would hold true for the millions of inhabitants of Lahore today, who think they descend from Babur, or Tamerlane. 

Of course, it is a well-known fact that Pakistan’s wealth is centred on particular cities where it is unequally distributed amongst an elite (sinecures of the establishment), which gives impetus for peripheral regions to break away. Unlike the anecdotes of upward mobility, the history of Pakistan’s unequal distribution of incomes and wealth is documented by economists and sociologists writing about a neopatrimonial culture that values the idea of being “urban” (citified) and not rural as proof of social status. 

It is a priority that has not evolved out of the actual history linked with Mughal Rulers and their Zamindar clients, but the unequal distribution of wealth. Some rural elders of the Zamindar, responding to the primordialist charge that they were Hindus in previous centuries, encountering the newly constituted ‘Ashraf groups’ (Muslims of purported foreign origin) remind their grandchildren about the enormous transformation of “the low castes” – to borrow a pejorative insight of colonialists, who only yesterday “were landless Market-Gardners”, but today have become scions of the great Mughals. Colonial accounts of upward mobility corresponding to the adoption of higher caste identities by the formally, lower castes, are ubiquitous in such writings, see Sir Walter Lawrence’s, Vale of Kashmir (1895). 

These conversations are rarely mentioned by social commentators looking into Pakistan’s enormously plastic caste-system, who are always keen to point out differences between rural Mirpuris and urban Pakistanis courtesy of how they’ve acquired such facts in the first place. The level of unconscious bias is clear for all to see when the corresponding descriptions are examined. It is bigotry and social differentiation that is at the heart of the discourse. 

Ancestry 

The idea of ancestry is, however, a complete farce. Given how we inherit most of our DNA from our most recent ancestors, it is highly unlikely that anyone has DNA from ancient ancestors, who lived 1000 or 2000 years ago. DNA is not passed on like that, but this does not matter for the self-styled descendants of an array of celebrated personalities in Pakistan now. There is an upwardly mobile component to these identities, which should explain the priorities behind the actual posturing. The Indian caste system has similarly been highly malleable. It is not a fossilised artefact of the past, but the invention of people who end up stratifying their societies through false narratives. 

It was at this point that I realised something was terribly wrong in terms of how Mirpuris were being described. I knew from my own research and background that Mirpuris belonged to dispossessed landed-groups, which, purportedly, had links to ancestral lineages (Rajput, Jat), but had been increasingly marginalised over centuries of invasions and native co-option. It had been noted by census compilers of the 1901 Kashmir State census that families “of gentle birth”, to quote the exact words, had been forced to till their land, a demotion in status with symbolic meaning – this is how lots of Rajput became Jat-Zamindar. To rectify this loss of status some left the State to augment their incomes, whilst others became soldiers. The same Census Compilers (Munshis) noted that of all the Districts of Kashmir State, Mirpur Tehsil (subdistrict) of Bhimbar District had the least number of men residing in the State, on account of working abroad, or being engaged in military duties outside the State. Such was the impact of this lucrative pool of income that it otherwise counteracted the poverty within the State, improving the condition of those “of gentle birth”. Of the occupational castes who had left the state in droves during famines, it was observed by colonial writers that had the taxation on the sale of lands not been excessive, (half the value of the estate), the landed groups would have similarly fled the State. The Dogra Rulers of the State hadn’t initiated these cruel and exploitative practises in 1846, but had merely extended the taxation policies of previous rulers.

Large sections of Mirpur belonged to ancestral lineages connected to landed backgrounds, having become too poor to accrue surplus wealth from their landholdings that would shrink, generationally, when passed down to a fecund number of male descendants, who were taxed to the hilt. The agricultural castes, as they were described by colonial writers, were said to be at the mercy of unscrupulous practises that involved moneylending – entire estates were forfeited and lost in this way. This is an example of downward mobility, and which, within the context of the State, saw a pioneer generation of Kashmiris leave their ancestral lands to become the first “South Asian” immigrants to the West. It also gave vent to the Kashmir Uprising in Mirpur and Poonch. It was from this movement of landed groups, we had subsequent movements from what became Pakistan and India, and yet there is no mention of this fact in any of the BBC documentaries produced on the South Asian Commonwealth Immigrants. 

But the ethnonationalists speaking about Mirpuris would speak of “farmhands”, “peasants” and “tenant farmers”, who had somehow made their way to Kashmir from the Punjab – the breadbasket of British India. The flawed nomenclature is the product of bias and not sociological insights, which cannot apply to Mirpuris because they owned the lands they tilled as subsistence farmers. But this does not matter to the Guardian and others publishing the writings of “middle-class” Indians and “citified” Pakistanis contrasting themselves with the “Mirpuris of Bradford”, with not even an iota of understanding of the prejudice displayed on their pages that connects social respectability with upward mobility and urban backgrounds. 

There were other more worrying ideas, clearly instrumentalised, based on fictitious migrations that some colonialists had proposed conjecturally to create connections between “races” in different parts of British India sharing the same caste backgrounds. They were writing during a period of history heavily inundated by the pseudo-race science of the Eugenics’ Movement, mid 19th century, which saw complex charts produced on heights, the physical dimensions of facial features and skin tone. It was argued that the Rajput and Jat closely aligned with the original Aryan settlers, and this could be demonstrated in their physical appearances. The insights produced from these scientific methods were gradually debunked during the first half of the 20th century, firstly by biologists, who conclusively proved that race was a social construct, and then, secondly by social scientists looking at the same material. 

The data produced by the Eugenicists was meaningless, and if, anything called into question the central proposition that races could be determined on the basis of observable physical traits (racial traits). The data revealed that there was more diversity within a racial group, than between races, rendering the imaginary boundaries between different groups false. There was no such thing as a quintessential Jewish nose, which began life as something ominous, and yet one continues to hear people speak about the Jewish nose. Lip thickness was not a defining feature of the African race either, negatively perceived but, which now seems to be highly desirable in light of changing fashions, with some writers attributing the attractive quality to Marilyn Monroe during the 1950s. This is an example of ethnocentrism; the fact that large numbers of Africans and other groups have fuller lips than Europeans is simply erased by the changing narratives, but, again, this does mean Europeans are defined by certain racial traits.

With the rise of the Nazis and the extermination of Jews in the Holocaust, there was a concerted effort by Western Academia to debunk what, in effect, was bad science. There was a social consequence to the bad ideas being spread in the name of conventional wisdom. Eventually, the biological concept of race gave way to another social construct called ethnicity, which is as useful an analytical concept to understanding human diversity, between and within ethnic groups, as was the concept of race. 

Ethnicity & Race

Ethnicity has become the old ‘race’ concept, and is, in many ways, more dangerous because of how it is being used, benignly; “ethnic diversity”, being a point in question. The only reason why bad ideas continue to stick around is because of how power is exercised, oftentimes by well-intentioned people – policy makers, lawyers, legislators, documentary makers, who continue to use old words for newer realities. The Race Relations Act is a good thing, but, of course, there is no such thing as race. Ethnic diversity, and ethnic monitoring schemes, are good things, but there is no such thing as an ethnic group; ethnicity is the politicisation of culture and language, and, sometimes, that politicisation works to exclude people from a past that others want to misappropriate for their group. We’re essentially speaking about narratives, and not people.

And yet, it was the worst of the outdated colonial ideas that were constantly being recycled to disconnect Mirpur from any historical linkage with Kashmir State, ironically a peripheral region that only seemed to have become important because India and Pakistan were fighting over it. 

As I began to look carefully at the online material on Mirpuris I realised what was really being argued and the political agenda of the ethnonationalists behind the false narratives. If Azad Kashmiris are not from Kashmir State, they have no right to claim that they are separate to Pakistan or India, which proved in my mind that the Pakistani nationalists were really opposed to Azad Kashmir’s self-determination. It was they who first produced the disinformation on Mirpuris (an outrageous type of racism when one deconstructs the actual claims). The propaganda they produced was then adopted by Indian nationalists, who would use similar tactics to disconnect two pro-independence constituencies that happened to be Muslim, Valley Kashmiris, who happened to speak Kashur, and Azad Kashmiris, who happened to speak a dialect that had been disingenuously collapsed into Panjabi. 

By imposing the name “Panjabi” onto the Pahari dialect spoken in Azad Kashmir implied that it had come from the Panjab Plains; imposing the name “Pothwari” onto it, implied that it came from the Pothohar Plateau – both regions are located in Pakistan’s Punjab Province. It was pretty clear to me that Azad Kashmiris and Valley Kashmiris had an indisputable shared ownership claim to the divided State litigable under International Law for stateless people, which could not be challenged on its own terms. Thus, the ethnonationalists had resorted to ethnic and linguistic disinformation, without any pushback from Kashmir’s pro independence Kashmiris, which opened another can of worms. 

Who exactly was funding Pro-Independence Kashmiris in Pakistan, and why do they have offices in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, a country that has criminalised independence for Azad Kashmir? Why are British Azad Kashmiris, an urban population, always discouraged to speak about Azad Kashmir, being forcibly approximated to village-Pakistanis in Pakistan?

What was more shocking was how political propaganda ended up in print, where even doctoral researchers had been culling the internet for facts about Azad Kashmiris. It’s quite shocking to learn the ease with which fallacious ideas can end up in print oddly in the works of doctoral candidates, who then become authorities because they’re now credentialed, and have a PhD to prove their intellectual salt.

This is exactly how bad stories courtesy of the print media, and now social media, spread within a society, accruing respectability. Worse for Azad Kashmiris, these stories benefit India and Pakistan’s Occupation of Kashmir. 

In the UK, a political agenda to disconnect Azad Kashmir from Jammu & Kashmir has morphed into ethnic classificatory codes, which just shows the extent of influence exerted by Indian and Pakistani ethnonationalists over British Officialdom. I note, we have a category for Kashmiri Pakistani, but no category for Kashmiri Indian? There is merely one ethnic category for Indians and Bengladeshis respectively, but a multitude for Pakistanis and Sri Lankans. Crucially, Mirpur which is in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir has oddly become the locus of an ethnic identity called Mirpuri Pakistani, whilst there is another Kashmiri Pakistani identity. For which people, exactly? 

The question I ask in light of the history I have explored here, “who are bonafide Kashmiris, if we disconnect them from a landmass being fought over by India, Pakistan and China?” 

I have my reasons for saying what I have said in this piece, and I know from years of looking at this material purely for non-political reasons that sinister interests are involved in the sustenance and promotion of the Mirpuri identity; the Kashmir Conflict is always in the background. 

Ethnonationalists are not just content to cause divisions in India and Pakistan, but they want to divide Azad Kashmir along fictitious paradigms to better regulate how a stateless people negotiate political Occupation on their own terms. The egregious nature of Azad Kashmir’s occupation would resonate with the world, if only the dissidents could get the message out, past the native agents empowered to speak on behalf of India and Pakistan. It is Pakistani-centric and Indian-centric Kashmiris who are permitted access to Britain’s media platforms, all the while the BBC – a taxpayer funded platform, claims solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Kashmir is Ukraine.

Without a critically informed diaspora in the UK, Azad Kashmiris in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir have little chance of highlighting their plight to the rest of the world. British Azad Kashmiris will become increasingly defined by South Asian narratives that they have no control over. 

How did Azad Kashmiris in the UK become Mirpuri Pakistani?

Questions to think about; how did Mirpuris become Mirpuri Pakistani, disconnected from Kashmiri Pakistani? Mirpur is in Kashmir and Kashmiri is the geo-ascription of that landmass, so, why is Mirpur disconnected from that territory and landmass? 

Who gets to decide the above categories? 

The Erstwhile District of Mirpur, 1947, comprised 1700 square miles of territory. Pakistan reconfigured Mirpur into three distinct Districts, – Mirpur, Kotli (1970s) and Bhimbar (1990s).

Why did Pakistan divide Mirpur into 3 seperate units? Divide and Rule?

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Equality & Human Rights Campaigner, Researcher, Content Copywriter and Traveller. Blogger at Portmir Foundation. Liberal by values, a centrist of sorts, opposed to authoritarianism – States must exist for the welfare of people, all of them, whatever their beliefs or lifestyles. People are not “things” to be owned, exploited, manipulated and casually ignored. Political propaganda is not history, ethnicity, geography or religion.

I love languages and cultures – want to study as many as I can; proficient in some. Opposed to social and political injustice anywhere in the world.

I believe ‘life’ is a work in progress, nothing is fixed even our thoughts! Feel free to contact me – always prepared to widen my intellectual horizons and stand corrected – don’t insult me though. Be grown up. Tell me why you think I’m wrong. If you make sense, I’ll change my views.

My opinions are not necessarily those of the Portmir Foundation; the Foundation does not do censorship; if you disagree with any of us, and you espouse liberal values, write your own opinion piece, and we’ll publish it even if we disagree with it. It has to be factual and original. You can contact us at info@portmir.org.uk.