Politicization of religion in Kashmir

Dr G.M. Athar
February 8, 2017 OPINION 544 Views

The UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights in 1948 has recognized the freedom of thought and expression as one of the fundamental rights of an individual irrespective of his/her age, gender, ethnicity, language, class and culture. The freedom of religion and its free propagation is therefore a fundamental right of a citizen living in a democratic country. All the civilized nations of contemporary world recognize religious freedom as an important human right of their people. The religion however, has been the most misused weapon by the state and non-state actors in all periods of human history. The clergymen have throughout misused their influence in the society to rule the people in the name of religion in most parts of the world. During the ancient and medieval periods the Judaism, Christianity, Islam and other religions have served as the state ideology in many parts of the world. It was only after the Enlightenment Movement of 18th century that the control of religion on politics, government and state in Europe began to decline. In the Third World countries however, the direct or indirect control of religion on society and polity is an empirical ground reality.
Joseph Campbell has said, “There seem to be only two kinds of people: Those who think that metaphors are facts, and those who know that they are not facts. Those who know they are not facts are what we call “atheists,” and those who think they are facts are “religious.” Which group really gets the message?” The believers have faith in the existence of a supernatural power which they call by different names like Allah, God and Ishwar etc. The attributes of God such as his origin, shape, form, gender, location and powers vary from religion to religion. The mono-theistic religions talk about one God whereas the polytheists talk about many gods. The God has a masculine gender in certain religions whereas in others she is of a feminine gender. There is inter-religious conflict in the world over the truthfulness of different religions. Despite their mutual contradictions each religious community considers its religion the most perfect one and deplores the other religions as unreal and false. The religions have been ascribed to certain personalities regarded as the prophets of these religions. Moses is the founder of Judaism; Jesus Christ is the founder of Christianity; Muhammad is the messenger of Allah in Islam, so on and so forth. The historical rivalry of Mohammedans with Jews and Christians as well as the conflict over transfer of power between the followers of Umar and Ali giving rise to an ideological divide between the Sunni and Shia communities are the internal fissures and contradictions among the believers every where they live in the world.
The Arabian Peninsula and the Indian subcontinent witnessed the creation of a separate nation in the mid-1940’ for Jews and Muslims respectively. Though Israel and Pakistan were created for Jews and Muslims respectively but the clergymen invoked Judaism and Islam in both the countries to justify their claim on political power. The religion and state authority in both the countries was misused to suppress the liberal political thought and liberal democracy. India under the leadership of Indian National Congress led by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had adopted a secular constitution in 1950 but over the decades the rise of Hindu fundamentalism in different parts of the country blurred its secular image. The growing Hindu fundamentalism in India in reaction gave birth to fundamentalism among the religious minorities of the country with the result the Sikhs in Punjab, Muslims in Kashmir and Buddhists and Christians in North East India launched the armed liberation struggles against the Indian State with the help of external material and political support.
The territorial dispute on Kashmir between India and Pakistan created conducive conditions for ideological confrontation between secularists and Islamists in the state to assume political power with the help of Islamabad and New Delhi. The rigging of elections in 1987 converted the ideological and electoral battle into a proxy war in Kashmir. The secular politicians advancing their personal interests through the political patronage of secular India became highly vulnerable to militant assaults on their life and property. The Islamist leadership personally guarded by the Indian paramilitary forces used religion as a weapon to mobilize the Kashmiri youth against the presence of Hindu Bharat in Kashmir. The political discourse of democracy and development in 1940’s shifted to aazadi and Islam in 1990’s in Kashmir. Knowingly or unknowingly the people of Kashmir chose to ignore the anti-Kashmiriat agenda of Pakistan to seek liberation from India. As a result of monopoly over the socio-political system by the Islamic clergy and the pro-Pakistan Islamists and the militant organizations, the secular space was completely shrunk in Kashmir from 1988 onwards. Invoking political Islamic heritage and heroism and distancing away from Indian heritage and secular ethos became the common practices of the liberation camp in Kashmir. The heritage of Kashmiri nationalism and the symbols of Kashmiriat were deliberately downplayed to please the sponsors of armed liberation struggle.
In the scientific age of 21st century the Kashmiri youth were indoctrinated in mosques, madrasas and even schools to seek arms training for the protection and promotion of Islam. The syllabus taught by science teachers in the public schools was resisted by the Islamists as it included the Charles Darwin’s “Theory of Natural Selection” which reminds us the European Dark Age when the Christian clergy opposed the Galileo’s “Heliocentric Theory”. The faith in Allah and the propagation of a typical brand of Wahabi Islam but at the same time complete intolerance and disregard for other belief systems like rationalism, atheism, agnosticism and Sufi Islam and openly labeling these as kufr and shriq became a new phenomenon in Kashmir soon after the rise of Pakistan sponsored militancy called Islamic Jihad. If the Islamists in Kashmir expect freedom of thought and expression for Muslims, they have to be willing to respect the freedom of expression for other citizens as well. The mathematical calculation of the vote bank and the politicization of Islam in Muslim dominated Kashmir by exploiting the religious sentiments of the people is a very cheap act to try to assume political power in the state. It is the method used by Hindutva forces in India to exploit the religious sentiments of Hindu majority India to rule the country through communal polarization. The communal polarization is condemnable both in India as well as in Kashmir. The so called secular politicians of both India and Kashmir misuse religion at the time of election by seeking the help of influential clergy class to pursue the minorities to vote form them. The Iftar party culture in India for example is a political gimmick to exploit the sentiments of Muslims to garner their support to rule the country with the help of minority vote. Similarly there are many other cheap methods of politicizing religion in Kashmir.


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