Stoking flames of discord in Kashmir

Kashinath Pandit

The piece titled ‘Amarnath ropeway plan etc’ (DNA 29 Aug) by Firdous Syed is a classical example of stoking flames of discord among communities. It is replete with distortions of facts of history.

The row over Amarnath Cave pilgrimage in 2008 was triggered neither by Governor Sinha nor by the Sangh Parivar: it sprang from a statement issued by PDP leader Mufti Saeed who wanted to score a point over his political rival National Conference by whipping up religious passion among the Muslims of the Valley – an old trick. 

Separatists and secessionists led by Ali Shah Geelani of Hurriyat (G) faction, took the cue from him, and carried the canard to its logical conclusion. Masses of Hindu population of entire Jammu region (not only the city) reacted. Kashmir-centric Muslim leadership is not used to experiencing massive reaction from Jammu, and, therefore, took it a challenge to their supremacy.

Mufti was obstructions in putting in practice the understanding arrived at between the Amarnath Shrine Board and NC government on various aspects of pilgrimage. The State government had agreed to give about 288 kanals of State Forest land on lease to the Shrine Board for raising shelter and other requisite infrastructure for the convenience of the pilgrims.

PDP chief Mufti politicized the arrangement and accused NC of diluting majority character of valley’s Muslim population. Fiery speeches at Friday prayer congregations by rabid mullahs and separatist firebrands hyped Mufti’s canard.  In view of the rising tide of opposition and mass hysteria, the NC government succumbed to insinuations from insiders as well as outsiders, and manoeuvred to withdraw, albeit with all the naivety, the lease order of the land. Kashmir bar association stalwarts were in the forefront of this surcharged discourse.

Not to let situation go out of hand, Governor Sinha, also the Chairman of the Shrine Board, called a meeting of representatives of the government and civil society including valley’s very vocal Muslim leadership. Dissenters focused on a single point, viz. perceived threat to ecological balance owning to influx in the number of pilgrims.  At one point during the discussion, the Secretary (Mr. Kumar (?) an IAS officer) to the Governor intervened that there was no threat to ecological balance by multi-fold increase in the number of hajj pilgrims. This remark was blown out of proportion by the dissenting Muslim leadership and more vigorously by the Muslim ministers and bureaucrats of Kashmir who threatened to launch a state-wide stir if the Secretary was not removed. They treated it a blasphemy. The Union Home Ministry shunted out the poor guy within hours.

Several relative incidents became catalyst to the reaction from entire Hindu population of Jammu region with its epicentre in the city of Jammu. These were the inflammatory statement of Mufti, calculated disinformation campaign by the secessionists, cowardly, ambivalent and pusillanimous attitude of the NC government, entrusting Jammu law and order to biased and communal law enforcing segment of the state administration and total indifference shown by the central government to the fast deteriorating law and order situation in Jammu.

The 52-day long “bom bom bole” turmoil in Jammu never took communal colour and not a single incident of communal tension was reported. Jammu Muslim leadership cooperated voluntarily.

Realising that the sentiments of the Hindu majority in Jammu had been hurt by its Sphinx-like silence, and that further inaction would lead to escalation of tension, the Union Home Ministry intervened and appointed a group of interlocutors to assuage the hurt feelings of people and find an amicable solution to the core problem. The stakeholders put their signature to the agreement.

The canard of bringing about demographic change in Kashmir is not a new one. Separatist and secessionist elements within the ruling structure of J&K clandestinely carry forward canards like this to mislead local people and alienate them from national mainstream. In 1982, a sitting NC MLA (now Finance Minister in Omar cabinet) published a 22-page Urdu pamphlet titled Kashmir main aksariyyat ko aqalliyat main badalne ki sazish (The conspiracy of converting Kashmir majority into a minority). It is a long baseless litany of accusations brought against India and the Hindus of unleashing atrocities, oppression and suppression on Kashmiri Muslims to reduce their majority status. Such was the blasphemy of the pamphlet that the State government was obliged to withdraw all of its copies and burn them within two hours of their distribution.

It may be noted that the population of the Muslims in the valley in 1947 was only 35 lakh, and of Hindus about 7 lakh. Today, 66 years after independence, the Muslims in the valley compute to over 75 lakh (100 per cent increase) while the Hindus of the valley have shrunk to just 3-4 thousand (99.4 % decrease).Who has changed whose demographic complexion? Income per capita in Kashmir is the highest in the country.

How does the raising of a permanent structure lead to the concentration of pilgrim population and make big change in demography? Do the enormous permanent structures at Mecca, where annually tens of millions of hajj pilgrims assemble, result in the demographic change of Saudi Arabia?
Yes, there has been phenomenal rise in the number of pilgrims to the cave shrine. India’s socio-economic development during past six decades has increased mobility among he people. Mad rush among devout Muslims to the shrines of saints and sufis is red rag to the wahhabis and salafis.

True, syncretised Kashmir culture has become controversial and that is unfortunate. It happened in 1990 when the miniscule minority of Kashmiri Hindus was extirpated from their home and hearth and sent into forced exile. Their vacant houses were looted and vandalised and their immoveable properties forcibly and illegally seized. How sad the “syncretised Kashmiri culture” could not tolerate existence of 2 per cent Hindus in the valley while the Indian secularism tolerates the growth of Muslim population from 5 crore in 1947 to nearly 18 crore in 2012.

Syed has attacked the Supreme Court of India for its directive to the states to ensure construction of motor roads to the shrines. It is a general directive to all States. It will also prompt Rajasthan government to construct broad and spacious road to the shrine of Hazrat Khwajah in Ajmer where large number of Muslim pilgrims come from many countries. It is preposterous to attribute motives to the Apex Court.

Lastly the question why a procrastinated yatra over three months rather than just ten days? Please note that the Muslims perform hajj at Ka’aba once in a year but they are free to go on Umrah as many times they like and at any time they like. Imagine the manifold increase in the number of Kashmiri Hajis to hajj and umrah. The lingam represents the phenomenon of creation, its waxing and waning is irrelevant.

Lastly, Indians have a long history of communal goodwill as part of social life. Why divide society on the basis of faith for something mundane. Did not the vast Hindu majority of India help in constructing the separate hajj airport at IGIA in New Delhi for the convenience of Muslim hajj pilgrims? It is a matter of communal harmony and goodwill and not an obligation. The Muslims are part and parcel of Indian nation. Who grudges them a huge infrastructure at IGIA or elsewhere? Why should they grudge Hindus an elaborate structure in Baltal or elsewhere precisely for the same reason as the hajj airport?

I hope this piece will dispel the unfounded doubts expressed by Firdous Syed. It is meant to place the record straight and repair the distortions of contemporary history.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of the Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University).

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