Conflict in Kashmir and Manipur: history, ethnicity, gender

Seema Kazi (Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS), New Delhi, India)

Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research

ISSN: 1759-6599

Article publication date: 11 April 2022

Issue publication date: 3 January 2023




This paper aims to focus on the conflict in the Indian states of Kashmir and Manipur. It situates both conflicts within a historical frame to underscore their origins in history. Using a comparative, inter-disciplinary lens, the paper foregrounds the political, empirical and gendered similarities in both conflict zones. The human cost of modern India’s project of integrating historically autonomous, ethnically distinct and geographically disparate regions of Kashmir and Manipur is illustrated. By way of conclusion, the paper suggests institutional respect for, and accommodation of, ethnic minority history, identity and aspiration, as an ethical, democratic way forward towards conflict resolution.


The paper uses a relatively lesser used comparative, critical inter-disciplinary approach towards examining ethnic conflict. Contrary to ahistorical normative approaches focused on individual ethnic conflict, or the conventional assumption that the ethnic conflicts in India are necessarily mutually exclusive, this paper uses a comparative frame to underscore the shared historical origins and common empirical realities of the conflicts in Kashmir and Manipur. This particular approach reframes conventional epistemic debates on conflict in ways that offer a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the same.


This paper underscores the critical importance of a historically informed approach to conflict and conflict resolution in India’s ethnic borderlands. Challenging statist approaches based on coercion and repression, the paper underscores the need for respect and accommodation of ethnic minority history, identity and aspiration as essential conditions towards a just and enduring peace in both regions.


With exceptions, a comparative approach to conflict studies in India is relatively rare. To this extent, this paper diverges from mainstream approaches. Further, in contrast to studies focused on individual conflicts examined within a single disciplinary analytic frame, this paper uses an inter-disciplinary, intersectional approach to conflict studies. By capturing the converging historical political, social, human and gendered fields of conflict in Kashmir and Manipur, this paper offers a richer, more sophisticated understanding of the character of conflict in India.



Kazi, S. (2023), "Conflict in Kashmir and Manipur: history, ethnicity, gender", Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research, Vol. 15 No. 1, pp. 39-50.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited


Democracy is acknowledged as modern India’s singular and most abiding achievement (Hanson and Douglas, 1972, pp. 216–221).This claim, however, is rooted in a normative, macro-view of India as a formal democracy. Underpinning the claim are contestations within the nation-state, especially in India’s northern and eastern peripheries, peopled by ethnic minorities. In post-colonial India at different periods of time, the peripheral states of Punjab and Kashmir in the north, and Nagaland, Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh in the north-east witnessed movements for greater autonomy or self-determination. Presently, over 56 million Indian citizens (Table 1) in eight states across the northern and eastern periphery of the Indian nation-state live daily life under patently undemocratic and extraordinarily repressive conditions even as India is, simultaneously, the world’s largest democracy. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in force in these regions accords special powers to security forces. AFSPA violates the non-derogable provisions of international human rights law, including the right to life and liberty (Amnesty International, 2005).

The territorial integration of historically autonomous geographically remote, ethnically distinct and ethnic minority homelands within the new post-colonial Indian nation-state generated local resentment, state repression and subsequently, armed conflict. Many analysts situate ethnic conflict in India within a strictly post-colonial frame; the explanations for conflict in ethnic minority regions centre on the state, especially in terms of the link between state policy and the emergence of conflict in ethnic minority regions (Brass, 1974; Ahmed, 1996; Manor, 1996; Phadnis and Ganguly, 2012). While a critical post-colonial (post-1947) perspective is valuable in explaining the emergence of ethnic conflict, it is nevertheless limited in two important respects:

  1. It neglects the history of ethnic minority regions preceding the post-colonial period; in doing so it falls short of explaining the historical roots of conflict.

  2. It overlooks the salience and endurance of a sense of shared ethnic identity and ethnic collectivity shaped by and through history.

In contrast to single case-studies, this article uses a comparative frame to underscore the salience of history and ethnicity in the production and persistence of conflict in Kashmir and Manipur.

The historical, political and empirical similarities between Kashmir and Manipur are highlighted as is the human outcome of an ideology or belief system regarding the ethnic other with regard to both regions. The term belief system is defined here as a set of shared assumptions by state elites, members of the bureaucracy, security forces and influential sections of the media, academia, civil society and the Indian middle-class. The article further highlights the instrumentality of gender in ethnic conflict in both regions wherein meanings attached to ethnic and gender difference are exploited for political ends.

India: a history of ethnicity

India is among the most ethnically diverse regions in the world. During the pre-colonial period, restrictions on mobility enforced by caste, together with a plurality in religion, sect and tribe imparted stability and cohesion to the social order and facilitated co-existence among the diverse and different social groups and communities (Ahmed, 1996). India’s diverse ethnic mosaic began to fracture during the colonial period when social groups in British India competed with each other to avail of opportunities afforded by the system of political representation instituted by the colonisers (Ahmed, 1996). The competition occurred in the territory of erstwhile British India corresponding roughly to what is generally referred to as mainland India today.

At the same time, pre-partition (prior to its partition into the two successor states of India and Pakistan) India was home to large populations that were not directly administered by the British. These were the Princely States of India; they were not part of colonial India but British protectorates governed by their respective monarchs. The existence of myriad states and kingdoms peopled by various ethnic minorities – including Kashmir and Manipur – affirmed India’s empirical reality as a multi-ethnic, multi-national society. On the eve of independence, there were 562 Princely States in India (Jalal, 1995). Among them were the kingdoms of Kashmir and Manipur.

The option for Princely States upon British withdrawal from the subcontinent was restricted to joining one of the two successor states of India or Pakistan. For reasons of geography and ethnicity, most Princely States merged with India or Pakistan in the wake of the 1947 partition. There were, however, important exceptions – most notably Kashmir and Manipur. Both kingdoms were peopled by ethnic minorities; both were geographically remote, culturally discrete and historically autonomous entities. The peoples of both regions – in the far north and north-east – were not part of India’s freedom struggle; nor did they share any sense of historical, political or cultural affiliation with mainland India (Haokip, 2012).

Modern India’s post-colonial imaginary of unitary nationhood, abstract citizenship and a singular (read Indian) national identity was, for the above-mentioned reasons, at odds with ethnic minority history, identity and aspiration in the traditional homelands of ethnic minorities. There, thus, existed an enduring disjuncture between an ahistorical mainland Indian nationalism underpinned by a singular (read Indian) identity, on the one hand, and minority sub-nationalism anchored in and sustained by its own distinctive history, ethnic identity and collectivity, on the other. Although Kashmir and Manipur are geographically removed, culturally distinct and dissimilar from each other, both regions share important historical, political and empirical similarities. Conflict is each region is the outcome of autonomous histories, and popular struggle and resistance against post-colonial nation-building and political integration since 1947.

The project of post-colonial national integration produced resentment, if not outright hostility in Kashmir and Manipur. Both erstwhile kingdoms expressed disinclination to join the Indian Union. Their eventual integration within India lacked popular consent. Local ethnic resentment against what was widely perceived as forced integration generated popular, militant-led movements for self-determination in both regions that was met with all the power at the disposal of the state. Both regions subsequently transformed into contested, highly militarised, national borderlands.

Reinforcing the chasm between mainland and ethnic periphery were representations of ethnic minority aspiration as a threat to the integrity of the nation-state, illegitimate and deserving of a repressive response. The politicisation of ethnicity, thus, achieved fostered public hostility towards ethnic minorities in general, and towards ethno-national movements in particular. As the clash between irreconcilable visions of history, identity and aspiration deepened, so did institutional and mainland societal hostility against the peripheral “ethnic other”. Prejudice against the latter was replicated in institutional practice whereby state personnel subject ethnic minority populations to partisan, parochial and authoritarian modes of governance. The contradiction between India’s multi-national, multi-ethnic empirical reality and its attempt to amalgamate plural histories and identities into a unitary national narrative lay at the heart of rebellion by ethnic minorities across the northern and eastern peripheries of the Indian nation-state (Baruah, 2001).

Conflict in Kashmir and Manipur was, thus, a tragic outcome of modern India’s project of political integration of historically autonomous regions. A centralised state, a unitary political imaginary and a singular identity could neither respect nor accommodate “the entire range of historically constituted sub-national aspirations and concerns” (Baruah, 2001, pp. 6–9). Conflict in both regions was, thus, as much about identity and resistance to the India’s project of unitary nation-state building as it was about popular affirmation of history, historical memory and the pursuit of a collective destiny “different” from that ordained by the Indian state (Singh, 2000, pp. 105–106).

India: ethnicity and ethnic sub-nationalism

It is useful at this juncture to clarify that the concept of ethnic sub-nationalism in India that is not the outcome of an abstract, ahistorical construct of “a people” and does not therefore approximate with Benedict Anderson’s (1983) theory of an “imagined community”. In other words, sub-nationalist narratives in India “are not the product of certain age-old constructions of people-hood. They are modern reconfigurations; they exist in the same area of historicity as nationalism” (Baruah, 2001, p. 7). Further, ethnic sub-nationalism in India does not flow from the empirical fact of India’s ethnic difference and diversity. Rather, it is a historically constituted expression of the Indian sub-continent’s pre-partition, pre-nationalist history characterised by two divergent forces: a pan-Indian (mainland) nationalism and nationalist movement committed to a unitary, integrated India and historically autonomous (peripheral) ethnic regions desirous of an autonomous or independent political future.

A necessary corollary to this point is the concept of the “ethnic” in India. Two clarifications are in order with regard to this point. First, as mentioned already, peripheral ethnic regions were peopled by groups different and distinct from mainland India. Ethnicity is acknowledged to be imbued with objective and subjective characteristics. In his study of ethnicity and sub-nationalism in South Asia, Ishtiaque Ahmed (1996) argues that human societies tend to associate with one another around objective criteria such as a shared religion, language, culture, ancestry. At the same time, however, ethnicity is also simultaneously determined by subjective markers such as common symbols, a deep sense of a common homeland, a collective identity and solidarity and a shared aspiration with fellow members (Chandra, 2006, pp. 398–399). In contrast to conceptualisations of ethnicity premised on strictly objective descent-based characteristics such as religion, physical/racial attributes or common ancestry, ethnic identity in India’s peripheral borderlands approximates more with a dynamic, subjective conceptualisation anchored in a common history, a shared homeland and language and collective aspiration, identity and loyalty towards fellow members (Ahmed, 1996, p. 26 and Chandra, 2006, pp. 400–401). Such a conceptualisation, as the following discussion demonstrates, has much resonance in Kashmir and Manipur.

Secondly, in contrast to a state and political elite-led pan-Indian post-colonial nationalism, ethnic sub-nationalism in India’s borderlands is essentially of a civic character. Ethnic struggles in both Kashmir and Manipur were militant-led in the early stages, yet the social base of both movements was civic. As a Kashmiri writer noted: “Kashmir is a people’s struggle endowing it with legitimacy” (Parray, 2010, p. 47). In Manipur, a strong civil society and women’s activism has been integral to popular resistance against state hegemony in the region (Manipur Civil Society Coalition, 2013).

The civic character of ethnic minority resistance was politically and ideationally at odds with a pan-Indian nationalism underpinned by a centralised institutional framework manned and dominated by mainland personnel. Due to the just mentioned constraints, India’s institutional architecture and national cosmology were unable, and over time, unwilling to accommodate popular aspiration based on historically constituted ethnic homelands, territories and identities. Over the decades, state institutions succumbed to majoritarian tyranny whereby:

The state behaves more as an agent of the dominant/majority ethnic community […] In many cases, it is virtually taken captive by the majority group to serve its ethnic interests while minority/weaker groups face a threat of those institutions on which they rely for protection, equity and justice […] The relevant intermediary institutions [such as] bodies of popular representation (parliament) and adjudication (judiciary) […] function like a mere rubber-stamp of the dominant/majority community (Sahadevan, 2013, p. 83).

As the contestation between irreconcilable visions regarding history, territory, identity and aspiration between mainland and periphery deepened, so did state and mainland hostility against the peripheral ethnic other.

Crafting the nation

The transfer of power from British to Indian hands did not alter the empirical fact of India as a multi-ethnic, multi-national entity. If anything, the latter contradicted the Indian state’s paradoxical claim that “the Indian people do not accept the proposition that India is a multinational society. The Indian people constitute one nation [emphasis original]” (Singh, 2000, pp. 105–106). In other words, India’s post-colonial nationalist cosmology “sought to bundle the rich mosaic of sensibilities and aspirations of [peoples] into unified wholes” (Jalal, 1995, p. 160). The political price of integrating historically autonomous, ethnically distinct regions within a unitary centralised state structure was grievous: repression, military occupation, denial of civil liberties and extraordinary levels of violence against civilian populations. The degeneration of India’s democracy was most apparent in India’s peripheries where “[…] violence […] can go on with relative impunity. The vulgar display of the State’s armed capacity […] bec[a]me a normal part of governance, coexisting with elections and other rituals of democracy” (Baruah, 2001, p. 14).

Collective civic resistance by ethnic minorities anchored in popular affirmations of history, identity and moral justice merged with demands for self-determination. A brief history of Kashmir and Manipur foregrounds the tragedy of two peoples garrisoned and imprisoned by India’s enforced embrace of unitary nationhood and singular identity.

Kashmir and Manipur: history, ethnicity, conflict

(Table 2)


The state of Jammu and Kashmir (hereinafter referred to as Kashmir) comprises three regions, namely, Jammu, Ladakh and the Kashmir Valley. The region is home to a number of ethnic groups, including Kashmiris, Gujjars, Bakarwals, Paharis, Dogras, Brogpas and Ladakhis. The Kashmir Valley is the smallest area of the state; it is approximately 16,000 sq km and home to the majority of the state’s approximately 8.5 million (Census of India, 2011) predominantly Kashmiri Muslim population. The Valley is also the site of the ongoing conflict.

In 1947, Kashmir was a feudal monarchy under Maharaja Hari Singh. Developments within the former Princely State prior to and after 1947 ended in the signing of a provisional accession to India by Kashmir’s Maharaja (Snedden, 2013, pp. 41–57).The Accession was contested by Pakistan leading to war between both states over the territory of Kashmir and its division between India and Pakistan. While Pakistan claimed Kashmir by virtue of its Muslim population, India’s claims to Kashmir rested on the disputed accession. Kashmir was acknowledged as disputed territory by several United Nations Security Council Resolutions (especially those of 21 April 1948 and 5 January 1949). Both resolutions upheld the principle that Kashmir’s future should be determined by a vote of its people by way of a free and impartial plebiscite. The UN view was also endorsed by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The plebiscite, however, was eventually never held. Kashmiri anger at the Indian state’s reneging of its promise was further compounded by the repeated subversion of democratic process in Kashmir and the installation of local client regimes aligned by central governments in New Delhi (Bose, 2003).

By 1989–1990, mass resentment transformed into a militant-led armed movement for azadi (freedom) from Indian rule. The Indian response centred on extraordinary repression as a means to contain the rebellion: “India sought to crush the rebellion through a massive counter-insurgency assault […] deploying more than 700,000 military and paramilitary forces in the region. More than 25 years later, this counterinsurgency regime remains, producing a state of siege that subjects the entire population to everyday conditions of surveillance, punishment, and control” (Duschinksi et al., 2018, p. 2).

In 2016, Kashmir witnessed another mass revolt. Unlike the earlier rebellions of 1990, 2008 and 2010, the revolt spread across the Kashmiri country side with unprecedented mass public rallies against the Indian occupation. Massive demonstrations against Indian rule prompted extraordinary violence and repression against Kashmiri citizens. More than 80 Kashmiri civilians were killed by security forces, and over 11,000 civilians injured, maimed and disfigured by the use of pellet guns by security forces against civilians (FIDH International Federation for Human Rights, Association for the Parents of the Disappeared and Jammu and Kashmir Coalition for Civil Society, 2019).Over 70,000 people are believed to have died in the conflict since the emergence of conflict in 1989–1990; at least 8,000 are disappeared; thousands of detainees tortured; there exist over 6,000 unknown, unmarked and mass graves across the Valley (Jammu and Kashmir Coalition for Civil Society, 2015).

On 5 August 2019, Kashmir’s limited autonomy (by way exclusive rights to land, local government jobs and educational scholarships for Kashmiri residents) was rescinded, and the region’s territory integrated with India without popular consent. The Valley of Kashmir, the historic centre of Kashmiri nationalism and resistance, was subject to an extraordinarily punitive military mobilisation in the wake of the scrapping of its limited autonomy. In addition to the already existing massive troop presence, the central government dispatched additional 28,000 (Sandhu, 2019) security forces to the region. Over 4,000 civilians (Agence France Presse, 2019 18 August cited in The Hindu), including young people and children (Vincent, 2019), were arrested and detained under the Public Safety Act (PSA), allowing detention without trial for two years. Most detainees were flown out of Kashmir as local prisons ran out capacity (AFP cited in The Hindu, 18 August 2010).

Kashmir’s darkest fear – of losing the last remaining remnant of Kashmiri sovereignty and identity in the form of Kashmiri rights over Kashmiri land and the residency rights flowing from the latter – became reality. The removal of constitution safeguards over Kashmiri land rendered Kashmiri Muslims defenceless against a state-led project of political, economic and cultural domination. Policies to erode and erase symbols of Kashmiri Muslim history, presence, identity and struggle gathered pace. For instance, the state’s distinctive red and white flag representing the three regions of Kashmir (Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh) was removed from the civil secretariat building in capital Srinagar (The Economic Times, 2019; 25 August). Only the Indian flag remained symbolising Indian sovereignty over Kashmir.


Relatively lesser known and reported albeit no less tragic conflict is the state of Manipur on the far eastern periphery of the Indian nation-state. Manipur is home to approximately 2.7 million people in an area of 22,000 sq km. Its territory comprises the central Imphal Valley – home to the Meitei people – and tribal communities (Nagas and Kukis), residing in the surrounding Naga and Lushai Hills. Manipur’s history as an independent kingdom dates back to two millennia. As in the case of Kashmir, “most people from this region have little ethnically in common with the bulk of the [mainland] Indian population” (Human Rights Watch, 2008).

Unlike the majority of India’s Princely States with non-representative, feudal rulers (including Kashmir), the ideas of citizenry, of a composite culture and a (sub)national consciousness of being a people, were fairly well developed in the kingdom of Manipur on the eve of Indian independence in 1947 (Akoijam, 2001, pp. 2807–2808). Disinclined to join the Indian Union, Manipur adopted a constitution with a democratic government under a constitutional monarch (Maharaja) in 1948, followed by elections and the installation of a duly elected representative government with the Maharaja as constitutional head in 1949.

Manipur’s reluctance to integrate into the Indian Union under central rule from Delhi met with a coercive response. When Maharaja Bodhchandra – Manipur’s constitutional head – resisted the Indian state’s move to merge Manipur with the Indian Union, stating he needed to consult the elected members of his state’s assembly, he was informed by representatives of the central government that “the Government of India did not recognize the assembly and that they would deal with him like the British had done before independence” (Akoijam, 2001, pp. 2807–2808). A merger agreement was obtained under duress; discussion on the merger by Manipur’s elected legislature was disallowed. Instead, Manipur’s legislative assembly was dissolved with the state ceding its political and administrative power to New Delhi. Like Kashmir, Manipur’s merger lacked popular consent.

Many Manipuris believe that their right to self-determination was violated by India through deception and coercion. In popular perception, Manipur’s annexation was perceived as forced and illegitimate (Khuman, 2011; Thounoujam, 2018). An elderly woman from the capital city of Imphal summed up what in her view was India’s betrayal of Manipur’s history, identity and popular aspiration: “What happened in Manipur was a denial of rights. They tried to snatch what was left to us by our ancestors. What do you do then? If you have guns, you use guns. If you have knives, you use knives. If all you have is a spade, then that it what you will use” (Human Rights Watch, 2008, p. 16).

As in the case of Kashmir, Manipur’s merger with India was contested and resisted at the local level. A militant-led movement for rights, autonomy and self-governance in the region was subject to repression and high levels of state violence in which over 20,000 people are estimated to have been killed (Asian Centre for Human Rights, 2004; Human Rights Watch, 2008; Santoshini, 2016; Thounoujam, 2018, p. 79). In 2012, during a visit to India, Christopher Steyns, UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial Summary, or Arbitrary Executions called upon the Government of India to repeal the AFSPA in force since 1958 in Manipur and since 1990 in Kashmir. According to a Memorandum submitted by Manipur’s civil society to the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence, Manipur was the most violent theatre of conflict in the north-east region of India (Manipur Civil Society Coalition, 2012, p. 3).

Reliable figures regarding security force presence in Kashmir or Manipur are unavailable. Independent estimates affirm the presence of 500,000—700,000 soldiers in Kashmir with roughly one soldier for every 17 civilians (Bhan et al., 2018, p. 2). In addition to the Army, Kashmir has the highest number of police personnel, with the exception of the north-eastern states. Security force levels in Manipur are comparatively lower with an estimated 50,000 soldiers deployed across the state. According to independent estimates, there is one soldier for every 20 civilians in Manipur (Jinine, 2006; Human Rights Watch, 2008, p. 22). Manipur has the highest police population ratio in India – 554 per 100,000 compared to the national average of 126, and the highest police density of 63.8 (the national average being 44.4) (Begum, 2011).

The extraordinary security presence in both states was synonymous with high levels of insecurity for civilians. An independent report on Manipur noted that instead of securing citizens, security forces in Manipur treated ordinary civilians with suspicion and subjected them to checks, arrest, arbitrary detention, disappearance and extra-judicial killing (Human Rights Watch, 2008; Singh, 2012). A similar state of affairs was the case in Kashmir where a local resident said that the ubiquitous security presence had stripped locals of the basic elements of life, namely, the right to life, property, honour – all of which were at stake; security forces raided homes and terrorised villages, stole property and raped women; protesting this state of affairs could be at the cost of one’s life (Baker, 1994, p. 70; Hussain, 2019).

The conflicts in Kashmir and Manipur correspond with the legal definition of internal armed conflict as outlined in the 1949 Geneva Convention (Article 3) to which India is a signatory. The Indian government, however, is yet to acknowledge the existence of multiple zones of conflict within its borders. India has not officially declared any of its peripheral zones of violence as conflict zones, although it has been fighting armed groups for decades in these regions for fear of granting legitimacy and official recognition to the rebels (Drohanovksa, 2010).

Conflict zones in India remain nebulous spaces, masking methodologies of repression and coercion used by the Indian state to contain and wear down local resistance by ethnic minorities. Among the methodologies of containment is the targeting of ethnic minority women by state security personnel.

The gendered cost of ethnic resistance (Table 3)

The extraordinary security presence in Kashmir and Manipur is a source of insecurity and anxiety for women in both regions. Due to the civic character and social base of popular revolt in Kashmir and Manipur, methods of containment transcended conventional civil–military boundaries. Men were subject to direct state violence by way of extra-judicial killings, disappearance, detention and/or death during military–militant encounters with security forces, leaving widows to cope with the aftermath of loss of male kin. Women were subject to both direct (gender-based) and indirect (widowhood, destitution, dispossession) forms of state violence (Mushtaq et al., 2016; Women’s Voice: Fact Finding Report on Kashmir, 2019). A Medicins Sans Frontieres empirical study in Kashmir found that the number of people who had witnessed a rape in Kashmir since 1989–1990 was comparably far higher than in other conflict zones (Medicins Sans Frontieres, 2006).Gender-based violence, including rape, is among the instrumentalities towards containing Kashmiri resistance (Asia Watch & Physicians for Human Rights, 1992, p. 1; Mushtaq et al., 2016). Survivors of mass rape in Kunan Poshpora in 1991 are yet to receive justice. An investigation of the rape and murder of two young women in Shopian in 2009 was thwarted by state and security agencies (Chakravarty et al., 2009).

Manipur was no different from Kashmir in terms of rape and sexual abuse by security forces (Manipur Civil Society Coalition, 2013, p. 4).There was no justice for Thangjam Manorama Devi who was arrested, raped and murdered by personnel of the 17 Assam Rifles in 2004. Manipur witnessed widespread civil society protests in the wake of Manorama Devi’s rape and murder (Human Rights Watch, 2008, p. 3). In a memorandum submitted to Rashida Manjoo, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women in 2013, Manipur’s civil society highlighted that not a single member of state security forces guilty of rape, molestation and other sexual violence was prosecuted despite demands from the general public to punish the perpetrators (Manipur Civil Society Coalition, 2013, p. 12).

Kashmir and Manipur’s register of gender-based violence and abuse is a reflection of the state’s extra-legal exploitation of cultural meanings ascribed to sexual difference for political ends. Surabhi Chopra (2016) notes that ethnic difference influences state practice in India’s conflict zones where stereotypes regarding the ethnic other are internalised by state security personnel. Accordingly, women in India’s ethnic borderlands are raped not only because as women; they are also raped by virtue of belonging to an “other” ethnic group (Albanese, 2001). For some women, solidarity with local struggle and resistance may be at grisly, gruesome cost.


This article argues for a historically grounded approach to conflict resolution in Kashmir and Manipur. As we have seen, both regions were historically autonomous kingdoms; both rejected modern India’s integrationist macro-template of unitary statehood, integration and a singular identity (Harvard Law Review, 2021). A historically informed approach illuminates the necessity of discarding the unitary nationalist frame effacing the distinctive histories of India’s ethnic minority borderlands as a first step towards conflict resolution.

Further, as the above discussion demonstrates, both Kashmir and Manipur possess and nurture a deep sense of ethno-national identity that has in turn shaped and nurtured popular aspiration for a future different from that enforced by the Indian state. By respecting different ethnic histories, identities and aspirations, India can begin to make amends for the destruction and dispossession wrought on “other” ethnic minority populations in their occupied, militarised borderlands.

Furthermore, India’s conflict management policy rests on the assumption that military occupation and repression shall eventually coerce people to surrender identity and aspiration. Such an ahistorical (and apolitical) policy in Kashmir and Manipur has only prolonged collective agony, not resolved conflict.

Lastly, as we have seen, conflict in Kashmir and Manipur is gendered in ways whereby gendered repression is shaped and informed by institutional hostility to ethnic difference. Women’s experiences of conflict in both regions demonstrate the Indian state’s extra-legal methodologies of repression as much as do its extra-legal exploitation of sexual difference for political ends.

In sum, a just and durable paradigm of conflict resolution in Kashmir and Manipur must factor in the history of both regions, their respective historically nurtured, deeply enduring sense of distinctive ethno-national identity and aspiration and ending practices of gendered, sexualised repression in both regions.

Indian states and population under the AFSPA

State Population
Assam 31,169,272
Manipur 2,721,756
Meghalaya 2,964,007
Mizoram 1,091,014
Nagaland 1,980,602
Tripura 3,671,032
Arunachal Pradesh (Tirap and Changlang districts) 259,949
Jammu and Kashmir 12,548,926
TOTAL 56,406,558

Source: Census of India, 2011. The next census was scheduled for 2021. It was delayed due to Covid-19

Kashmir and Manipur: status on Indian independence and thereafter

Province Ethnic minority Status on British withdrawal 1947 Post-colonial action
Jammu and Kashmir Kashmiri Muslim Sovereign Princely State ruled by Maharaja Hari Singh
Not part of British India
Temporary, contested accession (1948)
Erosion of constitutional protections
Rejection of Kashmiri identity
Occupation, repression
Revocation of autonomy
Annexation (2019)
Manipur Meitei Sovereign constitutional monarchy under Maharaja Bodhchandra Singh
Not part of British India
Forced annexation (1948)
Violation of merger agreement
Rejection of Manipur’s identity
Occupation, repression
Annexation (1948)

Kashmir and Manipur: the gendered contours of conflict

Conflict zone Deaths Disappearance Widows Rapes Security forces to civilian ratio
Manipur 20,000 1,500 20,000 Figures unavailable 1:3
Kashmir 70,000 10,000 33,000 High, figures unavailable 1:14

Notes: Manipur: deaths (Nepram, 2015); Manipur: disappearance (Chhinkwani, 2014); widows (Human Rights Watch, 2008, p. 2); Kashmir: deaths (FIDH, JKCCS, 2019); Kashmir: disappearance (Bashir, 2010); widows (Zulfikar Majid, 2015); Kashmir security forces to civilian ratio (Bhan et al., 2018)


Agence France Presse (2019), “About 4,000 people arrested in Kashmir since august 5: govt. sources to AFP”, The Hindu, available at:

Ahmed, I. (1996), State, Nation and Ethnicity in Contemporary South Asia, Pinter Publishers, London and New York, NY.

Akoijam, B. (2001), “Manipur: how history repeats itself”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 36 No. 30, pp. 2807-2812.

Albanese, P. (2001), “Nationalism, war and the Archaisation of gender relations in the Balkans”, Violence against Women, Vol. 7 No. 9, pp. 999-1023.

Amnesty International (2005), “India: briefing on the armed forces special powers act [press release]”.

Asia Watch & Physicians for Human Rights (1992), “Rape in Kashmir: a crime of war”, New York, available at:

Asian Centre for Human Rights (2004), “Review of AFSPA: too little, too late”, available at:

Baker, W.W. (1994), Kashmir: Happy Valley, Valley of Death, Defenders Publications, Las Vegas, NV.

Baruah, S. (2001), India against Itself: Assam and the Politics of Nationality, Oxford University Press, New Delhi.

Bashir, A. (2010), “Kashmir’s half-widows shoulder the burden of a double tragedy”, The Guardian, available at:

Begum, A.A. (2011), “Situation of women human rights defenders in North-East India”, Two Circles.

Bhan, M., Duschinski, H. and Zia, A. (2018), “‘Rebels of the streets’ violence, protest, and freedom in Kashmir”, in Duschinksi, H., Bhan, M., Zia, A. and Mahmood, C. (Eds), Resisting Occupation in Kashmir, University of PA, Philadelphia, PA.

Bose, S. (2003), Kashmir: Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace, Vistar Publications, New Delhi.

Brass, P. (1974), Language, Religion and Politics in North India, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Census of India (2011), “State census”, available at:

Chakravarty, U. Ramanathan, U. Misra, S. Grover, V. Ajitha, D. and Jamwal, A.B. (2009), “Shopian: manufacturing a suitable story a case watch”, available at:

Chandra, K. (2006), “What is ethnic identity and does it matter”, Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 9 No. 1, pp. 397-424, doi: 10.1146/annurev.polisci.9.062404.170715.

Chhinkwani, N. (2014), As 8 Human Skulls are Unearthed in Imphal Babloo Loitangbam Dwells on AFSPA in Manipur and More, Youth Ki Awaz (YKA), 2 December, available at:

Chopra, S. (2016), “Dealing with dangerous women: sexual assault under cover of national security”, Boston University International Law Journal, Vol. 34 No. 2, pp. 319-354.

Drohanovksa, S. (2010), “Women’s rights in conflict zones: a focus on India”, New Delhi, available at:

Duschinksi, H., Bhan, M., Zia, A. and Mahmood, C. (Eds) (2018), Resisting Occupation in Kashmir, University of Philadelphia Press, Philadelphia, PA.

FIDH International Federation for Human Rights, Association for the Parents of the Disappeared and Jammu and Kashmir Coalition for Civil Society (2019), “Key human rights issues of concern in Indian-Administered Jammu & Kashmir”, available at:

Hanson, A.H. and Douglas, J. (1972), India’s Democracy, Norton and Company, New York, NY.

Haokip, T. (2012), “Political integration of Northeast: a historical analysis”, Strategic Analysis, Vol. 36 No. 2, pp. 304-314, doi: 10.1080/09700161.2012.646508.

Harvard Law Review (2021), “From domicile to dominion: India’s settler colonial agenda in Kashmir”, Harvard Law Review, available at:

Human Rights Watch (2008), “These fellows must be eliminated”, New York, available at:

Hussain, A. (2019), “Kashmiris allege night terror by Indian troops in crackdown”, Associated Press, available at:

Jalal, A. (1995), Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Jammu and Kashmir Coalition for Civil Society (2015), “Alleged perpetrators: stories of impunity in Jammu and Kashmir”, Srinagar, available at:

Jinine, L. (2006), “The militarization of Manipur”, available at:

Khuman, I. (2011), “Manipur’s merger with India was a forced annexation”, Tehelka, available at:

Manipur Civil Society Coalition (2012), “Manipur: a memorandum on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions submitted by civil society coalition on human rights in Manipur and the UN to Christof Heyns special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions”, Imphal, available at:

Manipur Civil Society Coalition (2013), “Manipur: perils of war and womanhood: violence against indigenous women perpetrated or condoned by the state during armed conflict. A memorandum of Rashida Manjoo, UN special rapporteur on violence against women”, Imphal, available at:

Manor, J. (1996), “Ethnicity and politics in India”, International Affairs, Vol. 72 No. 3, pp. 459-475.

Medicins Sans Frontieres (2006), “Kashmir: violence and health”, Amsterdam, available at:

Mushtaq, S., Batool, E., Rather, N. and Butt, I. (Eds) (2016), Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora: The Story of a Mass Rape, Zubaan Books, New Delhi.

Nepram, B. (2015), “Manipur’s endless violence: thousands dead in 60-year-old-crisis”, The Hindustan Times, available at:∼:text=From%201992%20till%202015%2C%202248,of%20army%2C%20rebels%20or%20civilians.&text=No%20surgical%20military%20operation%20in,60%2Dyear%2Dold%20crisis.

Parray, A.A. (2010), “Kashmir: three metaphors for the present”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 45 No. 47, pp. 47-53.

Phadnis, U. and Ganguly, R. (Eds) (2012), Ethnicity and Nation-Building in South Asia, Revised Edition, Sage, New Delhi.

Sahadevan, P. (2013), “Managing internal conflicts in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Myanmar: strategies and outcomes”, in Raghavan, V.R. (Ed.), Policy Choices in Internal Conflicts: Governing Systems and Outcomes, Vij Books, New Delhi.

Sandhu, K.K. (2019), “Another 28,0000 troops rushed to Kashmir valley after 10,000 were deployed”, India Today, available at:

Santoshini, S. (2016), “India’s ‘gun widows’ on the road to recovery”, Al Jazeera, available at:

Singh, G. (2000), Ethnic Conflict in India: A Case Study of Punjab, Palgrave, Basingstoke and New York, NY.

Singh, O.J. (2012), “Armed violence and human rights in Manipur”, World Affairs, Vol. 16 No. 3, pp. 997-1006.

Snedden, C. (2013), Kashmir: The Unwritten History, Harper Collins, New Delhi.

The Economic Times (2019), “Jammu and Kashmir state flag removed from secretariat building”, available at:

Thounoujam, B. (2018), “Phenomenon of impunity”, in Gill, P. and Samrat (Eds), Insider Outsider: Belonging and Unbelonging in North-East India, Amaryllis, New Delhi.

Vincent, P. (2019), “Kashmiri children taken away by forces, say Jean Dreze and team”, The Telegraph, available at:

Women’s Voice: Fact Finding report on Kashmir (2019), available at:

Zulfikar Majid (2015), “Kashmir has 97000 orphans, 32000 widows: study”, Greater Kashmir, available at:

Further reading

APDPKashmir (2022), “My world is dark’ state violence and pellet-firing shotgun victims from the 2016 uprising in Kashmir”, Srinagar, available at:

Dhar, A. (2012), “UN asks India to repeal AFSPA. The act has no role in a democracy”, The Hindu, available at:

Raghavan, V.R. (Ed.) (2013), Policy Choices in Internal Conflicts: Governing Systems and Outcomes, Vij Books, New Delhi.

Corresponding author

Seema Kazi can be contacted at:

About the author

Seema Kazi is based at the Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS), New Delhi, India

Related articles