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Churning in Chenab Valley

The mountainous Chenab Valley – Kishtwar, Doda and Bhaderwah – is a Muslim-dominated belt living more or less peacefully with the local Hindus. They share common language, culture, food and enjoy each other’s company in their neighbourhood. What went wrong and how did this otherwise serene place, Kishtwar, turn into a hotbed of communal frenzy is a question that has baffled the saner voices in Jammu and Kashmir. It was quite odd to find either communities turning into savages on the day the observance of the Muslim month of fasting, Ramadan, ended.

WHAT PROVOKED VIOLENCE
Ask it we must. Who is responsible for the Kishtwar violence? Though it’s quite difficult to hold someone guilty at this stage, however, a pointer to the possible culprits lies in the sporadic incidents that happened intermittently all through Ramadan. Since the Gool Ramban killings, a slew of disturbing reports poured in to the mainstream press from the mountainous belt. Ahead of Eid, a local daily Greater Kashmir reported that protests erupted in Chenab Valley against the Village Defence Committee (VDC). The locals had alleged that VDC members committed sexual assault on a minor girl in Kishtwar.

Another report quoted locals saying some unknown masked men terrorised and pelted stones in the Muslim-inhabited neighbourhood. So the gory Eid clashes that culminated in the death of three precious lives, apart from material loss, ought to been seen as not an isolated incident, but as something that was waiting to happen. The government’s decision to ignore these reports indicates one of the two things --benign neglect or tacit approval – of VDC activities. Either way, the state government of Jammu and Kashmir needs to answer for this. That said, the priority now for the government is to ensure the violence is contained and does not pose a risk to either communities in Jammu or the Valley. The government need not be reactive only. Rather, concerted and coordinated efforts are required to drive out the element of mistrust and suspicion now rising among the warring communities.

Politicisation

What is interesting is the timing of the clashes as the state is set to move into election mode. As it turned out, the rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party took a leaf out of their book stoking the anger, thus furthering the existing divide to their advantage.
To delve a bit into the past, the state had witnessed a situation of this kind way back in 2008. Then the burning issue was the transfer of 800 hectares of land to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board in the tourist resort Pahalgam in south Kashmir. It led to major agitations, first against the decision in Kashmir valley and subsequently, against its revocation in the Jammu region. While in the Valley, the separatists spearheaded the agitation, the Hindu rightwing groups followed their footsteps in Jammu, calling for mass demonstrations and resulting in sustained unrest. At that point, the right-wingers instilled fear of rhetoric among the electorate. This further polarised and pitted the Jammu region against the Valley, creating a regional and communal chasm. From the BJP’s point of view, the consequences were immediate and gratifying. The BJP, for the first time in the history of Jammu and Kashmir, swept 11 seats in the legislative assembly polls that followed the violence. Currently, a measure of politicisation of the Kishtwar incident is evident from the fact that BJP amplified the noise in Parliament and called for shutdown the following day in the Jammu province. However, it must be noted that both the communities suffered enormous damage and lost precious human lives. As chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted, ‘2 Muslims and a Hindu’ lost their lives in the riot-hit district.

The impact

It is difficult to determine to what extent the imbroglio affected the local people, but the clashes have left a deep and lasting impression on the psyche of the population in the Valley. Even if the rightwing party played no part, the full-throated campaign and the keenness with which it followed up the situation was a discordant note at that hour of grief. It should have desisted from jumping to conclude that the incident was akin to ‘ethnic cleansing,’ linking it with Pandit migration of 1990s, which, in fact, remains a debatable issue. Having a privileged position of being the principle political opposition in India, BJP should have restrained from deteriorating the situation further by spreading the communal fire from Kishtwar to Jammu and other districts.

Jammu and Kashmir is living under the ever-lengthening shadow of fear, loathing and ‘hyper conflict.’ Destabilising it even more through these concocted communal clashes must cease, henceforth. Unfortunately, even the Omar Abdullah government is little more than a sitting duck. While it was not surprising to see the government doing hardly anything but impose a curfew and block the internet, bringing much distress and economic loss to people of the region, it was definitely heart-wrenching and an insult to the god-given beauty and bounty of the paradisiacal place.
Email: moazumbhat@gmail.com
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