File photo | Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with BJP president Amit Shah in New Delhi. | Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
File photo | Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with BJP president Amit Shah in New Delhi. | Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
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Kashmiriyat is dead, this much is certain. And everything associated with it—religious harmony, secularism, the distinct relationship between Kashmir and India—is gone as well. Kashmiriyat has been in the throes of death for some decades now, but the latest moves by the Indian government to abrogate Article 370 and 35A, and demote the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) to a union territory, have put the final nail in its coffin. Constitutionally and rhetorically, Kashmir is no longer special.

Also read: PM Modi needs to make an emotional appeal to Kashmiris — like Vajpayee and Manmohan did


The idea of Kashmiriyat rested on asserting Kashmir’s uniqueness in the Subcontinent, and emerged, in part, out of Kashmiri nationalism’s close relationship to Indian nationalism in the early twentieth century. The idea of distinctiveness, however, was not entirely foreign to Kashmir’s own Sanskrit and Persian narrative tradition through the centuries. This interconnected tradition celebrated the sacredness of Kashmir’s landscape, its historical tradition, and the variety of people who made it their homeland well into the late nineteenth century. For centuries, assertions of Kashmir’s singularity allowed it to claim a much more significant space for itself alongside and within more powerful empires than it would have otherwise attained.

By the turn of the twentieth century, as Kashmiri Muslims organized themselves into a community with specific grievances against the Hindu Maharaja (ruler) of the now princely state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the narrative of uniqueness receded into the background. An anti-Maharaja movement coalesced around threats to Muslim identity and Islam in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Its main demands were redress for the lack of representation of Kashmiri Muslims in government employment, for the most part setting aside the concerns of the working poor, peasants, and minorities.

By the mid-1930s, the winds were shifting again. Attacks against the movement for being either too focused on Muslims or not focused enough on Muslim demands grew in intensity. As such, the need to shift the emphasis away from religion to the concerns of the marginalized and minorities became apparent to at least a section of the leadership.  At this same moment, the Indian National Congress had begun to turn its attention to princely states and had also started a Muslim mass-contact program to attract more Muslims into its fold. A Muslim-majority princely state such as J&K aligning itself with the Congress was an attractive proposition for the organization.

It was in this context that the outlines of what would later come to be officially termed Kashmiriyat emerged. The All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference, headed by Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, began its conversion into the All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, shifting, at least rhetorically, away from religion to class and minority issues. Abandoning the term ‘Muslim’ in its appellation and replacing it with ‘National’ instead was a clear indication of its alliance with the Congress. In a speech on 28 March 1938, Abdullah pointed out that Hindus and Sikhs too suffered under the same yoke of exploitation and irresponsible government as Muslims, and responsible government was possible only if all groups united against the common enemy.

The Kashmir nation emerged as central to this project, and needed definition as well as a history. Although never acknowledged as such, the nation was synonymous with the Kashmir Valley, and the movement invoked its exceptionality to fit a new political purpose. Kashmir was the beautiful homeland of multiple religious groups that had lived in harmony since time immemorial. Islam had made inroads into Kashmir not through force but rather peaceful means. Beginning with the Mughals, alien rulers had destroyed Kashmir’s peace and plunged its people, regardless of religious affiliation, into a benighted state. This narrative also allowed the National Conference to distinguish itself from the All India Muslim League by rejecting the two-nation theory.

These ideas were not entirely fabricated. Kashmir’s narrative tradition resonated with belonging to Kashmir—the mulk—that cut across religious and other affiliations. Yet it also illustrated instances of intense schism and conflict along lines of religion, sect, and class that were as much a part of Kashmir’s past. And, much like the modern project of Kashmiri nationalism, the earlier narrative tradition too was rooted in institutional contexts and a product of, even as it influenced, political projects, such as legitimizing particular rulers.

Kashmiri nationalism did not go unchallenged. It was seen by many within the Kashmiri Muslim community and a wider community of Indian Muslims as betraying their interests. After all, it was the promotion and protection of Muslim interests that had been the basis of the movement against the Maharaja. Many also did not appreciate the close alliance between the National Conference and the Congress, which was seen as unrepresentative of Muslims in British India. Nonetheless, at least a majority of Kashmiri Muslims – in part due to the charismatic leadership of Sheikh Abdullah – accepted the nationalist idea.

Also read: Kashmiris must know their battle isn’t against India but against RSS-BJP ideology 

Life after 1947

With independence, partition, and the lapse of paramountcy, the idea, now termed Kashmiriyat, gained a new lease on life. The National Conference, with Abdullah at its helm, took over the reins of the administration of the now Indian state of J&K in late 1947. As India and Pakistan battled over the erstwhile princely state, the need to legitimize J&K’s accession to India became imperative. The Maharaja had acceded to India amidst a fog of revolt and war, with significant constituencies in J&K against his move. In addition, partition violence was spilling over from the Punjab, with large numbers of Hindu and Sikh refugees pouring daily into the state.

India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, giving a speech in Srinagar, Kashmir, welcoming Jammu and Kashmir into the Indian Union, 2 November 1947 (Sheikh Abdullah is seated to his left) | Photo: Commons

Drawing on the ideas that had given birth to the National Conference, the regime set about fashioning a narrative of secular harmony to represent the new, now ‘independent’ nation of Kashmir and its government.  This narrative was a mirror image of the narrative of Indian secularism, and much like it, poorly defined. Beyond accepting all religions as equal in the eyes of the law and making a plea to protect minorities, there was little sense of how Kashmiriyat would accommodate the interests of the majority community without injuring minority interests, especially now that the majority community was in charge. It was all very well to stage plays in which Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs lived together in harmony. However, this did not address the grievances of the minority Hindu community, which were raised by concrete measures undertaken by the J&K government, such as land redistribution and the allocation of government jobs to Muslims.

It was precisely these issues that brought down the first Abdullah government in 1953, not simply from the perspective of the failure of Kashmiriyat in J&K, but also the failure of secularism in India. It was the alignment of Kashmiriyat and Indian secularism that had allowed the J&K government to negotiate a special status for the state through Article 370 of the Indian Constitution in 1949.  The consensus fell apart in the following years as it became clear that the interests of the majority and minority communities in J&K could not be reconciled, and as the majority community in India took up cudgels on behalf of their co-religionists (the Hindu minority) in the state. The Bharatiya Jan Sangh, the earlier incarnation of today’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), supported an internal Jammu-based movement to abrogate Article 370 and integrate Kashmir fully into India.

After the fall of the Abdullah regime, successive National Conference governments continued to promote Kashmiriyat as proof of their loyalty to India, even as they joined the centre in whittling down Article 370 to a shell of its original self. The same narrative that had facilitated Kashmir’s special status was now deployed in the service of denigrating it. As Kashmiri Muslims grew increasingly alienated from India, their discontent spilled over into a full-blown insurgency in the late 1980s.

Also read: Modi & Amit Shah’s new Kashmir policy will make dynasties irrelevant & build local leadership

Insurgency and Beyond

The concept of Kashmiriyat suffered in the context of the Kashmiri resistance movement, since it was seen as closely linked to Indian nationalism—merely another sub-nationalism created by India to forcefully bring one more region into its fold. The Kashmir nation’s past was rewritten yet again, eschewing any connections to the Indian subcontinent, and instead celebrating its close relationships to Central Asia. Islam formed the basis of the oppositional identity developed by the resistance and gradually Kashmir’s past prior to Islam’s advent was erased.

Since Kashmiriyat had been developed in part to accommodate minorities, it became obsolete when their numbers dwindled in the Valley as they either voluntarily left or were driven out. The new generation of Kashmiri Muslims, who have grown up amidst violence and repression of the Indian security forces, do not know or care about Kashmiriyat, in part because it is no longer relevant. Those who come across the idea in Kashmir’s intellectual circles, where it can sometimes be found, vehemently reject it for its connections to India.

But the demise of Kashmiriyat has to be placed in the context of the concomitant demise of the secular consensus in India as a whole. The trajectory of the rise of the BJP, and along with it Hindu majoritarianism, can be traced to the same moment as the beginning of the Kashmir insurgency, which in many ways embodies its own majoritarianism. Both signalled the failure of the Indian state to live up to the secular ideals on which it was founded. Although the insurgency and the fortunes of the BJP have waxed and waned in the past thirty years, it appears that the majoritarianisms represented by each are now here to stay.  This is a pity for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it leaves no room for a resolution of the Kashmir issue, other than – or so the BJP seems to think – by brute force.

Kashmiriyat is now a bygone term, whispered in elegiac tones in some liberal living rooms or perhaps an odd classroom, accompanied by nostalgia for the good old days when peace and harmony prevailed. If only the past were that uncomplicated.

This article was originally published on History Workshop. 

The author is Professor of History at The College of William & Mary (USA) and has written numerous articles and books on Kashmir, including the forthcoming, Kashmir (Oxford India Short Introductions).

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19 Comments Share Your Views


  1. It is good that a hypocritical charade has been done away with? The writer may find it intellectually obdurate to change her mind in the face of stark facts which prove that Kashmiriyat is and was always a shroud to blunt and blind the people in mainland India to offer a hope that the aberrations committed against non-Muslims in Kashmir do not have the support of Sunni Muslim majority of the valley. Thanks to the very people who the shroud was built to support for dismantling it while the facts support the rest of the country that they tried their best to accommodate the dereliction committed by the Sunni Kashmiris with due support by Pakistan and various apologists in India who wanted the status quo to continue.
    The writer may have built an academic reputation during her entire career discoursing on Kashmiriyat and may find it difficult to do a volte face now despite the compelling mass of evidence against Kashmiriyat in the form it was practiced?

  2. 1. Let us face the bitter truth: secular Kashmir died when Pandits were driven out of their homes and they became refugees in their own land. 2. Kashmiris did not find out true intentions of Pakistan. They have been misled by the Pakistani propaganda and overlook the hidden agenda of making Kashmir a part of Islamic State called Pakistan. 3. Hence, I believe that it is for people of Kashmir to do some critical self-introspection and take a firm stand against terrorists and their supporters in Kashmir. Our Army protects ordinary citizens Jammu & Kashmir (J & K) from attacks of the terrorists. Question is this: who will protect ordinary Kashmiris if the Pakistan controlled terror outfits get control of Kashmir and then drive out ordinary Kashmiris? I hope J & K politicians are aware of risks of their tacit support to violence. They should not forget that people cannot be fooled all the time.

  3. 1) Why Kashmir is special? Why, for that matter, Tamil Nadu has its own culture, same with Kerala and Bengal and North East. Why Kashmir alone should be treated specially? We welcome Modi’s move.
    2) What about the rape, and expulsion of Pandits?

  4. Ironically in 1947 during partition time of communal conflagration in North india the state of J&K was a model of secularism.In sharp contrast during last 70 yrs when the muslim minorities have been living as equals in a secular India, J&K state had been gradually torn apart since the late eighties after Zia-ul-Haque took over in Pak due to muslim majoritarianism policies followed by the mainstream parties ruling from Srinagar in alignment with Pak.That was the time Kashmiriyat started dying in Kashmir with Islamisation taking over and rest as they say is history.Hindutva was rising bit still it was Cong party which was in power both at center,Kashmir and rest of India.So Hindutva or BJP cannot be blamed for the faultlines situation in Kashmir which has has come to power only last 5 yrs.BJP is now trying to recover the lost ground to Pak and Islamisation of last 30 yrs in the valley thanks to woolly policies of Cong. party on Kasmir during last 3 decades.All opposition parties must stand by the center and the country as Kashmir is very strategically located from India’s security point of view of Pak terror , a reason why Nehru made part of a muslim majority state accede to India the way he did.

  5. Very sad that author belongs to community which suffered the most at the hands of kashmiriyat but I am not surprised due to the fact that most of the authors are now married to perpetrators or are in living relation with them. We somehow need to show bharatiyata so that cry and wail on kashmiriyat from their beds while making love to their partners.

  6. Another arm-chair foreign writer sitting half-way across the world and haughtily lecturing the ‘ignorant’ Natives on their history.

    The foreign writer is shedding crocodile tears on the demise of an idea called “Kashmiriyat” that supposedly rested on an assertive uniqueness of Kashmir in the Subcontinent. Nobody is supposed to enjoy special privileges. That’s the whole point of Democracy. Not only Kashmir, India as a whole is diverse and sacred. Maybe, professor Chitralekha Zutshi should look up what Democracy means, before trying to peddle another moth-eaten Hindu vs muslim narrative. She elaborates on Kashmir’s history, but conveniently forgets our friendly neighbor’s repeated role in instigating the sponsored unrest in Kashmir. Pakistan finds mention exactly ONCE in the whole article! Is it another one of those cowardly liberal lapses?

    Here’s another blatant lie. “The trajectory of the rise of the BJP, and along with it Hindu majoritarianism, can be traced to the same moment as the beginning of the Kashmir insurgency,” says the Professor of History at The College of William & Mary, USA. Somehow, she miraculously connects the 1990 insurgency to the rise of BJP in 1996. BJP’s first and short-lived attempt to power only happened in 1996. So, how did the wavering embryonic rise of BJP in 1996 contribute to the rise of insurgency back in 1990? It won’t be surprising, if the brilliant professor tries to explain it away with time travel. This is a splendid example of a liberal intellectual putting forth a sound logical argument.

    And, I think she also mistook ‘Indians’ for stupidity. She should go to the middle-east and preach her secularism to the Arabs. It won’t be too long before she’s made to wear a body-bag and forced to sing the praises of al Lah! Maybe then, she will begin to understand the benevolent nature of Indian Secularism and its kind tolerance for fools.

    • Chitralekha Zutshi bigoted narration makes islamists innocent of any wrong doings in the Kashmir insurgency and places the blame immorally on the minority Hindu victims, the Kashmir pundits. The islamists intentionally transformed the demographics of the Kashmir valley by kidnapping and murdering hundreds of Kashmiri pundits, indulging in horrific crimes, including, gouging of victim’s eyes and gang raping Hindu women. The author casually mentions that incident as, “Since Kashmiriyat had been developed in part to accommodate minorities, it became obsolete when their numbers dwindled in the Valley as they either voluntarily left…” She deliberately avoids using the words “Kashmiri Pundits”, but has no compunction when it comes to using “BJP” or “Hindu majoritarianism”. Look at the choice of her words, when she says, “…as they voluntarily left..” Do any sane person believe that the Kashmiri Hindu families just up and left their houses and belongings voluntarily? Are these the words of an unbiased writer or a sectarian writer, who has sold her soul to the devil?

      The colonial College of William & Mary, where the author works, established the Sultan Qaboos Academic Chair with backing from the middle-eastern Oman Sultanate.( The Sultan Qaboos Academic Chairs intends to enhance and develop islamic culture and its heritage. The creation of such endowed academic chairs allows the faculty to develop and enhance its scholarship in a priority area of study and to recruit faculty members. The author became a professor after the endowment was established. Did the endowment play a role? It’s important for the reader to know whether the author or her programmes were a beneficiary of the Arabian gulf money. Did such donations purchase undue influence over the way in which highly controversial subjects, such as, Kashmir conflict, Sunni’s discrimination of minorities are treated? Did it buy emphasis on some islamic issues over others? Her highly partisan handling of the Kashmir issue makes one wonder whether she is a muslim apologist. Is she white washing islamic violence by throwing out distractions, such as, Hindu majoritarianism and BJP, when the subject is islamic fanaticism and violence?

      She writes, “As India and Pakistan battled over the erstwhile princely state…” That’s the only one incidental mention of Pakistan. What is strikingly absent in the writing is any mention of Pakistan’s active involvement in sustaining the violence in Kashmir through cross-border terrorism. Former president and top general of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf candidly admitted that Pakistan supported and trained groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in 1990s to carry out militancy in Kashmir. Musharraf in an interview to Dunya News, “In 1990s the freedom struggle began in Kashmir…At that time Lashkar-e-Taiba and 11 or 12 other organisations were formed. We supported them and trained them as they were fighting in Kashmir at the cost of their lives.” ( That’s straight from the horse’s mouth. But, the knowledgeable author, who has written several books on Kashmir neglects to even mention that in her article. Is this criminal negligence or deliberate omission of truth to please her donors?

      Chitralekha Zutshi makes it to be the hand work of Hindu majoritarianism and rise of BJP by indulging in gas-lighting, when she fabricates, “The trajectory of the rise of the BJP, and along with it Hindu majoritarianism, can be traced to the same moment as the beginning of the Kashmir insurgency”. It is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person seeks to sow seeds of doubt in the targeted group, i.e., Indians, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity.

      Do Indians or the Print really need to entertain such unscrupulous writers at the expense of well-being of our country?

  7. Let us be practical and realist. The valley of Kashmir, the usual politicians, separatists and terrorists, could not have dictated the terms of politics any further and we badly needed a strong action to stop further deterioration in the national security and interest. Kashmiriyat was the romantic term to get all J&K people together for the benefits of a few from the ruling elite. Insaniyat is understood only by humans and not by terrorists. Jumuriyat was misused umpteen number of times. All this has to end under a strong and decisive government. Looking from another angle, the valley kashmiris should look at how badly Tibetians or Uighurs are treated by Chinese and consider how India allowed democracy and freedom for a land locked region but it was abused by them though India provided them security and funds flowed like money there for the valley politicians to pocket. Let us now look ahead now that Kashmir is a part of India just like any other state is with all its culture and identities intact except some romantic and unworkable ideas of Azadi. and yes, Kashmiriyat is long dead,

  8. The Author has incomplete and corrupted knowledge of history which is presented in prism of bias and injustice to kashmiris particularly and Hindus at large..
    Wish some more rational research had gone before such a long epitaph based on subverted side of history… Print you can do better.

  9. When Kashmiri youth dies in Srinagar their bodies are wrapped in Pakistani flags……Kashmiriat is dead…. Pakistanism is alive in Sringar !!!1

  10. By that logic Bengal, Punjab, Tamilnadu, Orissa, Nagaland, Manipur in particular stand on the same unique identity platform.
    Why only J&K, only because an imaginary ,romantically hollow, holy than thou high platform has been created. Like brahminical concept, all in the society but these highly socalled knowledgeable should be equal.

  11. We should go back a bit more to know that it was invaders in 14th century who ruled Kashmir for over 400 Years and resorted to forcible conversions under threat and after rape & killings in a barbaric manner those who resisted conversions. Those who have doubts about it should read an unbiased account of Kashmir history. Forcible Conversions were the turning phase and start of tje problems with which kashmir is plagued even today.

  12. Kashmiriyat Was Dead Since 1990s when the natives were raped murdered and thrown out by immegrants. Its body was being preserved by our hard earned Money paid in Taxes. Better it is to get rid of this rotten body. And it’s done by Govt in good manner. Now some paracites who were dependent on their meals on this rotten body are crying foul.

  13. Fully agree with Mr Rajiv….Muslims are notorious to convert people…there is no peaceful means of conversion. It was done either forcefully or using deception techniques…There is only one problem of kashmir and that is religious dichotomy .Fake wards like kashmiryat does not do well now.

  14. Kashmiriat died when khasmiri killed Kashmiri based on religion. This not a war of rights rather a religious war. If Indira/Nehru were alive they would have done the same thing during 90’s

  15. At the moment, very difficult to foresee what lies ahead for Kashmir. Once restrictions are lifted, a little more clarity could be there, for the immediate future. However, over the longer term, the bonds of affection and shared purpose that define a nation are frayed. The bits and pieces of news that are trickling out are completely at odds with official claims.


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