Community, State, and the Nation: Regional Patriotism and Religious Identities in The Kashmir Valley, C. 1880 - 1953 (India)

Zutshi, Chitralekha, Ph.D. Tufts University, 2000. 436 pages. Adviser: Bose, Sugata. Publication Number: AAT 9978830

This dissertation examines the political culture of the Kashmir Valley from the medieval to the modern periods, with particular emphasis on the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries. It traces the development of the Kashmiri discourse on identities through an exploration into the dialectic between its regional and religious components through this period. This narrative on identities expands the concept of public space and public discourse, focusing on the informal arenas of politics and community spaces as significant contributors to the political culture of the Valley. While the dissertation is formulated against the concept of Kashmiri exceptionalism, it explores the regional specificities of Kashmir as a means to revisit concepts of nationalism, regional patriotism and religious identities in South Asia. The story begins in medieval and early modern Kashmir by tracing the articulation of the universal religious philosophy of Islam in the vernacular idiom by the mystic saints and poets of Kashmir. By the mid-eighteenth century, Kashmiri public discourse was characterized by a definition of regional patriotism against the rule of rapacious outsiders that transcended but did not erase religious affiliations. The discourse on identities transformed dramatically in the late nineteenth century to focus on their religious component, more concerned with the internal regeneration of Kashmiri Islam.

The study locates this change as the response of the Kashmiris, particularly Kashmiri Muslims, to the overtly Hindu structures of legitimacy employed by the Dogra rulers of the newly created state of Jammu and Kashmir, and as significantly, to the political and economic processes ushered in by the policies of the Dogra State and its British colonial masters. While continuing to use religion as a tool for political mobilization, the new Kashmiri leadership of the third decade of the twentieth century expressed an overtly nationalist vision for Kashmir and the Kashmiris that glorified the regional/national identity at the expense of religious affiliations. The study ends by revisiting the political discourse of the 1940s and early 50s in Jammu and Kashmir, which was characterized by myriad visions of Kashmiri regionalism and nationalism aimed at reconciling the religious and regional components of Kashmiri identities within various political frameworks. The unwillingness of the Indian state and the ostensibly representative political organization of the Kashmiris, the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, represent alternate nationalist visions that need to be taken into account as being, to a large extent, responsible for the present irredentist movement in the Kashmir Valley.

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