By K.N. Pandita
Friday, the day of Eid festival for the majority community of Kishtwar turned to be a black day of anarchy and mayhem for its minority community. Day-long arson, loot, firing and lawlessness, indulged in by an emotionally surcharged crowd of majority community members, amply demonstrated that the State government was either incapable of maintaining law and order in this sensitive area or that it covertly let the vicious act of ethnic cleansing of the Hindus from Kishtwar region make a monstrous demonstration. In no way can the state/district administration get absolved of the blame that it knowingly let law and order collapse in the town.
Law and order situation in erstwhile Doda district, and especially in Kishtwar, has been under strain ever since the rise of militancy in the State in 1990. Armed Pakistani jihadis have made a strong build-up in this strategic region as it provides them safe haven wherefrom their smaller groups fan out to carry forward their activities of subversion in the Pir Panchal range. Once anchored in the region, the jihadis made deep inroads into the youth of local majority community, did their brain washing, sent them clandestinely to PoK terrorist training camps for training in arms and subversion and partly established secret hideouts in the deep forest recesses where the locals received training in arms. Thus, by and large, the entire region has been forced to pander to militant proclivities either through unleashing fear or out of whipping up religious zealotry.
While responding to ground situation, security planner added a new dimension to their counter-terrorism strategy. It was of creating Village Defence Committees (VDC) whose members were provided a few ordinary arms for self-defence. This arrangement helped in curbing free movement of the militants in the sequestered region of Kishtwar. They found it increasingly difficult to carry out the agenda assigned to them by external masters.
Secondly, erstwhile Doda district became a hotbed of rivalry between the two mainstream political parties in the State. Although NC and Congress are in coalition yet, on local level, their mutual rivalry in Doda has not abated. Moreover, after the former Chief Minister of the State – who hails from this district – had to quit the office when his coalition partner pulled the rug under his feet, and the leadership of PCC changed hands, its fallout on local level was amply discernible. In this messy political hotchpotch, it is obvious that the crude game of vote bank politics comes to front burner. This is a situation very conducive to the perpetration of the agenda of militants. The vote bank politicians would naturally like to hobnob with them if not for empathy for their agenda but surely for gaining mileage from keeping the militants in good humour.
In this context it is noteworthy that the Minister of State in charge of Home Affairs, Mr. Sajjad Ahmad Kichloo, who also happens to be the MLA from the same constituency, had been camping in Kishtwar for three days to celebrate Eid festival with his family. He was a personal witness to the widespread communal violence unleashed by the crowds after offering Eid prayers on Idgah ground but did nothing to bring the situation under control.
Contrary to what role he should have played to overcome the crisis of serious magnitude, the grapevine has the story of him directing law and order authorities not to use traditional methods of controlling rowdy mobs as that would lead to escalation of lawlessness and disorder. This is strange logic. It allows rioting majority community to have a field day for perpetrating loot, arson and mayhem on the minority community so as to scare its members to abandon their homes and run for shelter.
Secondly, district civil authority is the frontline level of administration that has to be held responsible of maintaining law and order in the district. It is not understandable why the district police did not act as it should have to nip the evil in the bud. If the local police are incapable of controlling just a group of two hundred persons raising anti-India, pro-Pak slogans and fluttering Pakistani flags and then prompting others to join them, then this is a sad reflection on the entire structure, formation and function of the local police. It raises a question mark on the integrity and loyalty of the local police.
Thirdly, anti-national elements have been active in the region for quite some time. They have been giving vent to their pro-terrorist tendencies in more than one way. Photographs of parliament attacker Afzal Guru and other militants have been repeatedly exhibited on walls and structures. Why were the intelligence, security and police forces unmindful of these happenings? Why did not they take proper steps to pre-empt any mischief. They had full information that there was vigorous campaigning by vested interest to pressurize the government in withdrawing VDCs. Also on behest of separatist elements, local miscreants had unleashed a tirade against an honest and dutiful police officer Shiv Kumar and tried to implicate him in false cases just because they considered him a symbol of anti-terrorist force. The minority community in the region has been variously intimidated and harassed which shows that the element of intolerance has exacerbated among the majority community. This has caused imbalance in communal harmony.
It is but natural that there have been widespread peaceful protests in the length and breadth of Jammu province against unprovoked attack on the Hindu minority in Kishtwar. The protesters believe that disrupting communal harmony is against the ethos of the Indian nation. Their protests are indirect demand of restoration of communal harmony and peaceful coexistence. This is a land of many religions, cultures, languages and ethnic groups. We have no alternative to tolerance and peaceful co-existence. But we will not mince words when we come to evaluating and analyzing the role of politicians caught up in detestable vote bank trickery. This scourge is taking the toll of our democratic and secular dispensation. J&K State has seen the ethnic cleansing in the valley. Its replication in Kishtwar would mean a frontal blow to all that Indian nation stands for. The militants are on the run and in the process they would want to extract full mileage from ambivalent political leadership in the state. They are eager to foment communal trouble because this helps them achieve their nefarious designs. A patriotic person, political party and institution would not only condemn designs of fomenting communal disharmony but will desist from all such activities as lead to the widening of the gap between communities.
The Kishtwar assault on local minority community is a litmus test for the State government on how far it is seriously interested in providing secular dispensation to the people of the State, particularly when ground realities unfold a widespread network of pro-militancy sympathizing masses working underground as well as over ground to the entire satisfaction of militants and separatists.