Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Identity of Kashmir in Contemporary History

Kunal Chattopadhyay, Socialist Radical, February 8, 2011

Introductory Note: About a decade back, the Centre for European Studies, Jadavpur University, organized an international seminar around identity politics. Dr. Nandinee Bhattacharya (Calcutta Girls College) and I presented a paper entitled Imagined Authenticities: National and Supranational Identity Building in Kashmir and Tadzhikistan. Subsequently much time has lapsed. The present essay is based on the portion on Kashmir, for which I was mainly responsible. As I could not get Dr. Bhattacharya’s permission before publishing this in a slightly different form in a printed journal, I have been forced to omit her name. But I wish to record that the arguments developed here have her inputs too.

Kashmir and Central Asia: 

There is a long stretch, from Kashmir via Afghanistan to the ex-Soviet Central Asia, where ethnic, linguistic, religious and other identities jostle uneasily. Plural identities might not have caused any harm, were it not for the fact that each identity is held up by its champions as the sole authentic identity. In this essay, my concern is to argue that imagined histories of authenticity do not provide convincing cases for contemporary forms of unity. Instead, they often result in destructive conflicts. One could mention Afghanistan and Tadzhikistan as other such cases. Space constraint and the need to present a focused narrative prevent me from doing so at any length. But a few points will bring out one highlight, which I would like to return to at the end of the essay. 

Tadzhikistan and Kashmir have certain similarities. Both have been parts of multi-national, multi-ethnic states. Both have, in the past, had tolerant religious traditions. But there have also been important differences. The point I wish to make is not that these are identical, but that historical patterns cannot be unquestioningly called into the service of any force. Texts of contemporary or modern history, documents, agreements and violations of agreements, and so forth, might be of more use in working out legalities. But the building of modern nations and states in a democratic manner, where citizens can really control their lives, and not simply take part in make believe electoral farces, calls for a sharp questioning of all prevailing claims of authenticity that can impose totalitarianism in the guise of democracy coupled with “national security”.

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