‘Despite its long-standing history, the Kashmir conflict continues to receive very little attention’
The ongoing conflict in Kashmir is often seen as a political issue between India and Pakistan. Idrees Kanth, who has written a dissertation on the subject, believes that the people of Kashmir are the primary contenders in the conflict and should be allowed their right to decide their own political fate. PhD defence on 7 May.
What exactly did you research?
‘I researched the political culture in the region. For a lot of people, Kashmir is at best a border conflict between the neighbouring countries of India and Pakistan. However, the lives and opinions of Kashmiris, who are the principal stakeholders in the conflict, are often overlooked. In fact, the conflict and the struggle of the Kashmiri people for their rights is often dismissed as a religiously informed political consciousness. It may be true, but only to the extent that religious vocabulary or religious symbols have been a vehicle to help articulate the political sentiments of a people who perceive themselves as suppressed. And such a political culture is not unique to Kashmir, and it does not delegitimise their struggle for rights.’
What do the Kashmiri people seek as political rights?
‘The Kashmiri people claim that they should be allowed to decide their political future on their own terms. However, despite the overwhelming anti-India sentiment in the region, they have not been able to sufficiently imagine a future political state that is acceptable to the many contenders who define themselves as Kashmiri people. Among other things, this could also be ascribed to the late development of “patriotic sentiment” in the region, one that could bind its people together as a political community in a more pronounced way. For example, there is a sufficient percentage of Kashmiri people who seek independence for the region, and yet there are those who espouse a deep sentiment for Pakistan. This has been a marked feature of Kashmiri political culture in the latter half of the twentieth century.’
Has this political culture undergone any change since the 1990s?
‘The anti-Indian sentiment in the region has certainly become powerful and more consistent in the recent past, with the Indian state having stationed close to 600,000 army men in the Valley. While it has generated, as I say, an even stronger emotion among the Kashmiri people, it has also meant that the debate on the question of Kashmir’s political future has engaged its people more seriously. But even now the question of Kashmir’s future continues to divide its people on political lines, though these debates are growing more productive, despite the violence that is being unleashed in the region.’