By Jaffer Latief Najar//
“Our generations will surely beg on streets and curse us on our graves, if we remained silent and divided. This is not an issue of religion or jobs anymore; this is an issue of our indigenous identity and culture”.
This is not a statement of a politician but a childhood friend of mine, when we were communicating recently on the new domicile law that India recently imposed in Kashmir. By Kashmir in this article, I refer here the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir that was created in 1846, which is now commonly connoted as Kashmir across the world, including the world leaders. Pir Panjal region, in current times, is significantly neglected by the narratives and sentiments of either the Dogras of Jammu or the elites of Srinagar.
This is the article I have been waiting for years that gives a complete and broader view of the region beyond “Kasmir”. There is more in the entire state than the “Kashmir”. The neglect of the rest of the parts of the state other than the Valley by all the players in the game does complete injustice to the peoples comprising of multiple identities. My congratulations to the writer unfolding the realities that hitherto have been never exposed to the rest of the world, including within India and Pakistan. Promod Puri
However it is historically a distinct and important regional entity, comprising diverse culture, languages, traditions, religions and ethnic clans and tribes. When British Empire created the geographic boundaries of Kashmir, the then East India Company brought Kashmir Valley, Plains of Jammu, Ladakh, Gilgit, Baltistan and Poonch together as a new state and placed Poonch as its suzerainty. The Poonch during that period comprised of Pir Panjal mountainous range including the larger portion of contemporary Azad Kashmir. But after the United Nations’ Ceasefire in January 1949 to end war between India and Pakistan, it was the Poonch state of Pir Panjal region that predominantly suffered and was partitioned into two territorial pieces. One piece remained within India’s control while other merged within the control of Azad Kashmir. The new domicile law that India recently imposed in Kashmir hence impacts the Pir Panjal region under Indian dominion of Kashmir, rather than that of Azad Kashmir’s State. The then Poonch region of Pir Panjal is now administratively divided into Rajouri and Poonch districts by India, and is attached with Jammu Province, after the creation of Line of Control (LOC) between India and Pakistan. The districts of Rajouri and Poonch in Indian administrative Kashmir is now largely connotated as Pir Panjal region. Thus, in the forthcoming part of this article, my reference to Pir Panjal region is largely focused on these two districts.
Revisiting a brief history Briefly, Pir Panjal region, which includes the entire areas of the then Poonch jagir (state/principality), was a part of Kashmir’s Kingdom when a renowned Chinese traveller Huein Tsang visited in 630 AD. It remained part of Kashmir’s Kingdom until 1596, under the Sultan in Kashmir valley. But after the fall of Kashmir’s’ Kingdom and during the sultanate of Mughal empire, the local governance was managed by the series of local Muslim Kings (jagirs). Most prominent and known among them was the jagir of Raja Rustam Khan (1760-1787). The region remained the Jagirs of local Muslim kings for 700 years. Later, the jagir of Poonch became the subject of Maharaja Ranjit Singh when his forces attacked and made Poonch as his dominion under the control of Prime Minister Raja Dhian Singh.
The Muslim kings of jagir of Pir Panjal subsequently lost their governance after the treaty of Amritsar on 16th of March 1846. The rule of Maharaja (King) in erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir remained forceful in the Poonch Jagir until 1947. People of Pir Panjal (The then Poonch) had actively and historically joined Maharaja’s military, but always remained a distinct linguistic and cultural identity. Pir Panjal’s language and culture never got subdued in Dogra’s culture of Maharaja, although it got slightly attraction of valley’s culture due to its religious proximity, trade and being part of Kashmir’s Kingdom in the past. In spite of distinct identity and culture, the emerging religious communal tensions during the partition of British India, the rise of Hindu right wing group Praja Parishad that was gaining sympathies from Maharaja and then the massacre of Muslims in Jammu, triggered resistance and rebellion among the people of the then Poonch, which later resulted into the partial liberation of Poonch from Maharaja’s rule. It later led to the formation of Azad Government under the leadership of Sardar Ibrahim Khan, which eventually merged into entire Azad Kashmir’s control.
The other part, which didn’t achieve merger with Azad Kashmir’s government is the present day Pir Panjal region, comprises of Rajouri and Poonch district. And it always remained a victim of cross LOC tensions impacting lives of local residents and increasing their vulnerabilities. Shift of Centre of Power When East India Company created this state of Jammu and Kashmir, the then Poonch became it suzerainty. It had its own centre of power and its 700 years long local governance by Muslim Kings yet hold the leadership and contemporary dynamics of power relations. But after the United Nations’ Ceasefire and creation of Line of Control, it was predominantly the region of Pir Panjal (the then Poonch) that was divided politically, territorially, and suffered the imbalance of power. Once an independent Muslim dominated jagir that was governed by its indigenous Muslim Kings and connected with the city of Mirpur for trade along with valley of Kashmir, it (the Indian side of current Pir Panjal) was attached with the then least connected Dogra dominated Jammu city and Province. Jammu Province now largely consists of Hindu population and political discourse due to demographic changes after the massacre of Muslims in Jammu and communal partition of British India. The current Pir Panjal region, a Muslim populated region, thus merged under the control of Hindu dominated Jammu Province.
The series of these historical events shifted the centre of Power and political discourses from Pir Panjal to Jammu city, whereas Pir Panjal became a periphery- an undermined identity with whom no one wished to engage. Perhaps, one of the reasons is that Pir Panjal’s’ elite, intellectual, educated, economic and politically empowered section moved to its other part of Azad Kashmir and hence it lost a deserved representation, resources and political space in discourses of Kashmir, after the United Nations’ ceasefire in 1949. Pawn of ethnic and communal tensions When Sheikh Abdullah was rising in Srinagar against Maharaja’s dominion, it was his contemporary Choudhary Ghulam Abbas who had popular support in Jammu and Pir Panjal. But after the ceasefire and creation of Line of Control, Choudhary Ghulam Abbas moved to other part of LOC. Sheikh Abdullah intended to fulfil this vacuum of leadership and inspired an idea of ‘Greater Kashmir’ with an intention to assimilate this Muslim dominated region of Pir Panjal with that of Kashmir valley in the late 1970s. But to limit the power of Sheikh Abdullah’s Srinagar, Indra Gandhi’s New Delhi introduced a divisive strategy and new arithmetic that calculated that Dogras and Gujjars can outnumber the ethnic Kashmiris of the valley since the latter remained consistent for their aspiration for Azadi (Freedom from India).
Researchers also argues, Gujjars Muslims (especially of Pir Panjal) were cultivated by New Delhi as counterweight to Kashmiri Muslims by offering structural amenities and elite positions. This strategy of ethnic divide also worked and was further deepened to create a drift within the Muslims of Pir Panjal when the intracommunity conflicts and tensions were groomed between Muslim Pahari and Muslim Gujjar tribes. This intracommunity and intratribal tension within Muslims of Pir Panjal thus helped to retain the dominance of Hindu Dogra Jammu over Pir Panjal region and to retain the power centre at Jammu rather than shifting discourses and resources back to Pir Panjal. While, on the other, it appears that these intra ethnic divides worked well for New Delhi to keep the control on increasing proximity of Pir Panjal with that of Valley’s religious brotherhood or a tap on seeds of Abdullah’s idea of Greater Kashmir, although his party National Conference still has a considerable hold and vote share in Pir Panjal region. This identity divide and intercommunity conflicts are also seeded further with divisive politics of religious communal tensions. If I present the divisive events in a chronological manner, firstly the divide of Pir Panjal and Valley emerged, it was then followed by the divide of intracommunity Pahari and Gujjars, and later the intrareligious tensions between Muslims and Hindus started happening eventually. Such communal tension certainly displays the creation of drift within the broader political identity and weakened the power and political representation and aspirations of entire Pir Panjal region. Indeed this drift is possibly benefitting those who grabs the political dominance and power as well as weakens any future potential rebellion that happened in 1947 and took portion of Pir Panjal to other side of LOC. A rebellion in Pir Panjal can cost more loss to the claims and politics of Jammu and New Delhi than that of separatist sentiments in the Valley. But, significantly, such pattern of political development indicates that Pir Panjal became a sufferer that has been appropriated as a pawn in the game of powers, political aspirations and discourses in Kashmir. But there are also mistakes by people of Pir Panjal to remain divisive and ignorant of their strength and certainly the onus now lies on the people of Pir Panjal itself to reclaim, reflect, strategize and make allies of mutual benefits. Indigenous demography at Stake: A Concern and Emerging Risk The brief look over the series of events and intention in the past has shown that Pir Panjal region, once an identity and influence of its own with tolerance of diversity, is structurally, socially and politically divided and diminishing. It has become further complicated and weak after the abrogation of article 370 and the enactment of new law that took the statehood of Kashmir. As vulnerable to hegemony of Jammu and political distancing with Muslims of Kashmir, the people of Pir Panjal are trapped in a hard road ahead.
The youth, educated class, professionals and elders of this regions, irrespective of their class, tribe and clan, are now concerned about the demographic change or increasing communal tensions due to new domicile law that is seen of having potential to repeat Jammu Massacre’s type repression. For People of Pir Panjal, the major emerging concern is that the monster of demographic change might start from their region and then will tilt towards the Muslims of valley. Pir Panjal already has considerable amount of Hindu population and just a minor shift of population change in domiciles has potential to make the Muslims of Pir Panjal as a minority on their own land. And as their internal conflicts have already weakened the communities, the changing role of Jammu can significantly facilitate that demographic transition along with machineries of ultra-Hindu right wing government from New Delhi. Pir Panjal would then be complete dominion of Jammu representing a Hindu majority sentiments. Perhaps, this is what my childhood friend was attempting to indicate about his concern of losing identity of Pir Panjal and its loosing distinct culture. As pointed in earlier sections, the Poonch rebellion in the history was a triggering point that led the division of Kashmir and formation of Azad Kashmir state. If repressive events are repeated in Pir Panjal, it has similar potential to encourage more armed resistance and hence would increase further violence. But, on the other, the current weakening state of affairs has made it hard for people of Pir Panjal to either resist repression through aggressive politics or stay constantly as a losing pawn of the system.
However, this is the time when People of Pir Panjal are alarmed to predict potential future consequences and re-strategizing its politics before any type of violence further harms them. The emergent discourse for People of Pir Panjal is thus indicating a demand for collective and non-violent response to their concerns and a need of making allies of mutual benefits, rather than deepening their divisive politics.
About the author:
Jaffer Latief Najar works as a researcher at International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague, Netherlands. He has a book on community relations with a focus on Pir Panjal region into his credit. He can be reached on Twitter or LinkedIn