What is the most compelling reason for a group of people to cause suffering to another group? Some may answer that ideological discrepancies are the root of this issue and that when these differences of worldview come to a head, they will boil over, and conflict will ensue.
But what is the source of these differences? Do religions and customs grow and become legitimized completely randomly, or is there perhaps some other factor behind these differences?
Human beings are not truly motivated purely by doctrine without reason; instead, we are motivated by the circumstances that we find ourselves in and our innate desire to improve them. As much as we would like to believe that our altruistic faiths are the driving force behind our actions, we must instead consider the alternative that we are merely trying to gain a better condition in our own lives. Or, as Karl Marx wrote, “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but on the contrary, their social being that determines the consciousness” (Marx, 4). This comment highlights a central idea of Marx’s theory of religion: economic realities are the primary motivating factors in human social and political life. Religious ideas reflect and justify those realities.
A perfect example of this is playing out today in the northern Indian subcontinent region of Kashmir, where a military occupation of mass proportions has been occurring since the year 1947 (Kanjwal). After the end of British colonialism, the region was divided in the partition of India and Pakistan. Although most Muslim-majority communities became part of Pakistan and most Hindu-majority communities became part of India, Kashmir followed a different pattern. Maharaja Hari Singh was a Hindu prince who ruled over a majority-Muslim population of Kashmir. Following the partition, Singh chose to align his territory with India, as he sought protection from Pakistan’s belligerence. The results have been difficult for Kashmiri Muslims.
In 2017, India had stationed 700,000 soldiers and police in Kashmir, largely because of religious difference (Waheed). Because of this mistreatment, certain Kashmiri rebel groups have taken it upon themselves to strike back against the injustices through means of violence carried out against the Indian military. Hafsa Kanjwal states that, “Any understanding of what is happening in Kashmir today must account for the Indian state’s belligerent policies and the rampant Hindu nationalism that has gripped India. The trope of Islamic radicalization fails to account for the structural violence that is embedded in the day-to-day lives of Kashmiris living under a military occupation” (Kanjwal). In essence, Kanjwal is arguing that this conflict does not originate from ideological differences, but rather from the mistreatment and military occupation that has been forced upon Kashmir’s Muslim inhabitants. This argument is certainly consistent with Marxist theory of religion, as it asserts that the reasons behind the conflict are not religious, but in reality, are about social circumstances, and the seeking of better social situations (Marx, 4).
Before we get too deep into the situation in Kashmir, it is necessary to examine the term “Hindutva,” which was coined by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar to enforce the idea that all Indians are Hindus and that those that are not Hindu have no place in India (Heredia, 63). Hindutva has been a rallying cry in recent Indian politics and has led to large amounts of negative sentiment and even violence against those who do not conform to the Hindu religion.
Moving back to the current situation in Kashmir, we can see that Savarkar’s poisonous doctrine has been used to justiify much of the violence and destruction that has been wrought in the Indian-controlled territory of Kashmir. The shroud of Hindutva is a means to an end for the Indian leaders to force the Kashmiris out of their land by claiming that it is religion that motivates their displacement of non-Hindus. In reality, Savarkar’s Hindutva is merely a tool in the arsenal of the Indian government that is being used to maintain possession of the Kashmiris’ land without having to worry about the after-effects that it will create, as they are not viewed as Indians in the eyes of Hindutva doctrine. If Marx were alive today, he would likely claim that Hindutva was purposefully created and has developed to keep the have-nots in check while allowing the upper class to reap the benefits of the lower class's suffering.
Ideas do not evolve in a vacuum. There is consistently a situation that causes their genesis, and religion is no different. Those on top of the world will use whatever is necessary to remain in power, and the weaponization of religion is certainly a powerful force that has been used frequently throughout history. The situation in Kashmir is no exception.
Heredia, Rudolf C. “Gandhi's Hinduism and Savarkar's Hindutva.” Economic and Political Weekly, 18 July 2009, p. 63.
Kanjwal, Hafsa. “Opinion | as India Beats Its War Drums over Pulwama, Its Occupation of Kashmir Is Being Ignored.” The Washington Post, WP Company, February 23, 2019.
Marx, Karl, et al. The Marx-Engels Reader, Norton, New York, 1978, p. 4.
Waheed, Mirza. 2016. “India’s Crackdown in Kashmir: Is This the World’s First Mass Blinding?” The Guardian, November 8, 2016, sec. World news.
— Noah Hamilton is a junior studying psychology at Norwich University. While he is not officially a student of philosophy at Norwich, he has realized a passion for the subject throughout his undergraduate career.