Saturday, January 23, 2010

Kashmir: Understanding Religious Radicalisation

By: Arjimand Hussain

(First published in Monthly Epilogue Magazine, Jammu)


Kashmir Valley has often been celebrated as one of the living ideals of syncretic traditions, where various religious beliefs have peacefully co-existed and flourished side by side since centuries. However, the Valley’s history has also witnessed periods when all major religions have competed for political and social supremacy. Religion has also been employed as an instrument for political domination, both by political and religious leaders and institutions. The political upheaval in the post-1930s’ period has often witnessed periods of religious radicalisation, seeking to redefine and set Kashmir’s political agenda. However, this period has also witnessed neutralisation of the forces that have spearheaded radicalisation movements at the first place. Such neutralisation has happened as a natural consequence and because of certain deliberate State actions as well.

Today, greater levels of education among Kashmiris are working both ways. At one plane they are creating a critical mass of people who are more willing to understand, respect and co-exist with people of other faiths. At another plane, greater exposure to global political developments, mainly in places like the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan, evokes sentiments of radicalisation and aversion to peaceful co-existence with other religions. For another section of the population, religion remains a key instrument in furthering the political agenda, seeking restoration of Kashmir’s political rights. For this segment, secular democratic politics has failed in the realisation of the goal of Kashmir’s right to self determination. Perusal of such politics to them has also meant India’s consolidation of its political hold over Kashmir.

Today, there are two facets of the debate on religious radicalisation in Kashmir. At one level, the trends of organised radicalisation are on a clear decline. The decimation of the structures and cadre of organisations like the once-influential Jamaat-i-Islami and its off shoot organisations during the last twenty years has seen a systematic decline in the trend of organised political radicalisation.

On the other hand, events like the Amarnath Land Controversy of 2008 have served to radicalise some sections of Kashmir’s youth, who see such developments as a clear manifestation of furthering the ‘Hindu India’s religious domination of Kashmir’ and ‘dilution of its overwhelmingly Muslim character’. However, this phenomenon is largely isolated and not at a mass or organised scale.

I. Post-colonial political entities and religious make-up:

The age of colonisation changed the face of the world in many ways. The adventures of drawing boundaries on maps – creating political entities in disregard to ethnic, national, religious and geographical considerations – has created a world often based on unnatural political and identity considerations. In the post-colonial period, Africa got countries, dividing tribes and ethnicities, which even to this day do not recognise country-boundaries. The Arab world, bound by a common culture, language and religion, got divided into several ‘nation-states’. The Indian sub-continent’s reorganisation was far from a perfect project. Much of the Far East lost its original shape once the western colonizers left.

History, like in most of the post-colonial world, has given birth to a political and geographical entity in the shape of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) state which is far from perfect. The State’s present geographical and political make up is a reflection of the same historical accidents, rooted in colonial imagination of the post-colonial borders. The Treaty of Amritsar compounded that historical accident. And then during the subsequent decades of autocratic Dogra Maharaha rule over the majority Muslim population and the division of the State gave birth to a complex and chaotic polity.

II. ‘Demographic Change’ and Religious Radicalisation:

The debate on religious demography has been a major issue in J&K State, which has been strengthening the notion of an ‘engineered demographic change’ being carried out to change Kashmir’s majority Muslim character. This issue is a highly emotive one – something which, in the first place, fuelled the agitation against the Amarnath Land Transfer in Kashmir in 2008. This issue continues to breed religious radicalism in Kashmir. Certain official statistical data reinforce this perception.

As per the 1941 census, the total Muslim population of J&K State constituted 72.41 per cent of the total population, while as the Hindu population was 25.01 per cent (Out of a total population of 2946728). The Muslim composition was reported reduced in 1961 Census at 68.30 per cent as against an increased 28.45 per cent that of Hindus (of the reported total population of 3560976). The trend has been continuing: in 1971 Census, the Muslim population was again reported to have declined to 65.85 per cent, while as the Hindu population had grown to 30.42 per cent (out of the total population of 4616632). In 1981 Census, for the total population of 5987389, the Hindu population was again reported to have risen to 32.24 per cent, while the Muslim population was reported to have reduced to 64.19 per cent. This trend has been found to fuel a sense of insecurity and siege among Kashmiri Muslims.

According to Census figures, quoted in an article in Frontline newsmagazine in October, 2000, by Praveen Swami; in Doda district the Hindu population had grown by 47.23 per cent between 1971 and 1981 but that of Muslims by only 11.97 per cent. In Udhampur, the figures for the same period were 45 per cent against 6.35 per cent. In Rajouri Hindu population grew by 47.72 per cent against 33.01 per cent of Muslims. The Hindu population of Kathua was reported to have grown by 39.31 per cent while the Muslim population had “fallen” by 14.57 per cent. In Jammu district Hindu population was reported to have “grown” by 36.14 per cent while the Muslim population had “fallen” by 29.98 per cent. This trend in religious demography remains the principal reason for the isolated trends of radicalisation among certain groups of Muslims even in the Jammu region.

III. Political and economic ‘discrimination’: Fuelling religious radicalisation:

The three regions of the Jammu & Kashmir State – Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh – continue to nurse their own feelings of neglect and discrimination by one another. This feeling and perception have served to sharpen both regional and religious divides. One of the spin offs of this feeling has been religious radicalisation, creation of political and religious platforms which are exclusive in nature and share a common aversion to accommodation and inclusiveness. The pattern of political representation in the State Assembly and local municipal bodies in the cities of Srinagar, Jammu and Leh symbolises this divide and pattern.

At present, what breeds regional divisions, which eventually transform into religious radicalisation, is the disproportionate representation of Kashmiri Muslims in government services and the bureaucracy in the state at their disadvantage. In Kashmir, there is a growing feeling that disproportionately high representation of the Jammu and Ladakh regions in the government administrative recruitments, and Kashmiri Muslim exclusion from key decision making structures, is in line with the Kashmir region’s political disempowerment.
The contention of regional imbalances in J&K State goes back to several decades. It was way back in 1961 that the G. M. Sadiq government was advised by New Delhi to appoint a commission to look into Jammu’s grievances of discrimination. What followed was P. B. Gajendragadkar Commission. There is no secret in that the commission’s recommendations were politically influenced. One of its core recommendations was the creation of special administrative structures like Regional Development Boards. In Srinagar, most of the recommendations were received with alarm, but New Delhi used its influence to ensure they were taken seriously.
In 1965, Dr. Karan Singh, went a step further by proposing that J&K be ‘reorganized’ on linguistic (communal) lines, and Jammu be merged with Himachal Pradesh. Then, this demand was viewed as an extreme thought both in New Delhi and Srinagar. The idea died down on its own.

In 1978, Jammu’s sense of discrimination took a violent turn when riots broke out in Jammu and Poonch cities. That was the time when certain government recruitments were seen to be unevenly in favour of the Kashmir region. Soon the violence got little nasty, targeting a particular ethnic group. In the preventive police action, about eighteen people were killed. The then chief minister, Sheikh Abdullah, felt the political heat unbearable and announced setting up of yet another commission to inquire the grievances of discrimination. This time round the commission was headed by a retired Chief Justice, S. M. Sikri. The Sikri Commission, among other things, recommended creation of a State Development Board chaired by the Chief Minister. That never happened.

Since the 80s, almost all State government departments and agencies have been bifurcated or trifurcated. State-level posts were replaced by division and province-level posts. The reservation for socially backward classes and ethnic groups created further social and political divisions.

Ladakh region, for all practical reasons, became a state within a state. But it is important to recognise that the region’s separatist tendencies have their roots in early 1949 when its rulers proposed Ladakh’s direct incorporation into the Indian Union.

It is true that some rulers from the Kashmir region in the past have not acted too sensitively to the needs and aspirations of some of the people of Jammu and Ladakh. However, it is also true that Jammu and Ladakh regions always have had New Delhi’s political and administrative favours on their side. Among Kashmir’s civil society and political leadership, New Delhi’s such proximity and special favours to Jammu and Ladakh have bred feelings of psychological and political siege. That feeling is reinforced with each passing day.

IV. Delimitation of Assembly Constituencies:

Since many years, delimitation of the existing Assembly constituencies is being vociferously advocated by parties like the Congress, BJP, Jammu State Morcha and the Panthers Party in Jammu. They argue that Jammu region is “under-represented” in the State Assembly – with Kashmir having 46 Assembly constituencies and Jammu 37.

In April 2002 that the J&K Legislative Assembly adopted an amendment to the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution freezing any delimitation exercise till 2026. The Election Commission in 2008 also made it clear that there will be no delimitation of electoral constituencies in J&K before 2026.

Sadly, most of the political parties in J&K see the delimitation issue from narrow political prisms, rather than identity and rights. When the Congress Party fought the 2001 Assembly elections in Jammu & Kashmir, its election manifesto promised a Delimitation Commission – meaning a commission would be set up in the State through a constitutional amendment to hammer out new electoral constituencies based on the 2001 census.

For demystifying the delimitation debate, it is important to analyse the demographic data of the State. As per the 2001 census figures, the population in Kashmir province is 54.76 lakh and that in Jammu is 44.3 lakh. Jammu’s population includes around 1.5 lakh Kashmiri Pandits, who are enrolled as voters in Kashmir, not in Jammu. As such Kashmir has around 1.3 million people more than Jammu if we include Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley population.

There are ample examples to substantiate this argument. Jammu and Kashmir’s chief electoral officer B.R. Sharma recently made a significant statement when he said that the latest revised electoral rolls show that the number of voters in Kashmir is 32 lakh and that in Jammu around 30 lakh. In 11 Assembly segments in Jammu, 94,000 bogus voters were found and deleted. It was, however, not explained why Kashmir, despite having nearly 1.3 million people more than
Jammu, had only about 2 lakh more voters.

It is common knowledge that an unspecified number of eligible voters in Kashmir are not registered. It happens either due to their disinterest in the democratic process or due to administrative lethargy. Be whatever, by a modest estimate no less than a million voters of Kashmir are missing from the electoral rolls, even if one takes 2001 census figures as the base line data.

There is no doubt in that all primary data is collected by the local members of local government administration but there are many missing links between the Census Department and government man power in terms of co-ordination, training, geographical coverage, logistics and data consolidation. After data collection, all compilation and analysis takes place at the central level.

Basically, as per J&K's Constitution, census should have been a State subject. It is quite surprising that there is not a single Muslim member in the Task Force on Quality Assurance, which is responsible for the final clearance of census data of J&K. Even more surprisingly, J&K census department has almost no role in the analysis and validation part. The problem is that data processing includes what the Census Department calls the process of "internal consistency, comparison with similar data in the past and also validation with likewise data." And it is here where the problem lies. The trend of demographics having been established during the past census operations in J&K is reflected in almost every new census.

V. Decimation of the Jamaat-i-Islami:

The decimation of one of Kashmir’s main religious political parties - the Jamaat-i-Islami – during the insurgency era has worked the ways. On the one hand, some of its cadres’ embrace of insurgency, and eventual neutralisation saw a significant erosion of its political structure. On the other hand, the erosion of its cadre base and grassroots presence gave a fillip to the emergence of other religious groups like the Jamiat-i-Ahlihadees. All this has two ramifications for Kashmir. There is a thought which sees the political ideology of groups like the Jamaat-i-Islami more accommodative than the groups like the Jamiat-i-Ahlihadees. To another thought the decimation of Jamaat-i-Islami has sealed its capacity to create another grassroots base and student mobilisation in a near future.

Post 9/11, most of the cross-LoC radical political affiliations and insurgent networks have got snapped. Many of such networks like mainly consisting of Lashkar-i-Taiba, Jaish-i-Muhammad and other such organisations and their over ground offshoots had started importing ideologies which were mostly alien to Kashmir in the past.

VI. The Kashmiri Pandit factor:

Generally, the Kashmiri Pandits have been seen as a community which has remained wedded to the syncretic traditions of Kashmir. They have also been successful in a large measure in insulating their religious movements and discourse from the radical Hindutva forces of mainland India. However, over the last few decades, the emergence of radical Kashmiri Pandit groups, like Panun Kashmir, which espouses radical political and religious ideologies, has changed the perceptions about this community. The group’s political ambition of creating an isolated and separate homeland within Kashmir Valley remains a radical agenda, which has the potential of stirring reactionary radical responses from Kashmir. This agenda also serves to draw parallels with the Palestinian issue, making the Kashmir’s political question attain increasingly religious overtures. Any further delay in honourable and respectable return of the Kashmiri Pandits to their original homes and their assimilation with the majority Muslim community holds the potential for further radicalisation among both the communities, fuelled by reactions and counter reactions.

VII. The Sangh Parivar factor:

The patronage that certain religious communities in Jammu & Kashmir have enjoyed from radical religious groups like the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), the Bajrang Dal, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) etc. has also served to radicalise certain sections among the Hindu community. This patronage has also created reactionary forces among Muslims in the Kashmir Valley. Fluelling of regional separatist tendencies has automatically served religious radicalisation.

In March 2001, the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha of the RSS at Delhi has already resolved to support the agitations in Jammu and Ladakh for separate statehood and union territory status. The RSS Resolution on J&K, passed at Kukukshetra on June 30, 2002, apart from expressing solidarity with all non-Muslim and non-Kashmiri speaking ethnic groups’ “struggles of assertion”, also states, “This resolution is the best way to abolish the divisive article 370, separate citizenship for State subjects, separate flag, and separate constitution for J&K. It is also the best way to stop lakhs of Pakistanis from settling in J&K through the Resettlement Act.” RSS’ Uttar Kshetra Sangha, Jitender Veer Gupta’s blue print for the “or-organisation” offers another interesting insight into this.

VIII. Growth of Wahabi Ideology:

With the increasing unpopularity of certain practices of Kashmiri Muslims who identify themselves with the Hanafi school of thought, mainly the practices around the Sufi shrines, Wahabi ideology is gaining ground in Kashmir. Mosques which would traditionally be run by people of Hanafi thought, highly influenced by the Sufi ways of religious practices, are increasingly being overtaken by Wahabi ideologues. This is happening not only in Kashmir’s countryside but in Srinagar city as well, including the Old city – considered a strong bastion of Hanafi Islamic thought. Although this transition does not necessarily mean outright religious radicalisation, however, it leaves scope for transformation which over a period of time attains a degree of radicalisation – both social and political.

On the other hand, the Jamiat-i-Ahlihadees’s plan of establishing an Islamic University in Srinagar is seen as a direct response to the Mata Vaishno Devi University established in Jammu by a particular school of Hindu thought.

IX. The Madrasa Phenomenon:

Although there is a clear growth in the number and influence of Islamic madrasas (schools) in Kashmir, yet the fact remains that they are mostly politically passive. The emphasis of the educational curriculum in these madrasas is mostly on the teachings of the Quran andHadith (The traditions of the Prophet of Islam). An examination of the sample trends in these madrasas suggests that their proliferation does not necessarily translate into religious radicalisation, given the nature of their curriculum that generally focuses on individual reformation rather than political Islam seeking political domination. A survey undertaken by the J&K Police in 2007 has revealed that there is not a single case of any madrasa in Kashmir having produced a militant.

X. Extra constitutional laws and curbing peaceful political dissent:

Excessive reliance on law and order instruments in containing political dissent has also contributed in the growth of religious radicalisation in Kashmir. The use of extra constitutional laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), the Public Safety Act (PSA), the Disturbed Areas Act, etc. only fuel political discontent – which often strays into religious radicalisation.

The ramifications of New Delhi’s failure of meaningful political engagement with secular political groups like the JKLF are well known. Despite renunciation of the armed struggle, groups like the JKLF could not translate their bargaining power into any political achievement strengthened the forces which exhort religious radicalisation as the only means in achieving Kashmir’s political objectives.

As generally the Kashmiri youth have renounced the armed path in achieving their political goals, there is a greater emphasis on street and Internet mobilisation. A cursory observation of the Internet networking sites makes it clear that this generation sees juxtaposition of militarisation, political domination with religiosity as an attack on Kashmir distinct political identity and religious character.

Imposition of the Section 144, forbidding right to assembly, has become a part of Kashmir’s life. Illegal undeclared curfews are a routine now. Use of heavy force against peaceful marches has become a standard practice. It is common sense when all avenues of peaceful dissent and protest are chocked, more radical forms of resistance crop up, including religious radicalisation.

XI. Amarnath Land Controversy:

The Amarnath Land Controversy in 2008 was a watershed in the state’s history. It has created divisions which are hard to reverse. It has also given birth to a new wave of radicalisation.
Those who were against the land transfer argued that as per government figures alone, in 2008, the number of Hindu pilgrims to the Amarnath cave has been record high – 536,000 until Ist August, 2008. They also say that Kashmiri Muslims are publicly committed to host the pilgrims and facilitate the logistical needs for the same. J&K government is legally committed as ever to make available the best possible arrangements for the Yatra. At the same time Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) remains legally empowered as before by virtue of the SASB Act, 2002 to autonomously conduct the Yatra. However, exponential increase in the number of pilgrims beyond the area's carrying capacity, contamination of fresh water sources which feed 80 per cent of Kashmir's drinking water system and hijacking of the yatra by Hindu right wing elements have been serious matters of concern.

XIII. Conclusion:

From the above narrative it is clear that religious radicalization in Kashmir has local, regional and international political dimensions. The most important factor which fuels religious radicalization is the process of political disempowerment felt by the Kashmiri Muslims. Controversial acts like the 2008 Amarnath Land Transfer also fuel radical tendencies. However, as seen from the above narrative, there has been a decline in systematic and organised radicalization over the last two decades. An inclusive and syncretic Kashmir requires a political settlement of the Kashmir dispute and reversing the state policies that fuel communal divisions rather than genuine grassroots level regional and ethnic empowerment. Most importantly, what is required is an inter-regional and inter-faith dialogue.


Praveen Swami, ‘The game of numbers’, FRONTLINE, Volume 17 - Issue 21, Oct. 14 - 27, 2000
Kishor Kant Dr. Balram Misra, Indraprastha Vishwa Samvad Kendra, Delhi, RE-ORGANISATION OF JAMMU & KASHMIR, PROBLEM & THE SOLUTION
Alastair Lamb, Kashmir: A Disputed Legacy
By Arvind P. Datar, J&K: legalised discrimination, The Hindu, Friday, Mar 26, 2004
R . Upadhyay Jammu & Kashmir: Is Trifurcation a Viable Solution? (
Bishan Kumar, The regional riddle, The Indian Express, Wednesday, April 14, 1999,
Editorial, ‘Jammu & Kashmir: Will delimitation exercise take place in J&K?’, Monday, October 05, 2009 (

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