Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Why Kashmiri identity is important

Why Kashmiri identity is important
Dr Shabir Choudhry 10 June 2007

Identity, respect and acknowledgment are important to all human beings, even young children respond positively when they are acknowledged and respected. Identity plays a crucial role in peoples lives and has immense value. Identity matters in social, political and economic contexts, and determine our roles as to who we are and how we relate to other people in society and in the world at large.

Identity could be of two kinds: individual and collective; and both of these are very important. As an individual one can have identity as a male or female. One can also have identity as a writer, teacher, student, mechanic, engineer, labourer etc. Apart from that one can also have collective identity, for example, being a member of a tribe, ethnic group, region, nation, religion, group etc.

When I talk of identity for the Kashmiri people, of course, I mean collective identity. In Kashmir (State of Jammu and Kashmir) we have many ethnic groups, and they all have rich history and traditions. And when we Kashmiri nationalists promote Kashmiri identity as a separate nation we tend to annoy powerful and aggressive forces which one way or the other control and determine our future.

A few well – wishers, in response to my article on the topic of Kashmiri identity suggested that I should avoid writing on controversial topics which annoys the Pakistani establishment; and avoid referring to personal matters and alleged accusations.

I respect the sentiments expressed, but I respectfully disagree. Topics I choose might be controversial in eyes of some Pakistani brothers or Pakistani establishment as their agenda on Kashmir is different to us Kashmiri nationalists, but all these topics are pro people and are highlighted to promote the Kashmiri interest. And by promoting the Kashmiri interest if I annoy some people its price worth paying; and it also means what I write is noticed somewhere. Furthermore it indicates that I am on the right track, and I should not change my course just because of opposition of some people with vested interest.

As for referring to ‘personal matters’ they need to understand that it is a new trend in article writing- it gives a personal touch and make it richer and appropriate to real life by supporting the topic with everyday experience. Apart from that, in my opinion, this is communication between a writer and readers, and communication can only be effective if it is two way and peoples views and responses are acknowledged or addressed.

As for referring to allegations is concerned I agree people with common sense do not take much notice of these allegations, as it has become a part of political culture, and people too frequently accuse their political opponents. Ordinary people don’t want people in public life to accuse each other and sink so low in public eye. I generally ignore these people who make silly accusations, as that is the best reply to them, but in my view, some times it is important to let ordinary people know what we true Kashmiri nationalists have to put up with for ‘crime’ of advocating Kashmiri nationalism.
Identity, in view of some scholars, is self awareness, which means explicit understanding that one exists as a separate being; but at the same time having collective identity- being part of a group, tribe or a nation. The term ‘identity negotiation’ explains about a process in which individuals negotiate the meaning of their identity and their place in a society. Psychologists generally use the notion of identity to describe ‘personal identity’, but Sociologists on the other hand use the term to describe ‘social identity’ to describe group membership
On the issue of identity I decided to encompass views of three Kashmiri leaders: Zubair Ansari, Adalat Ali and Sardar Shaukat Kashmiri. Zubair Ansari is a Secretary General of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, and is based in Birmingham, England. He said, ‘legally and constitutionally Kashmir is not part of India or Pakistan. We are separate from Indians and Pakistanis and this fact should be recognised. In Britain we have no identity. We are considered as Pakistanis, which we are not’.

‘Pakistan is a sovereign country with High Commission in London and Consulates in some big cities. Through their official and unofficial control and influence Pakistani community leaders control matters related to Pakistani and Azad Kashmiri communities. Result of this control is that Pakistani people benefit and we people of
Azad Kashmir suffer as we have no control over facilities and resources provided by the state’.

Adalat Ali is a prominent British Kashmiri who has made a valuable contribution on the issue of Kashmiri identity, and especially to promote a ‘pahari’ culture and literature. He has authored a number of books in Pahari and is well known for his linguistic skills. Adalat Ali is also known as ‘Daalat Ali’, and there is a story why his name has been changed from Adalat to ‘Daalat’.

Adalat is a common name but ‘Daalat’ is not a name and everyone from Pakistani and Azad Kashmiri communities know this; however there is more than one way of spelling most Pakistani and Azad Kashmiri names. No person will spell Adalat as ‘Daalat’ unless he intends to cause mischief, as ‘Daalat is closer to ‘Jahalat’ meaning ignorance in negative sense.

When Adalat Ali came to Britain in late 1960s, most Kashmiris were uneducated and they had to rely on somewhat ‘educated’ Pakistani brothers for leadership and guidance. Adalat Ali’s father went to one Pakistani community leader who filled in passport forms and tax forms for him. And on those forms this Pakistani community leader presented Adalat Ali as ‘Daalat Ali’, and from that day his name on official papers became ‘Daalat Ali’.

After listening to this sad story where Adalat Ali’s name and identity was changed, I asked him why don’t you get it changed, it is so easy to do so. He said, ‘I know it can be changed, but I won’t do it because it reminds me of my father’s innocence and mischief of this ‘educated’ Pakistani community leader. It always reminded me that I had to educate myself that no one else can ridicule my ignorance and lack of know how. It constantly reminds me that I have to continually work hard that our people do well in education and employment that no one can change their names and identity.

Adalat Ali said it is important that we are recognised as a separate ethnic group that we become visible in Britain. At present we are taken as Pakistanis (or Indians in case of a few hundred families who have come from the Indian side of Kashmir). He says Britain’s Kashmiri Community mainly come from Mirpur, Kotli and Bhimber districts of Azad Kashmir, and predominantly lives in deprived urban areas. It is not a political issue and we don’t want to cause any political rifts. We don’t want our campaign to become part of unprincipled politics of South Asia. To us it is an issue of equality. We want to be treated equally that we can also benefit from the state system. Kashmir National Identity Campaign is spearheading this movement, and in this noble cause some Pakistanis and Indians who believe in equality, and feel that Kashmiris should be recognised as a separate ethnic group support us.

Adalat Ali said government holds census every ten years to work out socio economic planning for next ten years. They establish which areas are deprived and which community needs help and support, and because we are not visible in any government records we are left out in this. We Kashmiris are under achievers in education, employment and business; and over represented in criminal system. He said, local governments serve the local people, and their policies in employment and housing should reflect this reality, but because we are not recognised as a separate ethnic group there are no such provisions for us, and jobs and other resources are taken up by other communities.

Sardar Shaukat Ali Kashmiri is a known Kashmiri nationalist, and is Chairman of Peoples Nationalist Party. He has strong views on the issue of identity. He says, ‘our struggle is for national identity of Kashmiris. We want people of Kashmir to be recognised as a separate nation- different from India and Pakistan. Our primary responsibility is to safeguard and promote Kashmiri interest; and if Kashmiris are recognised as a separate group then they can also benefit like other communities settled in Britain’.

Shaukat Kashmiri further said all Kashmiris in Britain should support this campaign, as it will bring them, social, economic and political advantages. And I see these advantages reaching to other European countries where thousands of Kashmiris live without being recognised as Kashmiris. I am sure once we are recognised as a separate ethnic group in Britain it will provide impetus to other countries to follow and we will benefit from this.

I hope these contributions made by three prominent Kashmiris will help to understand the concept of identity; and all those who believe in equality and fundamental rights for all will support this campaign.

Writer is Chairman Diplomatic Committee of JKLF, Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs and author of many books on Kashmir. He could be reached at: drshabirchoudhry@googlemail.com

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