What happens when a community no longer wants to be a part of the country they live in? Often referred to as secession, some regions around the world want to break away from the country they are currently a part of. They want to form a sovereign state.
One place where this sentiment can be felt strongly, is the state of Kashmir, India. The issue here is coming increasingly volatile, as marked by a summer of anti-India protests and violence which culminated in a deadly bomb attack on an army base on September 18. But what is driving Kashmiri demands for withdrawal from India? And how does it differ from large-scale secessionist movements in Europe, such as those in Catalonia and Scotland?
The emergence of these movements and support for national secession in many European cases follows a familiar pattern on cultural, political and economic grievances.
Culture is often used to support the idea of withdrawal from a larger nation state. For example, pro-secessionists stress the importance of their region’s history and distinctive culture, to unite its members. This distinct culture is usually used to promote a national identity distinct to that of the dominant state. Calls for secession are almost always confined to multinational states, particularly ones based on the cultural, political and/or economic domination of a core region over a peripheral region. From a political point of view, the democratic principle of national self-determination to control the nation’s destiny is paramount.
When it comes to the case of Kashmir, the cultural, political and economic criteria that often exist within European secessionist movements, are clearly present. Culturally, Kashmiri secessionists can point back to Kashmir’s historic status as an independent princely state with a strong sense of its distinct identity that it has retained to this day. This sense of identity has been mobilised politically since at least the 1980s by those seeking an independent, secular and democratic Kashmir. This political mobilisation was largely fuelled by resentment of the Indian state with historic heavy Indian military and police presence, and the lack of democracy in the region, seen as key examples of unjust domination by the Indian core.
It’s not just identity, for secessionists the role of economics is crucial. Economic independence is often viewed as a mark of national power and control, rather than being seen in purely financial terms. Support for secession can, therefore, arise in both economically advantaged and disadvantaged nations.
Economically, many Kashmiri’s believe as a nation; the region could sustain itself independently. However, it’s hard to argue that a major part of its lower than average poverty rates are down to the large grants it receives from the central government of India. It would no doubt, face challenges in the event of secession. It certainly appears that Kashmiri secessionists are driven by the desire for self-control in all areas, including the economy, rather than a desire to preserve existing riches.
The fundamental difference between the secessionist movement in Kashmir and the majority of those in Europe is the role of religion. Although, that is not to say the religion has played no part in European conflicts, Northern Ireland and the Balkans are prime examples of it doing so. However, in the case of Kashmir, religion has been and is increasingly becoming a salient issue. The independence movement has been hijacked by what are allegedly jihadist groups backed by Pakistan.
As a consequence, the Indian media is portraying demands for Kashmiri secession as a religious conflict between Muslims and Hindus. The events in the summer have exacerbated this view. Because of this, there is a danger that the legitimate cultural, political and economic calls for an independent Kashmir will go unheard. Ultimately, the wishes of many Kashmiris – for self-determination and sovereignty – are shared by secessionists in Europe and around the world.
Many Kashmiris want sovereignty for its own sake, and to confuse this with religious fanaticism would be wrong. However, in a complex social world, claims of independence for the sake of sovereignty and religion can exist together. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to deny that religious conflicts aren’t becoming an increasingly important issue in the case of Kashmir.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Social Jungle.