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Non-Domination: A Just Course for Kashmiri Self-Determination

By Latief Ahmad Dar and Rayees Ahmad Bhat

The Kashmir dispute is mired in a web of complexities. These complexities are reflected not only in the dominant narratives of India and Pakistan, which vie with each other to seek control over the disputed territory, but also by the political aspirations of the different groups – primarily religious and regional – within Kashmir that are at loggerheads with each other to securitize themselves. With each period of turmoil, whether it is in the 1990s, which saw the killing of almost one lakh people and the exodus of Kashmiri pandits, or the recent uprisings of 2008, 2010, and 2016, there is ‘renewed’[i] demand for plebiscite.

The notion of plebiscite is based on two strong grounds – legal and moral. Legal in the sense that Lord Mountbatten at the time of accession of state with India accepted the Accord of Accession conditionally: subject to ratification by the ‘people’ of Jammu and Kashmir. Its moral character is based on the fact that Jawahar Lal Nehru repeatedly promised that Plebiscite will be used to decide the status of the state. While India maintains that the plebiscite issue has been settled by the ratification of Accord of Accession by the Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly, the UNSC by resolution 122, on the other hand, reaffirmed its earlier position (stated in Resolution 91) that the Constituent Assembly convened by the All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference would not constitute disposition of the state in accordance with the Plebiscite.

So the current position of pending plebiscite is what characterizes Kashmir as a dispute. What sets plebiscite clamour on new grounds is the demand for independence, or more precisely, self-determination. The aim in this essay is not to argue on the legality of plebiscite, but to show how it needs to be reframed on the lines that takes both the principles of ‘justice’ and ‘non-domination’ into consideration, so as to make it more legitimate and acceptable to  minorities that reside in Kashmir.

Self Determination as Non-domination

The popular notion of self-determination in the Valley has come to be associated with counting numbers based on identity. It is based on the premise that the Muslim majority of the Valley will see through the plebiscite on basis of this majority.[ii] This notion of ‘Muslim majority’ is manifest in the way Syed Ali Shah Geelani conceptualizes plebiscite by arguing that the only aim should be merger with Pakistan. “If [the] third option of Independence comes in, the Muslim vote will get divided between independence and Pakistan, and India in the end might win the plebiscite” [In an interview with Geelani]. By basing the notion of plebiscite in the underlying Muslim identity, this formulation leaves the Kashmiri identity – that is informed by both the ideas of ethnicity and territoriality – gasping for legitimacy, which otherwise is the very base for the demand of plebiscite. Although Geelani and others acknowledge the right of minorities to determine which state they want to be part of, such acknowledgement comes in a very qualified way in which mutual recognition gives way to the exclusive spheres of religious identity. The mutually exclusive spheres of religious identities in relation to self-determination in this way are an important tool in the hands of India [particularly right-wing groups] to browbeat the demand for Azaadi. In the popular narrative of the official circles of New Delhi, it comes out as ‘What about Kashmiri Pandits and other minorities in Kashmir’? Further this ‘mutual exclusivity’ takes the character of the ‘autonomy’ when both the groups – Pandits and Muslims – choose to speak of their respective victimhood with almost negligible efforts for the mutual recognition of victimhood. This autonomy of the groups over the period of last twenty years is manifest in the way both choose to write their histories of survival and victimhood not only exclusively but in direct confrontation to each other. While most of the Pandits, for example, blame the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits exclusively on Kashmiri Muslims, the Kashmiri Muslims in turn see Kashmiri Pandits as the flag-bearers of Indian nationalism in Kashmir. Doing history-writing this way, we might end up in a situation in which truth will be the first causality.

If at all the notion of Kashmiri struggle for self-determination has to come out of this morass, it has to recognize not only the mutual victimhood but also restore the relation on the basis of non-domination in which relations of interdependence are restored. As Craig Scott mentions:

We need to begin to think of self-determination in terms of people existing in relationship with each other. It is the process of negotiating the nature of such relationships which is part of, indeed at the very core of, what it means to be a self-determining principle (Craig Scott 1996; 819).

This relational concept of self-determination recognizes that subjects are constituted through relationships and that agents are embedded in institutional relations that make them interdependent (Young, 2015). In relational feminist critics, as Iris Marion Young argues, relational account of the subject is based on the notion that individual person is constituted through his/her interactive and communicative relations with the other. Individuals thus acquire a sense of self from being recognized by others with whom they have relationships and thus act in a complex web of social relations and social effects that both constrain and enable them. Therefore, self-determination needs to recognize this web of social relations in which individuals/communities interact with each other. A pertinent example of this interactive social relation is still alive in the villages such as Chittergul/Chittinsingh pora of Anantnag area, where all the religious minorities interact with each other, participate in marriages, and other activities like cremation, etc.[iii] Self-determination in this sense entails non-domination.[iv]

Conceptualizing self-determination as relational addresses important questions that are currently posing a challenge to definition of self-determination in Kashmir. It redefines the people-hood in more inclusive terms. This can prove a strong bulwark against the overarching colonial narrative through which India propagates Kashmir as a case of Islamic fundamentalism. It further could set the tone to retrieve the Kashmiri identity from the shrill gaiety of dominant narratives of India and Pakistan. Pertinently, the people-hood in Kashmir was defined along the lines of Kashmiri Qaum by the likes of Abdul Ahad Azad, Dina Nath Nadim, Ghulam Ahmad Mahjoor and, of late, by the likes of Rahman Rahi.[v] However, the two-nation theory rendered a death blow to the imagination of Kashmiri Qaum.

Secondly, thinking self-determination in relational terms recognizes the existence of different religious groups as ethno-geographic communities. The recognition reconceptualizes Kashmiris as people who share ethnography and whose land-use practices densely and pervasively interact (Kohlers, 4-5).[vi] The rights of Pandits in these interactive practices need not only be in terms of their homeland in Kashmir but also in terms of the sacredness that they attach with such notions of homeland. It, therefore, further makes a strong case for the recognition of the territorial rights of Kashmiris as a whole in which land and identity are enmeshed.

Security and Justice

What has happened over a period of time is that both the communities have securitized their narratives. While Pandits present Indian nationality as the better option for them,[vii] and hence have subscribed to that discourse, Muslims in the valley feel that the only way left for them is a religiously-defined language of rights and justice. These parallel narratives under the patronage of India and Pakistan respectively have taken the steam off the movement for self-determination.

Thinking of self-determination as non-domination will open up the avenues for an alternate understanding of issues that currently concern the Kashmiri society. Foremost, it can set ground for people to people negotiation. Mirwaiz Omar Farooq recently stressed the need for people to people contacts in wake of separate Pandit colonies. Doing so will importantly open debates on how to conceptualize the ‘right to return’ based on real life experiences of Pandits who live in sub-humane conditions in Jammu and other surrounding areas. Rethinking right to return in consultation with Pandits and others who left the valley can serve as the standard of corrective justice. Doing justice in this sense will serve as the alternate tool for the legitimization of right to self-determination in Kashmir.

Thirdly, people to people contacts can be a good beginning in laying a framework for institutional mechanisms between various communities. Institutional mechanisms can be established by undertaking the projects of ‘rescue’, as E.P. Thompson calls, to bring forth history making power of people – be it majority or minority – at the margins, who are otherwise largely left out of elite, top-down historical narratives. Their stories and experience, as noticed during field-work, can be powerful rebuttal of the extremist stereotypes [Islamic fundamentalism or Pandit disloyalty] that are usually ascribed to Kashmiri movement for self-determination.

So, if the Kashmiris want to constitute themselves as a democratic public at all, they need to provide mechanisms based on non-domination for the effective representation and recognition of the distinct voices and perspectives of those constituent groups that are in minority or disadvantaged. They need to recognize that self-determination is not only about choice but also the land-ownership practices and the social relationships that develop through such practices. Specific representation for different constituent groups in decision making on a variety of issues promotes “justice better than a homogenous public in several ways, both procedural and substantial” (Beitz, 1988:168-69).


[i] The aim to keep renewed in apostrophe is to highlight that plebiscite demand in the last decade has seen change in its usage. The stress in recent times has been more on legal character than its moral character. The moral character was more fluid mainly because the state’s morality keeps shifting with changing contexts but the legal status is bound by international agreements and the legal framework of either bilateral agreement or constitutional conventions.

[ii]  Margaret Moore in her recent work, A Political Theory of Territory, argues: “We do not have to subject every institution, every policy, to a democratic legitimacy test in order to be justified or legitimate. Justice is one of the procedures which constitutes a standard of legitimization too.” Margaret Moore. A Political Theory of Territory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), Pp116.

[iii] According to most of the interviews that the researchers did with minorities, it is clear that all the communities have survived the communicative public interactions beyond the pale of the current conflict in Kashmir. Whether in Kashmir or outside Kashmir, they pervasively interact with each other.

[iv] Self-determination as non-interference is based on the concept of personal autonomy or independence as against the notion of self-determination that focuses on relative autonomy. Philip Petit criticizes the idea of freedom as noninterference. According to Pettit, noninterference while related to freedom is not equivalent of it. This is mainly because an agent may be dominated without being interfered by someone. Conversely, a person may be interfered so as to reduce or eliminate the relations of domination. Therefore, freedom should be understood as non-domination.  Philip Pettit. Republicanism: A Theory of Government and Freedom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).

[v] Interestingly, when Muhammad Iqbal’s conception of de-territorial nationalism was gaining ground, the tropes of conquest, serene beauty, Mulk were used to stress the territoriality of Kashmir. Ignoring such imaginations of people-hood, thus, amounts to ‘ahistoricity’.

[vi] Keeping group occupancy principle in consideration, Margaret Moore mentions that any solution of Kashmir issue would be a process, not a single one-off referendum [but] involving power sharing, not just at the elite level, but the kind that makes possible the development of relationships and forms of reciprocity and dialogue within various communities. Margaret Moore. Op. Cit.

[vii] Indian nationalism in itself, particularly with the rise of the BJP, has taken a Hindutva turn. So the affiliations of Pandits with Indian nationalism may be religiously defined considering their historical affinity with the Dogra regime.


Latief Ahmad Dar and Rayees Ahmad Bhat are PhD scholars in the Department of Political science, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad, India.


For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. IoK #

    Read stories, myths and legendary statements about ethnic diversity, religious harmony, ideal political and social situations, democratic successes and a peaceful and harmonious balance of power between the ruled and the ruler in Pakistan administered Kashmir.

    May 4, 2017

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