The book titled ‘J&K Invisible Faultlines’, published by Pentagon Press and edited by Sandhya Jain, attempts to correct the skewed narrative on Jammu & Kashmir by focusing on important but neglected issues like: the strategic importance of Jammu and Ladakh, the sidelining of Maharaja Hari Singh, the Dogra ruler, who made the State’s accession to India possible, unequal delimitation of Constituencies, the ethnic cleansing & forced exodus of Kashmiri Pandits and the demographic threat posed by the Rohingya influx in Jammu. Sandhya Jain, in her preface, calls the Kathua Incident the “immediate trigger” for this effort to present facts that have always been suppressed by the ‘officially’ sanctioned version of the ‘Kashmir Issue’.
Amongst the slew of publications on ‘Kashmir’, what makes this one stand out is that it focusses on the other two parts of the State, Jammu and Ladakh. It seeks to acquaint readers with Maharaja Hari Singh’s real stature in the contemporary history of J&K, a position he has been denied by politicians, media and writers from the Valley. Hari Singh was an able and astute Administrator, a fact acknowledged and recorded by the British Resident of that period. J&K was one of the well-administered Princely States. Yet, after Accession, he was sidelined due to the Nehru-Abdullah nexus. Had Jawaharlal Nehru included Hari Singh in the negotiations with Sheikh Abdullah and not gone to the UN over the Pak incursion in 1947, perhaps the unnecessary dispute over Kashmir could have been averted.
The chapters providing the background to the ‘Kashmir Problem’, highlight how the people of Jammu and Ladakh have been consistently marginalized due to the Kashmir-centric approach of successive regimes in J&K. Jammu, despite being the first communication route to the Valley and Ladakh, has always ended up being on the sidelines. Whether it is media coverage of the State, allocation of Central funds or developing the tourism potential, the peaceful regions of the State have always been given short shrift. Sialkot being very close to Jammu, makes Pakistan more vulnerable from this side, added to this is the fact that River Chenab, the lifeline of Pakistan, flows through Jammu region. It is for this reason that our neighbouring country has been trying to carry out a demographic shift by targeting the Hindus of Poonch, Doda, Rajouri and Udhampur. After the ouster of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir, people from these areas are being forced to leave their homes. As if this wasn’t enough, constant shelling from the Pak side of the International Border has made life hell for the Indians living on this side.
For a change, Ladakh gets its fair share of focus in this book on J&K. This region, comprising the biggest share of land mass in the State, has always been ignored perhaps, because of its sparse population and modest people. This area is strategically of prime importance, with boundaries touching China, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan which give it the potential of being India’s bridge with Central Asia, South Asia and China. Coupled with this strategic value is the non-confrontationist attitude of the peaceful population which makes Ladakh the most promising part of this fractured State. Unfortunately, the Centre has not given Ladakh the attention it deserves, as is evident from the fact that it took seven decades for a university to be sanctioned in Ladakh in December 2018, under Governor’s Rule. The portions devoted to Ladakh bring out interesting aspects like the now unused route from Leh to Kailash-Mansarover being the shortest and easiest, reopening this route would do wonders for Ladakh’s economy. Granting of Union Territory status is a longstanding demand of this region, the fulfilment of which is prevented by the existence of Article 370.
The crux of this book lies in the painstakingly researched chapters on the Kathua Rape Case that shook the nation with its potential of getting turned into a communally divisive spark in an already fraught situation. The details provided by the team of social activists who went to Rassana, met the people involved and inspected the ‘crime scene’, give a chilling insight into this incident that was given a religious angle and misrepresented at the national and international level. The truth, behind what turned out to be a carefully constructed conspiracy, is laid bare by conducting interviews with local people, meticulous collection of background information and uncovering of the way facts were deliberately distorted by certain sections of the media and some powerful people. This fact-finding team reveals how the reputation of the peace-loving people of Jammu was sought to be tarnished by implicating several local people and a place they held sacred.
Another problem plaguing the security of Jammu and the well-being of its people is the illegal settlement of the Rohingyas from Myanmar in areas of Samba and Jammu. It is a wonder how those who bristle at the very mention of Art 370 have never complained about how and why these illegal aliens were settled in a sensitive place like Jammu. This Rohingya influx poses a security threat not only to Jammu, but the whole of India given their tendency towards radicalization and their involvement in illegal activities. Their presence and the ease with which they have acquired Aadhar and Voter Cards points to a deliberate and diabolical attempt at tilting the demography in this area.
The Articles of contention, Art 370 and Art 35A, are both explained in detail, along with how they have proved detrimental to the progress and development of the State. While Art 370 prevents assimilation of J&K with the rest of India and alienates the people by bestowing ‘special’ and unfair privileges, Art 35A impinges on the basic rights of J&K women and their progeny. Valuable inputs are provided for those who want to know how these two obsolete Articles are “suffocating” development and closing the doors to “an era of prosperity” in the whole State.
Coming to the issue of the Internally Displaced Kashmiri Pandits, the most sharply etched faultline in the fabric of this troubled State, this book recounts how growing Islamic fundamentalism impacted their existence. Decades of persecution culminated in a “swift and shrill campaign of violence and intimidation” forcing them to flee their homes and take refuge in other parts of the nation. Important and decisive events, which played a big role in the eventual decimation of this intellectual community, are briefly mentioned. The Kabali invasion of September 1947 that marked the first act of Jihad, Sheikh Abdullah’s controversial Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, 1950 which aimed at depriving Kashmiri Pandits of their land, political downsizing of Constituencies where KPs were numerically significant and depriving them of educational and employment opportunities despite merit, were just some of the ways in which the gradual ethnic cleansing of this community was carried out. A list of some of the Kashmiri Pandits killed in the run-up to the 1990 exodus is also provided.
There is so much that the book talks about, detailing problems along with their causes and also attempting to suggest some of the steps that could be taken to rid the State of these man-made faultlines that must be repaired and rectified for this important and sensitive State to regain the glory and prosperity that history bestowed on this land. Highly recommended for every Indian who wishes to know more about J&K, apart from the media-driven, hyped half-truths that are generally peddled about the ‘Kashmir Issue’. As this book amply illustrates, Kashmir cannot be understood without knowing about the whole State, which should rightfully have been called ‘JAMMU, KASHMIR & LADAKH.
By Renuka Dhar, who tweets at @DharRenuka