Saturday, 17 March 2012

Understanding Politics in Azad Kashmir: The Role of Racial and Ethnic Identities

Race and Ethnicity are two interrelated but distinct aspects in our society. They both apply in Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK) Civil Society at different levels and have significant importance and impact in the way our civil society engage in the current political debates and actions.

"The term race refers to groups of people who have differences and similarities in biological traits deemed by society to be socially significant, meaning that people treat other people differently because of them."

In AJK we have subtle social relationships and norms with regards to racial groups e.g. Sudhan, Jat, Rajputs, Gujjars, Syeds etc. These norms predominantly have influence on matters related to family relationships and community cohesion issues. Also our racial identities are well defined and recorded in the revenue record system as well as criminal justice record keeping systems. These racial identities are generally accepted classifications of our heterogeneous society and arguably to some extent are manifestation of racism and discrimination in our society. I would argue that our racial identities are not dominant factor in the political discourse as a whole within civil society across AJK. One may find some element of racial, caste or tribal factors influencing political affiliations and alliances in some constituencies but over all political party allegiance and alliances within large political parties play critical role.

"Ethnicity refers to shared cultural practices, perspectives, and distinctions that set apart one group of people from another. That is, ethnicity is a shared cultural heritage. The most common characteristics distinguishing various ethnic groups are ancestry, a sense of history, language, religion, and forms of dress. Ethnic differences are not inherited; they are learned."

In AJK, ethnic divide is arguably based on our Districts and Divisions. For example on the basis of districts Sudhnuti v Poonch, Bagh v Havaili, Mirpur v Kotli, Bhimber v Mirpur, Muzaffarabad v Hattian or Neelum v Muzaffarabd. I would argue that political allegiances have far stronger influence on the basis of districts rather than racial identities where sharing resources or political positions of power matters. Similarly the trend can be identified between divisions: Poonch Division v Muzaffarabad Division; Mirpur Division v Muzaffarabad Division and also on other alternatives groupings such as AJK people v Refugees and internally displaced people ( IDPs) from Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir v Refugees settled in Pakistan. There is another emerging trend in the political discourse with regards to Kashmiri Diaspora role and influence in AJK power politics. This trend needs further exploration. The capacity of Kashmiri Diaspora in influencing change within AJK is not fully appreciated. One can see some unease emerging within AJK political circles in recent past especially on locally established power structures with regards to participation and influence of Diaspora community members.

There is a need to explore further on the role of diverse aspects of Racial and Ethnic identities in our political power sharing systems at all levels, in the civil society within AJK. At this moment in time in my view political power sharing within AJK is more dependent on our Divisional Ethnic Identities rather than Racial Group (Biradaris/Tribes) identities. I hope other researchers and commentators will discuss and debate further to help in exploring further on this topic.

About the Author: Sardar Aftab Khan, Executive Director, Kashmir Development Foundation (KDF) can be contacted via E-mail: kdfajk@yahoo.com

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