Srinagar: Communal tensions are brewing in Jammu and its neighbourhood for the past few months over a variety of issues on which the region’s Hindu and Muslim political leaderships hold divergent and even conflicting views.
For some local watchers the situation is fast approaching such a pass which could only be dreadful. “If you ask me, Jammu today is on the brink, sitting on a powder keg and it is waiting to go off,” said a local analyst Tahir Hussein.
Arun Kumar Joshi, a senior journalist and resident editor of the Tribune, corroborates the view. He said, “The situation is much more serious than it was in 2008 following the Amarnath land row.”
The tensions were set off afresh a couple of months ago after the authorities launched what they claimed was anti-encroachment drive in the winter capital Jammu and its peripheries including Gole Gujral which is inhabited mainly by Muslim Gujjars. The nomad tribe and supporting groups, however, resisted the drive terming it “selective” and part of an orchestrated campaign against the nomads which was manifested in uprooting them from the lands they have been inhabiting for decades.
The Gujjar activists alleged that there was “clear anti-Muslims bias” behind the drive as hutments and community centres belonging to Hindu community and even their religious structures which have come illegally on the Ranbir Canal frame and elsewhere including on forest land in Jammu, Kathua, Samba and Rajouri districts were not being touched. They blamed forest minister, Choudhary Lal Singh, and his predecessor Bali Bhagat who is now the state’s minister for hHealth and medical education for it. Mr Bhagat had as forest minister started the anti-encroachment drive from Rajouri’s Kalakot area which has a mixed Hindu-Muslim population.
The members of Gujjar and Bakarwal tribes have been exasperated also over what they allege is “step-motherly” treatment being meted out by various official agencies in routine administrative matters.
The other issue which has widened the gulf between the two communities is the presence of Rohingya Muslims in Jammu. Various Hindu groups, including BJP which together with Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) is ruling the state, see in Rohingyas a “major security threat” and their presence part of a “design” to change the Hindu majority character of the rejoin. On the other hand, the Muslim parties and groups including the PDP insist on it being a humanitarian issue which, they say, calls for compassionate response.
Notwithstanding, the BJP and likeminded groups including recently formed Hindu Ekta Manch (HEM) have launched a campaign for the eviction of these refugees. Following the February 10 terror attack at Sunjawan Military Station in Jammu, no less a person than Speaker of J&K Assembly and BJP leader Kavinder Gupta was quick to blame the Rohingyas for it. Currently, a paid advertisement campaign is being spearheaded by the Hindu groups and activists against the Rohingyas through some local newspapers.
The communal polarisation only worsened following the arrest of a special police officer Deepak Khajuria for his alleged involvement in the rape and murder of 8-year-old nomad girl in Rasana village of Kathua district. The HEM which is being openly supported by the BJP has brazenly come in the support of the main accused. It has been holding rallies to demand that the investigation into the gory incident be handed over to the CBI.
Days after the chief minister had said that she was “appalled” over a rally being organised by the HEM in support of the alleged rapist and “horrified” by the participants’ waving the tricolour which she saw “nothing short of desecration”, two of her Cabinet colleagues Choudhary Lal Singh and Chander Parkash Ganga showed up at another such rally. This not only augmented communal tensions but also reflected the split in thinking and approach of the coalition partners.
The chief minister has now turned down the BJP’s demand that the probe into the alleged rape-and-murder of the minor be handed over to the CBI. She told a delegation of nine BJP ministers which met her in Jammu on Thursday that the Crime Branch (CB) of the state police has almost completed the investigation and is likely to present the challan in the court soon. The investigation is currently being monitored by the high court of the state.
The CB in its status report submitted to the court on Friday said the heinous crime was committed with a predetermined view to “drive the nomads out of Rasana village dominated by a particular community”. The report reveals that drugs purchased by the main accused from a pharmacy in Kathua days before the minor was abducted were used to sedate her.
Prominent Gujjar leader and opposition National Conference (NC) MLA Javed Ahmed Rana alleged that the BJP and its allies are working on a “well-planned strategy” to “instil fear” among minorities in Jammu and surrounding districts. While appealing civil society organisations in Jammu “to foil the communally nefarious designs of rightist organisations”, he said the PDP-BJP coalition has developed “irreparable cracks” as was evident from latest developments. “The state government,” he alleged, “is failing in running the administration in accordance with spirit of our pluralist Constitution particularly in Samba and Kathua districts where the police authority has been rendered dysfunctional”.
The opposite camp rejects the criticism but, at the same time, sees the Muslim chief minister “hand in glove” with the elements which, it alleges, are bent upon to “change the demography of Jammu”. Team Jammu, a pressure group, said “People of Jammu are utterly shocked about the active connivance of the chief minister of the state in encouraging and abetting the demographic change of Jammu region”.
Its leader Zorawar Singh Jamwal alleged, “Changing the demographic character of Jammu is an Islamo-fascist agenda and the involvement of the chief minister in promoting this agenda clearly shows where her heart lies and proves all those who doubted her integrity to uphold national interest in the state as correct.”
He was referring to a recent media report that said chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, has asked the concerned authorities to ensure no member of tribal communities including Gujjars and Bakarwals is harassed during anti-encroachment drives. “No member of tribal communities should be harassed. Jammu and Kashmir has been a rich repository of diverse cultures and their (tribals) protection should be taken as a priority,” she was quoted as saying while chairing a review meeting of the Tribal Affairs Department.
“This would insulate tribal land grabbers especially Gujjars and Bakarwals and further encourage land grab without any fear of any penal action,” Jamwal said. He threatened that entire population of Jammu will rise as one people to defeat the “demographic invasion” be it through the settlement of Bangladeshi-Rohingya Muslims or fraudulent land grab through Gujjars-Bakerwals.
But minister of state for tribal affairs and BJP MLA from Reasi, Ajay Nanda, who was also present in February 14 meeting, said that three major points mentioned in minutes of the meeting including the reported instructions to the concerned authorities from the chief minister had not been discussed at all.
“We respect the rights of the tribal population but the law is the same for all citizens. Anyone who breaks law and indulges in encroachment must be dealt with severely,” he said.
Amid heightening tensions, the state government has decided that only the tribal policy to be formulated by a Cabinet sub-committee headed by deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh will be implemented in the state.