Peril of singular narrative: Examining impact on Kashmir’s history, politics

Dominance of a single narrative in Kashmir has overshadowed diverse perspectives and contributed to the perpetuation of biased portrayals

| Updated: 16 July, 2023 5:58 pm IST
Jammu and Kashmir are also home to nomadic communities such as the Gujjars and Bakarwals, who follow various religions including Islam and Hinduism (Photo Courtesy Twitter @JandKTourism)

The concept of the danger of a single narrative has been widely discussed in various contexts, including literature, politics, and social issues. It refers to the potential harm that can arise from relying on a singular, narrow perspective or story to understand a person, group, or situation.

By focusing on only one narrative, we risk making incomplete assumptions, drawing inaccurate conclusions, and perpetuating stereotypes that can lead to misunderstandings and unfair treatment.

The danger lies in overlooking the complexity and diversity of human experiences and reducing individuals or communities to simplistic and often biased portrayals. This phenomenon can be reinforced by media, literature, and other forms of storytelling that promote and perpetuate a singular narrative, limiting our understanding and perpetuating prejudice.

Recognising the danger of a single narrative allows us to embrace the richness and complexity of human experiences and challenge stereotypes, fostering a more inclusive and empathetic society.

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This is what happened in Kashmir post accession of Kashmir to India in 1947, wherein a single narrative built by Islamist forces, pro-Pakistan elite families and the complicit academia, media, and civil society dominated our minds for decades well into the new millennium.

For example, July 13 used to be an important date in the history of Jammu and Kashmir. According to the ‘dominant narrative’ on July 13, 1931, 21 Kashmiri Muslim protesters were killed by the Dogra forces of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. This event came to be known as the Kashmir Martyrs’ Day or Youm-e-Shuhada-e-Kashmir.

Since we started understanding the world, we 70s and 80s-born Kashmiris have known this day to be observed every year to pay homage to those martyrs. It was told to us that they sacrificed their lives to free Kashmir from the brutalities of the despotic Dogra rulers.

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The aftermath of the July 13 incident resulted in Maharaja Hari Singh appointing a commission to investigate Muslim grievances chaired by BJ Glancy. BJ Glancy was also given the task of democratising the monarchy. This resulted in the suggestion to set up a legislative assembly which would materialise in 1934.

This is then tied up to the narrative about the Silk Factory agitation of the 1930s when a workers’ protest against corruption and poor working conditions in the Srinagar Silk Factory resulted in a Valley-wide agitation.

According to Mridu Rai, author of Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects, it was the start of a movement for political and economic rights in Jammu and Kashmir and was a response to the heavy taxation, institutionalised discrimination, and forced labour without wages that Muslims in the region were subjected to under the Hindu rule.

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It took decades of violence from 1989 to 2019, two generations of our youth to be buried in graves, the rest all traumatised with the aftereffects of the proxy war to realise the Great Game being played by foreign powers, and the Islamist groups funded from the Middle East in a civilisational clash with India.

Ghulam Nabi Fai, an American citizen of Kashmiri origin, and a Jamaat-e-Islami activist, was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on 19 July 2011, for acting as an unregistered foreign agent, concealing the transfer of $3.5 million from Pakistan’s ISI to fund his lobbying efforts and influence the US government on the Kashmir conflict, in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Agencies later established that Fai had sponsored Ms Rai’s prizewinning book Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects: Islam, Rights, and the History of Kashmir (2004).

Now that is the danger of a single narrative. The lore surrounding July 13 promotes a certain political ideology and a version of the history of only one people and one region, denying other provinces and stakeholders an equal voice and the right to disagree.

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Jammu and Kashmir, along with Ladakh, are regions in northern India known for their diverse ethnic and religious composition. The Kashmir Valley has a majority population of Kashmiri Muslims.

In the Jammu region, the dominant ethnic group is the Dogras, who are primarily Hindus. Jammu and Kashmir are also home to nomadic communities such as the Gujjars and Bakarwals, who follow various religions including Islam and Hinduism. The Pahari-speaking areas of Jammu and Kashmir are inhabited by the Pahari ethnic group, which practices different religions including Islam and Hinduism.

In Ladakh, the region of Leh is known for its significant Buddhist population, while the Kargil district has a substantial Shia Muslim population. Additionally, there is a Hindu population in Ladakh, particularly in the Leh district. These regions showcase the diversity of ethnic and religious groups coexisting within Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

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Pakistan-administered Kashmir, also known as PoK, is a region that is part of Pakistan. It has a diverse population consisting of various ethnic groups, including Kashmiris, Dogras, Gujjars, Bakarwals, Paharis, and Baltis. While much of the population in PoK is Muslim, there are also Hindus, Christians, and other religious minorities.

The revocation of the State Subject rule in PoK has led to significant demographic changes in the region. The inhabitants of PoK have distinct characteristics and differences from the Muslims residing in the Kashmir Valley. Urdu is the official language in PoK, with only a small percentage of the population speaking Kashmiri. It is worth noting that while these are the major ethnic and religious groups, there may be other smaller communities present in the region as well.

This rich tapestry of ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious identities came into being due to General Zorawar Singh’s extension of the territories of the erstwhile J&K kingdom by conquering Ladakh and Baltistan. Zorawar Singh was a military general who played a significant role, born in 1784 into a Hindu Rajput family of Kashmir, and served as the governor of Kishtwar.

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Zorawar Singh also attempted the conquest of Western Tibet (Ngari Khorsum) but was killed in the Battle of To-yo during the Dogra-Tibetan War. He was known for his military prowess and is often referred to as the “Napoleon of India” for his conquests in the Himalayan areas, including Ladakh, Tibet, and Baltistan.

Zorawar Singh was a visionary who understood the importance of logistics and supply lines in warfare. He was also a master of guerrilla warfare and was able to adapt to the difficult terrain of the Himalayas. Zorawar Singh’s legacy is still celebrated in India, and he is remembered as a hero who expanded the territories of the kingdom.

Then came Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule which had an impact on the region of Kashmir. In 1819, Maharaja Ranjit Singh annexed Kashmir, which ended Afghan rule. This was the first time in 500 years that a non-Islamic government was ruling Kashmir. Maharaja Ranjit Singh conquered Kashmir in 1819, Hazara in 1820, and Peshawar and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 1834.

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Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s government was a mixture of Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims, and during the 27 years of his rule, several governors were appointed. Some senior officials were greedy and corrupt, but they were immediately recalled to Lahore and punished.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh was known for his military prowess and was the first Indian in a millennium to turn the tide of invasion back into the homelands of the traditional conquerors of India, the Pashtuns (Afghans). His domains extended from the Khyber Pass in the northwest to the Sutlej River in the east and from the Kashmir region at the northern limit of the Indian subcontinent southward to the Thar (Great Indian) Desert.

As these alternate histories start making their mark on academia, media, cinema, art, and political discourse, as well as subaltern voices, formerly sidelined, start getting their spaces and platforms, the danger of a single story will be greatly reduced.

July 13 used to be a state holiday in Jammu and Kashmir and was known as ‘Martyrs Day’. In 2019, July 13 was removed from J&K and Ladakh’s holiday list. This is in recognition of the fact that the violence which followed this event – the looting, arson, and general rioting affected the minority communities at that time and their stories too need acknowledgement in this mosaic of history, politics, storytelling and a subcontinent already divided by communal politics twice over.

Arshia Malik is a Delhi-based writer, blogger and social commentator
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own

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