Suryatapa Mukherjee,

Correspondent (Asia: South)


KISHTWAR – On Friday, August 9, the day of Eid, communal riots broke out in Kishtwar and Padder areas, killing three and injuring 30. Property damages are being estimated at around 65 shops, seven hotels and 35 vehicles. It led to the resignation of Sajjad Ahmad Kichloo, junior Home Minister in the Omar government and the Kishtwar MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly). The victims are to be compensated on the orders of the Supreme Court, and more than a hundred arrests have been made so far.

It started when Muslims began assembling for prayer on the morning of Eid, in Kishtwar. Within hours it turned into a battlefield of stone-pelting, gunfire and arson between Hindu and Muslim locals, reducing its two main bazaars to cinders. What and who started the riots is shrouded in mystery and speculative allegations continue.

An apathetic administration watched the developments mutely. Several police officers occasionally fired their guns and charged with sticks, which only fuelled the flame.

The death of one person in Padder Tehsil and another three suffering pellet injuries, indicate that shotguns given to Village Defence Committees (VDCs) had been used in the riots.

Kichloo did not impose curfew despite arson and looting to avoid being accused of spoiling Eid festivities. Curfew was imposed and army deployed at 7 pm. By then, the riots had spread northward to Padder, southwards to Jammu – the winter capital of Indian-administered-Kashmir – and its suburbs. The next day, violence spread to Reasi and Rajouri areas in the region.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday, August 13, ordered the Jammu & Kashmir chief secretary Suresh Kumar to file an affidavit giving details of steps taken by the state to control the situation in the aftermath of the communal clashes, which is to be completed by August 21.

“We have arrested over 100 people from Jammu and 11 from Kishtwar so far,” said Suresh Kumar, Principal Secretary of Home in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Supreme Court ordered that families of the deceased be paid Rs. 5 lakh and those injured get up to Rs. 2 lakh from the government.

“People have suffered losses of lakhs of rupees, and many have been rendered jobless. The government has mocked us by offering the paltry sum of Rs. 2 lakh as compensation,” said Kishtwar Sanatan Dharma Sabha chief Han Raj.

The Amarnath yatra was resumed after the 225 pilgrims were stranded for three days in the area.

Tension is not new in the hills of Jammu & Kashmir but many say that this outburst was to be expected keeping in mind the recent developments. It could be said to have started when a Muslim girl was raped by the relative of a VDC (Village Defence Committee) member and three others. It was followed by the arrest of a VDC man turned police inspector Shiv Krishan Sharma alias Sonu suspected of faking encounters and arms seizures, becoming a terror among the Muslims, and running a militant module. A teenage boy was mysteriously killed in Doda.

The VDCs were created as counter-insurgency bodies and extensively armed by the government in the 1990s when militancy had broken out in the area.  But as militancy waned over the years, some of the VDC members started extortion and extra judicial killings. With over 95 percent of their members drawn exclusively from the Hindu community, holding official licenses to kill in the name of counter-insurgency has ensured the religious polarization.

Six Muslim boys in Gool were killed by Indian paramilitaries and the police during Ramadan, when locals surrounded the 76 Border Security Force battalion camp and pelted stones, after a religious leader was detained by the BSF personnel for offering prayers late at night and rumours circulated alleging a copy of the Koran had been desecrated.

Five days before the August 9 riots, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah, addressing a crowd after sectarian violence in Budgam, said, “Elements behind (sectarian) tension expand their activities as soon as elections draw nearer. They want to polarise society, create conflicts between various sections, sects, faiths, regions and castes, keeping an eye on votes.”

(with inputs from agencies)

Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons (KashmirGlobal)