Jammu and Kashmir - The Country Without a Post Office


Since the dawn of independence, Kashmir is the main cause of disagreement between India and Pakistan. The only difference today from what it was in 1947 is, that the state seems to be more divided and communalized. Regular attempts by both countries took place to resolve the dispute through various means: from bilateral talks, wars and state sponsored militancy but the crisis sustained as the major source of tension and dispute between them. Today the divide among the Hindu and Muslim communities has enormously widened up in the region, credit goes to the intensified promotion of religious politics by major political parties from both sides. When one side desires to justify the 'Two Nations theory' that emphasizes that Muslims and non-Muslims cannot live together, the other side promotes jingoistic nationalism and demands Muslims to be treated as second-class citizens. Religious sentiments are repetitively injected to both communities, as it is a well-known fact that religion is the only topic that can easily rouse the ordinary people to fight against each other. History confirms again and again the famous Karl Marx maxim "Religion is the opium of the masses". An elderly Muslim shopkeeper in Udarana, a mixed Hindu-Muslim village near the town of Bhaderwah, expresses this enormous divide "Now we hardly visit each other's homes or patronize each other's shops. ...We really don't have love in our hearts for each other." From the early nineties, Hindu-Muslim relations have rapidly been diminished in the state.
Jammu and Kashmir's first political party, the 'Muslim Conference' was founded in 1932 with Shaikh Abdullah as its President. While a student at Aligarh Muslim University, Shaikh Abdullah was influenced by liberal and progressive ideas. He became convinced that the feudal system existing in the land was to blame for the miseries of Kashmir, which was ruled in an oppressive and autocratic manner by a Hindu monarchy. 'Muslim Conference' changed its name to 'National Conference' in 1938 on the objective to create a broader platform and allow people from all communities to join the struggle against the monarchy of Maharaja Hari Singh. At the time of partition, when the Maharaja was hesitating over the choice of acceding either to India or to Pakistan, Shaikh Abdullah supported India. He was appointed Prime Minister of Kashmir on March 17, 1948. Until the monarchy existed, most Muslims in the region were landless laborers. Along with the Dalits, they were also treated as untouchables by the 'upper' caste Hindus. Under Shaikh Abdullah, radical land reforms were introduced in the state, through which sharecroppers, mainly Muslims and Dalits, got land previously owned by Rajput and Brahmin landlords. His effort made him a hugely popular mass leader. In 1953, the Indian government betrayed Shaikh Abdullah by sacking him from the Prime Minister's post. He was accused for conspiring against the State and jailed from 1953 to 1975. Meanwhile, the Indian Constitution, vide Article 370 had granted a special status to the state guaranteeing it autonomy except for defense, foreign affairs and communications. After his release, he had sworn in as the Chief Minister in 1977 with a massive mandate. For the next five years, until the death of Shaikh Abdullah in 1982, Jammu and Kashmir was politically calm and stable. The separatist movement in the Kashmir Valley restarted from April 1988. The movement gathered momentum through a close nexus between Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and Pakistan, which reached its peak in the mid nineties. The present controversy on the Amarnath Shrine Board land transfer and the subsequent incidents must be read based on this history.
Amarnath Shrine Board land transfer fiasco
The Amarnath Caves are one of the most famous Hindu shrines located in the Himalayas at the altitude of 12,760 feet. The caves are about 88 miles away from Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir (Jammu is the winter capital). It is one of the most significant pilgrimage destinations for the Hindus and attracts about 400,000 pilgrims (Yatri) every year. In the year 2000, the 'Shri Amarnath Shrine Board' was set up to take care of the pilgrims passage (Yatra) to the caves that was previously conducted jointly by tourism department of the state government and Dharamarth Trust. The Yatra and Yatris were largely assisted by the local people of the region, who are Muslims. Apart from the obvious gesture of religious harmony, the Amarnath Yatra is also economically important for the local people.
On 26 May 2008, the Congress-led coalition government of Jammu and Kashmir decided to transfer 100 acres of forestland to the 'Shri Amarnath Shrine Board' to set up temporary shelters and facilities for the pilgrims. The government decision snowballed into a huge public outcry in the Kashmir valley. During protests, six people were killed and 100 injured in police firing at Srinagar. The coalition partner PDP pulled out its support and the government was reduced to a minority. Keeping in mind the coming state election and under pressure from different quarters, the government revoked the order on 1 July. Immediately, violent counter protests sparked off in the Jammu region spearheaded by 'Shri Amarnath Yatra Sangharsh Samiti', a conglomeration of several Hindu chauvinist groups but with a large mass support. Here also at least three people were killed by police firing. Questions are raised by the 'Samiti', which was formed around the Hindu sentiment, that if the decision to transfer the land was revoked after the protests in the Kashmir region, why not it is further restored after the more aggressive Jammu counter protests? On 7 July, Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad resigned after losing the trust vote in the state assembly and Governor's rule was imposed in the state.
In this political chaos, the role of the PDP (Jammu and Kashmir People's Democratic Party) was the most to condemn. The decision to transfer the forestland to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board was a unanimous cabinet decision cleared by the state forest ministry and the deputy chief minister, both top notches from the PDP leadership. PDP president Mehbooba Mufti's remark that she came to know about the decision only from newspaper reports were a full-size lie. The fact is that the PDP leadership could not foresee the huge public protests following the order and when the situation turned worst did a volte-face to safeguard its political ambitions in the coming election. After the government revoked the land transform order, PDP started demanding a credit for it. This is a clear example of the politics of opportunism being played by political parties jeopardizing the life of the ordinary people of Jammu and Kashmir.
The aftermath
The present turmoil has clearly shattered the myth of Jammu and Kashmir as a single entity. The deep-rooted religious and social divide prevailing in the region is entirely exposed now as a 'Jammu versus Kashmir' dispute. In the Jammu region, the Muslims are a minority compared to Kashmir where the Muslims are the majority. Therefore, while protesters in Jammu enforced an economic blockade of the Kashmir Valley by stopping traffic on the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway, on 11 August separatist leaders of the Kashmir region instigated a march to Muzaffarabad (the capital of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir referred as PoK) bypassing Jammu. The intention was to explore new trading options by crossing the Line of Control, the temporary border dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan. The march violated the imposed curfew, clashed with the security forces leading to ten more deaths including All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz. The polarization in the state became absolute and there is no space of suppleness visible from either side now.


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