The crisis continues in Kashmir and the narrative is no different. In the imagination of the mainstream, the region continues to be a distant, mystical land, a poetic setting of conflict and beauty, with no dearth of horrifying and tragic stories. Every terror attack and political crisis is underscored by the specter of Kashmiri nationalism and the insensitivity and brutality of the Indian state. The mainstream’s understanding of Jammu and Kashmir has consistently been confined to the valley. It has all the material to feed a 24-hour news cycle and for armchair intellectuals to test their rhetorical mettle.
However, the regions of Jammu and Ladakh, which are actively affected by the upheaval in the valley, are brazenly ignored in the Kashmir conversation.
In every evening news show one will see Kashmiri politicians and activists, many of them based in New Delhi, rubbing shoulders with ‘senior journalists’ who regurgitate pre-historic bylines on the situation in the valley.
The Kashmir conversation is nothing more than a rhetorical boxing match seldom based on the organic truth, where in the words of Isaac Asimov, “one’s ignorance becomes as good as another’s knowledge”. Not even a politician or an activist from the Jammu or Ladakh region is included in the discussion in order to present a broader socio-political perspective of the situation in the state.
Jammu and Ladakh’s politically inert nature tends to make them less interesting candidates for the national news as compared to their neighbour. This may be the reason why whenever I say that my family hails from the Jammu region of J&K, literally everyone’s first response is “Are you Kashmiri?”
Jammu is the land of the Duggar or the Dogra people, a community deeply entrenched in the armed forces of India for several generations. Its most celebrated war hero is Brigadier Rajendra Singh who is also known as ‘The Immortal Dogra’. He was the first recipient of the Maha Vir Chakra in independent India for his service in repelling Pakistan’s invasion of Jammu and Kashmir in October in 1947 after Partition.
Rajendra Singh was ordered by Maharaja Hari Singh to deter the Pakistani army from crossing Uri, and with a handful of men, the Brigadier delayed Pakistan’s advance by two days till the Indian Army provided reinforcements. He perished in the fighting on October 26, 1947, the same day Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession joining the Union of India.
Rajendra Singh continues to be an inspiration to people across Jammu and almost every household has one or two members serving in the armed forces. Despite facing the brunt of militancy for decades, Jammu has not allowed it to take root in the region.
Similarly, Ladakh, which comprises of Shia Muslims and Buddhists, has always faced the threat of militancy. Ladakh shares a border with PoK and holds the crucial border outpost of Kargil as well as key roads and highways. It has been the target of incursions and war, yet is renowned across India as nothing more than a peaceful tourist destination, primarily because it has not allowed militancy to establish a base in the region.
Jammu and Ladakh bear a seething hatred for separatists and terrorists in the Kashmir valley who celebrate the accession of J&K to India as a ‘Black Day’, similar to Pakistan. Army officers and jawans from Jammu and Ladakh serve at the Line of Control, in the BSF and CRPF, and people in both regions fume when terrorists like Burhan Wani are called martyrs, when soldiers are hated and attacked by those they have sworn to defend.
In the political sphere, Jammu and Ladakh have been poorly represented and administered by successive governments in the state, which has predominantly been ruled by Kashmiri parties with Kashmiri CMs. Uneven regional allocation of funds for administrative bodies and appointments to top posts favouring Kashmiris is the status quo in the state. Moreover, Kashmiri parties have consistently angered Jammu and Ladakh by tiptoeing around separatists and terrorists, with PDP leaders like MP Muzaffar Beg asking the Centre what was the need to kill Burhan Wani.
Civil society groups in Jammu have also accused political leaders at the Centre and the state government of ignoring the effect of the violence in the valley on Kashmiri Hindus and Amarnath pilgrims. Citizens in Jammu and Ladakh are also opposed to Article 370, over how it restricts private enterprise in the state and prevents the well-integrated regions from becoming a part of India’s growth story.
They resent the roadblocks stemming from Kashmiri politics, which is why a resurgent ‘pro-development’ BJP under Narendra Modi found fertile ground in the 2 regions, bagging the 3 MP seats and 25 Assembly seats, just 2 behind the dominant PDP. This propelled the BJP to form its first government in Jammu and Kashmir in alliance with the PDP, exposing the political divide in the state.
However, the BJP is now facing flak for allegedly continuing the step-motherly treatment of Jammu and Ladakh.
Kashmir belongs to the people of Jammu and Ladakh as much as it belongs to the people of Kashmir. Both regions vehemently oppose voices demanding the independence of the state as well calls for its integration into Pakistan. They yearn for change as the state has been poorly administered for years and denied the benefits of India’s growing economy.
Jammu and Ladakh are bigger stakeholders in the Kashmir situation than Delhi-based activists, non-resident Kashmiris, and especially Pakistan. Political leaders and civil society groups from the two regions must be included in any discussion on the Kashmir situation. The socio-political volatility in the valley cannot be discussed in isolation from the dynamics in other parts of the state.
As the political dispensation has changed with the BJP in power in J&K, so should the narrative on Kashmir in order to gain a holistic view of the crisis instead of a regular propaganda battle, which has skewed the nation and the world’s view of a complex situation.