Identity and Ethnicity

(An excerpt from article “PaK: Ethnicity, Democracy and Islam” taken from book titled “Of Occupation and Resistance, Writings from Kashmir”)

 By Mazhar Iqbal

Though the majority of the people of PaK are Muslim, they tend to introduce themselves as members of a particular social or ethnic group. They like to be called by their family names instead of their given names. Raja Saab, Sardar Saab, Chaudhry Saab etc are the most common spoken names amongst the locals.

Islam is the dominant religion in this part of the world, but as symbols of identity, Islamic faith and religious affiliations are not as powerful as ethnic background and social standing. The population of PaK is comprised of diverse tribal groups and they are culturally and linguistically different from the Kashmiris of the Indian part of the state. Their cultural practices, customs and traditions, dress codes, ceremonies at marriages and deaths are similar to those of the people of the adjoining districts of mainland Pakistan.

Language is also a major player in social dynamics. People in Mirpur, Bhimber and Kotli districts speak local dialects of Punjabi and local culture is predominantly similar to Gujrat, Gujrawanwala, Jhelum and Chakwal. People in Rawalakot, Sudhnoti and Bagh speak Pahari and other local dialects and their cultural linkages are with the people of Kahuta, Rawalpindi, Murree and Jhelum districts in Punjab. The inhabitants of the upper parts of the Kashmir region, including Muzaffarabad, Neelum and adjoining areas, have similarities to the people of Abbotabad, Mansehra and Balakot districts of Khyber Pakhtunkha in Pakistan.

The people of this region like praise, and sometimes cross all limits in praising their favourite personalities. Local Urdu newspapers in PaK, and expatriate Kashmiri communities in Europe, Great Britain, USA, Canada and Gulf countries are microcosms of petty interests and blind loyalties to greedy local politicians.