Reigniting Kashmir

Syed Zafar Mehdi feels the Indian armed forces fan sectarian conflicts within the region when they want to divert attention away from their own misconduct

kashmirpostThe last few weeks have been particularly distressing for Kashmir. It started with the mindless massacre of unarmed protestors by trigger-happy Indian forces in Ramban district of Indian-occupied-Kashmir. The people were staging a peaceful demonstration against the desecration of mosque and Holy Quran by Indian forces when they were showered with bullets. As the bereaved people were mourning their dead, sectarian clashes broke out in Central Kashmir’s Budgam district, where Shia and Sunnis have lived in peace and harmony for centuries. What started as a minor altercation between two sumo drivers in a small non-descript village called Galwampora tucked between Bemina and Budgam, soon snowballed into major group clashes involving Shias and Sunnis from all the adjoining areas.

One of the drivers was a Shia, a resident of Bemina, who I have played cricket with. The other was a Sunni from the village Galwampora. According to privy reports, former was bashed up after the altercation in Galwampora. He came back to his village and told his friends about the incident. The same day, they intercepted a tipper (which belonged to Galwampora) at Bemina and beat up the driver. The next day, people in Galwampora stopped a tipper in their area (which belonged to Bemina) and did exactly same. Soon, the word spread, mischief-mongers got into play, leading to fierce group clashes between Shias and Sunnis in Khomeini Chowk, Dooru, Sebdan, Galwampora, Narkara, Ompora and other adjoining areas. Public announcements were made from loudspeakers in some mosques in Ompora and Narkara that Shias had attacked Sunnis, burnt their houses and shops and beaten up women and children. At that point, there was no truth to it. It was a conspiracy to pit people against each other. We know whose mischief it was, who was trying to create a rift, who wanted to fan the flames, and who wanted to shift the focus away from Ramban killings to petty sectarian clashes.

The civil administration was in blissful slumber until the clashes spilled to many parts of the Budgam district. There was no police and no official from district administration to douse the flames. According to sources, police contingents arrived late and did nothing. Even as hundreds got injured and houses were ransacked in many parts of Bemina, police did nothing. They let the tensions escalate.

The trouble mongers who instigated people to attack each other had a sinister agenda, so naturally they had full backing of police. As the days passed, the tensions escalated and clashes erupted in other parts as well. Then, perhaps as a face wash, curfew was imposed in the affected areas. Despite the restrictions, the miscreants, with overt and covert support of police, still managed to wreak havoc in many areas of Budgam like Dahpora, Naslapora, Dadina, Koolipora, Pymus, Dandoosa, Paris Abad, Garend Kalan etc.

The role of police has been particularly shameful. On Tuesday, people protested after an elderly woman, 58 year old Fatima Begum, was hit on her head with the gun butt at Dadina, a shia locality in Budgam. At the time of writing this, she is battling for the life in hospital. Police reportedly barged into many houses in some villages of Budgam and bashed up people. Many people were arrested and interrogated.

In the ensuing clashes, hundreds have been injured, women and children have been attacked, shops and houses have been set ablaze, and the madness continues. Many of my friends and acquaintances are either admitted in hospitals or languishing in police custody. And nobody will question the role of civil administration and police in letting the pot boil and instigating the majority to crush minority. Our very own Praveen Swami, in his characteristic style, gave both the administration and police a clean chit in his venomous First Post piece, shifting the blame on Lashkar e Toiba and Tableegi Jamaat. He wants us to believe that low-grade sectarian skirmishes in Kashmir have been for decades, even centuries, and predicts the doom for the community. It is not even funny, it is outright lame.

The timing of these clashes is suspect. Many people see the hand of shadowy government forces behind it, who want to shift the focus away from Ramban killings by stoking the Shia-Sunni flames and sowing the seeds of discord. “There is little doubt that an alleged scuffle between two drivers of commercial vehicles leading to a major sectarian clash in Kashmir is not something spontaneous and happening on its own free will and trajectory, such a sectarian clash, has often been sought to be engineered in Kashmir,” writes a senior journalist Najeeb Mubarki on his Facebook page. He is seconded by a Kashmiri research scholar Gowhar Fazili. “Following collective mass protests in one voice against the desecration of Quran and bloody military excess on people in Ramban that spread across the three artificial colonial divisions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, threatening the very edifice of occupation; we have these sudden sectarian skirmishes between Shias and Sunnis. This seems to provide a fine diversion from the pressing issue of impunity and creeping militarization at hand that affects us all equally regardless of our sectarian identities or political orientation.”

This is not the first time such a non-existent conflict has been engineered by vested interests working for various intelligence agencies in Kashmir. “I remember even in 1980s’ whenever the government was under threat, it would engineer a Shia-Sunni, Sher-Bakra and Pandit-Muslim conflicts and then intervene to rescue the people from themselves,” writes Fazili in his small, incisive Facebook note. Just last year, when people of Kashmir were coming to terms with Pir Dastgeer Sahib shrine tragedy, a sufi shrine that caught fire quite mysteriously, another shocking incident was reported from a small village called Gundhasi Bhat where some ‘shadowy’ miscreants torched Holy Book and Alam Sharif (a sacred relic for Shia Muslims).

The sequence of events was not just tragic but deeply disturbing. How did the fire erupt? Why did the fire tenders arrive late? Why did the government sleep over warnings on the vulnerability of wooden shrines, and fail to put up fire extinguishers at these shrines? There were many uncomfortable questions for the government to answer. All the people, cutting across sects and communities, were asking these questions, so it was a desperate attempt to stoke sectarian flames and pit people against each other. The shrine of Sheikh Sayed Abdul Qadir Jeelani (RA), popularly known as Pir Dastgeer Sahib, was constructed in 1806 and housed the rare relics of this world-famous Sufi saint. It was more than an architectural wonder and a 200-year heritage site for the people in Kashmir. It was a silent and powerful witness to Kashmir’s turbulent history.

The latest shocking news coming is about a brutal murder of a local Sunni Imam’s two little children in Bemina. The mischief-mongers know where the fingers would be pointed and that is what they want. These are shamefully desperate attempts by the hydra-headed monsters who want to see people from different communities and sects in Kashmir bay for each other’s blood. When a popular movement poses an existential threat to the ruling establishment, they resort to such dastardly acts, creating a nonexistent conflict between people and communities and pitting them against each other. Clearly the aim is to create a wedge among people, divide them on sectarian lines, and deflect their attention from the bigger issues and bigger struggle against a military occupation.

Many of our political and religious leaders, who otherwise don’t miss an opportunity to preach lessons of unity and brotherhood, have kept mum on this latest round of engineered sectarian frenzy. Some, however, have tried to score a few brownie points by asking government to deploy military forces in the affected areas, thus asking for trouble. We have already seen how government used its police force to instigate mobs to attack each other and keep the pot boiling. Police sleuths attacked and ransacked many houses belonging to minority Shias in some parts of Budgam district yesterday. Why would people now trust the military, which only follows the orders from above, and expect ‘protection’ from them? Who would be responsible if they make the matters only worse?

It is a time of reckoning for our leaders and clerics to act wisely and keep people informed about the maneuverings and machinations of trouble-mongers. It is not the time to take potshots, or indulge in blame games. The onus lies on youth to create communication channels and douse the flames. Numbers don’t count, we have to prove that we are one community, who follow one God, one prophet, one Quran, and pray towards the same Kaabah. “There is no benefit in the majority of your numbers if there is lack of unity in your hearts,” says Imam Ali (as) in his masterpiece Nahjul Balagha. The book of guidance Holy Quran enjoins us to come forward and be the change makers. “And let there arise out of you a group inviting to all that is good, enjoining the good and forbidding the evil. And it is they who are successful.” (Al-Imran, 3:104)

It is important to have respect and mutual accord, because there are bigger battles to be won. In the words of 13th century Persian poet-mystic Jalal u-din Muhammad Rumi, “realize that your inner sight is blind and try to see a treasure in everyone.” That is the least we can do in this blessed month. And it is equally important to remain vigilant and careful. Falling into the trap is the last thing we want. To borrow the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “Pit race against race, religion against religion, prejudice against prejudice. Divide and conquer! We must not let that happen here.” We will not let that happen.

The writer is a Kashmiri journalist, blogger and activist, based in New Delhi. He tweets at @mehdizafar

7 Responses to “Reigniting Kashmir”
  1. deep says:

    You are right – It is not the time to take potshots, or indulge in blame games. – It is time to introspect. I would request you to listen to one LEJ session on youtube and you will have an inkling of the hatred preached from pulpits – blaming the security forces is convenient and does not bode well for your future.

  2. ramanan says:

    To all readers of the fridaytimes,

    I am not for a moment saying that our security forces are saints I want you to exclusively focus on the tone and tenor of this article written for Pakistani audience. It is a travesty and would be laughable if it were not deadly, to suggest that Indian security forces instigate shia-sunni clashes The ruling dispensation is local The Indian Army is not forcing upon the people of Kashmir like Frontier Constabulary is dong in Baluchistan It has little or no connect with the local populace. It is hard to imagine any Indian army officer having enough purchase with the locals so that he can ‘instigate’ such large scale rioting This is a classic case of a ‘conspiracy’ mongering for which Pakistan is famous for If at all it has to be the local administration and the local police Why will they do so , unless they themselves have sectarian beliefs It is not that they want to hand over parts of Kashmir to the Army or BSF. Therefore look for the demon where it really is. Rank communal reportage such as this should not find a place in ‘The Friday Times’ , this belongs more to ‘the nation’ . The Indian state will never instigate shia-sunni clashes It has not done anywhere in the last 65 years. Pray , do you need any outsider to ‘instigate’, a visit to is enough to know. This makes Indians like me loose hope in Islam and muslims and that is the tragedy. As for the BSF excesses, there may be truth in the matter. Again to say that they are desecrating the Quran is a little far fetched. We are not trained to desecrating any religious book in any form. Muslims must first shed this complex of viewing everything thru religion. Certainly the author is incapable of this . To think he is living and working as a journalist in New Delhi ……………………..

  3. haider says:

    sir, these riots have opened our eyes, seeing how police supported rioters, & how army helped to save our lives and property, v r safe as an indian.

  4. Faisal says:

    “Pit race against race, religion against religion, prejudice against prejudice. Divide and conquer…..”

    Ok, isn’t that exactly how Pakistan was created in 1947?

  5. zarqa says:

    Thorough analysis and clear articulation. It reminds me of one of the pearls of wisdom of Maula Ali (a), which goes somewhat as, “Our enemies are not the Jews or the Christians. Our enemy is our own ignorance.”

    If we, as a nation, as an Ummah, fail to recognize the indispensable importance of standing united, standing firmly together against all odds and tribulations, then our perilous ignorance would continue to serve as fodder for the insatiable bellies of the Zionists and their allies. May God have mercy on us all!

  6. raji says:

    yes, indian army is killing shias from syria to pakistan…

  7. reena malhotra says:

    All kashmiri youth if they care for muslims should settele within india, because no one needs their supprort more than the indian muslims.Its not about what country they support or which religion they support. its all about the kind of mentality u support. please look how these west pakistani behaved to the bangladeshi’s.Please do notice that how much muslims in india will become powerful if kasmir becomes the first MUSLIM DOMINATED state on india

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