Tomorrow is the second anniversary of the unprescedented constitutional and administratice changes that took place in the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir that came in the wake of abrogation of Article 370 & 35A of the Constitution of India that additionally resulted in the demotion of the constitutional status of J&K from a State to a Union Territory and splitting apart of Ladakh region from the rest of the former state. The important and obvious question on every one’s mind is of course, did, it change Kashmir and its people for better or for worse?
To begin with, most national and international experts on Kashmir predicted yet another cycle of unending death, violence, stone pelting, strike, bloodshed and protests, which could potentially engulf Kashmir valley for months, like it happened the last time after the killing of Burhan Wani in 2016. Further, it was expected that Kashmiris would henceforth boycott and disassociate from any political or administrative activity in Kashmir valley, that is powered by the Constitution and Parliament of India.
But surprisingly none of any of those things happened. No sky fell off in last two years. So, did Kashmiris happily accept and embrace abrogation of Article 370 and 35A of the constitution of India?
Answer to such a complex and layered question can really not be answered in black or white. But one can delineate general societal trends that have emerged in last two years in Kashmir valley and let people make their own interpretations.
One of the significant changes that has had happened in Kashmir valley since the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A of the Constitution of India has been an emergence of general sense of caste and community empowerment of formerly politically, economically and socially marginalized castes and communities of Kashmir valley, which may explain to some extent as to why the people of Kashmir valley did not behave in the manner, which was in tune with Kashmir’s violent past.
It is important to understand that a tiny elite of Upper Caste Kashmiri Muslims from rich Kashmiri Pundit Brahmin converted families, Syed and Malla Kashmiri Muslims, Srinagar city based rich Kashmiri Hindu Pundits and landlord section of Kashmiri Sikhs have traditionally usurped disproportionate political and economic clout in Kashmir valley in all spheres.
Neither Kashmir’s middle castes nor Kashmir’s lower castes have ever ruled J&K state, since independence. Forget about Dalit Kashmiri Muslims like Wattals, even intermediary Kashmiri Muslim castes like Lones, Wanis, Khandey etc. can’t dare to think that any one of them could ever be a chief Minister of J&K. But since August 5, 2019, a wave of assertion of political empowerment is taking place in Kashmir valley, where many poor young and old, men and women from intermediary castes and communities have felt politically empowered due to administration’s encouragement to marginalized caste groups within Kashmir valley including Kashmir’s Dalit and OBC caste Muslims, Pahari Muslims as well as Gujjar & Bakarwals to take part in changing political landscape of the J&K. As a result, far from boycotting the newly held DDC elections in all parts of J&K, Kashmiri people actually participated in huge numbers in these elections that for the first time elected political representatives at district level.
One of the main reasons for the success of DDC elections was that it allowed many candidates from non-elite upper castes of Kashmir to take part in an election of this significance. A large number of candidates were from intermediary or Pasmanda Muslim castes, who otherwise would not have even imagined to take part in political process of such scale earlier before 2019.
This new caste awakening has further been enhanced by Kashmiri Muslims taking far greater interest in the political, social and cultural events of mainland India. Since 2019, Kashmiri Muslims, who would otherwise previously remain detached and uninterested in the political happenings in mainland India are now taking active interest in social and political developments of mainland India and are even participating in them, be it ant- CAA protests in Delhi or amplifying request for oxygen cylinders and medicines for covid patients in all parts of India.
This new found interest in politics of mainland India has also contributed in political articulation of opinion of Kashmiri people regarding their own political reality in Kashmir valley. The people of Kashmir have now started questioning as to why is it that only few upper caste Kashmiri Muslim families from Brahmin converts as well as Syed Malla have not only garnered all top political positions in Kashmir valley all these decades, but they even dominate administration and business within Kashmir valley.
Since 2019, people of Kashmir have now started accepting the political reality for good and that explains their long delayed psychological integration with the mainland India. Kashmir Muslims are now face of journalism, medicine, law, cinema, TV industry in all major cities of India, a process that only accelerated in last two years. The caste assertion is something, which was not present earlier when few upper caste Kashmiri Muslims ran mainstream, separatist and militant activities, pushing intermediary and lower Kashmiri Muslim castes to secondary and tertiary political and economic roles. After 2019, this has changed not just in Kashmir valley but also Jammu region, where Dalit Hindus, Pahari Muslims and Gujjar & Bakarwal communities have also gone through their own rapid caste assertion, which was reflected in Jammu’s DDC elections as well, where Jammu’s marginalized communities from Hindu and Muslim Dogra communities challenged upper caste Hindu and Muslim dominated political class comprising of Hindu Brahmins and Baniyas as well as Rajput Muslims and Hindu Rajputs & Thakurs
The greatest change post 2019 has come in the way, Jammu region and Kashmir valley’s marginalized castes and communities have been able to assert their political might, which they found difficult to do earlier because of dominance of upper caste Hindu and Muslim elite. Unlike old Kashmir, the new Kashmir will no longer give monopoly of political power to only few privileged caste groups and clans. The democratization of the political aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir will remain one of the biggest success story of post 2019 Kashmir.