The Kashmiris are the Hindu and Muslim inhabitants of India's most northerly state, Jammu and Kashmir, and of that fragment of land that is controlled by Pakistan and called Azad Kashmir (Gilgit, Baltistan, and four other districts, all thinly populated). The entire area is one of beautiful Mountain ranges, high grazing valleys, and a large, central agricultural valley called the Vale of Kashmir, where Srinigar, the Indian state capital, is located. In point of fact some three-quarters of Kashmir, including most of Azad Kashmir and all of the Aksai Chin sector held by China, is permanently under snow and glaciers because of the extreme elevation.
The whole state has a major tourist potential, but for some years this has not been realized because of the continuing political and religious strife. This seemingly intractable situation arose from the fact that the majority of the Kashmiri population (77.1 percent in 1941) was Muslim, while the former maharaja of Kashmir and 20.1 percent (in 1941) of the population were Hindus. After Indian independence, India laid claim to the state (Pandit Nehru's homeland) and soon developed better communications with this region than Pakistan was able to develop with its own sector, Azad Kashmir. The Indo-Pakistan wars of 1948, 1965, and 1971 were largely fought over the issue of who should control Kashmir (although in 1971 Bangladesh was also a central issue), and today (1991) the political turmoil and "states of emergency" continue, prompted both by Pakistani shipments of arms across the border to sympathizers and by the agitation of Kashmiri Muslims who would prefer to live under the Islamic rule of Pakistan rather than the secular but sometimes repressive rule of India. Although involved in the issue from the Beginning, the United Nations has been powerless to resolve it. Until this problem is resolved, the economic growth of the area will remain almost at a standstill.
The area is very large. Excluding that sizable part that is controlled either by Pakistan or by China at the present time, the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir covers 222,236 square kilometers, most of it mountainous. It has a population estimated (in 1991) at 7.5 million. Although divided by religion and politics, the Kashmiris are united in one sense by their common language, Kashmiri. This is an Indo-Aryan tongue, written with a form of the Perso-Arabic script. It is the major language of the Dardic Subgroup, and it has a Literature reaching back to the fourteenth-century poetess Lal Ded. Although the culture is predominantly Muslim today, prior to the Turkic incursions of the eleventh and twelfth centuries Kashmir was an important Buddhist territory, as some of its temple ruins testify. Later, under the Moguls, music, poetry, architecture, and garden design flourished there. The Hindus, though not very numerous, have been quite influential in the state, especially as landowners. The term "Kashmiri" is applied particularly to those who inhabit the Vale of Kashmir, which is the most populous area, and includes over two dozen Muslim and Hindu castes.
See also Pandit of Kashmir