Role of Kashmiri Diaspora in Kashmir’s Self-Determination Struggle

The modern nation state system is understood as a political system comprising numerous states, big and small, divided across national identities through physical boundaries that cannot be transcended outside the authority of a justly authorised state apparatus. “Self-determination movements” and “diaspora generation” are two distinct paradoxes inherent to the modern nation state system that serve to challenge its very ideals. Self-determination movements seek to revise the political boundaries of explicitly defined nation states. Whereas, diasporas, essentially antithetical to the imaginaries of a nation-state, are found to be key players in defining the trajectories of such movements. Kashmir freedom struggle is one such self-determination movement, going on for the past seven decades. This piece studies the role of Kashmiri diaspora in the Kashmir’s self-determination movement with historical and contemporary perspectives.

Diaspora is understood as a community living in foreign territories that retains a degree of historical, economic or political linkages to its co-ethnics/religionists in the parent state.  Diaspora and self-determination movements create a bizarre synergy, which is generally overlooked in scholarly perspectives. A historical approach to diaspora mobilisation delineates that external support to self-determination movements by diasporic communities plays an instrumental role in revving up such movements in the parent state. Trends of external support to self-determination movements by diasporic communities have considerably risen following the end of Cold War politics, as major powers have considerably reduced their involvement in insurgent activities taking place in foreign lands.  Theoretically and practically, the support of such geographically and sociologically distant populations is found to increase the longevity and fortitude of self-determination movements.

Diaspora support to self-determination movements is usually extended in the form of political lobbying, fund-raising, foreign remittances and assistance to locals in fleeing the parent state for settling abroad. In recent times, most vehement diasporic support to self-determination movements were observed by Croatian diaspora in the mid-1990s against Serbs, Tamil diaspora for the formation of Tamil state in the 1990s and Kosovan remittances to support domestic revenues during the late 1990s.

Kashmiri diaspora is a spatially scattered and ideologically diverse community. It consists of three different groups: Kashmiri Muslims, Kashmiri Pandits and Mirpuri Muslims. A considerable  number of Kashmiri Muslims have migrated from Jammu and Kashmir to the Pakistan Administered Kashmir since 1947 partition, however, a large-scale migration was experienced following the 1965 India-Pakistan war. An overwhelming majority of Kashmiri diaspora consists of Mirpuri Kashmiris who migrated from Pakistan to different western states (predominantly the UK) during the 1990s, resulting from internal displacements caused by the construction of Mangla Dam.  Kashmiri Pandits are said to have migrated from Kashmir post-1989 Kashmir Insurgency resulting into mass exodus of Pandits from the valley.

According to estimates, the total population of Kashmiri diaspora is more than 500,000. All  three groups ascribe to distinct political ideologues. Mirpuri Muslims, belonging to the Pakistan Administered Kashmir, form the largest chunk of Kashmiri diaspora abroad. Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits, coming from the Indian-held Kashmir, constitute smaller proportions of the Kashmiri diaspora. A major proportion of the Kashmiri diaspora is settled in the United Kingdom (UK). Other than UK, the Kashmiri diaspora is also located in the United States, Canada and Australia.

Research suggests diasporic formation, resulting from conflict rather than voluntary migration, leads to displacement trauma that serves to deepen individual’s sense of identity, thereby forming a durable bond with the parent states’ community. Further, injustices perpetrated by ruling authorities against the local populations play as a key mobilising factor. In case of Kashmir, India’s oppressive policies coupled with a desire for independence mobilises the diasporic communities to rise for self-determination as a protective and preventive measure

Kashmiri diaspora’s first tangible association was convened in Birmingham in 1977 which led to the formation of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). The JKLF traced its root to Indian-held Kashmir and was a pro-independence group. Diasporic activism was concentrated in the UK and remained monopolised by the JKLF until the 1990s. The JKLF played an instrumental role in turning Kashmir issue into a global cause, raising awareness about it at global levels. Currently, the JKLF is headquartered in Luton, England. However, it lost much relevance due to leadership crisis and factionalism.

While Kashmiri diaspora was already active, the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution in August last year, has given them a renewed vigour.

The most prominent Kashmiri diasporic organisations pursuing the cause include Jammu Kashmir National Awami Party and United Kashmir People’s National Party. Aggressive state policies pursued by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Indian-held Kashmir have enhanced the integration of such groups which are now displaying a unified front against the Indian state. In several cases, Sikh and Dalit diasporic communities have also displayed their support to Kashmiri diaspora, demonstrating protests against Indian atrocities.

While Kashmiri diaspora was already active, the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution in August last year, has given them a renewed vigour. Kashmiri diaspora has taken to different platforms, registering its protest outside the United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York and the UN office at Geneva. Most recently, the Indian Republican Day was marked with protests across different cities of the USA, UK, and Canada.

Moreover, Kashmiri and Pakistani diaspora in UK is making inroads to British political establishment. In 2019 British general election, 15 Britons of Pakistani and Kashmiri descent were elected to the British Parliament. The development was seen as a victory of Kashmiri and Pakistani diaspora as the elected MPs committed to relent their support to Kashmir cause in British political apparatus.

Following the revocation of Article 370, the mainstream and social media have become key platforms that allow Kashmiri diaspora to reach global audiences. Attributing to strict lockdown in the Indian-held valley, the international and regional media outlets turned to Kashmiri diaspora to gain primary information about Kashmiris under lockdown. Different social networking websites like Twitter and Instagram have also been employed to reveal Indian atrocities in the region. Post 5 August 2019, social media movements like the “Red Dot Movement,” “Red for Kashmir” and “Bleed for Kashmir” accelerated and became social media trends.

Kashmiri diaspora has relied on soft tactics for resolution of the Kashmir issue. The mobilisation of Kashmiri diaspora has played a key role in defining the global outreach of Kashmir issue. The issue has been internationalised like never before, which comes to the credit of the Kashmiri diaspora apart from Pakistan’s diplomatic efforts. However, reaching any conclusive ends requires the Kashmiri diaspora to further up the ante. Inculcating modes of coordination between the Kashmiri diaspora abroad and Kashmiri leadership under lockdown need to be devised apart from actively mobilising the diaspora. An optimal exploitation of social media as a mode of communication is very crucial. Not only will this raise awareness about Kashmir crisis, but will also allow a greater coverage by mainstream international media. Kashmiri diaspora can setup think tanks, research centres, and advocacy centres to further the cause. Kashmiri students need to voice their opinion through think tanks and media outlets. An active support by the Kashmiri diaspora will serve the interest articulation of media giants, human rights groups and social activists which in turn can play a pivotal role in raising the issue.

Maryam Raashed

Maryam Raashed

Maryam Raashed is a Research Assistant at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research. She is a graduate of International Relations from National Defence University, Islamabad.

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