Sunday, 6 July 2008

Communalising Jammu and Kashmir

Communalising Jammu and Kashmir
Dr Shabir Choudhry 07 July 2008

All those who want to divert attention from real issues, communalise the Kashmiri polity and divide the State on communal lines should be cheerful and in victorious mood because controversial Land Transfer to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) has hit the nail on head. This allotment and subsequent cancellation over shadowed all other issues and deepened the communal divide in the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

When I look at any issue relating to State of Jammu and Kashmir I leave my religious, ethnic and regional affiliations aside and analyse the issue as a Kashmiri nationalist and not as a religious extremist disguised as a nationalist. Apart from that I try to equate that with role and policy of the other occupier of the State and see if there is any difference in their approach and method.

Call it competition, rivalry or tension it has always been there between Jammu and the Valley; and in this competition most of the time people of the Valley, known as Kashmiris have had upper hand. The leadership of the Valley, from pro India to pro Pakistan and pro Independence disagrees on every issue, even they disagree on when to celebrate Eid, but get ‘united’ when there is a tug of war with Jammu.

The word Kashmir not only means the Valley but it also symbolises the State of Jammu and Kashmir, although some sections of the State resent this and don’t want to be called Kashmiris. Similarly some Valley people do not regard people of Jammu, Ladakh, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan as Kashmiris.

The Valley despite having overwhelming Muslim majority has deep divisions, and militancy and ‘jihadi politics’ have further deepened these divisions because aim of those who launched ‘jihadi forces in Kashmir was to intensify divisions by communalising Kashmiri politics and society.

Amarnath yatra is not something new. Amarnath caves are one of the most famous shrines in Hinduism which are located at the altitude of 12,760 ft about 88 miles away from Srinagar. Over the years it has become a popular pilgrimage destination for Hindus, which attract about 400,000 during the festive season. There are two routes to the Cave one is via Pahalgam and the other is via Baltal.

Until recently, before the Jihadi politics destroyed religious and cultural harmony in Jammu and Kashmir, people welcomed tourists and religious tourists (Yatries) because of cultural and religious reasons. It is Islamic teaching to respect religion of others and not to destroy or harm their shrines or their followers.

Amarnath Yatra was conducted by State Tourism Department and Dharamarth Trust jointly, but in 2000 Farooq Abdullah set up the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board that devotees could be properly looked after during their journey.

Apart from the religious harmony this manifested, it was also a valuable source of income which is generally associated with any kind of tourism be it religious tourism or cultural and leisure. Religious beliefs aside, Amarnath Yatra is like Pakistan looking after Sikh Yatries visiting various places in Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia looking after Muslims when they go for Umra and Hajj. These visits bring communities closer to each other; and also boost local economy by provide employment and development.

The Cabinet of Jammu and Kashmir government, which is elected and was a coalition government decided to transfer 40 acres of forest land to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board that they can set up temporary shelters and other facilities for Hindu pilgrims. Leaving aside whether it was a good decision or bad one, it was taken by a cabinet after some consultation with relevant departments; and initial opposition to this was not religious in nature but some environmental concerns. Some environmental experts believed that this would affect region's delicate ecological balance.

Environment issues are important to human life but people pay little attention to this. It is obvious when new roads are built or other devlopments take place green areas or forest land are destroyed, as was the case in the construction of a road linking Poonch to Rajouri, but no environmentalist group spoke against it. Similarly when developmental projects are initiated in the Valley forest land or green belts are destroyed, but there were no protests like we have seen over the land which government claims was ‘barren and inhospitable’.

This make people believe that leaders in Jammu and Kashmir were using the issue to divide the State on communal lines. Religion is the only issue over which people will get agitated and sacrifice their lives, so religious sentiments were injected in this with idea of deepening the gulf between Muslims and Hindus on one hand and between Jammu and the Valley on the other hand. This land transfer was projected as a direct ‘attack on the Muslim character of the Valley’, which would leave a ‘permanent Hindu footprint in the inhospitable mountain range’. The protesters claimed they wanted to protect our ‘land, identity, ecology and our age old tradition of human values’.

APHC leaders and other leaders who have always avoided ballot which is internationally recognised method of proving political credibility, have always been keen on disrupting the democratic process on behest of outside forces, were having serious problems with regard to their political standing. Their recent Islamabad Yatra was supposed to provide them with new ideas and new incentive, but they were still wondering how to revitalise their political life, then just out of blue came the issue of allotment- blessing in disguise for the struggling leaders.

These leaders, fresh with a new ‘mandate’ and new tasks felt energetic and wanted to prove their worth, and government of Jammu and Kashmir foolishly provided the opportunity to them to assert their positions and further communalise politics of Jammu and Kashmir. Divisions between Jammu and the Valley and between Muslims and Hindus were never so deep before this controversial issue of Land Transfer.

The reaction to this land transfer was very fierce, reminiscent of protests of early 1990s, which crippled the Valley and some people also lost their lives. These protests not only unnerved the Jammu and Kashmir government but also got New Delhi worried; hence a hasty retreat and cancelled the land transfer. PDP was not only part of the coalition but also part of the controversial decision, panikked and deepened crises further by withdrawing its support to the State government leaving the ruling INC as a minority in the Jammu and Kashmir State Assembly.

This retreat was a clear victory for those who championed opposition to this land transfer, but it seriously annoyed Hindu extremists who converged to Jammu and protested against cancellation of the land transfer. Protests in Jammu are also very hostile and have communalised the polity of Jammu which has worried all those who believe in peace and harmony and unity of the State.

This land transfer and its subsequent cancellation have caused enormous damage to the social fabric of the society. It has caused colossal economic damage to a fragile economy, and moreover it gave a new lease of life to APHC leaders who were fast losing their credibility and standing. Communalisation of the Kashmiri politics will only strengthen hands of those who are against unification and independence of the State, and I hope that common sense prevails and peace returns in Jammu.

APHC leaders and their mentors want to present them as leaders of Jammu and Kashmir, but their interest is only confined to the Valley. They need to be reminded that boundaries of the State which they claim to represent stretch outside the Valley. And one such area is called Azad Kashmir where WAPDA, a Pakistani organisation established to cater for interest of Pakistan, illegally acquired vast area of Mirpur and constructed a Dam known as Mangla Dam in which entire city of Mirpur and adjacent areas were drowned. It uprooted tens of thousands of local people in 1967, and some of them are still not being properly compensated and settled.

Pakistan is not constructing dams inside Pakistani territory to meet its water and energy shortage, but WAPDA is upraising the Mangla dam which will uproot more than one hundred and twenty thousand people. I would like to see APHC leaders speaking against that and arranging protests against this illegal and forced construction. Only by speaking for rights of all parts of the State they can make claim to represent the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Writer is a Spokesman of Kashmir National Party, political analyst and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs. Email:

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