Dangerous portents in Jammu and Kashmir

THE violence that is rapidly engulfing large parts of Jammu and Kashmir, set off by a controversial government decision to grant a tract of land to a temple trust in Kashmir, threatens to totally disrupt the already tenuous inter-communal relations in the region.

By Yoginder Sikand (India)

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Published: Thu 21 Aug 2008, 10:05 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 4:12 PM

This has frightening portents particularly for those parts of the state where Hindus and Muslims both live in substantial numbers, such as Rajouri, Poonch and Doda, all in the Jammu province.

Economic interdependence and shared cultural bonds and traditions between the communities in these areas had kept communal rivalries in check, and people had, over time, evolved their own mechanisms to relate to each other despite their differences. Now, this delicate social fabric might, if the ongoing agitation continues unabated, tear apart.

I've been visiting the Doda district every year for the last almost two decades. Militant Muslim outfits and Hindu chauvinist groups both have a presence in the region. Yet, strong ties bind other Hindus and Muslims and have halted the complete polarisation of the populace. This is something that I've been attempting to study for years now. How do ordinary Hindus and Muslims, as distinct from men who claim to speak for them, look at and relate to each other? What theological resources can be marshalled to challenge the politics of communal chauvinists such as those fomenting the present spate of violence in the wake of the Amarnath shrine controversy?

With the onset of militancy in Doda district in the early 1990s, everyone says, Hindu-Muslim relations rapidly deteriorated. There seems to be a near total consensus on this point. Says Mangat, an elderly shopkeeper in Udarana, a mixed Hindu-Muslim village near the town of Bhaderwah, "Now we hardly visit each other's homes or patronise each other's shops. We are cordial to each other when we meet, and some Hindus and Muslims invite each other for marriages, but that is all. We really don't have love in our hearts for each other."

But it is not that before militancy erupted in Doda inter-communal relations were entirely cordial. Says a resident, "In 1947, several Muslims, were killed by Hindu and Sikh mobs, in league with the Maharaja's forces. Some Hindus were killed in Bhalesa, a Muslim-majority part of Doda. Under Shaikh Abdullah, radical land reforms were introduced in the state, through which share-croppers, mainly Muslims and Dalits, got land previously owned by Rajput and Brahmin landlords, and this naturally incensed the upper castes, who felt their dominance was being undermined.'

Till 1947, he adds, most Muslims were landless labourers, and there were only a few small Muslim traders in the region. Along with the Dalits, they were also treated as untouchables by the 'upper' caste Hindus and forced to do beggar or unpaid labour for the Hindu landlords. Changes after 1947 led to the emergence of a sizeable educated Muslim middle-class, who were now able to compete with the traditionally dominant 'upper' caste Hindus for government jobs and power. The nature of politics of the district, then, naturally began to change. It took a rapid turn for the worse with the rise of militancy in Kashmir and of Hindu chauvinist groups in Doda and beyond.

Religion is being marshalled as the prime vehicle to foment communal divisions by both Hindu and Muslim groups, but there are possibilities of it being used for precisely the opposite purpose. Says Sajjad, a Muslim student from Bhaderwah, "The Quran says that God has sent prophets to every nation, and so it is possible that some of the religious figures of the Hindus were also prophets. Islam teaches us that we must relate to all non-Muslims who do not oppress or oppose us with love and concern. Self-styled militants who kill innocents in the name of jihad are doing the work of the devil. They are motivated simply by power and pelf, not for the sake of God, and so what they are doing cannot be called jihad. They have zikr-e khuda (the name of God) on their lips, but their hearts are empty of fikr-e khuda (remembrance of God'). Some people wrongly think that picking up the sword against all non-Muslims is jihad, but, actually, doing anything good, even speaking a good word to someone, is a jihad."

"Hindu chauvinists are no different," says his Hindu friend Raja. "Mooh Main Ram, Baghal Mai Churi (They have Ram's name on their lips and hide a knife under their armpits)."

Despite the communal divide, there are no organised forums in Doda to promote inter-community dialogue. Some fear that to vocally speak in favour of peace and harmony might invite the wrath of their co-religionists or even possible death. Or, perhaps it is just indifference. As Suleiman, a village elder from Kulhand, says, "Maybe our youth have become too materialistic, indifferent to such social concerns."

But at the same time as communal identities have become increasingly polarised, large numbers of Hindus and Muslims still privately insist on the need for cordial relations and do their own bit in that regard in their own ways: jointly demonstrating against the slaughter of innocent villagers in a remote village, pooling resources to rescue people trapped in an avalanche or injured in a road mishap, or simply pointing out that true religion teaches love and that, as the tired clichés go, 'God is one' and 'Everyone's blood is red'.

But now, with the on-going agitation in Jammu and in Kashmir over the Amarnath yatra, that might be a mere chimera if things are allowed to spin out of control, as they indeed seem to be.

Yoginder Sikand is an eminent Indian research scholar and has written a great deal on Kashmir's Sufi traditions

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