By Ming Wai Sit
On 5 August, India revoked a controversial constitutional provision that grants India-administered Kashmir special status, as promised by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in its 2019 election manifesto. According to Article 370, Indian-administered Kashmir shall hold a special status within the country, granting it partial autonomy, including a separate flag, its own constitution, and independence over all matters except foreign affairs, defense, and communications.
After the revocation of Article 370, India deployed massive numbers of troops across the Kashmir valley and banned public movements. Schools were shut down; and cellular networks and the internet were cut off days before the announcement of the presidential order. Two former chief ministers in Jammu and Kashmir also remain under house arrest.
On the other side of the divide, many Hindu nationalists were celebrating on the street, declaring the move as necessary for restoring public order in Kashmir. The Hindu nationalist BJP has long opposed Article 370 and requested its abolishment repeatedly. It argued such laws had hampered Kashmir’s integration with the rest of India. To keep things in perspective, it is worthwhile for us to take a look at how Hindu nationalism played a role in Kashmir dispute.
A brief history of Kashmir dispute
The conflict started after the British partition of the subcontinent into mainly Hindu India and Muslim-majority Pakistan in 1947. Under the partition plan, more than 550 princely states within colonial India, including Kashmir, could decide to join either new nation or stay independent. The maharaja (local ruler), Hari Singh, wanted Kashmir to become independent at first. Yet in October, he signed a treaty of accession with India in return for India’s assistance against tribal raids from Pakistan.
War erupted between India and Pakistan. India raised the Kashmir issue in the Security Council and asked the United Nations to intervene. The United Nations recommended holding a referendum to settle the issue of whether Kashmir would join India or Pakistan. However, the two countries failed to agree on arrangements concerning the demilitarization of the region before the referendum. In July 1949, both countries signed an arrangement for a ceasefire, as recommended by the UN.
Even so, the region became divided. Intermittent wars broke out in the decades that followed, such as in 1965 and 1999, when both states were nuclear powers. Nowadays, India and Pakistan both claim Kashmir; their controlled territories are referred to as “Indian-administrated Kashmir” and “Pakistan-administered Kashmir” respectively. Violence and civil unrest has broken out on the Indian-administrated side on-and-off for three decades, stemming from economic issues and a separatist insurgency against the Indian rule.
The idea of Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) and the formation of Hindu identity
Hindutva is one of the central concepts that is shaping the ideology of Hindu nationalism. This idea is broadly applied to describe myriads of expressions of the Hindu nationalist movement. It was first pioneered by the Sangh Parivar, a group of Hindu nationalists in the 19th century that yearned for a national identity for the Indians during their confrontations with European colonials. Later, V.D. Savarkar’s “Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?” came to be considered the foundational text for the establishment of Hindu identity. For Savarkar, “Hinduness” encompasses three pillars: common nation, race, and a culture centered exclusively on the rights of Hindus. A Hindu should share with others common blood and a tie of respect to Hindu culture and civilization. India should be the fatherland and the holy land of the Hindus. Moreover, those who follow other faiths shall live in the country only at the sufferance of Hindus.
In the meantime, Hindutva’s social imaginary fosters the exclusion of the Muslim minority in India. Guarding the ‘Hindu nation’ against the spread to Islam becomes the basic concern for Hindu nationalist organizations. For instance, they believe that Muslims from the Mughal Empire coerced myriads of Indian people to convert during the conquest of India. Also, the construction of the social memory of a Hindu trauma prevails, especially over Mahmud’s invasion and the crushing of other temples by Muslim rulers. The idea of Hindutva, in turn, shaped Muslims as ‘outsiders’ and ‘invaders’ of India. Therefore, within Hindu nationalist discourse, Muslims have historically been perceived as the “threatening other.” Protecting the “Hindu nation” against conversion to Islam has been the central concern. It attempts to prevent a nation of non-Hindus and in particular, Muslims, and instead create a pure Hindu rashtra (state).
All in all, Hindutva illustrates an identity rooted in the supremacy of the Hindus and isolates and views other religions, like Islam, as inferior. Its notions of ‘self’ and ‘other’ were increasingly taken up by Hindu nationalism, expressed in the ideas of Hindutva, and used to ‘re-imagine’ India as a Hindu rashtra (state). Hindus were reconstructed as a homogenous in-group, with the principle of “one nation, one people, and one culture.”
The role of Hindu nationalism in Kashmir
The BJP have fostered an environment that encourages hate speech and hate crimes directed at Muslims, often under the banner of Hindu nationalism. And such sentiment is being used to portray the Kashmir crisis as a threat to India’s territorial integrity. On social networking sites, Muslims are negatively portrayed as sexual predators, and as people who slaughter cows (which are deemed sacred by the Hindus). Furthermore, Prime Minister Modi never condemned hate attacks on Muslims publicly, despite the murder of 36 Muslims across 12 India states from 2015 to 2018. All these events led to the widespread social legitimization of anti-Muslim prejudice. Such anti-Muslim sentiments provide a basis for the BJP to redirect popular sentiment into a concentrated surge of resentment toward the Muslim minority. Hindutva casts India as an inherently Hindu nation; Muslims are an entity that jeopardizes this idea of Hinduness. Hence, anti-Muslim sentiment serves the nationalist agenda of the BJP, for utilizing Kashmir crisis to project a territorial threat to India’s sovereignty, stemming from Muslim identity.
Furthermore, the global phenomenon of Islamophobia further prompts the spread of anti-Muslim sentiment in Hindu communities. Such Islamophobic sentiment helped the BJP government gain support from the Indian population. By capitalizing on the rise of anti-Muslim sentiments in India and the promotion of “Hindutva,” BJP won an outright majority in the lower parliament house in 2019. Publically favoring the union of Kashmir and India, it also became the second-largest party in the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly. Following the BJP’s rise to power, Islamophobia created space for Modi to associate the Kashmiri struggle for self-determination with terrorism. Not only can the BJP speed up its ultra-nationalist policies, but also delegitimize the Kashmiri struggle for freedom by likening it with “Islamic terrorism.”
The importance of the Kashmir region to the BJP and its Hindu nationalist project shouldn’t be ignored. According to the Hindutva vision, Kashmir is an indispensable part for India. It considers the historical Indus valley or river civilisation as part of Hindu India, yet the center was deemed to be in Mohenjo-daro and Harappa in Pakistan. Whilst in Kashmir, the Kashmiri Hindu Pandit caste claimed to have a pre-Muslim historical background and pre-independence right. In the context of the surge of this Hindu ideology, the forced integration of Kashmir into “Hindu rule” in India became necessary. Therefore, Article 370 symbolizes Kashmir’s “incomplete” integration into the rest of India. Meanwhile, the Kashmir issue becomes the testing ground for Hindu nationalism and Pakistani national identity. In contrast to “Hindutva,” Pakistan perceives itself as the homeland of India’s Muslims and as a modern Islamic state. Given this clashing identity with Pakistan, the Kashmir issue is seen as a crucial test of Indian national cohesion. In other words, India fears that the secession of Kashmir would create a domino effect, triggering severe regional, political, and religious secessionist trends that would undermine the foundation and integrity of India. Because of the importance of Kashmir, India will do everything possible to hold onto the territory. Therefore, rather than continuing to grant Kashmir special position, the BJP, in turn, decided to revoke Article 370 and strip Kashmir’s relative autonomy.
Amid the rising trend of Hindu nationalism, the government is capitalizing on anti-Muslim sentiment to further its agenda in Kashmir. Even though Pakistan condemned India’s action in revoking Article 370 as illegal, and has called on the international community to heed, India still stands firm that this is an internal matter. Under current circumstances, this territorial dispute remains alarmingly dangerous and a potential point of inter-state conflict between India and Pakistan.
The views expressed in this article belongs to the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the authors are associated. This article was published by Geopolitical Monitor.com