Understanding J&K Dispute: People of Undivided J&K
The third level is the most vital, though widely ignored aspect of the J&K problem; the intra-regional relations within the undivided J&K territory. The socio-cultural and ethnic commonalities of the region override the political divisions enforced by drawing the LOC and creating untenable sub- divisions within each side. Strong forces of affinity and aversion exist within the various sub-regions of India administered J&K and Pakistan controlled AJK and Northern Areas making a simple conflict resolution approach unsustainable for the region. None of the five regions (Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, AJK, Northern Areas) of J&K have clearly defined mandate in terms of joining India or Pakistan or opting for complete independence. These intra-regional linkages further complicate any possibility of a consensual resolution.
Jammu region is dominantly Hindu with Muslims being in majority in the districts of Dogra, Rajouri and Poonch. The Hindu population of the region is largely pro-India with the Muslims favoring either accession to Pakistan or complete independence. Large numbers of Hindus in Jammu had arrived from Mirpur on the Pakistani side after the partition and continue to nurture nostalgic memories about their long abandoned city. When in 1960 the Mirpur town was submerged due to the construction of the Mangla dam the Mirpuris of AJK and Jammu shared a common sense of grief. Though the Mirpuris are Hindus they consider themselves as distinct from the Dogra Hindus of Jammu, emphasizing their cultural affinities across the border. K.D. Sethi, a prominent Mirpuri settled in Jammu laments for Mirpuri becoming Dogrinuma/Punjabinuma (Dogri like/Punjabi-like) referring to the unnoticed dominance of Dogri culture.
The dominant Muslim majority of the Kashmir valley was distinct from the sizeable Kashmiri Pandit population in terms of religious beliefs. In terms of culture and use of Kashmiri language, the Muslims in the valley had more in common with the Kashmiri Pandits than with their Muslim counterparts across the region. Thus Kashmir valley had a religious diversity with cultural commonality. Unfortunately the politically motivated religious hatred led a mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley. The Kashmiri Pandits long for a comeback and their displacement is stark reminder of the extent to which the social fabric of J&K has been mutilated.
The Leh region of Ladakh has a dominance of Buddhist culture while the Kargil region is dominated by Shi’a Muslims. The Buddhists and Muslims of Ladakh have strong cultural, social and family links with the people of Gilgit and Baltistan in the Northern Areas under Pakistani control. Skardu (AJK) and Kargil (Ladakh) continue the live through the tragedy of a completely irrational division of territories. The story of Habiba Khstoon exemplifies the plight of the people of either side of the LOC. Khatoon’s husband was in Skardu when hostilities broke out between India and Pakistan and could never return to meet his wife in Kargil. Khatoon waited till her death by eagerly looking through the window in her hut at the road in Skardu for her husband.
The people of Ladakh feel sidelined in the Srinagar centric politics of J&K and disapprove current territorial division which has distanced them from their cultural counterparts in the Northern Areas. Khaplu in the Northern Areas and Leh in Ladakh are socially and culturally conjoined. 17th century ruler of Ladakh Jamyang Namgyal married Gyal Khatun, daughter of the Shi’a ruler of Khaplu. Khatun remained a Muslim all her life but was considered by the Leh Buddhists as the incarnation of White Tara. Marriages between the people from Leh and Shaplu were common resulting in a mixed culture in either region. Festivals and religious rituals in Ladakh were celebrated by Muslims and Buddhists together for decades. The politico-territorial dispute interpreted through the prism of Hindu-Muslim rivalry has destroyed the inter-cultural links in Ladakh resulting in widespread tensions between Buddhists and Muslims of the region.
Thus political allegiances and cultural identities are distinct yet overlapping in every region of J&K. In the words of Balraj Puri, “Different types of identities, which cut across and overlap one another, cannot be separated easily; nor can the aspirations of the people with these identities be satisfied in the present set-up.”
Conflict resolution approaches for J&K usually overlook these multi-level multivariate dimensions of the dispute defeating the prospects of peace-building in the region. Sumantra Bose in his book Roots of conflict, Paths to Peace argues that an adequate understanding of the J&K conflict must widen its focus beyond the inter-state territorial dispute to take account of the great diversity and complexity of society and politics within J&K. Hopefully future references to the J&K conflict will take cognizance of the political demands of the people of J&K, AJK and Northern Areas along with their intra-regional allegiances.
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