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Friday, 13 November 2009

Kashmir and Indian Identity

They were up from their seats some pointing aggressively towards this man standing on the raised stage other shouting and physically assaulting. I stopped on these chaotic scenes on NDTV while flickering channels this morning of Monday 9th November 2009. On most of the other news channels the main highlight of day was 20th years of the fall of Berlin Wall and on one of the channels Hilary Clinton was saying that we have to bring down all the walls that exist in 21st century and confront those who hide behind these walls. But what i saw on NDTV was happening in India’s Maharashtra State over an oath taking or ‘swearing in’ ceremony for ministers. The news unfolded and it became clear that the chaos was over a member assembly Abu Azmi taking oath in Hindi rather than Marathi.  Soon Mr Azmi started taking oath in Hindi, the members of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) in the assembly jumped out of their seats and stopped the ceremony because they wanted the oath to be taken in Marathi, the State language despite the fact that Mr Azmi is not a Marahashtrian and cannot speak Marathi.

While there are several aspects to this incident and it will be analysed and commented upon by Indian politicians, commentators and social scientists for some time to come, my purpose of raising this issue here is not to analyse the behaviour of MNS that is an off shoot of India’s communally violent extremist party Shiv Sena. I am just thinking loud to describe how the news about the Marathi and Hindi controversy in one of the Indian states made me think about my country that is divided and occupied by India and Pakistan and that too is multilingual and multicultural and multi faith or in one word a ‘multi identity’ state and where the process of national identity construction has been halted and distorted due to the occupation for over 60 years.

While watching the scenes my mind went back to a conference in London few years back organised by a British based Kashmiri NGO, the International Kashmir Alliance (IKA). For the first time State Subjects of different shades of views and opinions from all parts of the divided state of Kashmir including those in diaspora sat together and discussed their issues under one roof and on a common platform. However, what stuck to my mind was a question asked by a BJP representative from Jammu and has been repeatedly posed by many Indian and Pakistani nationalists. The question is ‘how can a unified and independent Kashmir is possible when people of Jammu and Ladakh has nothing in common with Kashmiris?’.

In the conference my friend Adalat Ali tried to give conversation a humorous touch by ‘accusing’ the BJP chap of indirectly arguing for the breakup of India where so many tribes, languages, religions, cultures, ethnicities and nationalities live in the same country. To this the respond by the BJP guy was that they have a common Indian identity.

Although i disagree but can see the point in claiming that Kashmiri means Kashir in Kashmir and Indian identity is not the identity of any particular State or region within India so the Indian identity is acceptable to all Indians. However, if we seriously look at the growth of Indian identity it appears that its origins are in the Indus River and from there it gradually evolved into Indian that has been constructed through political processes and struggles into a wider national identity beyond Indus people. The fact that the struggle for constructing a national identity in multiethnic states always faces some serious problems and big challenges is evident from what happened in the Maharashtra Assembly. Here the MNS members though not openly challenged the Indian identity though they might prefer Baharat over India or Hindustan over India or may be Hindu Desh over India, but they do challenge the Hindi which is seen by some as India’s national language and synonymous with India as Kashir and Kashir (the Kashmir valley) with Kashmir. Indeed there is no Kashmiri language in Kashmir. The Kashir or Koshar is called Kashmiri by outsiders as the term of Kashmir was used by outsiders to describe the Kashir Valley and its surrounding territories. Almost in a similar fashion as the outsiders made Indus as reference point to describe the people who inhabited beyond that river that is called Sindhu in Sanskrit and Sindh in Urdu.

Now would the BJP or others who object to the emergence of Kashmiri as the national identity of the State, argue for the disintegration of the Indian state because there is no one common language of the Indian people? Are would the State Subjects who while support the unification of the State but oppose its independence because regions do not have anything in common be open and accept that actually they oppose independent Kashmir because they want its accession with India on the basis of religion? And that primarily the argument is a communal argument?

The author can be reached via email: shamakashmiri@yahoo.co.uk

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