I am writing this post in response to requests from members of my community from ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir about the words ‘Kashmir‘ and ‘Kashmiris‘. They are confused about their origins to a piece of territory disputed between India and Pakistan. This is understandable not least because their parents were similarly born in the UK and have become alienated from the history and politics of ‘Azad’ Jammu Kashmir and the wider territory we call ‘Jammu & Kashmir‘. These young and intelligent students have asked me to clarify what is meant by the word ‘Kashmir’ because of the constant barrage of online comments that seeks to deny them any roots to the territoriality of ‘Kashmir’.
Those who argue that Kashmir is really the Valley of Kashmir and that Kashmiris are really the ethnic Kashmiris of the Valley are engaged in deliberate disinformation. They want you to think that they are making ethno-linguistic claims about the people we call “Kashmiris” but they are actually making political claims about the territory we call “Kashmir”. Historically, Kashmir has always been much larger than the Valley of Kashmir. The actual Mughal Subah of Kashmir included many areas of ‘Kashmir’ that transcended the Valley of Kashmir. Rajouri in Indian Jammu, Kotli in ‘A’JK, ‘Chibhal’, Uri, Karna, Muzaffarabad, and many other areas, were all historically part of Kashmir Subah.
The landed and non-landed groups of these areas had always belonged to a diverse ethnic Pahari community and would not have been considered ethnic Kashmiris today, so on what basis can anyone connect a geography with an ethnic people to the exclusion of other ethnic groups that have lived in the same region for centuries? Numerous geographical regions across the world have always been ethnically diverse. Just because we use a particular ethnic label to describe an enormously diverse territory does not mean that all the other communities are somehow ‘imposters, ‘alien’ or not ‘native’ to the territory in question. Those who argue otherwise are peddling an ethno-nationalistic agenda that has no historical basis or tangible evidence to back their claims. There is a whole body of knowledge that dismantles such nationalistic claims.
Languages and cultures have always evolved from other languages and cultures. Ancient peoples similarly lived in diverse ethnic regions and had common ancestors, and they did not lay claim to their ‘territories’ because of origin-myths. To say ‘X’, ‘Y’, and ‘Z’ [‘ethnic group’] has always lived in ‘X’, ‘Y’ and ‘Z’ [region], to the exclusion of all others, for thousands of years is to engage in a sordid form of sophistry for purely political reasons. Such claims have been rejected by cultural anthropologists, linguists, historians, population geographers, and this holds even more true for the erroneous claim that the only ‘true’ and ‘authentic’ Kashmiris are those in, or from, the Valley of Kashmir.
In light of the Kashmir Conflict and the competing claims of India and Pakistan, this claim is not ethno-linguistic but almost entirely political.
For the purposes of the Kashmir Conflict and the 3 stakeholders in this conflict, the Government of India, the Government of Pakistan and the “Kashmiris” – (state subjects of Kashmir “State”), “Kashmir” has always meant ‘territory of the erstwhile Jammu & Kashmir State‘, otherwise known as the Dogra Raj or the Jammu Kingdom. These two alternative labels should make this point even more salient as we are speaking about territorial realities using the nomenclature of the colonial British. It was colonial officers who started the practise of calling the territories and subjects of the Dogra ‘Rajput’ Rulers collectively “Kashmir” and “Kashmiris”. This does not in way undermine my previous claim that lots of areas outside the Valley of Kashmir were historically part of the ‘Kashmir’ we take for granted today, and no one thought to argue otherwise. The colonial convention of calling the vast territories of the Dogra Rulers ‘Kashmir‘ that included Ladakh and Gilgit, incidentally areas that had never formed part of the old Mughal Subah of Kashmir, is today an uncontroversial international convention.
This convention has been accepted by not only the governments of India and Pakistan, but the actual peoples of Kashmir State who understand the territorial connotations of the label when the Kashmir Conflict is mentioned. The only people who have a problem with this convention are the Hindu Pandits and their Hindu ‘nationalist’ supporters in India who want to own the “Kashmir” label for themselves, as a sacred Hindu space, even as they’ve never had any agency in how the ‘Kashmir’ label was deployed. Suffice to say, the Hindu Pandits are not the ‘exclusive’ representatives of the entire peoples living in the Valley, or the wider State. They are not the ‘custodians’ or ‘inheritors’ of everything deemed ‘Kashmiri‘. They have always been a minority in the Valley of Kashmir whatever ‘their‘ ahistorical claims that the Valley Kashmiri population was forcibly converted to Islam. Some Hindu Pandit organisations make this claim even as they maintain contradictorily that the ‘peaceful’ ‘Islam’ of the Valley was syncretic with ‘their‘ ‘peaceful’ form of ‘Brahmanism’, to somehow present ethnic ‘Kashmiris’ as more peaceful then neighbouring peoples. And yet the Sufism and Hinduism of the western Himalayas came from areas outside the Valley, and characterised a vast region that didnt look to the Valley of Kashmir as its centre of gravity. In most instances, the Valley of Kashmir was peripheral to these historical events, and a direct recipient of evolving cultural norms.
Thus the ‘interest groups’ and ‘lobbies’ who argue vociferously that Kashmir means the Valley of Kashmir, and that this particular region of some 2500 square miles (at its largest breadth) belongs to a disproportionately small population of indigenous Hindu Pandits (200 – 400 thousand people) are peddling disinformation when they maintain this position to the exclusion of all the other inhabitants (more than 16 million people) of this diverse ethnic and cultural region of some 85000 square miles. They are using origin-myths that have been flatly rejected by historians and cultural anthropologists in particular, and experts in general who have studied ethno-nationalistic claims.
The ‘Kashmir’ label internationally has always meant the divided State of Jammu and Kashmir since the very beginning of the hostilities between India and Pakistan. A simple perusal of newspaper articles throughout this timeline and even before, would expose the farce of those who want to somehow re-write history to further their own skewed political narratives.
Examples of how the word ‘Kashmir’ is used internationally
1) “Definition of ‘Kashmir’: A region on the northern border of India and north-eastern Pakistan. Formerly a state of India, it has been disputed between India and Pakistan since partition in 1947, with sporadic outbreaks of fighting. The north-western part is controlled by Pakistan, most of it forming the state of Azad Kashmir, while the remainder is incorporated into the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.” OXFORD DICTIONARY.
2) Definition of Kashmiris; “World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples”; Profile of Kashmiris; ‘Kashmiris’ are the people living in the territory of Jammu and Kashmir, in the extreme north-west of India. Two-thirds of this territory is currently administered as the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and has an estimated population of 9 million. The remainder of the region is controlled and administered by Pakistan.
The constitutional position of Kashmir is made complex by the fact that both India and Pakistan challenge the legality of the other’s title to territory, with an effective partition of Kashmir along the cease-fire line as agreed in 1949, with some modification as a consequence of the India-Pakistan war of 1971. That part of the territory which lies within India also includes the region of Ladakh. The land and people of Jammu and Kashmir, a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural region, are known today for the viciousness of the conflict that raged there from the 1980s.
While the case for a political settlement needs to be pursued, there is also a pressing need for India to recognize and deal with the genuine grievances of the Kashmiri people, living in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. This territory has some of the most diverse peoples from India, with a mix of religions, languages and cultures. The Muslim majority population lives in the Kashmir valley, while the plains of Jammu are dominated by Hindus, who make up the largest minority in the state of Jammu and Kashmir while being in a majority in Jammu. The third largest group are Buddhist Ladhakis, who live in the region of Ladakh.”
3) Random Books on Kashmir;
(i) Kashmir: The Case for Freedom, 21 Sep 2011 by Arundhati Roy; (ii) Kashmir; The History and Legacy of the Indian Subcontinent’s Most Disputed Territory, 23 Dec 2017 by Charles River; (iii) Kashmir in Conflict: India, Pakistan and the Unending War, 27 Apr 2010 by Victoria Schofield; (iv) Kashmir: Exposing the Myth behind the Narrative, 7 Jul 2017 by Khalid Bashir Ahmad; (v) Kashmir’s Contested Pasts: Narratives, Sacred Geographies, and the Historical Imagination, 1 Mar 2018; (vi) Languages Of Belonging: Islam, Regional Identity, And The Making Of Kashmir by Chitralekha Zutshi
The books cited above demonstrate how the term Kashmir is deployed in academic circles.
Thus, those who argue that (1), ‘the term Kashmir only applies to Kashmir Valley‘ and (2), ‘Kashmiris are only ethnic Kashmiris‘ are engaged in deliberate disinformation and propaganda. We can say this conclusively because, India claims the entire State of Jammu & Kashmir as does Pakistan, and in their publications, speeches and official pronouncements, they constantly use the territorial shorthand ‘Kashmir’ to mean the entirety of the territory. To then separate true ‘Kashmiris’ from false ones is utterly perverse not least because the actual “Kashmiris” separated between Indian and Pakistani ‘checkpoints’ are not the ‘Kashmiris’ of the Vale, but the ethnic kin of the ‘Kashmiris’ who live in the Pahari-cultural-sphere.
*The borders of the Princely State in the north of the country had not been consolidated or agreed between the British Indian Empire and China, which accounts for ambiguous nature of the actual territorial size of ‘Kashmir’ and the Indian Government’s ongoing dispute with China.