Thursday, August 7, 2008

Jammu Burning

I don't know how to and where to begin from. I just know I need to write because what we really know about the crisis in Jammu ranges from little or poor information to misinformation. This is thanks to the general ignorance about the region, the valley hogging all the attention, all the time and an irresponsible media which is not doing ample justice to the real issues at hand.

To begin with, everybody who lives in Jammu and Kashmir is not a Kashmiri.Besides Kashmiris we have Dogras, Paharis, Gujjars, Bakherwals,Kishtwaris, Ladakhis living there.Languages spoken are Dogri,Pahari,Kashmiri,Kishtwari,Urdu,Hindi,Balti and maybe many more.It is a melting pot of different cultures.
Kashmir has been known as a center of learning for Sanskrit and Persian. Ladakh is the only place in the world where Tantrayan Buddhism is practised as a way of life.Jammu the land of Dogras has been a seat of Rajas and Maharajas who have cemented and enriched the ties between these diverse groups.The Hindus and the Muslims have lived in harmony and happiness.

The Constitution of India granted Jammu and Kashmir special Autonomous area status as a temporary provision through Article 370. However, some Muslim Kashmiris demand greater autonomy and sovereignty and even demand independence from India. Many Hindus and Muslims would like to see the state fully integrated into India.

According to Wikipedia,"Jammu and Kashmir is the only Indian state that has its own flag. Designed by the Government of India, the state flag of Jammu and Kashmir is the native plough on a red background which is a symbol of labour. The three stripes represent the three administrative divisions of the state, namely Jammu, Vale of Kashmir, and Ladakh".

The backdrop of this agitation is also the step motherly treatment to the Jammu an Ladakh region in favor of the valley. Nehru wanted to have a constitutional head from Jammu to keep the Jammuites happy, but political leadership from Kashmir so all the benefits could be directed to Kashmir. But this policy has backfired miserably now. Kashmiri pandits have been driven out of the valley. The valley has fallen prey to separatist and pro Pakistan sentiments. A non domicile of the state cannot buy land in J&K. As opposed to the fact that state citizens can buy property anywhere in India. It also means that if a girl from the state marries someone from any other Indian state she loses her right to property in her home state. All the while Kashmirs who harbor anti India sentiments get son in laws from Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK)and they in turn have the right to own property. Obviously this is another measure to drive away Hindus and Muslims who support India away from the state.

Now fast forwarding to the present situation. The Congress-Peoples Democratic Party government headed by Ghulam [Images] Nabi Azad had instructed the forest department to transfer the land to the SASB. Within days Muslims in the Kashmir valley, led and instigated by pro-Pakistani separatists, took to the streets, insisting no land should be provided for pilgrim facilities.

The All-Parties Hurriyat Conference spread three canards: First, the transfer amounted to alienation of 'Kashmiri land'; second, it would lead to intrusion of 'Hindu culture' in Muslim Kashmir; and, third, it would cause ecological damage. It needs to be duly noted here that the Amarnath yatra happens for roughly 2-3 months in a year and the shrine board wanted to construct temporary structures for the pilgrims on this land.The PDP, sensing an opportunity to revive its pro-separatist -- if not brazenly anti-India/anti-Hindu -- image in the run-up to the assembly election in Jammu & Kashmir, joined the protest and subsequently withdrew from the government. To his credit, Azad stood firm and refused to budge from his government's decision, till N N Vohra took over as governor, replacing Lieutenant General S K Sinha (retd).
Vohra, in his capacity as ex-officio chairman of the SASB, wrote a letter to Azad, returning the land and also offering to relinquish the board's task of organising the annual yatra, thus making the pilgrimage to the Amarnath shrine subordinate to the valley's Muslims �ber alle (above all) politics and Delhi's equally odious politics of Muslim appeasement.
Vohra reportedly sent his letter to Azad at 8.30 pm on June 28. "The news of that abject surrender provoked an explosion of outrage across Jammu," says a senior member of the Amarnath Yatra Sangharsh Samiti, a broad-based organisation without any political affiliation which is at the forefront of the protest.This decision was not endorsed by atleast 5 members of the board. This was a unilateral decision and it violates the SASB Act.The Governor is also in contempt of the high court which had passed an interim order approving the transfer of 800 kanals of land to the board in Baltal.
For all his efforts to appease the Muslim protesters in the Kashmir valley by 'returning' the land that had been allotted for Hindu pilgrims, Vohra was unable to save the Congress-PDP government. The PDP pulled out from the ruling alliance on June 28; on July 1, Azad, obviously under mounting pressure from his party bosses in Delhi, reversed the earlier decision.

All this has resulted in an uprising of a scale never seen before in the Jammu region. The agitation started from June 30th and is still going strong. It is not being orchestrated by any political party. The common man, woman and even children are part of this agitation. There was a simmering resentment over so many years of neglect of the Jammu region. And the usurping of the right to pray in peace, the right to freedom of choice was the final straw.

This is the 17th consecutive day of curfew in the Jammu region. This should not be seen as a communal issue. Because it is not. The Hindus and Muslims of the Jammu region have lived in harmony and this agitation enjoys the support of the Dogra Muslims and the Muslim Gujjars.In the old Jammu city, most of the businesses are run by Muslims. They have all downed their shutters in support of the Amarnath Yatra Sangarsh Samiti protest. This is truly a people's movement.

Mr.Omar Abdullah has shown his true colors by his communally colored rhetoric in the parliament. People like him, and political parties with vested interests are working hard to portray and make this problem into the age old hindu-muslim vendetta. But this is not Gujarat, Mr.Abdullah, Ms Mehbooba Syed. And I pray that the national mainstream and the world is not fooled into thinking it is.

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