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Kashmiryat: Religion Or Class?

By Inshah Malik

05 August, 2011

In laymen terms as it demands recognition, to consider oneself belonging to a particular region or simply being Kashmiri. But discourse presents to us rather not so simple picture of belongingness. In Kashmir secularism is earmarked to a cult which professes Sufism, where religion is not centric but merely one of the many other important manifestations of Kashmiri life. Kashmiriyat is a syncretic identity which is regardless of the religion one professes. Secularists in India for long have viewed this as a most comfortable and appropriate hallmark of Kashmir and have often left no space for any other discussion of religious polarization that has been aggravated over time due to a protracted conflict.

Kashmiriyat as an exemplary model of communal harmony becomes unquestionable as it tends to be restored by the secular democratic forces in India. Therefore, Kashmiryat continues to remain a monologue of its kind. It is an ideal ‘composite mass’ where neither class nor caste can be questioned. Kashmiryat is not just simple subject of study but it needs to be put out of its compartmentalized pieces to read aloud to those who have long accepted this term as only viable understanding of communal harmony. The fabrics of the Kashmiryat in discourse stand on caste, class and not religion. To avoid religious contestation, in history of modern Kashmir the cast hierarchy is maintained. Kashmiryat reached Indian mind through Brahmanical discourse on nation, where Kashmiri nation stood as ‘Pandits’ as power bearers and educational head while all other subordinate positions held by Muslims, Sikhs et al. This hierarchy is either respected of intended to be revived when one talks of Kashmiryat.

The movement in Kashmir which has though not theoretically but vocally tried to dismantle inequalities of caste and class and invoked unity and equality of its people time and again has found no charming response from higher castes of Kashmiri population. Kashmiryat only wishes to revive hierarchy. It contains none of the Sufi saints’ teachings of integrity, unity despite of religious differences. In India, the upper caste Kashmiri Pandits are champions of right-wing political ideology, one may ask where did all the Sufi teaching suddenly vanish?

Kashmiryat does not really exist except in some secularist minds of India influenced by the discourse. Then what does it mean to be a Kashmiri what could that state be, call it Kashmiriness. If Nationalism must dwell on pure principles of equality and liberty then Kashmir’s Muslim population which may be religious in nature is equally worthy of being secular and democratic. After 20 years of long drawn political violent conflict in Kashmir, the kashmiryat of 16th century is lost not due to religious polarization but because the movement has intended to question basic inequalities within Kashmiri society. We have seen over recent past that despite Pandits called by their Kashmiryat halves to return to the valley has seen no avail. Because it is the lost hierarchy that one wishes to return.

Perhaps, It is equally important to break down that ‘Pandit monolith’, the common middle and lower class pundits who have always wished to return to live side by side with their Muslim counterparts were equal participants of the class and caste struggle. This summer the progressive step of return of these pandits was a welcome change. However, the state meddling in maintaining the class contestation is visible in the ‘jewish settlement’ like structures where pundits have now been relocated.

Kashmiryat is also guarded by a hierarchical interplay of language, for-example Muslims refer to Pandits as ‘mara’ shorter form of Maharaj (King or superior). Anything otherwise was considered disrespectful, and any questioning of this hierarchy approved by language was abhorred. Even now the remnants of this can be seen in Muslim-Hindu exchange.

Although, it leads to a bigger question when one contends the idea of kashmiryat, In this society simply being Kashmiri is enough to explain the societal fabric. However, what one needs to question and constantly try to comprehend is what the original Kashmiri wants us to hear.

This scenario in Kashmir brings us to question the very idea of secularism. In modern times, it tends to question religion in politics (which it should) but at the same time under the vapid terms of ‘kashmiriyat’ maintain an ugly status-quo and approves, class, caste and linguistic hierarchy. Indian secularism in Kashmir is an ineffective manifestation of a lull that Kashmiri society has reached and must maintain in order to win appreciation.

Inshah Malik is a researcher at Jawahar Lal Nehru University, New Delhi



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