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Jammu & Kashmir: Historical relationships among Muslims and Pandits & inter-religious communities

The history of the Kashmir Valley, also referred to as 'Paradise on Earth,' thus marking the root of religious pluralism in the region.

Jammu & Kashmir: Historical relationships among Muslims and Pandits & inter-religious communitiesT

he notion of ‘Jammu & Kashmir’ (or the Kashmir region) on the international arena is often associated with being the bone of contention between the two South Asian nuclear rivals; India and Pakistan. The 1947 Partition of British India into the Hindu-majority secular republic of India and the Muslim-majority Islamic republic of Pakistan triggered the dispute over Kashmir’s border area that continues to this day. While nationalist forces may have lied at the heart of the dispute, religious factors are playing an increasingly important role in understanding the prevailing, incessant violence that is rooted in the Kashmir Valley.

The Muslim-majority territory has posed a challenge for Indian authorities which Pakistan has exploited by disguising itself as the protector of Muslim rights, not denying any territorial ambitions. Throughout the contemporary period, where religion has steadily developed into a crucial symbol of Kashmiri culture, it can be hard to believe the region was once a melting pot of various ethnicities and religious faiths.

The traditions of religious pluralism have deep roots in the history of the Jammu & Kashmir. Customarily, while the existence of various religious sects may be regarded as the ideal formula for bitterness and animosity, Kashmir’s early history – when Buddhism, Hinduism, Kashmir Shaivism, and later Sufism flourished at the same time – contradicts this equation. Not surprisingly, this does not mean that social peace and equality have continued to flourish in the region, but that co-existence between communities in Kashmir has generally remained synchronized in harmony given the various cultures and religions implanted over the centuries by different dynasties.

Also when India was afflicted on religious lines with the Partition, the Kashmiris firmly maintained social harmony and unity between religions. During a time when Islamist nationalism was on the march in Pakistan in the 1970s, and in India in the 1980s Hindu nationalism took hold, Kashmiri syncretism continued to prosper without significant disturbances. Indeed, while the region has long been characterized by religious diversity, the transformation of this diversity into sectarian and communal violence has only been witnessed by the last few generations.

This paper briefly traces the Kashmir Valley’s history, frequently eulogised as ‘Paradise on Earth,’ thus delineating the region’s genesis of religious pluralism. It should be noted that the purpose of this paper is not to provide a thorough account of the different religions that Kashmir harbours; rather, the goal is to shed light on the manner in which ancient settlers generally propagated the universalist ideas of peace, typically making the distinction between Muslims and Hindus almost impossible. It would be naïve of course to believe that such idealism has maintained its place in the unavoidable face of human existence. Indeed, the notion of peaceful, inter-religious coexistence has been permanently harmed by religious radicalisation and decades of conflict.The narrative underlying Kashmiri identity has acquired strong religious tones, as concluded in this paper, whereby the collective consciousness of being a Kashmiri Muslim or Pandit, rather than being a Kashmiri, now dominates society. The glorious days of religious pluralism – once Kashmiri history’s landmark-have gone a long way.

Ancient History

To understand the meaning of religious diversity in the Kashmir Valley, it is appropriate to reconstruct briefly the early history and fundamentals of the religious ideas that prevailed prior to the advent of the kings of Lohara. According to Kalhana’s Rajatarangini and Nilamatpurana, the Kashmir Valley was once a large lake called Satisar-the lake of Sati  (Hindu Goddess Durga). A fearsome demon, named Jalodbhava (or Jaldeo or Jaludhar), lived in the lake and misused his strength to terrorize his world. The great sage Kashyapa, this devil’s ward, has long practiced penance. Feeling sympathy for Kashyapa, the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva drained the water from the lake and Goddess Sharika dropped a pebble on the evil demon which immediately became a hillock and the demon was crushed underneath it and kept in prison. The land arising from the lake came to be called Kashmir.

Historians believe that Kashmir’s history can be traced back to 250 B.C, when Ashoka invaded the area, and later sent missionaries to bring Buddhism into the territory. Buddhism was an important part of the ancient Kashmiri society, as is often expressed in the Rajatarangini of Kalhana, and further enjoyed patronage not only of the Buddhist rulers but also of the Hindu and early Muslim rulers. Kashmir was the center of what became known as Sanskrit Buddhism; it was there that the Buddhist schools of Mahayana, and also of Yogachara and Vajrayana, developed and flourished. Kashmiri teachers, priests, and scholars had migrated all over Asia before the end of the first millennium – including China, Tibet, Afghanistan, Japan , and Korea – spreading the dhamma, translating scriptures, and interpreting doctrines. So it can be said that the presence of Buddhism in Kashmir was instrumental in creating colonies of Buddhism and Hinduism in Central Asia. It is important to note that there was no apparent distinction made between Hindus and Buddhists in the Kashmir Valley prior to and during the life of Kalhana.

Since the fifth century until around the twelfth century, Kashmir was marked by Hindu civilization and the religion of Shaivaite. The tenth and eleventh centuries were marked by a spirit of religious activity: it was during this era that Kashmir Shaivism reached its highest growth with its particular humanistic philosophy and idealistic monism known as Trika, and produced high-caliber teachers and authors. In Kashmir Shavism, “the central principle of Shiva is one, pure, and unseen consciousness manifested as the plurality of the physical universe through the spiritual force of Shiva, Shakti.” In Hindu mythology, Hindu rulers and culture played an significant part in Kashmir’s history.

The Loharas Era (1003-1171 A.D.) marks the zenith of early medieval Hindu Kashmir, at a period when the rest of India was experiencing a massive upheaval by Muslim invaders. The dynasty’s early history has been mentioned in the Rajatarangini, and subsequent accounts that provide details up to and beyond the end of the dynasty mainly come from Jonaraja and Srivara. The Lohara Dynasty came into being in 1003 A.D. By Sangramaraja, from the Khasa tribe, who obtained the crown of Kashmir from his wife, Queen Didda, and is commonly considered by kings and queens to be a time of brazen lust and pitiless misrule. Particularly later dynasty rulers were deemed weak: during this time, internecine fighting and corruption were widespread, with only brief respite spurts, which would eventually pave the way for the growth of Islamic rule in the region.

The Rule of Islam

Islam’s first appearance in Kashmir is thought by some to have been on the occasion of Tartar Khan Dalcha’s abortive invasion in 1128 A.D. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until two centuries later that Islamic culture slowly crept into Kashmir, eventually forming the religious demography of the region by becoming the dominant theme. The process by which Islam was introduced into the Valley was different from that by which it entered into other parts of Hindustan, for it did not come through conquest, but through peaceful penetration. Historian Mohibbul Hasan attributes this trend to the Lohara Dynasty’s internal collapse in which oppressive taxes, corruption, internecine conflicts and the rise of feudal lords (Damaras) prevailed. Eventually, the Valley’s severe socio-economic and political deterioration helped pave the way for the rapid and mass conversion to Islam.

It is said that Renchen Shah, named Sadr-ud-Din (1325-27 CE)-a Ladakh Buddhist prince who escaped to Kashmir because of unfavorable political conditions-founded Islam in the area. The spiritual turmoil of Renchen is primarily due to the decision taken on behalf of Brahamans, who would not welcome him to their caste after he married the last Hindu Rajah’s daughter:

“No doubt a great diplomat and explorer – considering those times – Rinchan, Buddhist as he was, struggled to peacefully buy a Brahman’s status, even though there was a very small difference between Buddhism and Brahamanism in Kashmir at that time. He was rejected because the tradition-bound, visionless and insecure chief priest of Brahman (Devaswami) should not ‘pollute’ the caste” – Parnu, R.K, A Muslim Law History in Kashmir 1320-1819.

Thwarted by the discriminatory caste system, the Buddhist prince decided that he would adopt the religion of the first person he would see the next morning — whether by accident or prearranged, he came into contact with Sayyid Sharafu’d-Din, commonly known as “Bulbul” Shah, who eventually oversaw the conversion of Renchen to Islam. Renchen eventually adopted the title of Sultan Sadr-ud-Din and thus became the first of the Muslim rulers of Kashmir. There were very few Muslims in Kashmir at the time when he embraced Islam, but their number increased rapidly after his conversion, so that by the end of Zainul-Abidin ‘s reign a majority of the Kashmiri population had been converted to Islam. This was accomplished mainly through the tireless efforts and zeal of Persian and Central Asian Sufi saints, such as Bulbul Shah, who sought refuge from the Mongol holocaust and the massacres of Timur in Kashmir.

Another historical figure who played a pivotal role in the proselytization work was Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani, a Persian Sufi who invaded Kashmir under the reign of Sultan Qutub-ud-Din (1372-89), with seven hundred expeditionaries. Hamadani observed the way in which the Valley’s socio-political equilibrium was disturbed by decades of Mongol invasion and lack of economic system renovation. With the arrival of his followers, consisting of soldiers, craftsmen and artisans, who taught the Kashmiris in various fields such as carpet weaving, shawl weaving, and paper mache, he sought to revive the economic condition of Kashmir. As socio-economic conditions changed, Islam gradually became through its efforts the religion of the people. It should be noted that they were initially received in a friendly manner upon the arrival of the first Muslims in Kashmir, although social intercourse between Hindus and Muslims was not entirely spared from feelings of scepticism:

“It was only when Islam started to make rapid progress that it stirred up the hostility of the Brahmans, who found their traditional values upset, and challenged some of the basic assumptions on which Hindu society was based. However, in the course of time, they were compelled to adopt an attitude of tolerance and goodwill, realizing the futility of opposition. These feelings were reciprocated by the Muslims” – Hasan, Mohibbul, Kashmir Under the Sultans. 

With the exception of the communal clash which took place during the reign of Hasan Shah, the two communities lived mostly peacefully and friendly throughout the Sultanate period, regardless of their religious affiliations. Evidence indicates that social encounters were regular in nature between Muslims and Hindus, with intermarriages occurring as a common phenomenon. But perhaps the most notable manifestation of religious pluralism at that time was the relationship between the mystical saint Lalleshwari or Lal Ded (1329-1392) and her disciple, Sheik Nur-ud-din (also called Nund Rishi). Born into a Hindu Brahmin family, the verses of Lal Ded will go on to explain the union of Shaivite philosophy and Sufism streams in Kashmir in the fourteenth century. Lal Ded’s contribution is of considerable importance-not only did she initiate a sacred mission as a member of a particular faith-her dedication to the cause of mankind as a whole and, in particular, offering comfort to the Kashmiris would define the plural and even shared cultural ethos in Kashmir.

As Trisal observes:

“The ethos of Kashmiri Plural Society lies between the verses of Lal Ded and the teachings of Sheik Noor-ud-Din. Their perceptions, verses and sayings formed the core of Kashmiri culture … This gave rise to that peculiar social relationship, among Kashmiris belonging to different faiths, which can be called the basis of Kashmiri identity-Tirsal “1996, 735-740 as quoted in Chowdhary, Rekha. Jammu & Kashmir: 1990 and beyond: Separatism in the Shadow of Competitive Politics.

Apart from Lal Ded, her disciple ‘s influence, Nund Rishi, is commonly seen as a manifestation of the syncretism between the Valley’s Hindu past and Islamic present. His teachings of equality and tolerance are equally revered by both Hindus and Muslims. Because of the Rishi tradition, Kashmiris reputedly practiced a form of tolerance and inclusiveness called ‘Kashmirness;’ a notion that implied respect for the religious traditions and religious festivals of one another. This famous practice was later re-named ‘Kashmiriyat,’ a term that owes its roots to Persian and Arabic, as explained later in this paper.

The propagation of Islam in Kashmir has, of course, not always been a peaceful process. While Shamas-ud-Din ‘s rule had seen an expansion of Muslim power, Hindus and Buddhists continued to large-scale command of Kashmiri politics. It was only later in the fourteenth century that during the reign of Sultan Sikander (1389-1413) the liberal stance against non-Muslims weakened, often referred to as Butshikan, who was strongly opposed to the act of idol worship. Sikander ‘s intention to remove all signs of Hinduism, as an oconoclast, culminated in the persecution of Hindus, with thousands of worshippers fleeing the Valley from massacres or forced conversions. Yet other Muslim predecessors have not completely expressed the iconoclastic fervor of Sikander. One of these was Sultan Sikander’s son Shahi Khan  – who adopted the title of Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin (1423-1474)-who restored peace and confidence through his policy of hospitality and religious tolerance. Many Kashmiri Pandits, who had left the Valley earlier in fear of forced conversion, were able to return under his peaceful rule. Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin was known to his people as Bud Shah (Great King) and often referred to by Kashmiri Pandits as Bhatt Shah (Pandit’s King), as the Kashmiri Pandits are often referred to as Bhatt’e in local Kashmiri language. The subsequent era saw the restoration of Hindu temples and the beginning of festivals, thus restoring elements of inter-religious harmony in the region.

The Kashgar Mughal governor invaded Kashmir in 1540, and controlled the area until Chaks killed him in an outbreak of rebellion in 1551. This marked the beginning of Chaks’ rule, believed to have naturalized Chilas (Today; Gilgit Baltistan) Kashmiris of Dardic descent. Including Shia, the rulers of the Chak persecuted their Sunni subjects, forcing latter faith scholars to flee to safer surroundings. Yusuf Shah Chak ‘s ineffective attempts and Yaqub Shah Chak’s inexperience of mobilizing the aggressive elements in the Chak aristocracy to support the ends of the Sultanate contributed to the passage of Kashmir into the hands of Mughal. Kashmiris’ attempts to reassert independence after 1586 were predestined to fail due to lack of resources to combat the dominant Mughal Empire.

Kashmir under Mughals

Kashmir witnessed no direct rule of Mughal until the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great (1555-1605), whose aggressive efforts to annex Kashmir were prompted by both imperialist designs and defense considerations of the Mughal Empire (which was increasingly threatened by the growing Uzbek Empire). Given the tough resistance, Akbar managed to conquer the Valley, which is why Kashmiri historians always interpret the Mughal rule as the beginning of Kashmiri independence ‘s end. The productive essence of the invasion of Akbar is often attributed to the internal divisions of Sunni-Shia that existed in Kashmir at the time. Mirza Haidar Dughlat’s anti-Shia policies and the Chaks’ anti-Sunni policies had broken what remained of Kashmiri unity, rendering the region’s occupation an simple job for the Mughals.

The 1586 Mughal conquest of Kashmir is widely seen as a turning point in the region’s physical, economic, political, and cultural history. There have been major shifts in political and governmental structures, and there has been a dramatic shift in the socio-economic system. Industrial development took on a different form and, over time, shawl-weaving became a leading industry that would eventually revolutionize the Valley economy. Picturesque gardens and mosques were built under the reign of successive Mughal emperors, and the Valley eventually developed into a refuge for royalty, nobility, and aristocracy. The creation of many religious structures and the abolition of taxes levied on Hindu subjects by Muslim monarchs provided a few additional benefits:

“Both Zainul Abidin and Akbar regarded [Kashmiri Pandits] with dignity, enabling them to practice their faith and customs openly and without fear, and rehabilitated them and offered them trustworthy positions in government. Akbar abolished oppressive taxes such as jizya, which Zainul Abidin had earlier reduced-Toshkhani “and K. Warikoo, the Kashmiri Pandits Cultural Heritage.

Nevertheless, these interludes of relative peace and fair treatment with respect to Kashmiris would prove to be brief. At the time of the later Mughals, particularly during Muhi-ud-Din Muhammad’s reign, widely known by the Aurangzeb sobriquet, things for Kashmiris touched a low ebb. Renowned for his intolerance of other faiths, Aurangzeb re-imposed the jizya, and his governors pursued tyrannical approaches to dealing with Kashmiri pandits and Shia Muslims. The end of his reign, and the war of succession between his three sons after his death in 1707, led to a steady decline in Kashmir’s Mughal rule.

Kashmir under Afghans

The Mughal empire had begun to collapse in the last decades of the 17th century, during the reign of Aurangzeb. During his tyrannical rule, the Kashmiri discontent had reached its peak: the Mughal central administration had met the Kashmiri grievances caused by the disastrous famine of 1733 with inexistent help-efforts. After his death in 1707, ambitious regional chieftains consolidated control in their respective territories and started to break the ties with the central Mughal command. Northern India was a sea of chaos, whereby the Mughal satrap misrule enabled Ahmad Shah Abdali, the founder of the Afghan Durrani empire, to consolidate power in Kashmir in 1751. The arrival of Afghans in mid 18th century on Kashmir ‘s political front was the product of local leaders Muquim Kanth and Zhir Didamari inducing Ahmad Shah Abdali to invade Kashmir. Though the Valley people tried to get rid of Mughal’s tyranny screws, their search for a solution to their problems was met with an rise in suffering upon the arrival of Afghans.

The Afghans were harshly oppressive against all Kashmiris, irrespective of class or religion, according to historical accounts. Both Muslims and Pandits of Kashmir were relegated to a submissive position and brutally oppressed by the Afghans. The Kashmiri scholar Prithivi Nath Kaul Bamzai writes concerning the miscalculation in inviting Afghans to rule Kashmir:

“Their rule reduced the Valley to the lowest depths of misery, degradation and slavery. The Kashmiri nobles had mistaken them for a branch of India’s civilized and benevolent Mughal emperors, thus inviting the Afghans to take over the administration of the Valley. (…) Little did they imagine that all the beauty and nobility, for which Kashmir and its people were famous, would be wiped off under their rule”.  

And many scholars believe that Kashmiri Pandits have been treated with the utmost cruelty; a reign of terror has been let loose against those of Hindu faith, resulting in oppressive policies, mass imprisonment and even killing. With regard to Kashmiri identity under the tyrannical rule of the Afghans, Chitralekha Zutshi, Professor of History at the College of William & Mary, Virgina, argues that “[A]rticulations of Kashmiri regional affiliation that included and transcended political, tribal and other local affiliations became especially insistent” whereby both Muslims and Pandits became increasingly poetic in order to do so. Nevertheless, nearly six decades of Afghan subadars’ policies adversely impacted Kashmiris’ economic life, but also exacerbated sectarian and religious tensions within society. Zaheen, research scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, argues that Kashmir experienced a religious change between different Muslims and Pandits during the Afghan rule, as well as the widening of the sectarian divide between Sunni and Shia. Mirza Pandit Dhar and his son Birbal Dhar, tired of relentless persecution by Afghans, secretly persuaded Maharaja Ranjit Singh to annex Kashmir, which finally succeeded in 1819.

Sikh Rule in Kashmir

In 1819, the armies of Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh invaded Kashmir, thus ending Afghan rule and more than four centuries of Muslim rule in the Valley. As was common practice under Mughal and Afghans rule, a series of governors centralized control of Kashmir. While the Sikh rulers were generally tolerant of different faiths, they established their rule with a specific “Hindu” tone, eventually setting the stage for the Dogra dynasty that began to rule Kashmir in 1846. Many policies have been introduced which demonstrated the assertion of Hindu belief over that of the Muslims. This included the ban on holy cattle slaughter, the closure of the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar, the prohibition of azaan prayers, were considered “pro-Hindu” in nature, even though the true motives behind these actions remain debated among historians. Chitralekha Zutshi argues that the focus on stating Hindu and Sikh values “was part of a clear and distinct effort to express a Sikh identity from that of the Mughals.” At the other hand, many European travelers reported the persecution of Muslims under Sikh rule, seeing the abject misery of the Muslim peasantry and the exorbitant taxes under the Sikhs. William Moorcroft, who had traveled all over Kashmir on his way to Bokhara, recalls his Srinagar experience:

“Everywhere the people were exorbitantly taxed by the Sikh Government in the most abject condition and subjected to all manner of bribery and oppression by their officers. The results of this program are the country’s progressive depopulation.

Explaining the reasons behind the Valley’s neglect of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Godfrey Vigne, who visited the Valley in the late 1830’s, says:

“Ranjit undoubtedly knew well that the greater the success of Kashmir, the greater would be the incitement to invasion by the East India Company … and, most assuredly, its [Kashmir’s] destruction has been accelerated, not less by its rapacity than by its political envy, which at any cost implied the ruthless elimination of its property.”

Indeed, Kashmiri Muslims’ cruel treatment in the later times would prove pivotal. Though Kashmiris certainly faced less harsh treatment under the Sikhs than the Afghans, the “pro-Hindu” policies would eventually result in religious-led resentment.

State formation and the Dogra Law

The state of Jammu & Kashmir came into being at the conclusion of the First Sikh War in 1846, when the British passed the Kashmir Valley and its adjacent regions to the Dogra King Maharaja Gulab Singh as a consequence of the Treaty of Amritsar and Lahore. To exchange for this favor, the British would obtain a large financial amount from Jammu’s Maharaja, thereby demarcating an arrangement that existed solely between the former and latter parties, thus undermining Kashmiris’ interest to full. Christopher Thomas argues that “the people never asked, never wanted or loved it.”

Although the Dogra dynasty is credited with the creation of the modern Principal State of Jammu & Kashmir, which would eventually become the bone of contention between India, Pakistan and China, the beginning of the Dogra era was marked by distress and resentment, notably as a result of the favorable treatment enjoyed by Kashmiri Hindus and the lack thereof among Kashmiri Muslims. Kashmiri Pandits were predominantly allocated important and respected roles in society, while a large portion of the oppressed Muslim population led a life of poverty, subjugation, and oppression. The hundred-year rule of the king appointed as the Raj’s subcontractors was an unmitigated disaster for the Muslim peasantry, in particular, the hundred-year reign of the monarchy appointed as subcontractors of the Raj was an unmitigated disaster.

In the words of Walter Lawrence:

“When I first came to Kashmir in 1889, I was sullen, depressed and suspicious of the people. They had been taught for many years that they were serfs without any rights … Pages could be written by me on facts that came under my personal observation, but it will be enough to say that the administration system had degraded the people and removed all the heart from them.

Lawrence observed that the peasants attributed their miseries especially to the deputies governed by the Maharajas, who were unable to expose to their leader the real state of the people. These deputies were a part of the Kashmiri Pandit community in particular. The socio-economic difference between the two cultures in defining religion as a significant component of identity will prove to be of crucial importance:

“The early Dogra period is critical for understanding the development of identities in the Kashmir Valley, as it sets the stage for a transformation in the Valley’s public discourse, from a focus on regional identities to a privileged religious component of identities” — Zutshi, Chitralekha, Languages of Belonging: Islam, Regional Identity, and Making Kashmir.

The lack of respect for the interests of the majority Muslim community led to the development of the consciousness of ethno-religious identity among the masses. As demonstrated in the later stages of the post-Partition period, this would further escalate the existing tensions between Muslims and Pandits.


Despite the political differences between Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits, notably the result of the 1931 Riots, the two communities in the post-1947 period were culturally bonded and lived a relatively mixed life. As Mahatma Gandhi observed at Partition during communal riots in India:

“… It is very hard for me to differentiate between a Kashmiri Hindu and a Kashmiri Muslim. You humans speak one language and you have one civilization. Though the rest of the world is burning in communal flames, only in Kashmir I see a ray of hope ….”

Mutual confidence existed overwhelmingly, and the absence of major incidents did not fan the flames of conflict between the populations. However, it was at this time that nationalism movements were rekindled in the region, primarily by Sheik Abdullah, Jammu & Kashmir’s first elected prime minister, considered by many to be the father of Kashmiri nationalism. Abdullah promoted the concept of ‘Kashmiriyat,’ which stressed the peculiar past of the Kashmiri people, and the historical unity that had historically existed in the Valley between various faiths and ethnicities. Yet at first Abdullah’s fight for independence and later on for greater autonomy for the Kashmiri people fell on New Delhi’s deaf ears; Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, basically ignored his demands. Dissatisfaction among Kashmiri youth became increasingly unmistakable following Abdullah’s incarceration, eventually resulting in intermittent violence as exemplified by the 1955 and 1957 uprisings. Sheik Abdullah later declared in 1972 that “our conflict with India’s government is not about accession, but about the quantity of autonomy.”

The 1987 Jammu & Kashmir Legislative Assembly elections were a turning point in Kashmir’s history which undoubtedly contributed to the disillusionment of Kashmiri youth. Farooq Abdullah, Sheik Abdullah ‘s son, has been re-appointed as the chief minister, although the election was widely viewed as rigged. Though many Kashmiri youth participated with great enthusiasm in elections, the poll results ignited feelings of frustration and aggression, and ultimately led to the outbreak of violence in 1989.

Nevertheless, well before the 1987 elections, Pakistan had formulated Operation Topac’s strategy in 1984, a brainchild of President Zia-ul – Haq that enabled the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) in Pakistan to launch an armed movement with the alleged support of Pakistan’s leading intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Indian Jammu & Kashmir Administered. Operation Topac had a three-phase action plan in Indian controlled Jammu & Kashmir to covertly fund armed insurgency. Jammu & Kashmir youth were to cross the de facto border (Line of Control – LoC) during the first step to try weapons training at various training camps in Pakistan controlled Jammu & Kashmir. The Pak-trained youth were expected to indulge in large-scale subversive activities, such as bomb blasts and shoot-outs, create an atmosphere of terror and demoralize the administration during the second phase, called ‘Operation Stage.’ The third phase, supposedly the final stage of the operation, was to liberate the Kashmir Valley Muslim majority and establish an independent Islamic State. The proliferation of Mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan after the Soviet-Afghan war, the creation of Operation Topac, JKLF operations in Pakistan and the United Kingdom (UK), Indian-administered elections of 1987 in Jammu & Kashmir and some of Farooq Abdullah’s political decisions preceded the launch of terrorism in Indian-administered Jammu & Kashmir. The Kashmiri youth were brainwashed and trained in arms to indulge in large-scale subversive activities, and succeeded in creating an atmosphere of terror in the Kashmir Valley and forging divisions in the name of religion, thus blurring Kashmir’s ethno-religious identity.

While the start of militancy may be interpreted as having some origins in political philosophies and motivations, the insurgency narrative soon acquired religious tones and turned out to be, in essence, a proxy-war of Pakistan’s military establishment. This included the formation of Hizbul Mujahideen, Hizbollah and later on the feared and pan-Islamist Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), backed by the Pakistani Intelligence Agency, ISI, and its infiltration into Indian-administered Jammu & Kashmir in order to weaken the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), which initially and ostensibly maintained a secular pro-indepepet Contrary to the apparently bodged nationalist agenda of the JKLF, Hizbul Mujahideen started actively targeting intelligentsia pro-independence with leanings against the former group. Disturbed by Hizbul Mujahideen’s Jihadi sentiments, Kashmiri youth would gradually turn the insurgency ‘s target into a religious one, instead of the initial ostensible nationalist agenda. This religious bias was evident in the 1990 Kashmiri Pandits exodus which permanently eroded the level of trust between the two communities. Unlike previous historical instances, for border-crossing Pakistani infiltrators and separatist Kashmiri youth who had educated in Pakistan, religion was merely a weapon for manipulating the vulnerabilities of the masses and tearing apart the Hindu-Muslim socio-cultural structure.

In the contemporary era, the memories of communal warmth and tolerance have been extinguished by religious radicalisation and terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir. A closer look points to a sudden heave of pan-Islamism in the Muslim community in Kashmir, in which abuse and persecution exist in the name of faith. In addition, Kashmiri identity was penetrated with firm religious lines, whereby the early history of peaceful co-existence was overshadowed by the collective consciousness of becoming a Kashmiri Muslim or Pandit, rather than a Kashmiri, now dominates society. Subsequently, due to growing conceptions of Pan-Islamism, what kind of a Muslim is now also becoming relevant in today’s Kashmir society.


This paper briefly traced the Kashmir Valley religious diversity past, seeking to delineate the region’s origins of religious pluralism. Yes, a look at Kashmir ‘s early history shows how some ancient settlers typically propagated universalist ideas of unity, rendering the distinction between Muslims and Hindus almost impossible. Nonetheless, a brief glance at Kashmir’s rich past inevitably raises questions – what made Kashmir turn from being a bastion of religious diversity into a battleground of religious strife and radicalism?

The ethnic and religious diversity of Kashmir, once the symbol of its local pluralism, has grown into the stage for a wider range of India-Pakistan adversarial contests. Many residents, irrespective of religious affiliations, were stuck in the middle — victims of national military, terrorists, or both. Over time, however, broader trends towards religious nationalism, religious fanaticism and pan-Islamism, cross-border extremism under the patronage of the Pakistani military establishment, and certain acts and inactions by the Indian government in response may have led many members of religious groups to identify with one side or the other, eroding trust and comfort. Yes, the Kashmir dispute has been deeply imbued with conceptions of religious identity, but recognizing that the origin of the post-partition conflict was not rooted in questions for or against any religion is crucial.

What was historically a powerful confluence between Islam and Hinduism in Kashmir, where common language and culture served as the greatest link between the two groups, has developed into growing pressure that targeted Kashmiri groups for their non-conformist ways of embracing religious practices. Although Muslim Sufi saints taught pluralism and other faith acceptance, Kashmir ‘s novel form of political Islam has instilled hatred and discrimination. At a systemic level, the outbursts of violence, radicalization, and extremism that have occurred over the past decades have inevitably contributed to the transformation of Muslim-Pandit relations. The mere idea of Jammu & Kashmir inter-religious societies is but a utopian vision.

Perhaps the biggest loss in the war was just religious diversity itself, which remains a distant memory in Kashmir’s history today.

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