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A Brief Overview of Jammu and Kashmir


Indian and Pakistani- administered Jammu and Kashmir (J & K) is a space in which conflicting discourses have been written and read. Prior to 1947 the history of Kashmir comprised four phases:

  • Hindu and Buddhist rule (1182 BC–AD 1339)
  • Muslim rule (1339–1819)
  • Sikh conquest (1819–1846)
  • Dogra rule (1846–1947)

In about AD 1200 the poet-historian Kalhana wrote a voluminous account of Kashmir's historical trajectory from 1182 BC, Rajatarangini (River of Kings). In this work, Kalhana writes about the tribal inhabitants of Kashmir, the Nagas, who created an agrarian society. The history of the Kashmir Valley through the year AD 1486 was recounted by Pandit Jonaraja. This task was later taken on by Srivara and Prajyabhatta, who recorded the history of Kashmir through the conquest of the Valley by the Mughal emperor Akbar in 1586.

Hindu Rule in Kashmir

In the earliest phase of recorded history, Hinduism pervaded Kashmiri culture and society. During the rule of the Mauryan emperor Ashoka (304–232 BCE), Hinduism, with its rigid caste hierarchy, ornate rituals and pantheon of deities, was replaced by the austerity of Buddhism. The monasteries constructed in Kashmir during Ashoka's reign became centers of scholarly learning, and the Valley became a religious and cultural hub. The influence of Buddhism in Kashmir declined in AD 711 with the emergence of Islamic military rule, political dominance and religious teachings.

Muslim Conquest

Although Hinduism and Buddhism began to decline with the rise of Islam in the 700s, the actual conquest did not take place until 600 years later. In 1339, a Tartar chief had threatened to invade Kashmir during the feckless rule of Raja Sahadev. In order to nullify that threat, the commander-in-chief of Kashmir, Ramachandra, requested Shah Mir of Swat (now a part of Pakistan) and Rainchau Shah of Tibet for assistance. Subsequently, Rainchau Shah employed Machiavellian strategies to assassinate commander in chief. Afterward, he married Ramachandra's daughter Kuta Rani, and ascended the throne of Kashmir. Shah converted to Islam and took on the name Sadruddin (Lawrence 2005: 179–200).

The dominance of Islam in the Valley was consolidated in the fourteenth century by the Sufi Kubrawi order of Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani, popularly known as Shah Hamadan. Hamadani first visited Kashmir, during the reign of the first sultan of Kashmir Shah Mir, who assumed the reins of power after the death of Sadruddin.

The first sultan to implement a particularly rigid and intransigent version of Sharia law in the Valley was Sikander, who inherited the throne in 1394. Given Sikander's iconoclastic zeal and proselytizing fervor, the subsequent Islamization of Kashmir is a greatly debated issue. But the marvels of the previous era could not be completely obliterated, and approaches to the pre-Islamic past of Kashmir were dynamic and capable of accommodating local traditions. The architectural wonders built during Sikander's reign are still venerated as landmarks. He founded the town of Sikandarpur (now called Nowhatta, in Srinagar), built the Jama Masjid (central mosque) in Srinagar, and constructed the Khanqah-i-mualla (monastery) on the banks of the river Jhelum. Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani propagated the Islamic faith at Khanqah-i -mualla. Despite Sikander's purported antipathy toward local "heresies," the autonomy of religious and cultural institutions was never completely eroded and local traditions were absorbed into the new political culture, as became apparent in successive regimes. Sikander was succeeded by Zainul Abedin (1420–70), who was a patron of the arts. Zainul Abedin, popularly known as Budshah, proclaimed religious tolerance and overturned discriminatory laws. As a result, his reign is remembered for the peace, amity and intellectual growth that it personified. However, despite his remarkable contribution to the cultural, religious and intellectual ethos of Kashmir, Budshah was unable to groom his son and successor, Haider Shah. With the defeat of Haider Shah by the Chak tribals in 1561, the first Muslim dynasty of Kashmir came to an end (see Lawrence 2005: 179–200; Rahman 1996).

Afghan and Sikh Rule

In 1589, Mughal emperor Akbar's formidable army laid siege to and conquered Kashmir. Akbar's grandson, Shah Jahan, conquered Ladakh, Baltistan and Kishtawar, and validated the annexation of those territories in 1634. The rule of the Afghan military commander Ahmad Shah Durrani, with its brutality and militarism, replaced Mughal rule in Kashmir in 1753. This period was marked by its relentless oppression, cultural erosion, religious intemperance, and a metaphoric and literal burial of the arts.

The overthrow of Afghan rule in the early 19th century proved to be a pyrrhic victory, for the period of Sikh rule that followed, which lasted twenty-seven years, arguably surpassed that of the Afghans in its cruelty and discriminatory practices (see Malik 2002). This period began in the 1820s, when the neighboring plains of the Kashmir Valley, Jammu, were ruled by Raja Gulab Singh, feudatory of the Sikh ruler Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Gulab Singh was crowned monarch of Jammu by Ranjit Singh in 1822. Under the lordship of Ranjit Singh, Gulab Singh extended his territory into Kashmir, and went so far as to capture Ladakh, a region bordering China, in 1834, as well as Baltistan in 1840. After Ranjit Singh's death, the previously good relationship between the Sikhs and the British declined. The British had been gradually spreading their territorial control in India through the East India Company, a commercial trading company which acquired auxiliary military and governmental functions in India and other British colonies, since the middle of the eighteenth century. The subsequent upheaval at the Sikh court caused anxiety within the East India Company, which feared a Russian invasion in the face of the tottering frontier of northwestern India. The resulting interference of the British in the Sikh kingdom led to the first Anglo-Sikh War in 1845. Gulab Singh's neutrality during this war tipped the scales in favor of the British. His military strength, political acumen and entrepreneurship did not go unnoticed (Lawrence 2005: 200–03; Khan 1978). The territories of Kashmir, Ladakh, Gilgit and Chenab were bestowed upon the Dogra ruler Gulab Singh for the small sum of seventy-five nanakshahi rupees (7.5 million rupees) in acknowledgment of his services to the British crown. Gulab Singh was required to reimburse the British for the costs incurred by them while taking possession of Kashmir, going so far as to stipulate that one crore (i.e. ten million) of rupees would go towards indemnity. Later the British were allowed to retain the area of Kulu and Mandi, territories across the river Beas, bringing about the waiver of twenty-five lakhs from the sum that Gulab Singh owed as indemnity (Schofield 2002: 56).

Political relations between the British and the Sikhs deteriorated in the years leading up to the outbreak of war in 1845. During this systemic erosion of Anglo–Sikh relations, Gulab Singh played a significant role, which has generated tremendous controversy. There are some unanswered questions, which continue to generate debate. Did Gulab Singh engage in surreptitious dealings with the British while claiming to owe allegiance to the Sikhs? Did he enable negotiations between the British and the Sikhs, which averted an otherwise ugly situation? And why did the British sell Kashmir for a small amount to Gulab Singh after having acquired it from the Sikhs?

Dogra Rule and the Creation of the Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir

The Dogras were a predominantly Hindu people who were installed by the British as rulers of Kashmir under the Treaty of Amritsar signed in 1846. This Treaty declared that, "the British Government transfers and makes over, for ever, in independent possession, to Maharajah Gulab Singh and the heirs male of his body, the Kashmir Valley as well as the area of Gilgit to the north" (in Aitchinson 1931: 21–22). The princely state of Jammu and Kashmir comprised territories which at one point in time had been independent principalities: Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, Mirpur, Poonch, Baltistan, Gilgit, Hunza, Muzaffarabad, Nagar and some other nondescript kingdoms. Article IX of the Treaty further emphasized that the British government would provide aid to the monarch of Kashmir in protecting his territories from disruptive forces. Article X underscored the monarch's allegiance to the British government. As a manifestation of his acknowledgment of the primacy of the British government, the monarch was required to present annually one horse, twelve shawl goats and three pairs of impeccably woven Kashmiri shawls (ibid.).

Gulab Singh was succeeded by his son Ranbir Singh in 1847, who in turn was succeeded by his son Pratap Singh in 1885. Pratap Singh had no male heirs and tried to orchestrate the accession of a distant male relative. His maneuver, however, was quashed by the British, who facilitated the accession of Pratap Singh's nephew Hari Singh in 1925. A decade before the expulsion of British rule from India, Hari Singh ratified a legal settlement in British Indian courts that added Pooch, which hitherto had been bestowed by the Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh upon Gulab Singh's brother Dhyan Singh, to his territorial possessions. This significant acquisition completed the pre- partition Jammu and Kashmir conglomeration. The Muslims in Pooch, however, have remained ambivalent about their merger with the princely state. The unquestionable and eternal authority promised to the Dogra elite in the Treaty of Amritsar was cut short exactly a century later, at the time of India's independence and partition in 1947. Jammu and Kashmir remained an independent principality until 1947.

lthough the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir was predominantly Muslim, members of that community were prevented from becoming officers in the state's military and did not find adequate representation in the civil services. Kashmiri Muslims were barred from expressing their political opinions and did not have access to a free press or any other such forum. The lack of protest against autocratic and brutal rule until the end of the 1920s was attributed to the passive character of the peasantry in the Kashmir Valley, as well as to the sweeping authority of the maharaja (Lamb 1991: 28). Although his oppressive and exploitative methods were not thwarted, they were carefully watched by the British representative at his court. His stature was further exalted by the title of His Highness. The maharaja was given the privileged position of major-general in the British Indian army and was entitled to a twenty-one gun salute. The maharaja's decadence was legendary, and he indulged himself by participating in expensive sports, luxurious parties and other extravagant hobbies.

The Dogra maharajas encouraged a regional and religious bias against Kashmiri Muslims (Korbel 2002: 14). Navnita Chadha Behera points to the plight of Kashmiri Muslims during Dogra rule, in her complex study of Kashmir: "The lot of Muslims was even worse: they were excluded from state services, the Muslim peasantry and industrial workers were heavily taxed, and trade, business, and banking were monopolized by Punjabis and Dogras. Without access to modern education, Muslims sank into a deep distrust of rule under the Dogra Hindus" (Behera 2006: 14). The plight of Kashmiri Muslims was reported by Prem Nath Bazaz, a prominent Kashmiri Pandit political and social activist, in 1941. According to him, the Muslim peasants lived and worked in deplorable conditions; the Muslim masses were traumatized and victimized by official corruption (Bazaz 2002: 252–53). The subsequent awakening of a national consciousness in the state challenged the despotic abuse of authority.

Partition of India and Creation of Pakistan

The role played by the nation-states of India and Pakistan in the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir echoes the animosity created during the partition of 1947. The political and social upheaval that followed upon the creation of the two nation-states that year has left legacies that continue to haunt the two countries. The partition enabled forces of violence and displacement to tear apart the pre-existing cultural and social fabric so systematically that the process of repair has not even begun. Although some scholars point out the manipulations and shortsightedness of British imperial cartographers and administrators, the onus of the calamity does not lie entirely on the colonial power. The failed negotiations between Indian and Pakistani nationalists who belonged to the Congress and the Muslim League, the blustering of those nationalists and the national jingoism it stimulated, and the hatred on both sides contributed to situation as well. In the words of historian Uma Kaura, "the mistakes made by the Congress leadership, the frustration and bitterness of the League leadership, and the defensive diplomacy of a British Viceroy cumulatively resulted in the demand for Partition" (1977: 170). Ever since the inception, in 1885, of pro-independence political activity in pre-partition India, the Muslim leadership insisted on the necessity for a distinct Muslim identity (ibid.: 164). Kaura also underlines the inability of the nationalist leadership to accommodate Muslim aspirations because its primary concern was to ingratiate itself with the militant Hindu faction which would have created ruptures within the Congress. Gutted homes, ravaged lands and meaningless loss of lives were the costs of this nation-building. The borders that were carved by the authorities at the time of partition have led to further atrocities in the form of those riots, organized historical distortions and cultural depletions with which the histories of independent India and Pakistan are replete.

Significance of Kashmir for India and Pakistan

For India, Kashmir lends credibility to its secular nationalist image. For Pakistan, Kashmir represents the infeasibility of secular nationalism and underscores the need for an Islamic theocracy in the subcontinent. Once the Kashmir issue took an ideological turn, Mahatma Gandhi remarked, "Muslims all over the world are watching the experiment in Kashmir. . . . Kashmir is the real test of secularism in India." In January 1948, India referred the Kashmir dispute to the United Nations (Hagerty 2005: 19). Prime Minister Nehru took the dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir beyond local and national boundaries by bringing it before the UN Security Council, and seeking a ratification of India's claims over Kashmir. The UN reinforced Nehru's pledge of holding a plebiscite in Kashmir, and in 1948 the Security Council established the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) to play the role of mediator. The UNCIP adopted a resolution urging the government of Pakistan to cease the infiltration of tribal mercenaries and raiders into Jammu and Kashmir. It also urged the government of India to demilitarize the state by "withdrawing their own forces from Jammu and Kashmir and reducing them progressively to the minimum strength required for the support of civil power in the maintenance of law and order." The resolution proclaimed that once these conditions were fulfilled, the government of India would be obligated to hold a plebiscite in the state to either ratify or veto the accession of the state to India. The subsequent political stalemate led to the resumption of acrimony in 1948.

Following the ceasefire between India and Pakistan on 1 January 1949, the state of Jammu and Kashmir was divided into two portions. The part of the state comprising the Punjabi-speaking areas of Poonch, Mirpur and Muzaffarabad, along with Gilgit and Baltistan, was incorporated into Pakistan, whereas the portion of the state comprising the Kashmir Valley, Ladakh and the large Jammu region was politically assimilated into India. Currently, a large part of Jammu and Kashmir is administered by India and a portion by Pakistan. China annexed a section of the land in 1962, through which it has built a road that links Tibet to Xiajiang (see Rahman 1996: 5–6; Schofield 2002: 25). The strategic location of Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir underscores its importance for both India and Pakistan. The state of J & K borders on China and Afghanistan.

In order to make their borders impregnable, it was essential for both India and Pakistan to control the state politically and militarily. Even as separatist movements have surfaced and resurfaced in J & K and parts of Pakistani-administered Kashmir since 1947, the attempt to create a unitary cultural identity has been subverted by regional political and economic forces backed by the governments of India and Pakistan. As a result, the culturally, linguistically and religiously diverse population of Jammu and Kashmir has been unable to reach a consensus on the future of the land and the heterogeneous peoples of the state (Rahman 1996: 148–49; Ganguly 1997: 78–79). At the same time, in establishment Indian and Pakistani thought, Kashmiris are defined as different from the nationals of the two countries. The various communities in J & K—Kashmiri Muslims, Kashmiri Pandits, Dogras and Ladakhis—have tried time and again to form a collective consciousness in order to name their cultural "otherness" through the nation. But due to the regional sentiments that are so entrenched in the psyche of the people, this attempt remains in a volatile stage. The symbols of nationhood in J & K, flag, anthem and constitution, have thus far been unable to forge the process of nationalist self-imagining.

Areas of Kashmir Under Pakistani Control

Although Pakistan distinctly expresses its recognition of the status of J & K as disputed territory, it has not followed through on this declaration. Pakistan maintains its de facto government in Azad Kashmir. Old fiefdoms in the kingdoms of Hunza and Nagar were abolished and the entire area was reconstituted into five administrative districts in 1975 by the government of Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. To date, the Northern Areas, comprising Gilgit, Baltistan, Hunza-Nagar, Koh-e-Ghizer, Ghanche, Diamir and Skardu, remain the disenfranchised fifth zone; administered by executive edict from Islamabad through the federal ministry for Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas (KANA), a politically constituted, non-elected ministry, they do not have a place in Pakistan's constitution. The Northern Areas legislative council, the region's elected legislature, is a disempowered body lacking the authority to represent its constituents. South Asia affairs analyst Victoria Schofield (2002) astutely observes: "There is no question . . . of Pakistan ever agreeing to relinquish control of the area, either to form part of an independent state of Jammu and Kashmir or as an independent state in its own right." The anger in the Northern Areas, caused by the political, economic and social impoverishment of the region, has now erupted into a rebellion mirroring the separatist movement in J & K. There is a segment of the population that advocates the independence of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir in its entirety, whereas another segment of the population is a fierce proponent of deploying politically militant and constitutional means to carve out Gilgit, Hunza-Nagar, Koh-i-Ghizer, Ghanche, Diamir, Baltistan and Skardu, collectively known as Balawaristan, as an independent state with constitutional legitimacy. The formation of indigenous political organizations in the area, like the Balawaristan National Front, Muttehada Quami Party and the Gilgit–Baltistan United Action Forum, is indicative of the rising demand for selfhood, liberties, enfranchisement and constitutional status. The government of Pakistan has not integrated the Northern Areas with Pakistan because it claims that such an action would impair the credibility of Pakistan's demand for the Kashmir issue to be adjudged under the terms of the UN resolutions. Gilgit and Hunza are strategically important to Pakistan because of the access they provide to China through the Khunjerab pass. Therefore, advocating self-determination for the entire former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir would irreparably damage Pakistan's political and military interests (Johnson 2003: 697–743; Rushbrook-Williams 1957: 26–35).

Militarization of Kashmir

The tranquility of the region has been shattered by political and military totalitarianism. The region resembles a vast concentration camp, swarming with soldiers. Police or military barriers abound in both urban and rural areas, and intimidation is a rather common occurrence at these checkpoints. The history of Kashmir is replete with egregious errors. As one scholar, Vincent H. Smith (1928: 176), wrote, "Few regions in the world can have had worse luck than Kashmir in the matter of government." The saga of Kashmir has been one of oppression, political persecution and undemocratic policies. Since the pervasion of an exclusive cultural nationalism, religious fundamentalism and rampant political corruption it has become a challenge to lead a dignified existence in J & K.

The conflict has changed the political landscape without either disrupting social and gender hierarchies, or benefiting marginalized groups. The social, economic, political and psychological brunt of the armed conflict has been borne by the populace of Kashmir. The uncertainty created by twenty-five years of armed insurgency and counter-insurgency has pervaded the social fabric in insidious ways, creating a whole generation of disaffected and disillusioned youth.

Further Reading

  • Abdullah, Sheikh Mohammad. "Quit Kashmir Memorandum to the British Cabinet Mission on behalf of the All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference," 1946.
  • Abdullah, Sheikh Mohammad. "The Statement of Sher-e-Kashmir in the Court of the Sessions Judge." Kashmir on Trial: State vs. Sheikh Abdullah. Lahore: Lion Press, 1947.
  • Aitchinson, C. V., ed. A Collection of Treaties, Engagements ans Sanads, Vol. XII, Part 1. Calcutta: Government of India Central Publication Branch, 1931.
  • Bazaz, Prem Nath. Kashmir in Crucible. New Delhi: Pamposh Publications, 1967. Reprint, Srinagar: Gulshan Books, 2005. (Page references are to the 2005 edition.)
  • Bazaz, Prem Nath. Truth about Kashmir. Delhi: Kashmir Democratic Union, 1950.
  • Behera, Navnita Chadha. Demystifying Kashmir. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2006.
  • Bhattacharjea, Ajit. Kashmir: The Wounded Valley. New Delhi: UBS, 1994.
  • Bose, Sumantra. Kashmir: Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003.
  • Copeland, Ian. "The Abdullah Factor: Kashmiri Muslims and the 1947 Crisis." In Political Inheritance of Pakistan, edited by D. A. Low, 218-54. London: Macmillan, 1991.
  • Ganguly, Sumit. The Crisis in Kashmir: Portents of War, Hopes of Peace. New York : Cambridge University Press, 1997.
  • Ganju, M. Textile Industry in Kashmir. New Delhi: Premier, 1945.
  • Hagerty, Devin T. South Asia in World Politics. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005.
  • Hassnain, F. M. Freedom Struggle in Kashmir. New Delhi: Rima Publishing House, 1988.
  • Johnson, Robert. "Russians at the Gates of India? Planning the Defense of India, 1885–1900." Journal of Military History, 67, no. 3 (2003): 697–743
  • Kaura, Uma. Muslims and Indian nationalism : the emergence of the demand for India's partition, 1928–40. Columbia, MO: South Asia Books, 1977.
  • Khan, Mohammad Ishaq. History of Srinagar, 1946-1947: A Study in Socio-Cultural Change. Srinigar: Aamir Publications, 1978.
  • Khan, M. Zafarullah. The Kashmir Dispute. Karachi: Institute of International Affairs, 1958.
  • Korbel, Josef. Danger in Kashmir. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1954. Reprint, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. (Page references are to the 2002 edition.)
  • Lamb, Alastair. Kashmir: A Disputed Legacy, 1846–2000. Hertingfordbury, Hertfordshire, UK: Roxford Books, 1991.
  • Lawrence, Walter R. The Valley of Kashmir. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2005.
  • Malik Kashmir: Ethnic Conflict, International Dispute. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002
  • Rahman, Mushtaqur. Divided Kashmir: Old Problems, New Opportunities for India, Pakistan, and the Kashmiri People. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1996.
  • Rushbrook-Williams, L. F. "Inside Kashmir." International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944–) v33 n1 (19570101): 26–35.
  • Saraf, M. Y. Kashmiris Fight for Freedom. 1st ed. Lahore: Ferozsons, 1977.
  • Schofield, Victoria. Kashmir in Conflict: India, Pakistan and the Unfinished War. London/New York: I.B. Tauris, 2000.
  • Smith, Vincent Arthur and H G Rawlinson. The Oxford Student's History of India. New York: Oxford University Press, 1928.

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