I am Secular, and I am a Humanist. I am a Hindu.I am a Dogra from Jammu and I am also an Indian. Secular and proud to be a Hindu does not go together or atleast not considered true these days. Especially if you are a Dogra from Jammu and feel that the the cancellation of the land order to the Amarnath Board should be revoked.
I would not have wasted my breath proving my credentials but I feel the voice of the Jammu people is not reaching the mainstream. If you have seen any national TV debates recently you will know what I am saying. The Jammu region is sadly lacking a good orator. We are not comfortable with English and the region's representatives are seen as either incoherent like the Samiti convenor Leela Karan Sharma, or sounding like a right wing activist like Mr. Jitender Singh. The best of the lot is Sheikh Shakeel Ahmed, from the Jammu Bar Association. He is coherent though looks like he will break down as he is unable to put his point across and is pitted against word savvy opponents like Farooq Abdullah and Mirwaiz.
Because of this lack of good speakers the regions case is not being presented properly. The media has always sided with the underdog. The underdog here being the Kashmiri Muslim. Shockingly amiss is the Kashmiri Pandit viewpoint. If they do get the pandits on these debates the time allotted to them is miniscule. It is surprising how the media has forgotten that they are the underdogs here, with no home or hearth. Lack of media attention and oratorial skills has caused the right wing activists to exploit the situation. Pravin Togadia of VHP said it is a 'religious issue' and the entire nation read the Hindu nation supports the Jammuites. BJP supports Sangharsh Samiti and hence another reason for the issue to take on a communal tinge. The Samiti convenor Leela Karan Sharma is or was associated with RSS so that does not help either.
The fact that 48 other organizations are backing the Samiti is ignored.The fact that it is a People's Movement and has gone on for almost 60 days is inconsequential.The fact that the Samiti asked BJP and VHP to back off so that the issue is seen in its true light is given no due attention. The Samiti prevented Advani and Rajnath Singh from addressing rallies in Jammu. In yesterday's 'jail bharo' move the Gujjars who are Muslims also courted arrest. Gujjar Leader Fazal Din has been leading the Gujjars in this movement.Areas like Poonch, Doda, Rajouri, Kishtwar which have witnessed demographic changes with the migration of Hindus to Hindu majority areas as a result of terrorism has also witnessed protests in favor of the Samiti. Mostly by the remaining Hindus in those regions and the Gujjars.
Of course the forces trying to communalize the issues are working overtime. The breakdown of the long secular history of the region is critical for vote bank politics.
Glaring is the absence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's direct and visible involvement. The PM has been referring to the issue in J&K in speeches given at different venues.The Government in the Center has messed things up by its slow and delayed response.
The issue once again is:
1.Why should High Court Order which allows for building of temporary structures for pilgrims in the Baltal forest which otherwise is uninhabitable be revoked because the seperatists or political leadership in the valley did not approve. The pilgrimage is for a duration of 2 months in a year and some sheds are necessary due to inclement weather conditions. Some 250 pilgrims died in a snowstorm last year. The Shrine board is a body consisting of State Subjects and rumors were spread that it was not so. There were no efforts to dipel the rumors that the land would be permanently transferred to the Shrine Board. All land is under the jurisdiction of the Government.
2. Why should it be possible for the Kashmiri Muslims to buy property, do business and study in Jammu if the Jammuites cannot do the same in the valley. Jammuites are also state subjects and under the Article 370 entitled to similar rights.
The underlying problems of discrimination with the Jammu region thanks to an appeasement and cover up policy of the Center favors the valley.
The Valley has a seperate agenda, that of wanting freedom or azadi. Some want a merger with Pakistan but most, want to have nothing to do with either Pakistan or India.As a seperatist Kashmiri Muslim friend of mine said he wants absolute freedom, not a merger with Pakistan.He told me that he feels leaderless.He said,if the choice was only merger with Pakistan he prefers to settle in Bihar. Another young Kashmiri Muslim from the valley says this conflict of interest within the people of the valley might lead to a civil war like situation.They stand strong and united though and are clear that they want Azadi.
But the media has not been able to highlight the real issue which though is to do with a place of worship, is more complex. Arundhatis and Shabanas of the world raced to make politically correct statements without really studying and understanding the problem, hence sabotaging the issue.The issue will get distorted and twisted and maybe is taking and will take on a communal color, in the coming days.But that is not how and why it started.
I had to write this peice because I promised my 66 year old father in Jammu who courted arrest yesterday and today that I would hold onto my secular beliefs in the face of all odds. He asked me to view things in a balanced way and hoped it reflected in my writings.He reminded me that secularism is core to my region, my religion and my civilization.Secularism is in my blood.