Identity Formation in the Kashmir Valley: An Overview

kashmir army

 Identity is a concept for understanding and learning about social conflicts. The issue of Muslim identity in the Kashmir conflict became a concern, thereby turning potentially negotiable issues into intractable conflicts centered on conflicting groups’ self-image and religion. A stalemate has followed because of the perception that the identity of a Kashmiri Muslim is non-negotiable. Identities are complex, historically bound and ever moving.

Kashmir Valley has been celebrated as one of the living ideals of syncretic traditions, where religious beliefs have peacefully co-existed and flourished alongside for centuries. All the religious groups in the Valley have competed for political and social supremacy. Religion has been employed as an instrument for political and social supremacy.

The political turmoil in post 1930s period in the valley of Kashmir sowed the seeds of politicoreligious identity, where religion becomes the mainstream of political identity. The destruction of a mosque, interruption of a sermon and the desecration of Quran led religious leaders to declare that their religion was under attack and prompted the formation of All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference on July 13, 1931. The growing political unrest attracted the attention of Jawahar Lal Nehru (The first Prime Minister of India), who urged Sheikh Abdullah (The first Prime Minister of Kashmir) to turn Muslim conference into a secular and Nationalist movement.

According to Mark Beissinger, “cycles of mobilization feed off connections that agents made”. In a similar vein, Sheikh Abdullah’s National Conference (1939) changed the whole discourse of religion towards secularization. However, the discourse of Kashmiri identity once again changed after the state elections of 1987, which gave rise to the insurgency, this ultimately leading to a revolt in the city of Srinagar with sparks in rural areas, where mostly educated youth participated. Mosques, shrines and madrassas were used to propagate the purpose of their demands. The slogan “Islam is in Danger” strengthened the masses from urban as well as rural for the creation of an Islamic state.

The support from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in 1980s influenced the young generation in the valley and created the concept of Islamization in their minds. The effect of these religious mobilizations had impacted the youth of rural areas in every aspect. It is important to note, thatthe definition of Muslim was reinterpreted by the religious leadership and its followers through a dialectical process that resulted in the re-conception of identities. Ultimately, religion itself became the site for the formation of identities among the Muslims of the Kashmir Valley. All these factors have led to a distinct conception of Islam that is peculiar to Kashmir. The process of formation and assertion of political identity as well as the question of religion has been a complicated one in Kashmir. In fact, there appears to be an uncertain Kashmiri response to the politics based on religion.

The development of political consciousness was defined by the assertion of Muslim identity. There has been a reassertion of Muslim identity in the more recent years. After the killing of Burhan Wani, the identity formation once again reunited in the valley. Scores of populace came under the one banner ‘freedom’. Religious gathering from were occurring in which Mullahs of every sect give sermons regarding Islam, freedom and unity. However, within no time, when one of the militant organization joined with the Taliban, the identity formation comes once again. There was chaos and confusion among people to recognise, whom to trust. In today’s struggle, it has been noticed that different flags are carried out by the mourners, which is beyond imagination, what actually our identity is.

Inamul Haq is a Research candidate, centre for Gandhian Thought and Peace Studies, Central University of Gujarat, [email protected]. 9682625731.


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