“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Rekha says that the sustenance of the social and political plurality is the responsibility of every citizen

(Prof. Rekha Chowdhary, 55, was born in Jammu and has been a university teacher for the past 30 years. She is currently the Professor of Political Science, University of Jammu. During her distinguished teaching career, she was the visiting Fellow under a Ford Foundation grant at the Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford, in 1992-1993; winner of the Commonwealth Award availed at the University of Oxford, 1997-1998; and the Fulbright Fellow availed at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at the Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC, in 2005.)

Of diversity, divergence and identity

Diversities are so placed in this state that a complex social and political environment is generated. Firstly, there is no clear-cut context of ‘majority’ and ‘minority. Majority in one context becomes minority in another. Even when groups assert their collective strength and numbers, they claim their status of marginalization. Hence one can see a multiple context of ‘minority perceptions’ in the state. Despite being part of the largest religious group of the state, the Kashmiri Muslims perceive themselves as a minority in the context of the larger reality of India. Their perception of marginalization emanates from the context of the relationship of the state with India, especially the intrusion of the Centre in the politics of the State and disregard of the local political aspirations. The Hindus of Jammu and Buddhist of Ladakh, though majority in their respective regions, perceive themselves as minority not only in the context of the Muslim majority character of the state but also in the Kashmir-centric political and power context of the state. The sense of deprivation and minority lies deep in many other ways – the Kashmiri Pandits perceive their minority status vis-à-vis the Kashmiri Muslims, the Muslim of Jammu perceive their deprivation both vis-à-vis the Hindus of Jammu as well as Muslims of Kashmir. Similar is the situation of the Muslims of Kargil who perceive their marginalization both in the immediate context of the Buddhist domination in Ladakh as well as the power centre in Kashmir.

What is important about these multiple minority perceptions is that the status of minority and deprivation is not merely defined by the demographic factor of religion but also from other categories. Besides the religion, the factors of region, tribal or caste status as well as economic backwardness define the sense of minority. Regional backwardness and discrimination therefore remains the constant discourse in all the three regions of the state. Traditionally, the discourse of regional discrimination emanated mainly in Jammu and Ladakh. In this discourse, Kashmir was portrayed as the centre of power and other regions facing ‘neglect’ and ‘deprivation’. However, of late, in Kashmir also a discourse around regional discrimination has developed. Often political parties and intelligentsia refer to discrimination of Kashmir vis-à-vis Jammu region.

The regional context of backwardness is countered by the sub-regional context of deprivation. Whether in the Kargil belt of Ladakh, or in the Doda or the Poonch Rajouri belt of Jammu region, one can see this discourse of sub-regional deprivation and neglect. Apart from the regional and sub-regional perceptions of marginalization, there are other similar perceptions based upon the caste and tribal factors. Besides the dalits and OBCs suffering from minority perceptions, there are Gujjars and Paharis who perceive themselves as marginalized groups. Other than these, there are varieties of displaced people due to the conflict situation (the ‘Refugees’ from across the LoC or the International Border), the people living in the far flung areas and those living near the LoC who perceive themselves as neglected and deprived.

On the whole one can see an overlapping context of identities. Though a distinction on the basis of a particular category can be established, yet the social identities operate in a rather fluid manner. There is neither a singular nor a homogenous character of identities. Overlapping context makes each identity internally differentiated. How plural and complex can be the nature of identities, can be illustrated from the example of Jammu which is culturally the most diverse part of the state. The region is a cultural mosaic with Dogras, Punjabis, Patwaris, Gujjars, Kishtwaris, Siraji, Baderwahi and lot of other social groupings. Here neither the Hindus nor the Muslims form a homogenous category and are differentiated on linguistic and cultural basis. Like the Muslims, the Hindus are similarly classified as Dogras, Punjabis, Paharis, Siraji, Baderwahi, Kishtwari etc. Among both the Muslims and Hindus, the caste distinctions are quite important. The region therefore has a number of distinct social categories which are often extended into political ones.

The complex nature of diversities determines the nature of politics as well. To begin with, there is a divergence of political aspirations which leads to a multiple identity politics. As one can see, apart from the Kashmiri identity politics that informs the political movement in Kashmir, there is a range of other kinds of identity politics that makes the internal politics of the state quite vibrant. While some of these political identities operate parallel to each other, many others are located in a mutually exclusive and contradictory relationship with each other.

However, not all identity politics operates within the same paradigm. There is a layered context of the identity politics with each layer having a different context of its expression. The first layer that encompasses mainly the Kashmiri identity politics makes claims that are rooted in the nationalistic or sub-nationalistic aspirations of the people. The second layer of identity politics locates itself within the power structure of the state and operates at the regional and sub-regional levels. The third layer of identity politics situates itself in the context of collective marginalization on the basis of tribal, caste and other categories.

It is the diversity, political divergence and the multiple contexts of identity politics that make our state unique. The social and political pluralities do make us really a special state. The fact that we are living together not only despite our social and cultural differences but also with our political differences – makes us quite exceptional. In the contemporary world where there are many examples of intolerance, both of social and political nature, we have our social and political mosaic as an example of exception. We also do have our moments of tensions, but not many. We can say with confidence that we have survived as a plural and politically divergent society and have not done badly. However, there are many provocations and that is where we need to guard ourselves. The sustenance of the social and political plurality is our responsibility.