Secular Ethos of Jammu and Kashmir

The state of Jammu & Kashmir, which is demographically a Muslim majority state joined the Indian Union way back in Oct.1947, when Maharaja Hari Singh agreed to sign the instrument of accession . The state is composed of ethnically, culturally and religiously three different regions  vis; Jammu, Kashmir and  Ladakh. Irrespective of such a huge diversity people here are living harmoniously and peacefully. Though few minor incidents of communal nature at times have emerged on the scene, these however have not succeeded in disturbing the overall environment of communal harmony.

When rest of South Asia is burning in the flames of communalism, J& K despite of all provocation in last one and half decade of militancy, has maintained the communal harmony. This obviously makes one wonder as to what are the reasons which make this ‘War Prone’ land actually a heaven for the intercommunity relations? Why this place has not been adversely affected by communal violence and tensions. This can be answered beautifully by considering following points.

Firstly, there is the context of  the sufi ethos of Kashmiri Islam which has kept the religion quiet passive in politics. Kashmiri Muslims locate their cultural roots in Nand Rishi and Lal Ded. For them, religion has a strong cultural basis which is less oriented towards dogmatic responses. But not only the Muslims, even among people following other religions, there is no sense of extremist religious response. On the whole, the people of J&K, represent  a culture that discourages any kind of extremism in thought and action. They possess a great power of toleration.

Secondly, the political ethos of Jammu and Kashmir is governed by the ideology of secularism. Secularism has been the guiding principle of the dominant politics of the state right from the time the Muslim Conference  was converted into the National Conference in 1939. The State opted to join India as against Pakistan only because of the secular credentials of India. It did not see any merit in joining Pakistan which had a theocratic basis of its origin and existence. This can be proved by words of Sheikh Abdullah:

“We have burnt our boats. There is no place in Kashmir for a theocratic state.” He further says, “Kashmiris would rather die following the footsteps of Gandhiji  then accept the two-nation theory. We want to look the destiny of Kashmir with India because we feel that ideal before India & Kashmir is one & the same.’

Thirdly, there remains a very strong basis of secularism in Jammu and Kashmir. ‘Secularism’ is not an ideal only, it represents the living reality of people here. People of the state have been practicing secularism for ages as different religious communities have been placed together in this state. Though it is a  Muslim-majority state, yet there are large minority communities viz; Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs &  Christians. They are living in a close association with each other.  Here communities can’t be separated and kept in air tight compartment  because  people of each community are dispersed throughout the state. People belonging to each region therefore are not ghettoised in one part, but on the contrary are spread out in different parts. Thus most of the religious communities are not having an isolated life, but on the contrary enjoy a mixed-living. Inter-community relationship therefore is very healthy in this state.

It  is because of a tradition of healthy inter-community relations that even the provocative communal killings during the period of militancy failed to generate tension among the different communities.

However, it will be incorrect to say that religion is not a point of contention in the context of Jammu and Kashmir. The issue of J&K has remained a bone of contention between India & Pakistan. India which had been  created  as a civic polity, initially sought to hold on to this  Muslim-majority state to demonstrate its secular credentials Pakistan in turn, had laid claim to Kashmir because it had been created as the homeland for the Muslims of  South Asia. On this very issue, three conventional war has been fought.

Even within the internal politics of state, religion does get mixed up. Thus the resentment generated by the radical land reforms, which incidentally followed the political movement located in Kashmir, certainly generated a communal response among those who were deprived of their land-related privileges. This in a big way resulted into the poltitics based on religion, various political parties were formed. Praja Parishad was one such party which stood ideologically against the National Conference.

Religion has also got manifested in electoral politics of Jammu and Kashmir. Over the years, the political parties have tried to use the communal card for creating political support base.

Nevertheless, there is limit to the use of religion in politics as no political party based on fundamentalist ideas can manage to get power. This is mainly due to the fact that in case of J&K the people have basic economic concerns which cannot be addressed by communal response. The issues of backwardness, illiteracy and deprivation cannot be dealt through religion. So religion as the sole factor in mobilizing and effecting politics has not succeeded here. This can be emphatically proved by numerous examples emanating from electoral politics. One of the recent example that can be offered here is that of election of Jaffer   Javed  Khan  on a PDP ticket from a Hindu dominated W.NO.2 (Pakki Dhaki) of Jammu municipal corporation during last year.

On the whole, the state provides a very interesting example of secular life-style. Here, not only one can find almost all the major religions of the Indian subcontinent existing side by side, but also a level of inter-religious tolerance, that may not be available elsewhere. For those who are trying to upset the inter-community amity, it is a very frustrating exercise.


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