Llong-haired goats, six females and six males, three pairs of shawls and a horse, given as tribute every year, and seventy-five lakh rupees Nanakshahi in front: In 1846, Imperial Britain gave possession from Kashmir to Maharaja Gulab Singh. The new ruler made pilgrimages to Amarnath and Haridwar, endowed the temple of Raghunath and closed the butchers on Dussehra and Diwali. He ended up giving alms of rice and oil at the Aishmuqam shrine, while the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar was falling to ruins.
“They sold farmer and cornfield, river and garden” the poet Muhammad Iqbal wrote of the treaty of Amritsar, “they have sold a people, and at such a cheap price.”
Gulab Singh and his heirs savagely plundered the peasants, imposing taxes and forced labor – like feudal rulers across India. There was, however, an important difference: the rulers of Kashmir were Hindus, their subjects Muslims.
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Elections and communal inequity
Mapping by the Electoral Boundaries Commission for the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir has reopened the communal wounds of the Dogra Century. Kashmiri politicians have highlighted the inequality of representation. The 68.88 inhabitants of the Muslim-majority province, according to the 2011 census, will be represented by 47 legislators, while the 53.78 inhabitants of the Jammu region will have 43.
Even though 34.1% of Jammu’s population is Muslim, the region’s Muslim-majority seats have fallen from 13 to 10. Kashmir has one seat more than its previous representation; Jammu has six. For many in Kashmir, this is proof that the Bharatiya Janata Party is undermining democracy, aiming to institutionalize the Hindu-majority regime.
Fears like these might be overblown, but the evidence is disturbing. The commission has not made public exactly how it arrived at its decision. In public statements, however, he claims to have ensured representation from sparsely populated remote and underdeveloped areas. The principle is not new. Karnah, with a population of just 87,627, has long been an assembly constituency. Gurez, with only 37,992 inhabitants, was also a constituency.
Hindu-majority areas, however, appear to have been the main beneficiaries of the commission’s decision. Hindu-majority Padder, for example, home to 51,279, has emerged as a new gathering segment. Despite having similar terrain disadvantages, the predominantly Muslim Surakote remains a single constituency, with a population of 188,154.
The predominantly Muslim border district of Poonch, which should have benefited from the criteria of the Vulnerable Areas Protection Commission on the Line of Control, did not receive an additional constituency. Ramban, with 146,859 inhabitants, more than 70% of whom are Muslims, also has no additional seat.
The district of Kishtwar, which had two Muslim-majority seats, now has three, two of which are Hindu-majority. The neighboring district of Doda, which also had two Muslim-majority constituencies, now also has two out of three Hindu-majority seats.
Each Lok Sabha constituency now consists of 18 assembly constituencies. In the case of Anantnag, this led the commission to merge it with Rajouri – regions separated by a 100 kilometer road from Shopian to Bufliaz, crossing 4,000 meter mountain ranges and closed for several months a year.
It’s possible the commission has a formula that accounts for these quirks, but it hasn’t been made public — and that’s fueling dangerous tensions.
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The making of a communalized Kashmir
To get a sense of the depth of communal fissures in Kashmir, the debate must be rooted in history. The Identity of the Dogra Monarchy, Historian Chitralekha Zutshi showed, was tied to the faith of its rulers – much like the Islamic rulers of the princely states of British India that had Hindu populations. The Dogra kingdom presided over an elaborate network of trusts and institutions dedicated to perpetuating its Hindu identity.
Gulab Singh was not, at least in a simple sense, a fanatic. The Colonial Adventurer Godfrey Vine noted that Jammu was for some time “the only place in Punjab where molahs can call Muslims to prayer”. Even Ranjit Singh, Sikh Emperor Gulab Singh helped the British to depose, allowed some degree of religious freedom in Kashmir and patronized the shrines of Hazratbal and Maqdoom Sahib.
The language of power, however, was distinctly Hindu, as was an important element of the bureaucracy and the landowning class. As the Dogra state sought to legitimize itself through its patronage of Hinduism, historian Mridu Rai arguedshe inexorably sharpens the opposition of her Muslim subjects.
In the late 19th century, however, sweeping land reforms also stripped elite Muslims like the Khwaja Naqashbandis of land they had held for centuries, replacing them with Punjabi and Dogra administrators.
From the late 1890s, signs became evident that religion was providing an idiom for Muslim opposition. In Arnia, Muslims were denied the right to call the azaan riots. Rumors of cow slaughter – propagated, according to one official account, “by a kind of wireless telegraphy” – proliferated across Kashmir.
Shia Muslims also began to assert their identity fiercely. In 1922, mourners demanded the closure of the cinema in Srinagar to show their respect for the month of mourning. The Maharaja denied the request.
Walter Lawrence, a British colonial official who served in Kashmir from 1889 to 1894, reported that the so-called Wahabbi preachers had become activechallenging the authority of Islamic folk rulers and notables accepting Dogra rule.
Even at the turn of the last century, however, community consciousness was not fully formed. In his 1912 poem, Greeznama, the religious revivalist poet Maqbool Shah Kraalwari lamented the peasants of Kashmir who, he wrote, “consider the mosque and the temple as equal; seeing no difference between the muddy puddles and the ocean.
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Politics and communitarianism
The rise of independence saw religious polarization sharpen, as mass politics evolved. Mirwaiz Rasool Shah of Srinagar, the grandfather of present Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, established the Anjuman Nusrat-ul-Islam in 1899, as a platform for Muslim grievances. Led by Sayyed Husain Shah Baktu, the neo-fundamentalist Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith emerged around the same time.
Kashmir’s pundits – entrenched in bureaucracy and relatively well-off – have been, perhaps inevitably, drawn into the conflict. In 1923, a dispute broke out in the Mallah Khan district of Srinagar, after allegations were made that the construction of a new temple was damaging Muslim graves.
From the first decades of the century, communitarianism gained ground in Kashmir. In 1931, after Dogra troops killed 28 protesters in Srinagar, Hindu-owned businesses and homes were targeted. Further communal violence erupted in September, involving crowds that gathered with weapons.
Even though Kashmir itself did not experience the violence of partition, the violence cast a toxic shadow. “There is not a single Muslim in Kapurthala, Alwar or Bharatpur”, leader of the independence movement and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah ruminated. Kashmiris, he added, feared “that the same fate awaits them too”.
In a speech, he claimed that the Jana Sangh-linked Praja Parishad was part of a scheme to convert India “into a religious state in which the interests of Muslims would be compromised”.
In the period 1963-1964, these community anxieties exploded in the form of anti-Indian protests after the alleged theft of a religious relic in Hazratbal; ten years later, an image of the Prophet Muhammad drawn in a colonial-era encyclopedia sparked mass riots.
The religious right in Kashmir has capitalized on these chasms. The Jama’at believed, scholar Yoginder Sikand wrote, “that a carefully planned Indian plot was at work to destroy the Islamic identity of Kashmiris”. At a March 1987 rally in Srinagar, candidates of the Jama’at-linked Muslim United Front dressed in the white robes of the pious and declared that Islam could not survive under the authority of a state. secular.
These strains, scholar Navnita Behera Chadha showed, polarizing entire communities and regions, laying the social groundwork for the long and brutal insurgency that erupted in 1988 and is still raging. Even though terrorism levels have remained low since 2008, Kashmir has witnessed multiple outbreaks of mass violence over issues of religious identity.
From the 1950s to 1987, New Delhi sought to contain these tensions by deepening Kashmir’s democratic deficit, arresting dissident leaders, manipulating politics and rigging elections. The demarcation process is the latest to show India’s democracy continuing to crumble in the face of its challenge in Kashmir.
The author is National Security Editor, ThePrint. He tweets @praveenswami. Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)