The Jammu & Kashmir Conflict

The entire Jammu region is burning. Every body knows it, but the real and basic cause behind the rage sweeping through the entire province is years of neglect of people in Jammu region by Kashmiri leadership.

The people of the entire Jammu region irrespective of their religion, caste and creed were frustrated and have at-last found a platform in the form of Amarnath land transfer row to give vent to their anger. Jammu has more people than Kashmir, but the lion’s share as seen for the last several decades always goes to the Kashmir Valley.

The brutal response of the administration and Governor N.N Vohra’s inability to gauge the extent of popular disquiet and outrage has only strengthened the resolve of the protesters to continue with their agitation. The relentless bandh and blockade of highways has been continuously extended. People continue to defy curfew and army pickets, pouring into the streets in hundreds, something unprecedented in India, the free India which has to celebrate its Independence Day just a week from now.

What every body is witnessing in the Jammu city and its adjoining areas is the young and old, men and women, youth and children are locked in an unequal battle with the police and, since Friday, the Army, demanding immediate revocation of the government order canceling the transfer of 800 kanals of land to the Sri Amarnath Shrine Board.

It was on Monday, the police, clueless as to how to handle the situation, shot at protesters in Samba. They did not shoot to injure or scare away the crowds shouting slogans against Governor N.N Vohra and waving the national tricolour. They shot to kill by aiming their guns at the protesters’ heads.

During the ongoing unrest, at-least 115 policemen were injured in 52 major incidents during the past 36 days in Jammu.

It is only in three instances at Muthi, Samba and Jourian, when police had to open fire in self-defence leaving two civilians dead while 45 policemen were injured. At Muthi, the Police had to act to rescue the police personnel who were severely beaten after being captured by the protestors. In remaining 49 cases, other protest control measures were taken. In all, 80 civilians also received injuries during the agitation. However, a total of eight people have also lost their lives in various incidents, including five in clashes with security forces, during the ongoing agitation.

At Jourian in Akhnoor, the violent protestors had set on fire Niabat office, Police Post and some government vehicles, whereas a day earlier at Samba, the police had to fire in self-defence when they were caught among the protestors from all sides.

It’s been more than a month that the people of Jammu including Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians have taken to the streets, burning tyres, taunting policemen, braving tear-gas and real bullets, violating curfew and blockading the highway to Kashmir Valley.

More tellingly, the tactics that have been adopted by the protesters are those that have often brought the Kashmir valley to a standstill.

The details of the land transfer fiasco are well-known. The Congress-Peoples Democratic Party government headed by Ghulam 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 facilitating pilgrimage.

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.

The PDP, sensing an opportunity to revive its pro-separatist if not brazenly anti-India/anti-Hindu stance, 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 Lt. Gen 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 organizing the annual yatra, thus making the pilgrimage to the Amarnath shrine subordinate to the Kashmiris (above all) politics and Delhi’s equally odious politics of Valley 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.

The Governor violated the SASB Act. He cannot act unilaterally. Any decision of the board has to be endorsed by at least five members. 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.

Meanwhile, in Jammu there was a spontaneous shutdown on June 30. Such a massive bandh was first ever in recent years.

Every morning, afternoon, evening and night, students, workers, professionals, senior citizens and housewives take to the streets, engaging police in dogfights, hurling tear-gas shells back at their tormentors, chasing cops when they are outnumbered, retreating into narrow alleys when the men in uniform re-gather, and then surging out all over again. Their faces masked with handkerchiefs, they hurl stones, their eyes reflecting their rage. Scores have been shot and wounded; eight have died; a young man was chased across rooftops by the police he jumped to death.

Each death started making protestors more determined. And every one speaks just one language, “We are not going to be bullied by the valley anymore. Jammu wants a voice of its own. Jammu people will no longer tolerate oppression by Kashmiris”.

The day after the June 30 bandh, Jammu flared up with street marches and protest rallies. The authorities responded by clamping curfew in an effort to force people to remain indoors, till July 7. Women came out of their homes and dared the suppressive role of forces.

On July 7, the Congress-PDP government officially exited office; the next day the Sangharsh Samiti suspended its agitation, giving the governor a fortnight’s time to either have the land restored to the SASB or resign from office. “Vohra did neither. He only added fuel to the fire. He has been insensitive and his actions have only served to provoke the protesters.

Jammu province has 37 Assembly seats and two Lok Sabha constituencies. The Kashmir Valley has 46 Assembly seats and elects three Lok Sabha members of Parliament. Of the 37 assembly constituencies in Jammu Province, 25 have a Hindu majority population; the remaining 12 have a Muslim majority profile.

Vohra and his patrons in Delhi have ‘clearly underestimated the determination of Jammu’s long-suffering people who have had to cope with denial and deprivation for decades as, as is evident from experience of high attention and priority to the valley.

This explains what happened on July 22. Kuldeep Kumar Verma sacrificed his life for the cause of Jammu, more particularly for restoration of land to the Amarnath Shrine Board.

It was his way of registering his protest against Omar Abdullah’s speech in Parliament. He was incensed by the National Conference leader’s duplicity.

The police panicked. They forcibly took away Kuldeep’s body to his hometown, Bishnah, 15 km from Jammu, and ‘tried to cremate it using old tyres, kerosene oil and liquor’, as alleged by Sangharsh Samiti leaders. His widow Shilpi tried to prevent the cremation and raised a hue and cry. The police have been accused of ‘insulting, abusing and assaulting’ Shilpi to silence her. But a huge crowd gathered and snatched Kuldeep’s body from the police, which was taken to Jammu and it was then that the situation subsequently just went out of control.

Since then, protestors have gathered both force and speed. Curfew has been clamped in entire twin districts of Jammu and Samba. The Army has been called out. The Governor has been virtually forced to remain confined within the Raj Bhavan by protesters who continue to gather at the gates in large numbers with every passing hour. Vohra’s ‘eight-point formula’, which included ‘allowing’ the SASB to ‘maintain infrastructure during the yatra period’, to end the deadlock, has been spurned. The Sangharsh Samiti is adamant that it will settle for nothing less than restoration of the 800 kanals of land to the SASB for Hindu pilgrims.

Just how determined the protesters are can be gauged from the manner in which thousands of them laid siege to the airport after hearing that Dr. Farooq Abdullah of the National Conference (NC) and PDP President Mehbooba Mufti were flying in.

Since Friday night, the protests escalated and spread to virtually every corner of Jammu province. Protesters, defying curfew, have been relentlessly pouring out into the streets throughout the night, daring policemen and army personnel. Two men were shot dead, 35 were injured when the police fired on protesters ransacking the district magistrate’s office in Samba.

All trucks headed for Srinagar have been stopped by protesters at Samba and on the Jammu-Pathankot National Highway. No trucks are being allowed to enter Jammu from Srinagar. Kashmir’s Muslims could yet get to know what it feels like to be at the receiving end of popular mass fury, as opposed to the valley’s made-in-Pakistan rage.

It is typical of the political procrastination in the face of national crises that the violent disturbances in Jammu and Kashmir were allowed to rage for more than a month before the all-party meeting under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, was called to hammer out a consensus for tackling the situation.

However, the meeting attended by 39 parties was a welcome development in itself. It was made all the more heartening by the unanimous agreement, as per the media briefing by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, at the end of the four-hour-long meeting that ‘an environment must be created where the agitation could be suspended and the issues resolved through the process of dialogue.’

According to Home Minister Shivraj Patil, who was present at the briefing, the talks with the Shri Amarnath Sangarsh Samiti (SASS) and others concerned were to start ‘immediately’.

The high-level Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) participation in the meeting raises the hope of a solution emerging sooner rather than later. It is the common impression that that party is the main source of support and encouragement for the agitation, although it is claimed to be spontaneous, embracing all sections of the Hindu population of Jammu, and cutting across political affiliations.

Ajmer Alam Wani

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