Communalising Jammu and Kashmir

July 7th, 2008 - 7:07 pm ICT by ANI  

Amarnath Shrine

By Dr Shabir Choudhry
London, July 7 (ANI): 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 overshadowed 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 dont 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 boosts local economy by providing 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 so 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 makes 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.
All Party Hurriyat Conference members 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 the 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 incentives, 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 got new energy and wanted to prove their worth. The government of Jammu and Kashmir foolishly provided the opportunity to them to assert their positions and further communalise politics of the State. 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 resulted in the loss of life of many .
These protests not only unnerved the Jammu and Kashmir government but also got New Delhi worried; hence a hasty retreat and cancellation of the land transfer.
The Peoples Democratic Party which was not only part of the coalition but also part of the controversial decision, paniked and deepened the crises further by withdrawing its support to the State government leaving the ruling Congress 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 have also been very hostile and 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 the hands of those who are against unification and independence of the State, and I hope that commonsense prevails and peace returns in Jammu. (ANI)

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