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Kishtwar: Omar govt failed to act as communal relations worsened

delhi Updated: Aug 14, 2013 10:15 IST
Harinder Baweja
Harinder Baweja
Hindustan Times
kishtwar violence

The writing on the Kishtwar wall should have been read three weeks ago after the killing of four civilians by the BSF on July 18 in Ramban, also in the Jammu sub-division. The killings followed a protest march by locals angry over not being allowed to offer prayers at night during Ramzan.

Discontent has been simmering since then and travelled fast, from Ramban, all the way down the Jammu-Srinagar highway into the Kashmir Valley and also towards Doda and Kishtwar in the Jammu region.

News of the alleged desecration of the Quran by the BSF led to curfew in July and the Amarnath Yatra was halted as a precautionary measure.

Relative calm was restored after a few days but the tension continued to simmer under the surface and an alert administration should have picked up the signals if it had its ears to the ground.

“A propaganda campaign was raging among the Muslims and the common complaint was that they didn’t even have the freedom to offer prayers. All through, posters of Afzal Guru kept cropping up,’’ a senior official says in hindsight.

A policeman fires a teargas shell during a clash between protestors and police officials in Jammu. (AFP Photo)

Hindsight ought to have reminded the Jammu and Kashmir government that Ramban, Kishtwar, Doda and Bhaderwah towns are communal cauldrons.

In the 1990s, tension in Doda — Kishtwar district was carved out in 2007 — was linked to the struggle for community domination in a region where the Muslim and Hindu populations are more or less evenly divided (55:45 in favour of Muslims).

Discontentment in the Jammu region has, therefore, always been easy to ignite.

Terrorism in the Doda division — three times the size of the Kashmir Valley — in fact changed the demography of various towns, particularly in Bhaderwah, where Muslims and Hindus live across a water channel.

Union minister P Chidambaram, perhaps, had this in mind when he said in Parliament on Monday, “We will not allow the repetition of 1990. We will not allow forced migration. We will not allow forced resettlement.”

In the 1990s, the Valley saw an exodus of Kashmiri Pandits, who still live in refugee camps in Jammu and in the mid-’90s towns like Bhaderwah saw forced resettlement.

At that time, one of the counter-insurgency measures included the arming of village defence committees (VDCs), and this time around, when Kishtwar started burning after Hindus clashed with a procession being taken out by Muslims on Eid, in which pro-azadi slogans were being raised, the administration realised that the VDCs had not been disarmed, even though terrorism had largely been contained in Doda.

Police vehicle in flames after two groups indulged in stone-pelting and arson in Kuleed area in Kishtwar disdrict. (PTI Photo)

Chief minister Omar Abdullah has said the Kishtwar violence isn’t linked to militancy or infiltration but intelligence agencies now say that the communal divide has dangerous portents.

"The ground situation is back to being fragile and will only be complicated if armed militants decide to make an entry into what they see as a fertile ground," a senior intelligence official said.

The politics between the BJP, Congress and its senior ruling coalition partner, National Conference can also fan the communal flames. A dangerous development, once again, for the Jammu sub-division, a region that in the 1990s was referred to as Greater Kashmir, a reference to the Valley where a separatist battle still rages.

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