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LOCATION: Kashmir in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent
POPULATION: Greater Kashmir c. 15 million (estimate)
LANGUAGE: Kashmiri (including the Dardi, Shrinya and Khowar dialects)
RELIGION: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism


Kashmiris occupy the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent. Until the mid-19th century, the term "Kashmir" referred only to the Vale of Kashmir lying between the Great Himalayas and the Pir Panjal range. Since then, however, it has been used to refer to a larger area that includes the Indian-administered state of Jammu and Kashmir (consisting of the Kashmir valley, Jammu, and Ladakh), the Pakistani-administered provinces of the Northern Areas (including Gilgit and Baltistan) and Azad Kashmir ("Free Kashmir"), and the Chinese-administered region Aksai Chin.

In the Indian Epic (15th-10th centuries BC), Kashmir is mentioned as a focus of Sanskrit learning and, by the first half of the first millennium BC, Kashmir was an important center of Hinduism. However, the Indian Emperor Ashoka, who converted to Buddhism, is credited with having founded the city of Srinagar, and Kashmir became a seat of Buddhist learning, with the Sarvāstivādan school dominating. East and Central Asian Buddhist monks are recorded as having visited the kingdom. In the late 4th century AD, the famous monk Kumārajīva, who helped take Buddhism to China, studied in Kashmir.

Islam was introduced into Kashmir in the 8th century AD, when Muslims started gaining high positions in the Kashmiri army. The Hindu ruler Chandrapida gave territory to the Arab military commander Muhammad Alafi to live along with his hundreds of followers. The employment of hundreds of Muslim captains in the armies of the Kashmiri Kings at the turn of the 11th century alludes to the presence of a sizeable Muslim population in Kashmir more than 200 years before the establishment of Muslim rule. By the beginning of the 13th century Muslims formed an important section of the Kashmiri population and had made great strides. However, the conversion of Buddhist ruler Rinchana Sadr-ud-Din (AD 1320–1323) to Islam marked a turning point in the history of Kashmir. He converted after having discussions with Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim religious personages of the period. His conversion was followed by that of a large number of people including the prime minister, Rawanchandra.

During the 14th century, Islam was the dominant religion in Kashmir. The Muslims and Hindus of Kashmir lived in relative harmony, since the Sufi-Islamic way of life of ordinary Muslims in Kashmir complemented the Rishi tradition of the Hindu Kashmiri Pandits. This led to a syncretic culture where Hindus and Muslims revered the same local saints and prayed at the same shrines. However, some Muslim Kashmiri rulers were intolerant of Hinduism. For instance, the Tarikh-i-Firishta records that Sultan Sikandar Butshikan of Kashmir (AD 1389–1413) persecuted Hindus and issued orders proscribing the residence of any other than Muslims in Kashmir.

The Princely State of Kashmir and Jammu (as it was then called) was constituted between 1820 and 1858 and was "somewhat artificial in composition and it did not develop a fully coherent identity, partly as a result of its disparate origins and partly as a result of the autocratic rule which it experienced on the fringes of Empire." It combined disparate regions, religions, and ethnicities: to the east, Ladakh was ethnically and culturally Tibetan, and its inhabitants practiced Buddhism; to the south, Jammu had a mixed population of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. In the heavily populated central Kashmir valley, the population was overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim, however, and there was also a small but influential Hindu minority, the Kashmiri Brahmans or Pandits. To the northeast, sparsely populated Baltistan had a population ethnically related to Ladakh, but which practiced Shia Islam, while to the north, also sparsely populated, Gilgit Agency, was an area of diverse, mostly Shia groups. In the west, Punch was Muslim, but of different ethnicity than Muslims in the Kashmir valley.

The British acquired Kashmir from the Sikhs (who had annexed the state in 1820) in 1846 following the First Anglo-Sikh War and allowed the Dogra (Rajput) Maharaja Gulab Singh, ruler of Jammu, to purchase the state for a large sum of money. So, the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, in which the majority of the population was Muslim, came to be ruled by a Hindu maharaja.

At the time of Independence in 1947 the princely states of India were to accede to either Muslim Pakistan or India. It was anticipated that, with a Muslim population of some 77% and a common border with Pakistan, the ruler of Jammu and Kashmir would accede to Pakistan, but when Maharaja Hari Singh, ruler of one of the most powerful princely states in India, hesitated, perhaps trying to attain an independent status, Pakistan sent Pathan and Pashto tribesmen into Kashmir in a guerrilla onslaught meant to frighten its ruler into submission. Instead, the Maharaja appealed to Louis Mountbatten for assistance and the Governor-General of British India agreed to provide this on the condition that the ruler accede to India. Once the Maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession, Indian soldiers entered Kashmir (only one road from Jammu provided access to the Vale of Kashmir) and drove the Pakistani-sponsored irregulars from all but a small section of the state. Pakistan responded by sending in its regular army, and a full scale war was fought between India and Pakistan (fortunately it did not spread beyond Kashmir). India approached the United Nations Security Council to mediate the quarrel. In a UN-sponsored cease fire, the opposing forces stopped in 1949 at what is now called the Line of Control, which is today the de facto border between Pakistan and India in Kashmir. Thus, although there was a clear Muslim majority in Kashmir before the 1947 partition and its economic, cultural, and geographic contiguity with the Muslim-majority area of the Punjab (in Pakistan) could be convincingly demonstrated, Pakistan was left with territory that, although basically Muslim in character, was thinly populated, relatively inaccessible, and economically underdeveloped. The largest Muslim group, situated in the Vale of Kashmir and estimated to number more than half the population of the entire region, lay in Indian-administered territory, with its former outlets to the Punjab, via the Jhelum valley route, blocked. The Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru promised a plebiscite under UN supervision, which never happened because one of the pre-conditions for this was that Pakistan should withdraw all military forces from the region of Kashmir.

Every time India and Pakistan have fought a war since 1949 (i.e. in 1965, 1971), Kashmir has remained a focal point of the conflicts. Most recently, in 1999, Indian and Pakistani forces fought each other in Kargil, India, claiming that regular Pakistani troops and Kashmiri militants, in a plan devised by the then Pakistani Army Commander, General Pervez Musharraf, entered Indian territory in Kargil. Later in 1999, Musharraf seized power in Pakistan in a military coup and became president.


The heart of Kashmir is the Vale of Kashmir, an ancient lake bed lying between the Pir Panjal mountain range and the main Himalayas to the northeast. The valley is 85 mi (140 km) long, 20 mi wide, and set at an altitude of 1,620 m (5,300 ft) high. Drained by the upper Jhelum River, the valley is lined by 3,600–5,000 meters-high mountains (c. 12,000–16,000 ft) that help shelter it from the wet southwest monsoon. It is the centre of population for Kashmir. The main city in the Vale, Srīnagar, is the capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The fertile alluvial soil yields rice, corn (maize), fruit, and vegetables, and the scenic mountains and lakes (notably Wular and Dal) used to attract many tourists to the region.

To the east lie the mountains of Ladakh and still further to the east is the Aksai Chin, physically a part of the Tibetan Plateau claimed by India but, since the 1962 Indo-Chinese War, occupied and administered by China. To the south of the Pir Panjal range lie the lowlands of Jammu, an extension of the Indo-Gangetic plains to the foot of the mountains.

To the west of the Vale is Azad Kashmir ("Free Kashmir"), Pakistani-occupied territory separated from Indian-controlled Kashmir by the Line of Control. To the north lies the Northern Areas of Pakistan, Baltistan and Gilgit, mountainous terrain crossed by the Karakoram Mountains and containing some of the highest mountains in the world (K-2, at 6,811 m [28,251 ft] second only to Everest, and Nanga Parbat, 8,125 m [26,658 ft]), ranked the 9th highest peak in the world.

Kashmir occupies a region where Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, and China come together and thus has been strategically important in the history of the subcontinent. The 2001 Census of India reports the population of Jammu and Kashmir as 10,143,700 persons. Add to this perhaps 3 million people in Azad Kashmir, the population of the other areas of Pakistan that fall into "greater Kashmir" and factor in natural increase, and the population of greater Kashmir is close to 15 million people.


Kashmiri is a Dardic language, a linguistic sub-grouping belonging to the Indo-European Language Family. It is spoken primarily in the valley of Kashmir and has about 5 million speakers in India. The 105,000 or so speakers of Kashmiri in Pakistan are mostly immigrants from the Kashmir Valley to Pakistan. Traditionally, Kashmiri was written in the Perso-Arabic script but today is written in either the Perso-Arabic script (with some modifications) or the Devanagari script. It is the official state language of Jammu and Kashmir and is also one of India's 23 national languages. Some Kashmiri speakers use English or Urdu as a second language, though in the past few decades Kashmiri has been introduced as a subject at the university and the colleges of the valley. At present, attempts are underway for inclusion of Kashmiri in the school curriculum.

Kashmiri has a literary tradition that dates back to the 14th century AD. Kashmiri literature consists largely of poetry particularly rich in the lyrics of life and nature, besides compositions in the mystic vein of both the Brahmanical (Shaivite) and Islamic (Sufi) traditions. There are works of modern Kashmiri literature, with Ghulam Ahmed Mahjoor (1885–1952) considered to be one of the greatest of modern Kashmiri poets, short story writers such as Akthar Mohi-ud-Din, Hari Krishnan Kaul, and Amin Kamil, and contributions in the area of non-fiction by the likes of Jawaharlal Nehru.


As is to be expected, the diverse regions of "Kashmir" each have their own traditions of folklore. Thus, areas like Baltistan and Ladakh have their own folklore, with the former having a veneer of Islamization and the latter reflecting its Buddhist character. Similarly, the folklore in southern areas shows the influence of the Pakistani Punjab, with variants of the epic Heera Ranjha, in addition to ballads, folktales, folk music, and dance

In Kashmir proper, however, perhaps Hatim's Tales are in a class by themselves in the folklore tradition. A spell-binding story-teller, Hatim Talawon was a legend in his lifetime. He recited, intoned, sang, and talked to his listeners in the towns and villages of the picturesque Kashmir valley. His tales were drawn from history, mythology, traditional narratives, and original stories devised by Hatim himself. They were part of the Kashmir's oral tradition that survived in memory and by word of the mouth and were gathered and published by Sir Aurel Stein in 1918.


Over three quarters of Kashmir's population is Muslim, mainly following the Suficustoms commonly found in India. Kashmiri Muslims fall into four groups: the Sheikh, the Sayed, the Mughal, and the Pathan. The Sheikhs are by far the most numerous and are thought to be descended from Hindus. They have clans, which are called krāms. There appear to be few marriage restrictions according to krām, though many scholars suggest that the krām are descended from Hindu groups and, indeed, in some ways there appears to be a kind of hierarchical structure not unlike the Hindu caste system. The Dar boatmen and the Dums, gardeners and butchers by trade, are, for instance, viewed as being socially inferior. But, as some writers observe, the social system is very plastic, and prosperity and a little wealth soon erase humble origins. The Sayeds tend to marry among themselves. They are either holy men, in which case they are given the title Mir, or (and this includes the bulk of the Sayeds) they are agriculturalists, in which case the name Mir is used as a suffix. There are a few Mughals, who settled Kashmir at the time of Mughal rule and the Pathans, found in the southwest of the valley, and date to Durrani rule (18th century), or who were brought in to Kashmir by Maharah Gulab Singh (1846–1857) for service on the frontier. The Pathans tend to speak Pashto, maintain their own dress, and carry weapons, although they are now rapidly assimilating into Kashmiri society.

Numerous Hindu groups are found in Kashmir, the most important of which are the Kashmiri Pandits (the first Prime Minister of an independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru, belonged to this community). Of the Brahman caste, the Pandits have played a long and important role in the history of Kashmir. Even though they follow Hindu rituals, the Pandits, for many years, co-existed with the Kashmiri Muslims in the spirit of Kashmiriyat (Kashmiri tolerance). Other Hindu castes, who tend to be found mainly in Jammu, include the Dogra Rajputs, the Gaddis (sheep and goat herders), Khattris (traders), and Thakkars.

It is often difficult to distinguish, from a religious perspective, between Kashmiri Muslims and Hindus. They respect the same saints and worship at the same shrines. However, another distinctive element in the population is Buddhism. The religion was introduced into the Vale of Kashmir when Ashoka conquered the region in the 3rd century BC and even though today Buddhists make up only just over 1% of Kashmir's population, the region has, in the past, been an important center for the development and spread of the religion. Numerous Buddhist monks from Kashmir were responsible for carrying Buddhism north of the Himalayas and into China and Tibet.


Major festivals in Kashmir reflect the mix of Islamic, Hindu, and Sikh peoples found in the region. Thus, typical Hindu festivals include Navaratra, or New Year's Day, which is celebrated on the first day of the new moon in the month of Chaitra (March/April). In every Hindu home, it begins with an invocation to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. In all families, a young lady lays a large plate with paddy, sugar, curds, fruits, walnut, coins, a mirror, ink-holder, and the New Year scroll and shows it to every family member, thus seeking the blessings of the goddess for moral and material development of members of the family. In April, Durga Ashtami, Ramnavami (Rama's birthday), and Baisakhi (the Spring festival) are observed. Holi, Diwali, and Dussehra, major festivals on the Hindu calendar, are also kept in Kashmir. Some festivals are observed by both Hindus and Muslims. For instance, the anniversary of Rishi Pir, a Hindu saint, held on the fifth day of the full moon of Baisakh at his home in Srinagar is attended by Muslims also.

The Navroz festival of the Shia Muslims falls a week after the Hindu New Year's Day. The Urs (or Ziarats) is a typical Kashmiri festival. It is held annually at the shrines of Muslim saints on their death anniversaries. There is a saying that goes, "It snows when the Urs of Meesha Sahib is held, it is windy when the Urs of Batamol Sahib takes place, it rains on the occasion of the Urs of Bahauddin." These Urs are popular despite the rigors of weather. They are celebrated in different parts of Srinagar, not only by Muslims but also by Hindus and Sikhs. An interesting feature of the Urs celebrations at Batamaloo (the locality in Srinagar named after the saint Batamol Sahib) and in Anantag (Rishi Mol's anniversary) is that both Muslims and Hindus abstain from taking meat during the course of the festival.

Muslim festivals that are celebrated nationally include Shab-i Mairaj, which is followed by Shab-i-Barat, Muharram, the month of Ramadan, and the Ids. The dates of these festivals change in accordance with the appearance of the moon and shift by 10 days each year. During the night of Shab-i-Barat the Muslims keep vigil. Legend goes that on this night the Holy Prophet visits each house and relieves the pains of suffering humanity.

The Birthday of Guru Nanak Dev in November is a very auspicious day for the Sikhs of Kashmir. They visit Chati Patshahi near Hari Parbat. Epistles from the Granth Sahib (the Sikh scripture) are recited throughout the day.

A typically Kashmiri festival known as Khichri Amavasya falls in the month of Posh (December/January). Kashmir is believed to have been the abode of Yakshas in ancient times. The Yaksha spirit is invited to relish khichri (rice cooked with dal and ghee). Kashmiris leave khichri out along with a fish, and it is believed that during the night the yaksha comes and tastes the food.

The festival cycle in other parts of Kashmir differ slightly. Thus, in Jammu, in addition to the usual festivals celebrated by Hindus throughout India (e.g. Holi, Diwali, Dussehra), the Lohri festival, marking the culmination of the cold season, is celebrated with zest every where. The Gurupubs, birthdays of the Sikh saints, are celebrated in the region, as is the anniversary of the birth of Buddha. In Ladakh, the festival calendar is, naturally, dominated by Buddhist festivals, such as the one held at Hemis, near Leh.


The rites of passage of the Kashmiris follow those of the specific community to which an individual belongs. Thus, Muslims, whether in Pakistani or Indian Kashmir, follow the outlines of ritual prescribed by Islamic law (the Shariah), but they often combine these rites with local customs. Newborns are sanctified by prayer and undergo head-shaving and naming ceremonies. All males undergo the ritual of circumcision (sunnat). Among some Muslims, a ceremony known as Bismillah marks the beginning of a child's education in religious matters. Ceremonies associated with death and burial combine practices from the Shariah with local customs. The body is ritually bathed and wrapped in a white shroud in preparation for burial. The body is brought out of the house and the face of the deceased person is shown to relatives and neighbors. Mourners, led by a priest, say prayers over the body, which is then taken in procession to the graveyard and buried facing Mecca.

Hindus follow Hindu practices. Thus, for the Kashmiri Pandit, life is ruled by the Hindu concept of dharma (known locally as bhattil). In the name-giving ceremony, the donning of the sacred thread, the marriage ceremony and the various stages of a householder's life, the Pandit is governed by the Hindu scriptures. At the time of death, the body is washed with water to which some Ganges water has been added, cotton balls are inserted into the ears and nostrils, and a coin is placed at the lips. The corpse is placed in a white shroud, which is tied with a thread, and the body taken in procession, led by the eldest son, to the cremation grounds to be burned. Various rituals are performed on certain days after the death.


Again, greetings in Kashmir are determined by the ethnic communities to which the individuals involved belong and whether the context is formal or informal. In the former case, the response is virtually pre-determined. Thus, a Hindu greeting a Hindu would, as elsewhere in India, say "namaste" or "namaskar," while bringing the palms together in front of the body and making a slight bow. The reply would be the same. A Hindu meeting a Muslim, and vice versa, would say "ādāb" ("brother") and expect the same response. A Muslim greeting a Muslim would use the traditional greeting "Salaam Aleikum" ("Peace be with you"), to which the response should be "Vailaikum Salaam" ("And unto you be peace").

But in an informal context, the usual greeting is "vāray chivā" ("Are you fine?"), which indicates concern about the health and prosperity of the individual. It can elicit a variety of responses, which, from elders, usually involves the invocation of blessings from the Almighty, gods and goddesses, and saints.


Living conditions vary according to where in Kashmir one lives. In Ladakh, for instance, houses are built of mud brick and are similar in appearance to houses in Tibet, reflecting the strong Tibetan cultural influence in the region. In Baltistan, the villages are in clusters of huts, usually located where-ever flat land exists near sources of water and built of stone and wood. In many hamlets, there is a tower three stories high. Most of the huts are diminutive, with rooms only eight or ten feet in diameter and an entrance door two feet wide and two-and-a-half feet high. In the lower rooms one can barely stand up, but there is a notched pole used as a ladder to an upper room, which is less cave-like. Many of the upper rooms are made in wattle, sometimes plastered over with clay.

In the Kashmir Valley, however, the typical dwelling in a village is a two or three-storey house made of wood and un-burned brick with a thatched roof (the region is relatively dry, so keeping out rain is a minor issue). In Srinigar and in urban areas, modern construction uses fired brick and corrugated iron for roofs. The dimensions, decoration, and quality of materials used in the construction of the rooms vary according to socio-economic status. People generally prefer to keep cattle in the lower rooms at night (as protection against the weather), though it is not uncommon, where large numbers of the animals are involved, to see cattle sheds and stables scattered around the landscape. The room in which cattle and other livestock are kept is called gan. People live on the upper floors, but generally do not make use of furniture and sit and sleep on the floor, which is covered with rugs or carpets. Houses are not heated, but Kashmiris use a kangra (firepot filled with burning charcoal) for individual heating. This is worn under one's clothes and, as might be expected, the potential for accidental burns is considerable.


Customs regarding family life also vary according to one's community. Thus, the life of most Kashmiris is governed by Muslim law, while Kashmiri Pandits are ruled by Hindu law, and Sikhs, Buddhists, and Christians follow the dictates of their religion. Traditionally, the joint extended family was the norm, but the situation is changing, with the nuclear family becoming more common. The majority of the people in the valley are Muslims, many of them being converted Hindus, and while they have no formal caste system, the custom of the payment of a dowry (mehar) is common. It is usual among the Muslim peasants to marry a daughter to a near relative (this keeps property within the family) but, if this is not possible, a go-between, or Manzimyur, is used. Muslim (and Hindu) laws of inheritance do not allow women to inherit land or property.


The traditional dress of Kashmiris is simple, and there is not much difference between that of a man or a woman. Both wear a phiran, a kind of gown that is made of wool during the winter and of cotton during the summer. Muslim and Pandit men wear the gown differently, while the phirans of Muslim women may be brocaded on the chest with attractive designs. Hindu women wear a cotton lungi around the waist over the top of the phiran and the outfit is completed by headgear, a brocaded cap (qasaba) in the case of Muslim women, or a woolen taranga by Hindu women. Men often wear a brocaded cap, though typical headwear for the modern Kashmiri male is the qaraguli (karakal) cap made of lamb's wool, the kind often sported by Jawaharlal Nehru. A kurta, pyjama, or shilwar is worn by all under the phiran. In winter, the personal kangra is worn under the phiran for warmth. Of course, modern western clothes are becoming quite popular and are commonly seen in urban areas and amongst the young.


Kashmiri cuisine is famous for its vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian dishes. There are also variants between Hindu and Muslim cooking. Traditional Kashmiri food includes dum aloo (boiled potatoes with heavy amounts of spice), tzaman (a solid cottage cheese), rogan josh (lamb cooked in heavy spices), zaam dod (curd), yakhayn (lamb cooked in curd with mild spices), hakh (a spinach-like leaf), rista-gushtava (minced meat balls in tomato and curd curry), and, of course, the signature rice that is particular to Asian cultures. Even Kashmiri Pandits, who are Brahmans, enjoy mutton and fish. Muslim cooking makes heavy use of onions and garlic, though this was traditionally avoided by the Kashmiri Pandits. Meat is almost always cooked in curd. The traditional wazwan feast involves cooking meat or vegetables, usually mutton, in several different ways.

Alcohol is not widely drunk in Kashmir. There are two famous teas from the region: nun chai, or salt tea, which is pink in color and popular with locals and kahwah, a green tea made with spices (cinnamon, cardamom, and saffron), nuts, such as almonds or pistachios, sweetened by sugar or honey, and presented without milk.


Educational standards vary throughout Kashmir. In Pakistani areas, distance, the lack of quality schools, and the dominant socio-cultural ethos of the tribal peoples in the area result in low levels of literacy and generally poor levels of education. Some authors have suggested the influence of Islamic fundamentalism has had a negative effect on education, especially for women. In the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, where the 2001 census return was notoriously unreliable, only 60% of the men were recorded as being literate, with the corresponding value for women being 45%. This, of course, is not only below the average for India as a whole, but it also masks considerable variations between urban areas and the more remote outlying districts.


Communities in the different regions of broader Kashmir have their own cultural heritage. Thus, for Ladakhis, the devil dance, performed by monks dressed up in elaborate costumes at the time of Buddhist festivals to drive away evil spirits, is part of the heritage of Tibetan, or Mahāyāna, Buddhism. Muslims living in Baltistan or Gilgit share the views of honor and proper behavior that are held by tribal peoples in the north west of the Indian subcontinent.

However, in Kashmir proper, i.e. the Vale of Kashmir, history tends to shape the cultural heritage of the people. Thus, up to the 14th century, Buddhism and Shaivism dominated the Kashmir region and strongly influenced the region's early cultural history. The role of Buddhist monks from Kashmir in carrying the religion to China has already been noted. Kashmir has a rich architectural tradition that dates to this time, as well as having its scholars contribute to Sanskrit manuscripts (e.g. Kalhana's Rajatarangini and Somadeva's collection of stories called Kathasaritsagar). Even today, Shaivism bhakti (devotionalism) and Tantrism form a distinct undercurrent in the ritualistic worship of the Pandit community. The arrival of the Muslims in the early 14th century and the conquest by the Sikhs in the 19th century also added distinctive elements to the cultural heritage of Kashmir. Though some writers see Kashmiriyat as a myth, the peaceful co-existence of four of the world's great religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism), at least until the communal troubles that followed Partition, is seen by many as one of the great achievements of Kashmiri culture.

The existence of branches of the Silk Road across Kashmir is another aspect of the region's history. Not only did silk, ivory, gold, and gems move along this great Trans-Asian highway linking Rome with distant China, so did art, culture, and religion. Buddhist and Christian missionaries traveled along the Silk Road into Central Asia, as did aspects of Kashmiri art and sculpture. Many centuries later, Kashmir played a significant role in the "Great Game," that reflected British concerns that Russia would move into the region. The modern version of the Great Game, reflecting Kashmir's strategic location, is seen, perhaps, in the continued confrontation of India and Pakistan in Kashmir.


The traditional occupations of the Kashmiri were agriculture, tourism, and handicrafts. However, overseas tourism has virtually dried up since the communal troubles began in Kashmir in the 1980s and even though tourists from India still visit the region, the arts and crafts industry has basically been eliminated from Kashmir. Foreign tourists used to stay on houseboats on Lake Dal, but no longer. One consequence is that now Kashmir's economy is centered around agriculture. Traditionally, the staple crop of the valley is rice, which forms the chief food of the people. In addition, Indian corn (maize), wheat, barley, and oats were also grown. Given its temperate climate, Kashmir is suited for crops like asparagus, artichoke, broad beans, beetroot, cauliflower, and cabbage. Fruit trees are common in the valley and the cultivated orchards yield pears, apples, peaches, and cherries, and a variety of nuts.

Agriculture in Kashmir faces many problems, not the least of which is the average size of land-holdings. One result of the inheritance system is extreme fragmentation of the land with the average land holding in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir amounting to 0.66 hectares (just over 1.6 acres), a figure that has declined in recent decades. According to the 2001 Census of India, 49% of the labor force in Kashmir is either a cultivator or agricultural laborer, even though only 5% of the land in Kashmir can be farmed.

In Pakistani Kashmir, virtually the entire population is engaged in subsistence agriculture, cultivating whatever flat land is found near in the river valleys, or terracing the land along the lower portion of the valleys and bringing water from the slopes to the fields using small scale, home-built irrigation systems. With the land in most of Pakistani Kashmir occurring at higher altitudes, the crops grown (and the length of the growing season) reflect the climatic environment. These include maize, barley, potato, buck wheat, and millet, while the mainstay of the livestock population are goats, sheep, and types of cattle such as the yak or dzo that are adapted to high altitudes.

In Ladakh, subsistence irrigated agriculture similar to that of Tibet is practiced, while agriculture in Jammu mirrors that found on the nearby Indo-Gangetic plains.


Although polo is popular in Baltistan, and Gilgit and Ladakh have their devil dances, there is no sport that is unique to Kashmir.


Before hunting was banned throughout India by the government, hunting (shikar) was popular in Kashmir, with groups coming in from around the world to shoot local wildlife. In the Vale of Kashmir, the Bhands or minstrels are professional actors and singers (and beggars), who entertain the people, and they even travel as far afield as the Punjab to perform before Kashmiri audiences. Religious festivals are a main source of entertainment among the different Kashmiri communities. For instance, in Ladakh, the Buddhist devil dances performed at various festivals are popular. During the summer, young children in Kashmir play Zangtār and Guti, the latter involving tossing coins or nuts into a shallow hole in the ground (the guti) from a distance of 10–12 feet. Kite-flying is a popular pastime during certain seasons of the year while, as everywhere in India, Hindi movies are popular in urban areas.


Kashmir is renowned for its arts and crafts the world over. It is known for its textiles, carpets made from silk or wool, which take families months to make. It is also known for its lacquered paper maché work and painting on paper maché goods or on wood. Kashmiris are also known for their delicate wood carvings. An entirely indigenous form of woodwork, known as khatam bandi, is used for the decoration of ceilings and is usually done in panels of pinewood in various geometrical designs fitted together in grooves. Wicker objects, pashmina shawls (made from fine cashmere wool that comes from the pashmina goat), embroidery, wooden boxes and toys, metalwork, and fine woolen goods round out the handicrafts for which Kashmiris are famous.

One problem facing traditional craftsmen in Kashmir is that with the decline of tourism due to the unrest in the state, they have difficulty accessing markets, and many have had to abandon their traditional occupations. Some have adjusted by moving to places such as Delhi where they do have access to tourists and continue in their traditional activities, but clearly this is not an ideal solution.


An ongoing problem in Kashmir is the continued conflict between Muslim and Hindu and the partition of Kashmir into Pakistani and Indian territory. With a majority Muslim population, any plebiscite would see Kashmir opt for Pakistan, but India cannot afford to see Kashmir accede to Pakistan. However, elections held in Indian Jammu and Kashmir brought to power the popular Muslim leader Sheikh Abdullah Muhammad, who with his party, the National Conference, by and large supported India. The elected Constituent Assembly met for the first time in 1954 and confirmed the accession of the state to the Union of India. The state's own Constitution came into force on 26 January 1957 under which the elections to the State Legislative Assembly were held for the first time on the basis of adult franchise the same year. This Constitution also ratified the state's accession to India. However, this was not recognized by Pakistan, which has continued to press for a plebiscite to ascertain the wishes of the people.

Though sporadic violence occurred before this, 1989 is usually the year assigned the beginning of the insurgency in Kashmir. This coincides with the end of the Afghan-Russian conflict and saw Afghan mujahideen fighters enter Kashmir (India claims with active Pakistani support). Since then violence has increased significantly in strength and separatists have carried out attacks on Indian civilians and Indian army installations in response to what they see as an Indian army of occupation. Estimates of deaths during the conflict vary from 35,000 to more than 85,000, with 1994 representing a peak in militancy and over 6,000 incidents in that year. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have reported numerous human rights violations by both sides in the conflict. Some groups, such as the All Parties Hurriyat Conference and the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, demand an independent Kashmir. Other militant groups, such as Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad (organizations that no longer operate under these names after they were banned by the Indian and Pakistani government) favor a Pakistani Kashmir. Of the larger militant groups, the Hizbul Mujahideen, a militant organization based in Indian-administered Kashmir, is believed to number thousands rather than hundreds. Several new separatist organizations have also emerged.

In 2005 a 7.6-magnitude earthquake hit northern parts of Pakistan and India and left an estimated 80,000 people dead and more than 3 million homeless. The epicenter was located near the city of Muzaffarabad in the Pakistani region of Azad Kashmir. Areas of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and India's Jammu and Kashmir state were also heavily damaged by the quake. Many countries, international organizations, and nongovernmental organizations offered relief aid to the region, in the form of donations as well as supplies of food, medicines, tents, and blankets, and rescue and relief workers were sent to the region, along with their equipment, including helicopters and rescue dogs, from different parts of the world. However, the remoteness of many areas affected by the earthquake and the onset of winter in the mountains (the earthquake occurred in early October) hampered relief efforts and no doubt led to even more casualties, who were not able to access aid or medical supplies.

Violence continued in Kashmir in 2008. Commentators saw the pitched battles between civilians and the police in the Kashmir Valley in June 2008 and the paralysis of the administration as a throwback to the turbulent 1990s, when Kashmiri resentment against the Indian government's policies led to a virtual civil war in Kashmir. The immediate cause of this violence was the transference of some forest land to a Hindu shrine by the Kashmiri government.

The civil unrest in Kashmir has virtually seen an end to Kashmiri tourism and has impacted the market for the sale of arts and crafts.


Kashmiri women, in addition to having to face restrictions imposed by their own Hindu and Muslim communities, have had to deal with the civil and communal unrest that has affected the state since the 1980s. Militant Islamic separatist guerrillas have tried to ban beauty parlors, cinema halls, and wine shops and demanded that Muslim women follow the Islamic dress code and wear burqas or the veil. The Indian Army is viewed by many in Kashmir as an army of occupation, and it has been accused of numerous violations of human rights. In fact, an Islamic women's separatist group said it would begin training Muslim women in martial arts and called on them to carry daggers to fend off sexual attacks by Indian soldiers. More and more Kashmiri women are being seen as mukhbirs, or informers, and becoming targets of the militants.

Thus, not only do women in Kashmir have to live in dominant patriarchal social systems, they have to face poverty, illiteracy, arranged marriages, dowry deaths, a lack of inheritance, and economic discrimination. In addition, they have to live with the depredations of both soldiers of the Indian army and the militants in Kashmir in the context of the ongoing civil unrest.


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Hassnain, Fida Mohammad Khan. Historic Kashmir. Srinagar: Gulshan Publishers, 2002.

Kaul, Gwasha Lal. Kashmir Through the Ages(5000 BC to 1965 AD). Srinagar: Chronicle Publishing House, 1963.

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Lawrence, Walter R. Provincial Gazetteers of Kashmir and Jammu. New Delhi: Rima Publishing House, reprinted 1985.

Qadri, Shafi Ahmad. Kashmiri Sufism. Srinagar: Gulshan Publishers, 2002.

Rahman, Mushtaqur. Divided Kashmir: Old Problems, New Opportunities for India, Pakistan, and the Kashmiri People. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1996.

—by D. O. Lodrick