Jammu and Ladakh

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JAMMU AND LADAKH The Valley of Kashmir frequently occupies a central place in discussions about the political status of Jammu and Kashmir, whether within or outside India. However, the valley is only one of three regions of the state—each defined by distinct geographical, historical, and cultural backgrounds. Since the partition of India and the accession of the state of Jammu and Kashmir to the Indian state, the regions of Jammu and Ladakh have consistently pursued their own politics of identity in relation to the valley, yet they remain shadowed by the latter's demands for autonomy and freedom from the Indian state.

According to the Census of India of 2001, the total population of Jammu and Kashmir stood at 10.07 million. As no regular census was held in the state due to the secessionist movement, the population figures were "interpolated" by the Office of the Registrar General of India. According to these 2001 census estimates, 54 percent of the state's population resides in the valley, 43.7 percent in the Jammu region, and 2.3 percent in Ladakh. While the valley's population is 94 percent Muslim, the populations of the other two regions are less homogeneous. Jammu is 66 percent Hindu, 30 percent Muslim, and 4 percent Sikh. Dogri is its major language, although Gojari, Pahari, and Punjabi are also spoken. In Ladakh, Buddhists and Muslims are almost evenly divided. Buddhists, who constitute 52 percent of its population, are concentrated in the Leh district, while Muslims (48 percent; largely Shiʿa), live in the district of Kargil. The major language of Ladakh is Ladakhi or Bodhi. Other languages spoken are Balti, Dardi, and Shina.

In 1947, after Indian independence and the partition of India, the Indian state faced the challenging task of nation building and integrating the princely states into the nation-state. In the process, the Indian political elite arrogated to itself the power to define Kashmiri identity and in so doing profoundly affected the process by which the collective identities of the Kashmir's Hindus and Muslims, Ladakh's Buddhists, and Jammu's Hindus were constructed and maintained. The maharaja of Kashmir signed the Instrument of Accession in October 1947 when his troops were no longer able to defend the state from tribal aggression from the North-West Frontier province of Pakistan. The Indian state created two legal categories in its Constitution in Article 370, affirming a special status for the state of Jammu and Kashmir in the Indian federation and reaffirming the state-subject requirements whereby employment and ownership of property were to remain the exclusive prerogative of citizens of Jammu and Kashmir. The origin of these legal categories lay in the nationalist discourse developed by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah's 1939 mass-based, secular, and socialist nationalist movement against the Dogra ruler. Through the legal and constitutional categories underlined in the Delhi Agreement and finally in Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, the Indian state simultaneously embraced and denied its differences from Kashmiri society. While it recognized the cultural and political identity of the Kashmiri people and defined them as distinct, it also asserted that the similarities between Kashmir and the Indian state were based on their compatible secular, socialist, and democratic agendas.


In the construction of the Kashmir nation, however, the Indian state privileged the collective memory and history of the Kashmiri Muslims at the cost of denying the history and stifling the politics of the Hindu and Buddhist populations of Jammu and Ladakh, respectively. India's political leadership completely ignored the latter regions' desire for full integration with India. As far as Jammu was concerned, there were two underlying reasons for that. First, the ruler against whom the Kashmiri nationalist movement was carried out was a (Hindu) Dogra, and guilt by association certainly played a part in the Indian state's indifferent attitude toward Jammu. Second, Jammu's loyalty to India was taken for granted. Given its large Hindu population and its awkward geographical location, Jammu had no choice but loyalty to the Indian state, since its future was secure only within Hindu-dominated India.

Jammu's response to the denial of political and legal space to its Hindu community within the articulated Kashmiri identity has been twofold. On the one hand, a minority has expressed itself through Hindu nationalist symbols and has actively supported the Indian Hindu party (Bharatiya Jan Sangh, later the Bharatiya Janata Party) in the cause of fully integrating Kashmir within the Indian state by abolishing Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. According to these Hindu nationalists, Article 370 disallows Kashmiri citizens from being emotionally attached to the Indian nation. On the other hand, a much larger group also seeks emotional and political recognition and a space for itself within the formally articulated and constructed Kashmiri identity, but has supported the Kashmiri demand for the recognition and maintenance of its distinctness. However, it is not willing to sever Jammu and Kashmir state's links with India.

The Jammu and Kashmir Praja Parishad, which had been formed in 1947 with the support of leading RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) workers, took up Jammu's cause for the state's complete accession to and total integration with India. By 1951 Praja Parishad had emerged as the principal opposition party, and the only party representing Jammu's Hindus as well as the refugees who had migrated from West Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The party drew support from the leading Hindu nationalist parties in India such as Hindu Mahasabha, Ram Rajya Parishad, and Bharatiya Jan Sangh. In 1952 it began its most vocal and aggressive agitation demanding the abrogation of Article 370, full integration of the state into the Indian union, full application of the Indian Constitution, complete jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, and removal of customs barriers between Kashmir and India. Over the next few months, Jammu's streets echoed with Praja Parishad's slogan of Ek Vidhan, Ek Nishan, Aur Ek Pradhan (One constitution, one flag and one head of the state). Jammu's Hindu population was effectively mobilized by Praja Parishad. Consequently, when the first assembly elections took place in 1957 (after the promulgation of the new constitution for the state), the Praja Parishad received 52 and 43 percent of the total votes polled in the urban constituencies of Jammu and Udhampur, respectively, the party's strongholds. The National Conference, Abdullah's ruling party, successfully competed for Jammu's votes, however, and was able to secure twenty-four out of its thirty seats.

Since then, Jammu's main grievance has been that the state government has consistently discriminated against Jammu in favor of Kashmir in terms of development, representation in the civil service and the Cabinet, and the provision of higher educational facilities. Since the mid-1960s, both the Kashmir and Indian governments have taken note of Jammu's grievances. The Gajendragadhar Commission was appointed in 1967 to inquire into complaints of regional imbalance in developmental programs and recruitment policies. The commission, in its 1968 report, recommended equal representation of Jammu in the state cabinet, the establishment of a full-fledged university, medical college, and regional engineering college in Jammu, the establishment of a statutory State Development Board, and the creation of regional development boards for each of the three regions. Except for the establishment of Jammu University and a medical college, none of the commission's recommendations was implemented. In 1979 the state government appointed the Sikri Commission to review Jammu's consistent complaints of discrimination. In August 1980 the commission once again recognized regional imbalances and made specific recommendations in developmental policies and programs, recruitment policies, and admission to professional institutions. Since that time, several of Jammu's demands have been met, particularly in regard to development, political representation in the state government, and the establishment of professional institutions; a strong feeling still prevails among Jammu's population, however, that the central government in India has largely taken for granted their unflagging patriotism and Indian nationalism.


Despite knowledge of the cultural identity of the Buddhist population of Ladakh, India's leaders, in determining the Indian state's relations with Jammu and Kashmir, have consistently tended to ignore that region's aspirations. After the partition of India, the Buddhists in Ladakh perceived their historic association with the state of Jammu and Kashmir as having come to an end: they had been annexed by the Dogras in 1842, and now, with the maharaja's transfer of power to the National Conference, they felt they deserved to reacquire their full sovereignty. However, in their own larger interests and those of India, they agreed to continue to remain part of the state. The demands of Ladakh's Buddhist population have ranged from recognition of the community as scheduled tribes, to the granting of quasi-autonomous Frontier, Union Territory, or Autonomous Hill Region status.

During the very early days of the interim regime of Sheikh Abdullah, the relationship between the Buddhist population of Ladakh and the Kashmir government turned both acrimonious and fragile. The Buddhist Ladakhis have consistently complained about the Kashmir government's discriminatory attitude toward the region in terms of administrative and political representation in state institutions, a lack of economic development, and the denial of their cultural and linguistic identity. In addition, they have accused the state government of communalizing their politics by dividing the region into two districts, a Buddhist majority Leh and a Muslim majority Kargil. Fearing their assimilation into a Muslim-dominated state and the conversion of their status into a minority, the Buddhists have consequently insisted upon the protection of their distinct religion and culture by seeking closer relations with India's central government.

On 4 May 1949, Chhewang Rgzin Kloan, president of the Buddhist Association, presented a memorandum to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, unequivocally declaring that Ladakh could not be bound by the decision of a plebiscite that might be held to decide Kashmir's accession to India. Kaushok Bakola, the head lama and the most vocal advocate of central administration for Ladakh, challenged the legality of the state government's jurisdiction over the region. In general, Ladakh complained of discrimination, police brutality (most of the police force was from the Kashmir region), conversion of the Buddhist population to Islam and Christianity, and finally, threats to the gompas (Buddhist monasteries) through the implementation of land reforms.

During the 1960s, the Kashmir government made some efforts to respond to some specific Ladakhi demands, but the communal divide between Buddhists and Muslims had begun to sharpen. In April 1969, when a Buddist flag was desecrated by a Muslim, the Buddhist Action committee started an agitation for the central government to grant Union Territory status to Ladahk, a demand completely opposed by Kashmir's chief minister G. M. Sadiq. Continued communal problems between the two religious communities caused Bakola to reassert his demand that the region be centrally administered, while Chief Minister Sadiq, in turn, minimized the Ladakhi agitation as merely a "law and order" problem. The government and the Buddhist leaders attempted to negotiate Ladakh's demands for proper educational and health facilities and an increased share of the administrative and economic budget. The Jammu and Kashmir government acknowledged that there was a need to invest more resources in the region and, in 1973, Mir Kasim became the first chief minister of the state to visit Ladakh. The situation changed in 1977 with the reentry into Kashmir politics of Sheikh Abdullah. The Ladakhi Buddhists intensified their demands for the region to be centrally administered. The situation got much worse in 1979, when Ladakh was bifurcated into two districts, Leh and Kargil, for administrative purposes. The Buddhist leaders blamed Sheikh Abdullah for destroying the cohesiveness and the secular image of the region. The two districts began to select candidates from their respective majority religious faiths. The Buddhist-majority Leh chose the Congress candidate, supporting Ladakh's integration with India, and the Muslim-majority Kargil elected the National Conference candidate, supporting the cause of the valley's Muslims.

The All-Party Ladakh Action Committee launched an agitation in 1981 and 1982 for the declaration of the entire people of Ladakh as a "scheduled tribe." It was only in 1984 that G. M. Shah, in his brief stint as Kashmir's chief minister, recommended to the government of India to grant tribal status to eight selected Ladakhi ethnic groups, and it was not until 1991, in response to another serious agitation by the Buddhist community two years earlier, that the formal order to implement the decision was issued. Finally, after prolonged talks between the government of India, the state government, and the Ladakh Buddhist Association, an Autonomous Hill council was approved on 9 October 1993 for Leh, and a similar one for Kargil, which would be operational only when the population of the latter desired. On the whole, as the Indian state constructed the Kashmiri nation on the narrow premise of the Kashmiri Muslim identity, the economic and identity-related demands of the Ladakhi Buddhists and Jammu's Hindus remain less than fully satisfied.

Reeta Chowdhari Tremblay

See alsoKashmir


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