Blasphemy in Paradise

While the political circus during the trust vote was catching the eyeballs of all the news channels, a gorier reality drama was taking shape in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The battle of the land, over which many lives have been lost in the name of religion, has transcended political lines and assumed dangerous proportions.

No party has the unanimous ability to subside the riots and protests, and the Congress at the Centre is busy beseeching the BJP to calm the sentiments of activists and rioters who are involved in the violent demonstrations throughout Jammu and its adjoining areas,. They have successfully targeted Kashmir’s lifeline by blocking the Jammu-Srinagar highway. Not that Jammu is rich in essential commodities;. it too is facing shortage of daily necessities, including medicines. But since religion, as always, seems to come before civic and humane consideration to the chosen ‘people of God’, these protestors will stop at nothing less than having their demand fulfilled. They want a complete and permanent transfer of the land, earlier allotted to the Amarnath Shrine Board and then later revoked, much to the ire of the Hindu population in the state. The consequences of the entire episode have been equally unfortunate, a fact which anyone in touch with the daily news will affirm.

An erstwhile peaceful state has finally fallen prey to indigenous religious extremism. Even while it had special privileges by virtue of being a disputed state over which major international wars have been fought, the Paradise on Earth had retained its peace and scenic beauty post 1947. This tranquil phase had an early demise in the 1990s with new found terrorist activities finding expression and driving away Kashmiri Pandits from their homes in the valley. Even today, the rural ruins are reflected in the burnt or half-constructed abandoned homes. So, while terrorism has wreaked havoc in the valley since the 1990s, Jammu (which, as many people are unaware, has a distinct identity from Kashmir) has remained the more peaceful of the two capitals. Till this recent communalist flare up that is; this is one of the most violent episodes in recent times. It has now reared its head to prove who the King is It is a rather collective ‘Hindutva” endeavour to fight till the last drop of blood has been shed and to not settle for anything less than compete and permanent transfer of land.

As the matter seemed well settled in early July, when the Shrine Board and the State Government were willing to reach a compromise on the land transfer issue, all one had to do to withhold the protests from subsiding was commit suicide over the case. This inflamed the passionate hearts of religious zealots, who would not let this sacrifice go waste. Not only did this prick religious sentiments, its consequences also elicited the uglier side of religious strife.

What seems conspicuous in the whole episode is the clash of ardent religious sentiments. Though this is nothing new for India, but it does make one ponder for the zillionth time about the idea of peace and harmony that has been propagated by these religions when interpreted in their purest form, and its completely antagonistic expression in religious riots. So while we learn parables in school, like “United We Stand Divided We Fall” and the story of the fight between two Cats with the monkey running away with the bait, the episode has left no stone unturned in defying these morals and exposing the immaturity of the people and the parties.

The earlier clash of differences between the Jammu side of the State and the Valley, though visible mostly through culture and topography, is now displayed in the form of full blown violence and hatred from both the Muslims in Srinagar and the Hindus in Jammu.

Ultimately, we must remember that it is not the land of the Shrine Board that had been taken away by the Government and returned (thus justifying its transfer) but the Government’s land that was given to the Board and then taken back. Environmentalists were those who initially opposed the land transfer since the Shrine Board would be building permanent settlements on those premises. This took a political turn when the parties in the valley charged the land transfer with the intent to change the Muslim majority of the area. Well, responding to this were the parties in Jammu that would not step down on this issue. Politics and religion has again proved a potent combination that has exacerbated into a full blown conflict. Bringing religion only inflames orthodox views of the great Hindu-Muslim divide that will never be bridged, in the waking memory of anyone. So forget Pakistan and calling for support from the International community against terrorism in India which is supposedly eventually funded through Pakistan, the sustenance of the state is threatened from within itself and the ‘enemy’ cannot be blamed for picking on these raw wounds, eventually leaving Jammu and Kashmir vulnerable when faced with indigenous strife.

Charulata Somal

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