Alternative names: Jammu and Kashmir, “Azad Kashmir”
Location: north-west India, north-east Pakistan
Population: Jammu and Kashmir (Indian administered) 6.1 million
% of population: 0.9% of Indian population
Religion: Muslim 66%, Hindu 30%, Buddhist 1%
Language: Kashmiri, Urdu, Hindi

The Kashmiris are the inhabitants of a region in the extreme north-west of India. The constitutional position of this area is complex as about two-thirds is presently administered as the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and one third (“Azad Kashmir”) is under Pakistani administration, although this is not recognized by India and the effective border between the two areas is the ceasefire line agreed in 1949 modified in places by the line of control resulting from the war of 1971. In addition, parts of the unpopulated mountainous areas in the north and east are disputed between India and China.

The total area of Jammu and Kashmir is about 220,000 square kilometres with about 132,000 square kilometres under Indian administration as the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This state has a population of about 6.1 million, of whom approximately two-thirds are Muslim and most of the others are Hindu, with small minorities of Buddhists and Sikhs. Slightly over half of the state’s population lives in the Vale of Kashmir where 90% are Muslim, while in the lowlands of Jammu only 37% are Muslim and there is an overall Hindu majority.

The mountainous northern frontier region of Ladakh is sparsely populated and its population has close cultural and linguistic ties with Tibet. The various areas of the state are often referred to collectively as Kashmir and their inhabitants as “Kashmiris” although it can also be used to refer only to the inhabitants of the Vale of Kashmir. Jammu and Kashmir is the only state in the Indian Union with a Muslim majority. In addition, it is the only Indian state which borders the two countries with which independent India has been at war — Pakistan and China.


In the fourteenth century the Vale of Kashmir was invaded by Muslims from the west who brought to an end centuries of Hindu and Buddhist rule. In 1587 the region became part of the Mogul Empire and in the mid-seventeenth century it was conquered by Afghans who ruled there for over 60 years until the Sikhs took control in 1819; by this time the majority of the population had converted to Islam. In 1846 the British defeated the Sikhs in the First Sikh War and founded the modern state of Jammu and Kashmir which they turned over to the Hindu Maharaja of Jammu in exchange for seven million rupees. Kashmir then was never part of the British empire, a crucial point for advocates of Kashmiri independence. By making this transaction the British gained a buffer state between British India and Russia and China, one which they did not have to administer; however, by setting a Hindu ruler over a largely Muslim population they also set in motion events which later caused conflict in the region.

The Hindu dynasty continued to rule over Kashmir until the partition of the sub-continent in August 1947. During this time the Muslim majority lived under orthodox Hindu law and was excluded from the civil service and the military. In the 1930s two popular movements were formed by Kashmiris agitating against Hindu rule. These movements did not share a common goal, however, as one was Islamic and favoured the inclusion of Kashmir in the new state of Pakistan while the other, the Kashmir National Conference lead by Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, was secular and demanded independence for Kashmir.


Under the terms of the Partition agreement the rulers of the various princely states were given the choice of acceding either to Pakistan or to India. The Maharaja vacillated over his decision and at Partition had still not decided on the matter. His lack of commitment to either country provoked revolts in the south-west of the province in October 1947 and led to the formation by Muslim deserters of the “Azad Kashmir Army” in central Kashmir and an invasion of Pathan tribesmen from Pakistan. This was followed by accusation and counter-accusation from the Kashmir ruler and the Pakistani government and, under the pressure of these events, the Maharaja acceded to India. India accepted the accession on condition that a referendum be held to determine the wishes of the people once order had been restored, and Indian troops were sent into Kashmir to deal with the tribal invasion.

Both India and Pakistan accepted the principle of self-determination for Kashmir but they were unable to agree on the conditions of a referendum. India would not agree to the holding of a plebiscite until Pakistani forces had been withdrawn from Kashmir, and Pakistan stressed the geographical and cultural continuity of Pakistan and Kashmir, and called for the establishment of an impartial Kashmir government before the holding of a referendum. In January 1948 India appealed to the UN Security Council and, after investigation by a UN Commission, the Security Council passed a resolution according to which Pakistani troops and nationals would withdraw, the evacuated territory would be administered by the local authorities under the surveillance of the commission, and India would withdraw its forces in stages; the two sides would then hold consultations with a view to holding a referendum in the future. Although both sides agreed to the resolution it was never implemented. Neither side wanted to be the first to withdraw and risk the other side remaining in control.

Integration with India

Over the next 20 years Kashmir was gradually integrated into India. There was no referendum and Kashmiris were denied free and open state elections; in 1957 the pro-India state assembly proclaimed Kashmir an integral part of India. Sheikh Abdullah — undoubtedly the most popular symbol of Kashmiri identity — spent much of this time in detention. In the mid-1960s there was widespread protest within Kashmir — much of it with a strongly Islamic refrain — and anti-Indian guerrilla activity, combined with a non-violent campaign of civil disobedience, exacerbated tension between India and Pakistan, leading in August 1965 to the second Indo-Pakistani war over Kashmir. Talks between the two countries led to a ceasefire in September and a withdrawal to the 1949 ceasefire line.

In the aftermath of the 1965 war there was an upsurge of protest by militant Muslim students. In order to curb this the Indian government invoked the Defence of India Rules, instituting censorship, jailing all advocates of self-determination and prohibiting gatherings of more than five people without prior permission. These measures were later relaxed somewhat. The 1971 Indo-Pakistani war over Bangladesh weakened Pakistan, leaving it less able to challenge Indian control of Kashmir by force, and India began a programme of heavy investment in Kashmir’s economic development which, it was hoped, would help to make the Indian presence more acceptable to Kashmiris.

Sheikh Abdullah was released from detention in 1972 and in 1974 he and the Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, concluded an agreement on the constitutional status of Kashmir in which Sheikh Abdullah accepted Kashmir’s accession to India. Under this agreement relations between the two would continue to be governed under Article 370 of the Indian constitution. This article limited the Union Parliament’s power to legislate for Kashmir to only three areas; those of defence, communications and foreign policy, and such subjects as the President might by order specify with the concurrence of the Kashmiri government. The Union Parliament would, however, continue to have powers to make laws relating to the prevention of activities directed towards the secession of any part of the Indian Union. Thus, Kashmir had considerably greater autonomy than other Indian states although, in practice, such autonomy was severely limited by the centralizing trends of Indira Gandhi’s rule and, of course, the strategic position of Kashmir in relation to Pakistan.

Sheikh Abdullah’s government proved to be corrupt and inefficient; nevertheless his National Conference Party won an election victory in 1977 and after he died in 1982 his son Farooq Abdullah took over as leader. The National Conference government was re-elected in 1983, partly because of fears that Kashmir’s special status would be changed. By this time, however, Indira Gandhi had turned against Abdullah, had repeatedly criticized him for encouraging “anti-national” activities and had encouraged defections from the National Conference so that it finally lost its majority. A Congress Party government, headed by Abdullah’s brother-in-law, took over in July 1984, despite widespread protests. To some extent these protests were part of the growing number of Muslim-Hindu communal clashes throughout India, but in Kashmir they also reflected the desire of many Muslims for either union with Pakistan, independence, or greater autonomy, or were simply against increasing dominance from Delhi.

Although Farooq Abdullah again won power at the next election, there were further violent protests throughout the late 1980s against Kashmir’s integration within India. This was particularly so from mid-1988 when there was a series of bomb blasts, arson attacks, shootings and strikes, organized by various Islamic separatist organizations, to which the government responded by police and military action. The Indian government contends that the separatists are organized and financed by Pakistan, and there is evidence that this is at least partly true, but it is also aware that such sentiment reflects the frustration of many poor Kashmiri Muslims, especially in the slums of Srinagar, who feel that their position within India is inevitably an inferior one. Many of the secessionist gunmen are educated unemployed Muslim youths. On the other hand, critics of the government contend that the situation in Kashmir has been deliberately allowed to fester and that a situation, similar to that in the Punjab, is developing. By September 1989 more than 80 people had died and several hundred Kashmiris had been detained (some without trial under administrative detention) and legislation had been introduced imposing press censorship.

Divisions within Kashmir

Apart from the position of Kashmir vis à vis India there is also considerable diversity within the state, most notably between the 3.2 million highlanders from Kashmir proper, 90% of whom are Muslims, and the lowlanders from Jammu, the majority of whom are Hindu. Most of the state’s industry is concentrated in Jammu but most of the development funds are spent in the Valley, where 60% of the population is engaged in horticulture, although tourism flourishes around Srinagar Lake. The two areas compete for economic resources and a delicate balance is maintained between them, paralleled in the state administration moving to Jammu in winter and Srinagar in the summer. When Farooq Abdullah announced in 1987 that his government would take steps to discontinue the practice and that some departments would be stationed permanently in Srinagar, there were protests in Jammu, followed by counter-protests in the Valley throughout November 1987.

More recently there have been tensions in the remote northern area of Ladakh between the Muslims (who are a minority in the area) and the majority Buddhists. Ladakh occupies about one third of the area of Kashmir but contains only 135,000 people. The Buddhist Ladakhis claimed that they did not have adequate political representation in the Jammu and Kashmir state legislature, that there were few Ladakhis in the administration, and that commerce was dominated by traders from the Vale of Kashmir. In addition there were religious tensions, fanned by the Muslim separatist feelings in Srinagar. There were demands that Ladakh be separated from Jammu and Kashmir and be given the status of a Union Territory, i.e. ruled directly from Delhi, and also that Ladakhis be classified as a Scheduled Tribe. Violent clashes between Ladakhis and Muslims took place in mid-1989 and Buddhists began a campaign of civil disobedience in support of their demands.

“Azad Kashmir”

In Pakistani-ruled Azad (“Free”) Kashmir there has also been tension between Kashmiris and the Pakistani authorities. Its constitutional status is anomalous since Pakistan, in theory, still regards the whole state as disputed territory; consequently, it has never been represented in the Pakistan National Assembly, although in practice it is administered as Pakistani territory. Some structures were put in place in order to allow for a certain measure of local rule; however these were abolished, along with the National and Provincial Assemblies’ in 1977, after General Zia had assumed power, and the holder of the post of “President of Azad Kashmir” was dismissed and replaced by Zia’s own nominee in 1982, despite protests. As with Indian Kashmir there is a geographic and ethnic division within the area between the lowlands and the mountainous “Northern Territories” of Gilgit, Hunza and Skardu.

(See also Muslims of India; Sikhs)