As the ruling bipolar grouping gets into second year of its version 2.0, tensions are increasing within the small Muslim minorities scattered across Dogra heartland in Jammu plains. With NC, and now Congress being seen Kashmir-centric, the Parivaar seemingly has pushed its partner aside to experiment with the turf it represents. But the simmering discontent has the potential for a spillover to Kashmir if left unaddressed, reports Masood Hussain
“Nazar Kahien, Dil Kahien, Souch Kahien
Eak Shakhs Kis Kadr Taqseem Kargaya”
This unknown poet’s couplet, in a close-door unionist gathering in a remote Reasi village, was termed to be the apt two-liner on the minorities “surviving” in plains of Jammu, the epicenter of BJP mandate. They see their body-parts divided so haphazardly, as the couplet suggest, that they look at something different from what is in their heart and contrary to what their minds think.
For decades, the Muslim minorities in Dogra heartland claim they lived with not-so-equal status in the wider sphere of life and felt ignored. For the first time, now, they feel concerned. Part of the story, they attribute to their historic “loss” in the “&” of J&K. The new power structure in which BJP holds a major say has only induced this feeling. They say there is lack of concern and even empathy.
“For half of the year, Friday was important for us because the leaders (read chief minister and his Muslim cabinet colleagues) would come to Jamia Masjid and offer prayers with us,” one businessman and a senior PDP functionary in Jammu said, insisting it was a CBM too. “We did not see any of them offering prayers with us, this season. I do not know if they offer at all (prayers), now.”
Engineer Rashid, Langate’s noisy and newsy lawmaker attempted filling this gulf in January when he made a fiery speech in the backdrop of clashes in Kathua, after Friday prayers. But this voice lacks any authority to undo, what “power structure is doing”.
Unlike homogeneity and numbers in Chenab (Ramban, Kishtwar, Doda, Reasi) and Pir Panchal (Rajouri, Poonch) Valley’s, Muslim population in the rest of Jammu is scattered, small and exhibits its own ethnic and occupational diversity. Though Jammu region has 33.45 percent of its population as Muslim – 17,99,232 in the total population of 53,78,538, most of it is concentrated in Chenab and Pir Panchal Valley’s. The fact is that only 2,54,384 Muslims live in the Dogra heartland that is the political Jammu (not Jammu province) comprising Udhampur, Samba, Kathua and the Jammu city. Though it makes slightly more than eight percent, the fact is that almost half of them live in Jammu city alone.
Most of them, interestingly, belong to Scheduled Tribes: of 2,54,384 Muslims in these districts, Census 2011 suggests, 1,96,344 are STs, living in the periphery of towns. Since slightly more than two percent of the STs have access to government jobs, this population survives on raising herds, selling milk, various other diary product and bovines.
It is this very population that is normally in news, albeit for all the wrong reasons. The last they were in news was when assembly was in session. The location was Haria Chak, a dusky village, on the banks of strategic Chapp Nulla in Hiranagar (Kathua), not far away from the International Border (IB). The discovery of a severed cow head in the premises of a Gujjar family led to resentment among Hindus of the belt. They protested and led a procession to the village where they attacked some of the Gujjar houses. Police used tear smoke and opened fire as well that left many people injured.
Officials said it was basically the dispute between two Gujjar families and one of them used the cow-head to provoke Hindus to attack his ‘enemy’. They have arrested a couple of Gujjars, of whom, one is being formally arrested under Public Safety Act.
“We do not deny that the dispute is a fact and police acted accordingly,” Talib, a Gujjar leader said. “We want the police to take cognizance of the rest of the story that is being conveniently side-stepped like who involved the boy in using the cow-head, who among RSS guys opened fire and how police was in cohorts with the RSS.”
Quite a few Gujjars, may not be more than 50 families, inhibiting the belt. They allege that every time there is some tension in Srinagar, Gujjars become the target for no reason. “There is a person very close to cabinet minister Choudhary Lal Singh who is running this show since Bam Bam Bole agitation (2008) days,” another Gujjar, offering only his second name, Din, said. “With some of the Sarpanches around, he is involved in a series of attacks and crimes but is being protected by the police.”
“Gujjars are worst affected because they live in isolated areas far away from the roads and they are being evicted from everywhere,” Sajad Shaheen, Congressman who joined NC in 2014 and contested unsuccessfully from Banihal said. “This is happening for the first time in last more than 60 years that Gujjars are being pushed away from their ancestral habitats.”
There were a series of incidents in which the “encroachers” were evicted by the government since the North Pole – South Pole coalition took over. But the worst one was that of Sarore, that took place on
February 21, 2016. It was the time when the coalition was in hibernation after Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s demise. Located in Samba, not far away from Bari Brahmana, the incident was interestingly different and tragic too.
Cops from Himachal Pardesh raided the hamlet for they were looking for a dacoit. During searches, there were allegations of misbehaviour. Next day, cops came again, this time accompanied by members of saffron brigade. There was an altercation in follow up of which they set afire the entire hamlet. One of the young Gujjars Mohammad Yaqub, who had come from Vijaypur to see his wife and kids, was shot dead leaving behind a wailing widow and three orphans.
Locals allege that the action involving destroying 20 of the 30 Gujjar hutments was part of the poll promise that Chander Prakash Ganga had made during campaigning. Elders insist that the habitation was there since 1960s spread over 60 kanals of land. After Indo-Pak war in 1971, some refugees encroached part of it and eventually in 1977 the government divided the land between Gujjars and refugees equally. In 2016, a serious attempt was made to erase it.
Interesting is that wherever crowds fail, the development takes over. Expecting an attempt at their displacement, almost 204 Gujjar families living in Abdullah Basti (Rakh Brotian, Vijaypur) are tense these days. The government (read BJP) is keen to set up AIIMS on this land. This is despite sections within the Delhi bureaucracy are not so keen because of certain problems in the land mass.
The Gujjars living here have a painful historic baggage. They used to graze their herds in the vast and open pastures of Rangoor and Camoor belts. After twin Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971 when the government started settling the refuges, they were asked to settle on the banks of Ramgarh’s Devak river, village elders said. Eventually in 1979-80, this belt housed them permanently as a result of which Ballad, Chajwal, Chak Pandthayal, and Kadyal Khurd hamlets emerged on the map.
Though the belt is almost 20 kms away from the IB, the army in 1999 evicted them. Elders vividly remember how their kullahs (hutments) were set afire. They did not get any compensation for their eviction from Ramgarh, despite the fact that every household owned average 32 kanals of land. But they moved to this Rakh and were trying to settle that now they are facing the prospects of a new eviction.
The government earlier planned the AIIMS at a different place but then, one day, local elders say they were summoned by the local Deputy Commissioner suggesting them that they will be rehabilitated somewhere else as the “big hospital” is being set up here.
Residents say they put themselves at huge risk by staying put at the peak of 2008 agitation. Why we should move away now, they ask, insisting a top BJP minister is behind the move. The tensions are mounting. Among the worried is Rahim Ali, whose son Abdullah, was mowed down by cops in Saroore last winter. “No one is paying heed to our pleas and nobody is supporting us,” Ali said. “We are living on the mercy of Allah.”
Naeem Akhter, Education Minister, has given them a primary school recently. They have met the Chief Minster Mehbooba Mufti on eviction issue as well and are keeping the fingers crossed.
Undoing “encroachments” in Jammu has remained a key talking point of the right-wingers for many years now. Well before the Bam Bam Bole agitation on February 11, 2008, Prof Bhim Singh challenged a government order of June 10, 1998 ordering delineating 623 kanals and 10 marlas of forest land for setting up, what was called, Kashmiri Muslim Migrant Colony. The land had already been transferred to Jammu Development Authority (JDA) on May 23, 2002.
Singh took the ecology route to make his point. “Gandhinagar forests were destroyed,” Singh’s petition read. “The same happened at Trikutanagar and Bagh-e-Bahu. The area called Bithandi also met the same fate.” He alleged that former Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah misused his official position and transferred forest land to benami persons and later got the same land transferred in his name and that of his Ministers, party workers are rehabilitated.
But the ‘debate’ has not gone beyond “retrieving” patches from the periphery of the temple city, often ending up in stone-pelting, and loud-thinking for political reasons. Market forces, however, played a much bigger role in countering it entirely. Primarily, a huge Kashmir population spending part of the year in Jammu, wanted winter shelters before moving back home. So demand managed supply and the Jammu expanded. Secondly, most of this population is somehow linked to politics, power and decision-making. Thirdly, this floating population is a major contributor to the growth of real estate and trade.
“It is official that Jammu city has nearly 2,50,000 kanals of land under encroachers,” Shaheen said. “But whenever there is talk of encroachment, the usual reference is to nearly 20,000 kanals of land on which Majalta, Sidhra, Raieka, Sujwan, and Bathindi lives.” It is this area that is normally feeding the rightwing “demography debate” because this is mostly Muslim.
Kashmir turmoil has remained the key factor for well-to-do families to invest in alternative winter homes in Jammu. Unlike Jammu, thousands of Kashmiri families own two residences, in two capital cities. Harsha winters, the recurrent summer unrests, the last of three in 2016 summer, have accelerated the trend of owning an alternative shelter in Jammu or in Delhi, both for business and education of children. In last three years, there have been around 70,000 constructions in the “ring” on Jammu periphery. Rajouri will witness the same growth once Mughal Road gets a tunnel.
While there has been loud-think in the Parivaar, but not any untoward incident – not even at the peak of 2008. But even thought process has costs. The “scare” has nose-dived the real estate prices and not many new constructions were seen this fall.
“I survived miraculously that 1947 massacre and then fought against my memory to contribute in making of J&K,” said Mohammad Aslam, a retired officer living in the outer ring. “After investing whatever I had, I built a house and now I am face to face with a situation in which I see insecurity again.”
Not spoken loudly, however, there is a process of ghettoisation in place. The messy situation reflects itself in the traffic chaos in Bathindi and selective power outages in the areas offering heterogeneity to the winter capital. “It is a fact that Muslims have started living in ghettos,” admitted Waheed Para, a youth leader of ruling PDP. “There are nearly 700 Kashmiri families living in abysmal hygienic conditions in Bali Charan belt.”
“Tensions may or may not be there but atmospherics plays a role,” admitted a scribe, who wishes not be identified. “Farooq Khan, the founder of Task Force might be a towering BJP leader but it was unsaid insecurity after 2008 agitation that he sold his house in Greater Kailash locality and acquired a new one in Chowadi that has sizable Muslim presence including his relatives.” Khan was appointed Lieutenant Governor of the UT of Goa, last year.
While “demography debate” is alive and the accommodation of non state subjects (Sajjad Shaheen says 12000 non state subjects were rehabilitated by Raman Balla alone in his constituency and they all are voters) is uninterrupted; the government has not discouraged the process of affecting homogeneity in administration by doing away the diversity part. Now most of the patwaris, the basic land record keepers, in Jammu, are not Urdu knowing. In a cabinet meeting, a BJP minister stunned his colleagues by insisting that he can not have a “Muslim SP” in his district.
The minorities across Jammu region have mounting concern over the numbers of arms that under the garb of counter-insurgency have gone into the private hands. There are more than 27000 VDCs across the region, with every one having from five to eight members. In otherwise Muslim majority Ramban district, there are only 76 Muslims among 1395 VDC members. “Recently, a group of well-meaning professionals met me,” a young ruling party member said. “They had only one plea – if you can neither get us into VDC nor disarm them, why can not you give us gun licences?”
In such a situation the rise of cow needs no discussion. A sacred animal to Hindus and just a commodity for the rest of people, it triggered a serious crisis last Eid-ul-Azha, when Muslims offer animal sacrifices. There was scare around especially because the beef debate had become part of the judicial process.
“There was tension in Kashmir and scare here in Jammu over the animal sacrifices,” a senior businessman, who is also a political worker, said. “I found no option but to fly to Srinagar and manage meeting Syed Ali Geelani. I gave him details of the consequences if there were bovine sacrifices, especially cows. He understood the gravity of the issue and obliged us by issuing a statement and that saved the situation.”
“I appeal to the pro-freedom people that they should sacrifice animal according to the religious laws and the religious mood,” Geelani said in a statement on September 24. “However, there should be no attempt to use this sacred work for provocation or to hurt the sentiments of others.”
Crisis is felt at all levels. The stated aim of the incumbent government was to get Kashmir closer to Jammu, get Hindus closer to Muslims. But Omar Abdullah sees “the gap widened”. The reason: BJP being divisive sees polarization as the response to every challenge they face in governance! “Initially in 2014 assembly elections, they wanted to unite people under Mr Modi (but) that did not happen,” Omar said. “So the only places they benefited from where were they polarized the voter.” That is why division emerged as the policy.
Asrar Khan has served various Jammu districts in different capacities before joining politics post-retirement. “General perception here is that PDP is Kashmir centric party that lacks stakes in Jammu,” Khan said. “Seemingly, they have conceded the ground to BJP and are unwilling to intrude into BJP vote bank, even though all voters do not belong to BJP here.” Ultimately, Khan says, “Somebody will have to own the Gujjars and the Jammu Muslims which is “not impossible”. By Jammu, he means, political Jammu that skips Pir Panchal and Chenab Valley’s.
Political parties in Jammu have fallen victim to the perception that both NC and PDP are Kashmir-centric. The escape route to Congress could have had an appeal had there been some credible faces and a grand mix representing the socio-cultural diversity of the state. Of 12 Congress lawmakers in J&K assembly two are Buddhists from Ladakh and 10 are Muslims, all Kashmiri speaking!
In such a situation in which PDPs power sharing with BJP is creating a “compelling situation at ground zero”, Communist lawmaker Mohammad Yousuf Tarigmai says, “BJP must take care of Jammu Muslims”. Instead of banishing Gujjars from forests, Tarigami says that J&K must implement the law that gives them rights in the overall eco-system in which they have survived for decades.
Even the governance system feels the simmering discontent. “Gujjars have a perception that they are harassed and I see there are two clear issues they talk about,” a top cop mandate to understand the complexities on ground said. “One is bovine trade that is completely with the Gujjars and second is the undoing of temporary hutments they build for herds and themselves.”
The official said that the cow vigilantes have gone to a new high in enforcing the “smuggling” and their actions normally are quick and violent. Besides, he said, the “encroachments” are being “tackled” in belts in godforsaken areas where the Gujjars do not have significant presence or voice. “This is creating a psychological crisis for microscopic minorities and the news travels,” admitted the officer. “Government must not permit it to drift away the people.”
But ruling coalition is either escaping admission of reality or simply taking the appeasement route to strengthen the status quo. Jammu, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti told the assembly, has inherited the ideas and ideals that Kashmir was all about. “Be it Kashmiri Pandit, Sikh, Gujjar or a Muslim, Jammu accommodates and embraces them all,” Mufti said. “In Kashmir, people carry faces devoid of emotion and when they come to Jammu, they smile, they feel at ease, they feel breathing.”
“The real soul of Article 370 has gone missing from Kashmir and that spirit I see flowing on the Jammu streets,” she insisted. “A Pandit has a home, so has a Muslim. There is call for prayers from the mosque, and Bhajan from a temple as scriptures are being read from the Gurdwara. This is Article 370…. This was what was once happening in Mukhdoom Sahab but Kashmir has forgotten all this. Kashmir has grown intolerant.”
The undercurrents emanating from this situation are high-intensity tensions. BSF opened guns in Gool, killing four civilians in July 2013, and Kashmir was under curfew. A month later Kishtwar burnt on Eid in August, Kashmir remained under curfew for a week, again. In both instances, the political Jammu remained tension free.
This time when Delhi is also concerned that Kashmir should not rise up again this summer and has categorically stated that Pandit and Sainik colonies are not planned, should PDP stop its estrangement with the microscopic minorities in Jammu. “Mountain between Srinagar and Jammu block physical access and not emotional access,” Omar believes. “So where there is an emotional connection, there will be spillover.” Banihal, many people do not know, remained completely closed for 49 days in 2016.