Historicizing the Special Status of Jammu and Kashmir

The discourse of nationalism affects to make sense of the absurd loss of life that occurs. Human knowledge, however, is always tentative and arbitrary. We must learn to cross the frontiers of culture, nationality, language, and citizenship in order to make humanist responses to conflict situations.

There is growing awareness among the people of Jammu and Kashmir that a satisfactory and lasting solution of the Kashmir problem is possible only if both India and Pakistan examine this problem from the interest of the good of the people of the state as a whole.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir is so situated geographically that it depends for its economy on a free flow of trade to both countries. For ages, Kashmiri arts and crafts have found markets in India. At the same time, the rivers and roads of Kashmir stretch into Pakistan. Kashmir’s railhead used to be Rawalpindi and the traders in the Valley would use Karachi as the sea-port for overseas trade.

These circumstances lend overwhelming weight to the aspirations of the people of the state to secure the goodwill of both India and Pakistan for their betterment and prosperity. They aspire that the dispute should be settled in a manner as to allow them opportunities for national development based on Indo-Pak amity.

It is essential to create a non-militarized, non-militant and humane environment to ensure the rights of citizens to peacefully protest and to be heard by their political representatives. To that end, an environment that ensures all citizens that they have a voice and that their voices will not go unheard must be created.

In any society, when the people are in survival mode and trying to avoid being criminalized, to the extent that they are unable to participate in their governments, forces of power and special interests take over.

In Kashmir the current state of affairs is challenging, so it is crucial to have spaces of inclusion within which citizens of all ages, but especially young people, can productively contribute to the re-building of their society through dialogue. Young people must have an assurance that their voices will be heard by those in power at all levels of government.

The signifiers of nationhood in Jammu and Kashmir, flag, anthem, and constitution, have thus far not been able to move beyond a nebulous nationalist self-imagining. Now more than ever, the three regions of the state of J & K are at daggers drawn about the future political configuration of the state. It is of the utmost importance that bridges are built and the trust deficit lessened between the three parts of Jammu and Kashmir, making it necessary to address the contentious special status of the state.

On the Special Status of Jammu and Kashmir, from my book “Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s Reflections on Kashmir” (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018): Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in 1974:

“It has often been alleged that the special position of the State is, in fact, a symbol of Kashmiri domination over Jammu and Ladakh. I am of the opinion that such accusations are basically born out of bias, and my mind is explicitly clear and vivid in this regard. Firstly, the special status for Kashmir as envisaged by the Constitution of India is not a boon for us but a simple acknowledgement of the special circumstances which constitute a part of our past and future. Secondly, the special status is not meant for Kashmir province alone, and those who oppose it only jeopardize their own interests and put their house on fire in jealousy of their neighbor.

Today, when there is a growing demand in the country regarding reconsiderations of state-center relations, and even those states which had delegated their powers to the center voluntarily are making a demand for internal autonomy. It is surprising as well as painful that some of our short-sighted friends, out of sheer dislike for us, are impatient to surrender their rights and privileges to the center. What is amusing is that all this is being done in the name of so-called national unity and emotional integration. It is my belief that in a federal set-up, the best way for emotional integration and national unity is not the over-centralization of powers but its decentralization leading to the restoration of power in the hands of the federating units, which have acceded to be a part of the federation of their own free will. This alone, I am sure, can deal a death blow to national chauvinism and mischievous communalism. In light of the present over-centralization of powers, our country is gradually tending to be a unitary rather than a federal state, and I do not consider this trend as a good omen for the solidarity and integrity of the nation.

So far as the domination of Kashmir over other regions is concerned, I consider it a fabrication of facts and an outcome of a fear-complex. Friends, on this point I would like to assure you that there is nothing of the sort in our minds, and we are dead-set against any domination of one region over another. The broad outlines of the internal constitutional set-up of the State, drafted by the steering committee of the State People’s Convention in 1968, is a broad reflection of our thinking and stand in this regard.

. . . Let us pool our energies together and find solutions to these problems in an atmosphere and spirit of cordiality, good-will, mutual trust, and confidence. A solution is only possible if we sincerely rise above personal considerations and partisan ends. “


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Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as an guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She can be reached at nylakhan@aol.com.

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