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(The all-out assault launched by the Hindutva forces in completely wiping out the Kashmiri identity necessitates an equally united front from the entire State to defend and safeguard it)

The first question is what is “Kashmiri” identity? Kashmiris constitute a nation which is thousands of years old. In fact, a written record of Kashmiri nation penned down by an illustrious son of Kashmir, Kalhana goes back more than 5,000 years! Even before the recorded history, Kashmiris existed as a people and grew up on this planet with the birth of mankind all over the world. The dwelling pits and the megaliths at Burzahome and many other Neolithic (new stone age) sites in different parts of the valley are a distinct and irrefutable pointer towards the origin of Kashmiris. No doubt many other people came into the valley from time to time, yet there is no denying the fact that Kashmiris were born and grew up to be a distinct nation in the valley of Kashmir itself!

Over the years, Kashmiris developed their own unique culture and language. Thus the Kashmiri nation with a distinct culture, language and history has been there for thousands of years. The existence of Kashmir as a separate country in the Himalaya and the unique Kashmiri nation with distinct features finds mention in most of the Greek, Chinese and Arab chronicles. Kashmiris did have a change of religion from time to time. They were earlier Saivite Hindus, then they became Buddhists, then again Saivite Hindusand finally adopted Islam as their religion. Now, the majority of them follow the religion of Islam. However, all the changes were voluntary without any compulsion. In spite of the fact that the majority of the population adopted Islam as their religion, there has never been any conflict with those who continued to profess the Saivite religion. In fact, one of the reasons for such a mass conversion has been the similarity in the basic philosophy between Islam and Saivite Hinduism. The Saivites also follow Monism with belief in one super power creating, sustaining and destroying the Universe. They also believe in ultimate destruction of Universe which they call Pralaya. They are totally different from the Vedanta Hinduism followers of North India who have initiated the Hindutva wave and are bent upon destroying the unique identity of not only Kashmir but entire India!

After the Dogra conquest of Ladakh and purchase of the valley from the British, Kashmir evolved into the State of Jammu & Kashmir. The State has now been in existence for almost two hundred years as a composite unit of three cultures. At present whenever people speak about Kashmir, they in fact mean the entire state of Jammu & Kashmir. Kashmir these days does not denote the valley only but the entire state including parts with China and Pakistan. Till 1947 the three units carried along without any problems. The partition and the war in Kashmir split the state into various parts. On the Indian side even after partition these three parts, Kashmir Valley, Jammu and Ladakh carried on without any conflict among the inhabitants. In fact, very strong business relations grew between Jammu and Kashmir valley and these units became economically interdependent. However, certain Hindutva elements sowed the seeds of dissension by clamouring for total merger of the State into Indian Union. This was resisted by the then Central Government which incorporated Article 370 and 35-A in the Indian Constitution to safeguard and preserve the identity of the State of Jammu & Kashmir. The Maharaja while acceding to the Indian Union had specifically asked for accession in only three subjects. He was very keen for preserving the identity of the people of all the three regions. In fact, he had enacted the state-subject law in 1927 not only for the people of the valley but for the inhabitants of all the three regions. He had apprehensions that rich from other parts of the pre-partition India would buy out his subjects who were comparatively poor!

The present assault on these two articles of the Constitution is not only directed against Kashmiris but against all the three regions. There is, therefore, urgent need for the inhabitants of all the three regions to present a united front to defend these articles. Any fiddling with these articles is not only going to affect the identity of Kashmiris from the valley but of all the three regions of the state. In fact, it was this very unity and tolerance among the Kashmiris which had made Mahatma Gandhi to see a ray of hope in Kashmir when the entire sub-continent was burning due to riots. Nehru himself was more than keen to keep Kashmir with India as a guarantee for the secularism preached by him! Thus the attack on the identity of Kashmir is, in true sense, an attack on the very idea of India.

Thus, all Kashmiris irrespective of their affiliations, regions or political outlooks should give a united front and resist the assault on the ages old identity of Kashmir. This is essential not only to safeguard the unity of the three regions of the state and the individual identity of these but also to save India itself from turning into a totalitarian country of one religion only which can ultimately result in its disintegration. All the democratic, secular, and progressive forces in India will definitely support such a stand.

Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir

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