Co-authored by Dr. Wakar Amin:
With India ranked as the fourth-worst country for religious intolerance out of 198 nations in April 2017 by Pew Research Center analysis, it is high time that the claims of “unity of diversity” are cross-checked in every nook and corner. The state of Kashmir has been affected by geographical and political conflict between India and Pakistan for decades. The state has also seen a forced displacement of one community by another.
The census of 2011 shows that the state has a population of 1.25 crore comprising of 6,640,662 males and 5,900,640 females. The state of Jammu and Kashmir comprises of three geographical divisions viz, Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Different languages are spoken in the state and people follow different religions. The Jammu region has a Hindu majority population, while Kashmir has a Muslim majority and Ladakh has a majority of Buddhists. The Kashmir valley lies within the Pir Panjal and the western end of the Great Himalayan ranges as a deep asymmetrical basin surrounded by mountains. The valley has a multi-lingual and multi-racial population. People conform to different traditions in dress, manner and customs.
From the dawn of history, the Kashmir valley has been a religious centre. Major religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity flourished in the valley, living in harmony. The beautiful valley of Kashmir was the epitome of peace, intellectual advancement and religious diversity and coexistence. The notion of “Kashmiriyat” emerged out of socio-cultural and historical ties that bind all Kashmiris regardless of religion, into an independent social collective.
With the rise of militant extremism in Kashmir valley in the early nineties, the age-old traditions of tolerance, harmony and peace witnessed a major jolt. It not only affected the economy of the state but tremendously affected the socio-cultural fabric of the Kashmiri society by creating a divide among the various religious communities. However, in the Muslim majority valley of Kashmir, Sikhs and Christians decided to settle, as opposed to what the Kashmiri Pandits did (or were forced to do) i.e. migration during the ’90s. The religious minorities living in the conflict-hit regions have developed a sense of alienation and insecurity. By virtue of being neutral to the conflict as far as their involvement in the armed conflict is concerned, they are always at the receiving end.
The problems of modern-day Kashmir go decades back. Some, however, trace them to the time of Indian independence from British Raj. A report by Minority Rights Group says, “The main problem and the starting point for all the troubles in the territory has been the real and perceived grievances of the Muslim population. From the time of independence, Kashmir has remained a poor region of India, despite being well endowed by way of natural resources and picturesque scenery which provides a natural attraction for tourists. This lack of economic development has fuelled resentment against the Indian state and has led to a hardening of view within the Muslim majority population that they were being discriminated against. Specific grievances include the fact that Urdu has not been made a nationally recognized language of India, that investment in education is among the lowest for the whole country, and that industrial investment has been virtually non-existent. The prime source of possible revenues-tourism-has become a casualty of the persistent terrorist activities and the military presence in the state.”
A News18 report states, “According to unofficial records, the population of Jammu and Kashmir has 67% Muslims, 29.6% Hindus and 0.2% Christians, but the Kashmir Valley region is 97% Muslim. There are just 650 native Christians living in Kashmir valley. They are almost invisible and the least talked about community. They want to stay away from trouble and maintain a very low profile. They don’t even want to talk to the media on condition of anonymity.”
The Christian community in the valley remains under threat mainly due to the very fact that their minority status in this context did not necessarily mean small numbers but a feeling of being threatened. The threats given by religious leaders of the majority community to the Christians warn them not to indulge in any conversion practice. Often accused of conversions among the majority population, the Christian community’s issues remain unattended mainly due to two reasons. The first reason could be the urge to remain a silent population so that the majority community does not feel their presence and hence, avoid being targeted. The second reason can be the non-serious attitude of government towards the socio-economic development of religious communities living in the Kashmir valley.
With no voice coming from the community, the government has allowed them to face issues of identity, security and equity resulting in a state of fear and uncertainty. In the absence of a safe environment and squeezed space for socio-political dialogue between the communities, the minorities, especially the Christians have ceased to be part of any socio-political discourse. With more and more emphasis on continuation and establishment of schools, the Christian community organisations try to be non-controversial in a situation and environment which is highly influenced by the Islamic ideology.
Chris Chapman writes, “Conflicts affect minorities in different ways; armed groups drawn from a minority community and pushing a minority agenda may be a principal party to a conflict; or minorities may be targeted because they are located in a strategic area; if attempts to co-opt them fail, the state may try to drive them out or eliminate them. Lack of security for minorities in transition or post-transition societies impacts negatively on respect for their rights.”
The situation has become more dangerous after 9/11. The impact of radicalisation on the ongoing militancy in the valley has serious ramifications particularly on the security of the Christian community. In this context, blaming the government for the condition of minorities living in valley won’t be a fair judgement as governments working in the conflict zones often find it hard or at many times impossible to protect, develop and please minorities. The community has been feeling neglected by the government, as they believe that the state has no policy to address their issues
Clearly, the history of Christians and other religious/ethnic minorities’ presence in Jammu and Kashmir has not received sufficient scholarly attention; and the ongoing conflict in the region (as well as the conflict between different communities in India) somehow seem to be contributing to creating further challenges for the hope of harmony in Kashmiri society. Therefore, today the need is not just to inquire about such issues deeply but also to find ways to respond to them with utmost caution.
Ashish Kumar Singh is a Doctoral Candidate at the Political Science department of Higher School of Economics, Moscow. Prior to that, he has studied in Oslo, Mumbai and New Delhi. He can be contacted at email@example.com;
Dr. Wakar Amin is Assistant Professor at the Department of Social Work, Kashmir University, Srinagar. Email- Wakaramin78@gmail.com