Religion as a counterbalance in India

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Sunil Sharan

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In the Punjab, in the eighties, there was widespread violence against Hindus by Bhindranwale, which led to the attack on the Golden Temple, which led to the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, which led to the widespread violence against Sikhs outside Punjab.

Bhindranwale wanted to cleanse the Punjab of Hindus and declare an independent Sikh state. While the violence against the Sikhs in Delhi and other places was reprehensible, it had an unintended consequence, that it served, in the most macabre sense, in solving the Punjab problem.

Sikhs are well-entrenched all over India. If there is violence against Hindus in the Punjab, then Sikhs outside the Punjab face the heat. This is not justified, but it is a fact of life. Similarly if Sikhs outside the Punjab face discrimination, then Hindus in the Punjab have to face the music.

In the case of Kashmir, the insurgency erupted in 1989, with calls for Kashmiri Pandits to be killed, raped, or evicted from the valley. No wonder, there was virtually total ethnic cleansing of Pandits from the valley. The security forces took over the valley, but the insurgency hasn’t died down even after three decades.

While there are Muslims present all over India, the Muslims of the plains of India and other parts share very little in common with Kashmiri Muslims, except religion. There are hardly any Kashmiri Muslims outside of Kashmir. So while retribution is a terrible thing, and it should not happen, there has been scope of retribution against Kashmiri Muslims outside Kashmir because there frankly aren’t any.

If Kashmiri Muslims had been as dispersed as Sikhs all over India, would the Kashmir problem have been solved as the Punjab problem or would it have been close to solving?

Kashmiri experts in India, at least in their public discourse, refuse to accept the pull of religion as a divisive force. Left to its basest instinct, Kashmir is all about Islam. The Muslim people of Kashmir want independence or a merger with Muslim Pakistan because they don’t want to be a part of what they believe to be Hindu India.

Let’s not obscure this point by saying, oh, Kashmir needs more development, or hey, talk to the Hurriyat. The centre has been pouring funds into a non-productive Kashmir since Independence. You don’t see in Kashmir the kind of poverty that you see in other parts of the country. And the Hurriyat is an avowedly Islamic, an avowedly pro-independence organization. They are not budging from their Islamic and pro-independence stance one whee little bit.

Pakistan’s stated goal is to self-implode but get Kashmir at any cost. Pulwama showed that it is willing to risk all-out nuclear war to fulfill its aim. It has fueled, funded, aided, abetted, and trained the insurgency in Kashmir as well as the Hurriyat. The Hurriyat is in hock to Pakistan.

The only reason that Kashmir has not spun away from India’s orbit is because of the presence of the security forces and the Indian establishment’s iron will (and dare I say iron fist) to thwart the insurgency.

People in India say talk to Pakistan about all issues including Kashmir. But Pakistan says that there is only one issue that it wants to talk to India about, and that is Kashmir. It says that it has no other issues with India. Siachen and Sir Creek are merely pimples. Even if they were to be resolved, the core and only issue that would remain would be Kashmir.

They say that Musharraf and Manmohan Singh had almost reached a deal on Kashmir. Yes, but “almost” is the key word here. And even if the two had come close, the chasm that exists now between Delhi and Islamabad is as wide as ever.

Kashmiri Pandits want to return to their hearth and homes in Kashmir, but no one wants them back. Not the Hurriyat, not the Kashmiri Muslim, not mainstream Kashmiri politicians, nor even perhaps the centre. They have become nobody’s children, left to rot in slums all over India.

The Kashmiri Pandit had no counterbalance in the rest of India as say the Hindus of Punjab did. Such then is their fate. India is a multi-religious, multi-ethnic country, with different religions and ethnicities dispersed all over India. These provide a check and balance for the safety and security of one another. Not so in the case of Kashmir. And this is one of the reasons, oft ignored, why the Kashmir problem is proving so intractable.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.



via TOI Blog

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