For several days now, leaders of the Kashmiri separatist movement like Sajjad Lone have been repeatedly declaring that they will not give “even an inch of land” to the Sri Amarnath Shrine Board to provide facilities to Hindu pilgrims going to the holy cave in Kashmir. Alongside the uncouth behaviour and verbal threats of these so-called leaders of separatist outfits during television studio discussions, millions of Indians have also got to see demonstrators flaunting the Pakistan flag and raising pro-Pakistan slogans.
Many Indians who, thanks to the media boom, are exposed to this bigoted, intimidatory posture of Kashmiri separatists for the first time, are shocked. Till now they never knew that despite six decades of engagement with the world’s largest and most vibrant democracy, people in the Kashmir Valley could be so far-removed from the liberal, democratic and secular framework within which the rest of India operates.
Young Indians are also getting acquainted for the first time with the glaring distinction between the nationalist, plural Jammu region and the secessionist, communal Kashmir Valley. While protesters in Jammu — Hindu, Sikh and Muslim — march with the Indian tricolour in hand and raise slogans like ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’, the protesters in Srinagar wave green flags of the Hurriyat or the flag of Pakistan, and the slogan that rents the air is ‘Allah-o-Akbar’.
It is indeed unfortunate that even 60 years after the accession of the State of Jammu & Kashmir to India, the Kashmir Valley appears to be outside the pale of our secular democracy. It seems to be in the very same mood in which it was 600 years ago when Sultan Sikander began the onslaught on Hinduism and forced Hindus to convert to Islam or migrate. The second big assault on the Hindu minority occurred in 1989-90 when Islamic militants, aided by locals, subjected Hindus to murder, arson and loot. This pogrom led to the forced migration of over three lakh Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley to live as refugees in Jammu and Delhi.
In recent years, militants have been targeting Amarnath yatris and killing these pilgrims at temporary camps set up along the route. Yet, despite all this, Sajad Lone says that Muslims have been “taking care” of the yatris all these years and that there is really no need for a Sri Amarnath Shrine Board. Even more laughable is the statement of Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, chairman of the Hurriyat Conference, who has claimed that they “believe in secularism” and that the communalists are the Hindus who are agitating for land for the Shrine Board!
Strangely no Kashmiri separatist leader is even ashamed of the ethnic cleansing of Hindus, which is the biggest assault on a religious minority community in this part of the world. In recent times many Kashmiri separatist leaders have appeared on television shows. All of them appear defiant, bigoted, communal and anti-Indian, and yet hog a lot of airtime.
It is as if Kashmiri Muslims are exempt from any requirement of decency and civility in discourse. This over-indulgence with persons with an illiberal and anti-Indian outlook has encouraged persons like Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, Sajjad Lone and Billal Lone to sharpen their knives and become far more brazen and vicious in their attacks on the Indian state.
The plight of the Hindu minority in India’s only Muslim-majority State and the pro-Pakistan slogans being raised in the Valley has its implications not just for India’s unity and integrity but also for India’s secular foundations and concepts of federalism. Should voices like that of Arundhati Roy, who feels the demand for ‘azadi’ in the Kashmir Valley must be listened to with empathy, get louder, it will amount to belated ratification of Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s two-nation theory. In which case, we must widen the scope for self-determination and extend this idea to every State.
This discomfort with a secular, democratic society among sections of the people in the Valley is nothing new. Lone’s forebears had displayed similar inclination for things that lie across the border. The naked face of Kashmiri Muslim communalism bared its fangs in the last century for the first time in 1947 when Muslim soldiers in the Kashmir Army deserted their officers and joined the invading Pakistani Army. The betrayal of Hindu officers by Muslim soldiers in the Kashmir Army is chronicled by VP Menon, who was Secretary in the States Ministry at the time of independence, in his book The Story of the Integration of the Indian States.
Pakistan first sent in infiltrators and then launched an all-out invasion of Jammu & Kashmir on October 22, 1947. The main raiders’ column had 5,000 men who were led by regular soldiers of the Pakistani Army. When the invaders arrived at the gates of Muzaffarabad, the Kashmir State battalion, consisting of Muslims and Dogras, was commanded by Lt Col Narain Singh. All the Muslims deserted the battalion, “shot the commanding officer and his adjutant; joined the raiders, and acted as advance-guard to the raiders’ column… All the Muslims in the State Forces had deserted and many had joined the raiders.
The raiders then marched towards Uri. Brig Rajinder Singh, the Chief of Staff of the State Forces, managed to gather 150 men and met the invaders at Uri. Brig Singh engaged the enemy in a fierce battle for two days and in a rearguard action destroyed the Uri bridge. “The brigadier himself and all his men were cut to pieces in this action.” The dare devilry of these valiant soldiers delayed the onward thrust of the invading Army.
Thus, although the Pakistanis were at the doorsteps of Srinagar, there was just enough time for the Government to airlift troops to Srinagar and secure the State capital. Paying a tribute to the courage of Brig Singh, Menon says it was only appropriate that the first Maha Vir Chakra was awarded to this great soldier, albeit posthumously.
These facts of history tell their own story. The betrayal of Brig Rajinder Singh and Lt Col Narain Singh by Muslim soldiers in 1947 has its echo in the events in Jammu & Kashmir today. The past has cast its long shadow on the present. Obviously, there are leaders in the Valley who continue to long for Pakistan and who have no compunctions in trampling upon the rights of the Hindu minority in the State.
Every Indian who cares for India’s unity and integrity and our liberal, secular and democratic way of life, must be ready to make the kind of sacrifices that Brig Singh and Lt Col Singh made over 60 years ago if we wish to retain Jammu & Kashmir as an integral part of India. Gutsy citizens of Jammu are showing every one the way. Every Indian must salute and emulate them.
Ajmer Alam Wani