BY: GOWHAR GEELANI
Finally, the curfew and restrictions have been lifted from the riot-hit mountainous Kishtwar region. The trouble began on August 9, Eid-ul-Fitr. The calm has, seemingly, been restored on August 20 after a peace march was staged by the members of both communities. What exactly led to the unfortunate communal clashes and rioting in Kishtwar still remains a mystery. Numerous articles, commentaries, opinion pieces, news reports and analysis’ written on the recent clashes in Kishtwar have explained certain aspects of the conflict, but the confusion about the genesis of the fresh clashes still remains intact.
Understanding what exactly happened in a proper context is no easy task. No one seems to be exactly sure how the fresh clashes erupted. There are different versions lacking credible details and continuity. Given the fact that there is little or no media presence in areas like Kishtwar, this confusion is normal and hence understandable too.
One could certainly talk about the related incidents and events that have unfolded since the trouble exploded.
On Eid day, the firebrand leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Sushma Swaraj tweeted: “Chief Minister J&K (Omar Abdullah) has telephoned me to inform that army flag march is on and more forces are reaching Kishtwar.”
Apparently, Omar Abdullah felt accountable to a BJP leader, not to the people of Jammu & Kashmir. Omar is perhaps the most incompetent Chief Minister the state of Jammu and Kashmir has ever seen.
Arun Jaitley, another top leader of the BJP, wanted to enter Kishtwar and possibly rescue members of one community from an imagined “genocide” or even “holocaust”. He was denied permission, which made him spit venom.
There was pandemonium in the Indian Parliament. Saffron brigade was worried about the sufferings of one particular community. The brigade maintained silence when four civilians were mercilessly killed in firing in Gool, Ramban. It wasn’t bothered when more than 120 persons, mostly teenagers, were shot dead by the police and paramilitary personnel in Kashmir in 2010. Perhaps the blood flowing through their veins wasn’t red. No surprises there!
Meanwhile, the embattled chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir kept arguing with the BJP leaders on Twitter. “Would Jaitley be so kind as to inform Parliament whether the Gujarat Home Minister or MOS Home resigned or even offered to in 2002!”
Omar did not stop tweeting. He went on and on. “3 unfortunate deaths – 1 Hindu, 2 Muslim & we’ve a judicial inquiry with my Minister resigning. Would the BJP care to recount 2002 response”?
How wise, unwise, politically correct or incorrect was Omar’s break up of figures of those dead is a debate for another day. Perhaps another debate is whether the minister Sajad Kichloo resigned on “moral grounds” or made a “scapegoat” under Congress pressure?
There was, however, no end to the battle on Twitter. Omar tweeted: “Oh that’s right they can’t because their star PM hopeful (Narendra Modi) waited days to call out the army & has yet to apologise. Hypocrites.”
Kishtwar, Doda, Baderwah, Jammu, Udhampur and other districts in Jammu province were on the boil and under strict curfew for 11 days, but the state’s chief minister remained busy fighting the Twitter battle with the BJP leadership rather than holding his administration, security officials, and politicians accountable for the lapses. He could have made sincere attempts to bring calm and, after credible investigations, punished the perpetrators.
What is heartening to note though is the fact that India’s Finance Minister P. Chidambaram has exonerated Pakistan by saying that “tension had been building up in the area for a while, partly due to the growing activities of the Bajrang Dal, the militant wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).” (The Hindu, August 15)
Out of the 10 districts in Jammu region, according to India’s Health Minister and former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Ghulam Nabi Azad, six are Muslim-dominated, while the other four have a larger Hindu population — and therefore, could fall prey to troublemakers.
There seems to be a certain pattern to the communal clashes and divisive politics just before the election time in Kashmir and Kishtwar.
In 2008, the Amarnath land controversy polarized the troubled state of Jammu & Kashmir on communal lines. In 2013, the clashes in Kishtwar have served the same purpose of dividing people and communities on the basis of religious identity.
Both episodes seemingly have happened at the ‘right time’ for the wrong reason. Right time for the politicians, because the state assembly elections were round the corner then in 2008 and are also approaching now.
The most worrying aspect of this entire story is the role of the Village Defence Committees (VDCs).
The Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) in its recent press release said, “Over the last week, several places in the Jammu region, particularly Kishtwar, have been subjected to violence at the hands of VDC members, supported by Hindu communal groups, which resulted into loss of three lives, numerous injuries and loss of public property. The unabated support and encouragement to VDCs by Government of India, has ensured deepening communal strife.”
Quoting official figures, the JKCCS informed that, as of 1 April 2013, 26,567 persons were working with the VDCs to fight militancy. In response to a RTI application, according to the JKCCS, the Government of Jammu and Kashmir provided the following details regarding VDCs in Kishtwar and Doda districts:
“…In Kishtwar District, where the ratio of Hindus to Muslims is 35:65, of a total of 3287 VDC members, 3174 [96.56%] are Hindus. In Doda District, where the ratio of Hindus to Muslims is 30:70, of a total of 6521 VDC members, 5874 [90.08%] are Hindus…”
Whatever has happened in Kishtwar is deplorable. Incidents of communal clashes, rioting, loot and arson, etc should not be defining Jammu & Kashmir in the 21st century. The role of politicians— especially the Indian politicians bearing allegiance to the BJP, VHP, Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), etc — has expectedly been of the lowest standard. Omar’s unstoppable tweets and BJP’s verbal diarrhea seldom fail to amuse!
(Author is a journalist with international experience and feature writer for Dawn.com. He has served as Editor at Deutsche Welle (Voice of Germany) in Bonn, Germany. Previously, he has contributed features for the BBC. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org)