Kashmir Crisis Troubles Muslims


INDIA'S deepening crisis in Kashmir is creating new tensions among its 100 million Muslims. A huge minority and the world's third largest Islamic community, Indian Muslims have distanced themselves from the separatist cause of Kashmiris.

``The loss of Kashmir would be a nightmare for Muslims,'' says Bashiruddin Ahmed, an analyst at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi. ``The run-of-the-mill Muslim doesn't feel any ties to the Kashmiri cause. In fact, the Muslims have come to believe that Kashmir being a part of India is good for them.''

Indeed, analysts say many Muslims see the inclusion of Kashmir in India as a symbol of India's commitment to the rule of secular law when the subcontinent was partitioned into India and the Muslim homeland of Pakistan 40 years ago.

In recent months, the long-standing trouble in Kashmir has taken on a new militant religious bent, observers say.

Muslim groups advocating a jihad, or holy war, for Kashmiri independence have gained ground. The movement has been fueled by Muslim uprisings in Soviet Azerbaijan and Palestine, analysts say.

This week, responsibility for two bomb blasts at two New Delhi police stations was claimed by a group called Mujahideen (holy warriors) Kashmir.

Pakistan, which controls a small section of the Kashmir valley, backs the militants' cause and claims the state should hold a plebiscite. India accuses its rival of directly aiding the separatists and has renewed stern warnings.

This week, Indian Prime Minister V.P. Singh told the Parliament that India can match Pakistan in nuclear weapons and that Indians should be ready ``psychologically'' for war.

``There have been explosions in Kashmir before,'' says a Western diplomat in New Delhi. ``What's different now is the wave of Islamic awareness and self-determination. This has cast Kashmir in a new light.''

Ironically, the Islamic appeal has had limited impact on Muslims elsewhere in the country.

Comprising 11 percent of India's 800 million people, Muslims shunned Pakistan as a Muslim homeland only to feel separated from India's Hindu mainstream.

The partition of British India divided the Muslim community here. The educated urban elite, which had promoted the creation of Pakistan, largely emigrated across the border. Left behind were the working class, the poor, and a small middle class wracked by divisions in their families.

Attitudes began to shift in 1971 when East Pakistan seceded, with Indian help, to form Bangladesh. With the split, Indian Muslims no longer saw Pakistan as the protector of Muslims, political observers say.

In the last two decades, the Muslim middle class began asserting its own political agenda: recognition for their Urdu language, more jobs, autonomy for Muslim-run universities, and protection of Muslim personal law or sharia.

In 1986, a court award of alimony to a divorced Muslim woman was widely seen as undermining sharia, under which a husband cannot be required to pay maintenance. After Muslim outcry, the government superseded the legal judgment with legislation.

``My father's generation was a bit apologetic about being a Muslim because of partition. There was a guilt feeling which my generation hasn't known,'' says Tariq Ansari, an executive whose Bombay family owns a chain of English and Urdu newspapers. ``Now there's a renewed sense of identity and pride,'' he continued.

However, the reasserted Muslim identity has stirred resentment among Hindus and triggered an unparalleled level of religious violence in recent years.

Last fall, hundreds of people died in Hindu-Muslim rioting over a disputed north Indian shrine. The powerful right-wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has charged that Muslims are being appeased, raising worries of a new Hindu backlash.

``Muslims are quite worried about the BJP and its growing influence on this government,'' says S. Tahir Mahmood, a law professor and Islamic specialist at Delhi University.

Syed Shahabuddin, an outspoken Muslim hardliner, says that with its mass arrests and firings on Kashmiri protestors, the government ``is digging the grave of the secular order in this country. They should allow the Kashmiris total freedom to bring out everything in them. After a while it will die down.''

Deep social and political discontent is feeding political alienation among Muslim youth. More than 60 percent of Muslims live below the poverty line. The community lags in education, employment, and is underrepresented in government jobs.

In recent days, Mushir-ul-Haq, a prominent Islamic scholar who was on leave to Kashmir University, was abducted and murdered, along with two others, by Muslim separatists in Kashmir.

His death personalized the distress many Muslims already felt over the uprising in Kashmir.

``It is the month of Ramadan and we were praying that he would be released,'' said Asad Ali, a close colleague.

``These Kashmiri youth could have gotten a lot of sympathy among Muslims if they had sought more jobs, industry, recruitment to government services, education, and fair elections,'' he continued. ``But instead they have taken up this war of secession. People don't think it's a just cause.''

A new Muslim militancy is fueled by the influence of religious leaders or maulvis and a growing network of religious schools associated with mosques. Attendance at mosques, which have become centers of political activity, has picked up in recent years.

When Muslim youth aren't turning to religion, they're turning to crime, observers say. Muslims play a major role in the Bombay underworld.

``In Bombay, there's a serious crisis of leadership among Muslims,'' says Mr. Ansari. ``That vacuum is being filled by the maulvis and the mafia.''

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