The J&K decision, even if required, should have taken people into account and carved a way that did not endanger its ethnic & national construct
Since the abrogation of Article 370 and the territorial bifurcation, a lot has been said about the situation Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is in today. The ‘ayes’ vehemently deduce that apart from development, this is also a step towards full integration of J&K with India. The ‘nay-sayers’, while rebutting development arguments, believe that the move was more of an ideological battle. Development or not, it is the idea of full-national integration that needs to be decoded.
It ought to be emphasised that national integration is primarily not about territorial integration. Passing a law by locking down an entire State, without any say of local representatives and yet defending it through the narrative of territorially-integrating it with India, is no national integration in any sense of the term. It’s the people and not the territory that make a nation and are one of the most important components of integration. People can be categorised as ethnic groups that coalesce together to form mono/multi-ethnic nations. It is these nations that further coalesce to form multi-national states or multi-national nation-states. Nations, thus, are a different construct from a nation-state: while a nation is a socio-cultural category, a nation-state is a political category.
Professor Ashutosh Varshney recently explained in an article how the recent developments in J&K are a reflection of how a State functions only within the ambit of political democracy and how it had sidelined ethical and moral components in the democratic ethos and norms governing a State. Exclusive political-democratic alignment empowering the imposition of the abrogation order is neither a territorial nor a people’s integration with India. Perhaps Varshney and many others who have critically analysed the same are right in saying that it’s a political implication of democracy only because such an imposition, in the absence of the legislative Assembly, has rendered the spirit of democracy null and void. Thus, such an imposition is undemocratic and hegemonic. To put it differently, this is undemocratic where the idea of national integration doesn’t take into account the basic unit of social organisation, rather it straight away jumps to the level of statehood and deals with people in a top-down approach where coercion and conflict are inevitable.
J&K occupied its position as a multi-ethnic construct in the larger multi-national nation-state of India. India, which celebrates its diversity, has now stood ideologically intolerant to the ethnic mosaic that made J&K diverse. Pahari, Gojri, Kashmiri, Dogra, Ladakhi, Dard and Balti, each being the varied ethnicities of the state, coalesced with one another as nations under the larger nation-state construct of India. By bifurcating territorially the national-construct that J&K stood for, and that too without full support of the people, the purpose of ‘full-integration’ remains only half-baked. Clearly the authorities were more than aware about the utilitarian meter of who would be and who would not be happy with such a decision. Choosing the happiness-index of one ethnicity over the other was certainly a deadly blow to the actual national integration of J&K. This decision, even if required, should have taken the people into account and should have carved a way that did not endanger this ethnic and national construct of J&K.
One may be open to taking into account the arguments of those who say that the ethnic divide between a Dogra-Jammu and a Kashmiri-Vale or a Ladakhi-Leh had already been transformed into a natural division which has led to hostilities since posterity. However, such claims are silent on other ethnicities like Dards, Baltis, Bakarwals and Gujjars. Without denying the ethnic rift, a belief in the effervescence of primordial bonds and faith that they might remain interconnected, are some of the ideals that citizens striving for a peaceful society must work for. And let us also not forget that such tensions emerge under the influence of external forces that are communal.
Unfortunately, the reorganisation of the State hit where we were the most vulnerable — a society divided into different religious communities, ready to be cast into various moulds depending upon the multiple political ideological shifts it might take. We have divided J&K and have nothing rich left to offer to both. If this is national integration, then we have had it at the cost of our ethnic deaths. J&K has died as a rich ethnic vibrant nation that belonged to this beautiful diverse nation-state of India, which celebrated diversity and protected ones that were endangered. I hope to belong to the same India one day. Till then, let us be mindful that homogeneity breeds autocracy and vice-versa. It is up to us a society to decide what we choose for us and for those who shall inherit from us: a homogenous, autocratic, racial, fundamental, casteist society that denigrates ethnic-cohesion, or a free borderless society standing united in diversity. If we choose the former, then let us break ourselves down into a million pieces till the last unit of individual dissociates himself from the larger whole and dies a self-death. But if we choose the latter, then let us associate with a giant diversity that celebrates its rich historic constructions.
(The writer is a Ph.D scholar at JNU)