The Otherside of the River

Jammu and Kashmir: ‘The Pain of Invisible Wound’*

Gautam Navlakha

It is not only Indian establishment which turns coy when confronted with facts which shows the Indian State exhibiting communal bias but even the media and commentators, indeed even radical rhetoric mouthing Indians, tend to stay away from truth that stares at them where Kashmir is concerned. One illustration was the manner in which the media reported the Kishtwar "rioting" on August 9th, 2013 and underplayed the dastardly role of the Village Defense Committees and Special Police Officers. The incident related to the attack by right wing Hindu extremists on Muslims going to offer Id prayers at Chogam in Kishtwar on August 9th, 2013. Most newspapers next day reported the incident as triggered by "pro-Azaadi" slogans and posters of Afzal. Some reported that Muslims were shouting "anti-national slogans". However, people going to Chogam from villages around Kishtwar (Bandirna, Hullar, Kuleed etc came under attack from members of VDC in Hussad, a village in Padder area north of Kishtwar. There were many casualties. Subsequent to this incident rioting broke out because for some strange reason there were few security personnel at Chogam. In fact during the entirety of Ramzan last year masked men struck pelting stones on the houses of Muslims and several incidents of opening fire. Signals of brewing tension went un-noticed. The involvement of VDC members was reported by most eye-witnesses. In sorms cases even names were provided of the attackers who could be recognized.

A press statement issued by J&K Coalition of Civil Society in May-June 2013 shared the composition of Village Defense Committees and Special Police Officers on the basis of information elicited by them using the RTI. Unfortunately, Indian media scrupulously ignored this (including the venerable EPW). The data shows the following: In Kishtwar out of 3287 VDCs no less than 3174 are Hindus i.e. they comprise nearly 97% of the total. In Doda out of 6521 as much as 5874 or 91% are Hindus. And in Ramban out of 2901 ninety three percent or 2697 are Hindus. And they continue to be armed and receive honorarium/salary. Their numbers make the 'institutional bias' (euphemism for preference and patronizing of Hindutva elements by authorities) clear. Such is the extent of promotion of communalization in J&K that 90 percent of the armed members of the Village Defense Committees in Doda district, (with 60-40% Muslim-Hindu ratio) are Hindus. How many of them are members of extreme Hindu right wing is anybody's guess. But that such persons were recruited in large number is not hidden from anyone.

JKCCS also found that out of 865 SPOs who receive money from the government in Kishtwar 97.5% or 844 were Hindus and 21 or 2.5% were Muslims! The figures for Doda and Ramban were no different. Thus in Doda out of 1729 who received honorarium/salary 1603 are Hindus and only 126 or 7.28% are Muslims. In Ramban too out of 177 being paid as VDCs /SPOs only one was Muslim, rest Hindus.

VDCs and SPOs in counter insurgency parlance are "irregulars" who operate and are patronized and protected by the Indian security forces. They were provided training by the Rashtriya Rifles, BSF and SOG. This enabled the authorities to pass off heinous crimes committed by their "irregulars" as due to internecine fight between militants or simply deny any involvement of official agencies. The role of the authorities in carrying out a policy of arming Hindus in districts of Jammu where Hindus were said to be minority and recruitment of extreme right wing Hindutva organizations has been noted for instance in the pages of EPW citing evidence available in the public domain. But Indian Express (August 15, 2013) reported Farooq Abdullah as telling the Union cabinet meeting that when VDCs and SPOs were recruited their antecedents and affiliations were not verified. In the same meeting former Home Minister P Chidambram told his cabinet colleagues that according to intelligence agencies Bajrang Dal was involved in stoking communal violence. But they were being parsimonious with facts.

A remarkable article in 1992 by a member of a video magazine recounted his impressions of Kashmir and quoted an Army officer as telling him: "In war time we hype up our troops saying they are the enemy because they are Muslims. How much do you think we can tone it down in peace time?" ['They call it over-reaction', Savyasachi Jain, The Economic Times (Delhi) 5th January, 1992].

According to The Pioneer (16th June 1997) a BSP MLA had described VDCs in Doda (Kishtwar was then part of Doda district) as "professional gangs indulging in loot and plunder". For instance in Kishtwar on April 19, 1998 Abdul Qayoom, Ghulam Qadir, Abdul Ghani and Ghulam Mustafa were beaten to death by a RSS led mob at Karara near Doda on NH-1. The four were allegedly killed inside a BSF camp. Some police personnel and members of civil administration led a mob of Hindu fanatics in the murderous attack on a Muslim procession in Kishtwar town, on 12 August, 2008 in which three persons lost their lives while they were protesting killing of civilians in Kashmir.

Those on the ground knew, therefore, exactly who were to be selected and what came in handy was the complete trivialization of minority-majority discourse where Hindus are projected as a beleaguered minority in J&K when every indice actually shows that to characterize Hindus as minority deflects attention from the fact that a predominately non-Muslim security force and officialdom controlled by a predominately Hindu Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Defence is placed in control of J&K. So what kind of minority do the Hindus of J&K make when in the entirety of India they are about 80%. Their presence in security forces is far in excess to their population. What is strange is also how easy it was for the agencies and apparatus of the Indian State to think of arming Hindus in Jammu whereas even the suggestion that Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims, who face the brunt of State's perfidious actions, attacks of majoritarian bigots, and are always at the receiving end of the intrinsic societal bias against them are never considered for similar treatment anywhere in India. But in J&K the State had no hesitation in arming the Hindus. This when the official death toll of Muslims and Hindus in J&K establishes that compared to 1500 deaths of non-Muslims between 1989-2013 no less than 80,000 Muslims died and overwhelming majority at the hands of security forces. The egregious nature of crimes committed against Kashmiri Muslims resulted in enforced disappearance, rape as policy, torture, massacres, catch and kill, shoot to kill, etc. This fact itself rubbishes the minority-majority discourse fancied by the Indian State and its acolytes. Indeed it ignores that Hindus, even if they were fewer than Muslims in numbers, were not a persecuted minority. Unlike the Muslim minority in India which is both beleaguered, persecuted and dis-privileged.

The argument advanced by authorities for primarily arming the Hindus were the massacres of Hindus by alleged militants in Jammu region. It was claimed that 'minorities' i.e. Hindus were feeling unsafe and insecure. It is undeniably true that militants belonging to Lashkar i Toiba/Jaish-i-Mohammed did carry out many a heinous act. However, it is equally true that many of massacres were perpetrated by renegade militants working for the Indian State. In addition large number of cases of massacres took place at the hands of Indian security forces in Kashmir. Such massacres raise an elementary question. If Hindus had to be armed because they were facing attacks from alleged Muslim militants then what were Muslims of Kashmir to do when they were faced with massacres at the hands of the Indian government forces? In fact in 1996 when Hurriyet leaders were being targeted by the renegades and they asked authorities for arms for self-defense, the authorities which had set up VDCs in Jammu refused the same to Hurriyet leaders. (Tribune, 12th January, 1996) In fact the then state Home Secretary rejected appeal by the National Conference to disarm the renegades by claiming that they are involved in counter-insurgency operations and need arms for their own protection. (The Hindustan Times, 5th September, 1996). What is more in last two decades and more Kishtwar remained a communally volatile place where Hindu right wingers enjoyed patronage of internal security apparatus. This fact itself mocked the ridiculous argument of the authorities which justified arming of Hindus as meant to "protect" minorities when the so-called minority had the 600,000 soldier strong counter-insurgency apparatus as their protector.

If one leaves polemics aside a more serious issue rears its head. When VDCs were constituted in 1995, J&K was directly ruled by New Delhi. Not that it mattered that in 1996 a supposedly civilian representative government came to power through a sham election, they dared not to disband the VDCs and SPOs. Verily they had no authority to dismantle or even tinker with "internal security grid". What’s strange is the repeated declarations that militancy now is at an all time low and the index of insecurity, which decides the level of threat, measured by number of incidents, death toll, infiltration all are lower than sub-critical. For instance, Union Minister of Defence told Lok Sabha on 6th August, 2013 that in 2012 there were 50 incidents in which 15 soldiers died and 65 injured. Number of militants fell to 91 and the J&K. police claimed that there were 52 indigenous militants in the Valley of which 10 were killed and 1 was arrested whereas number of 'foreign militants' were 39. And according to senior officials of Indian para military forces Kashmir is now considered a "Peace posting". If these figures and "peace" reigns are authentic indicator of ground reality then what justifies the presence of 600,000 security forces, including thousands of VDCs, SPOs and SOG?

So obvious has been the patronage extended to the right wing groups in Jammu that it is astonishing that otherwise sensitive people have in all these years not once spoken out against permission granted to Bajrang Dal and VHP to hold weapon training camps in Jammu, brandish their weapons publicly in a Disturbed Area.... All this knowing well that violation of Arms Act in a "Disturbed" area, carrying out rallies wielding guns and other weapons and shouting offensive slogans meant to provoke non-Hindus all this carried on un-interrupted. These goon squads know that they would not be harmed. On October 26,1992 bomb explosion took place in Ranbir High Secondary School in Jammu. According to the police it was allegedly the handiwork of Sunil Kaul and Sumesh Bhan who were working with Kashmiri "subversives". In other words these two were accused of working for militants in Kashmir at a time when the official narrative patronized by the right wing claim of Kashmiri Pandit's "ethnic cleansing" by the militants!

In early nineties there were a number of news reports from Jammu region about the involvement of number of Hindu right wing groups implicated in number of cases of bomb blasts or accidents inside ashrams/temples/residences. These stories were never pursued and official data scrupulously ignored these crimes as though they did not exist. It is against this background that raising of VDCs and selection of SPOs is located. The 'good' people chose to look the other way when Shiv Sainiks and Bajrang Dal habitually disrupted and engaged in fisticuffs at press conferences held by leaders of the movement for 'azadi' in Jammu city. In fact this reached its high point in 2008 when Hindutva brigade with the help of security and intelligence authorities went ahead and imposed embargo against Valley to starve the people of daily necessities. Let alone economic embargo being an act of "war" and unlike the Valley where people were being shot dead right wing Hindutva groups in Jammu were allowed to operate freely and to lynch, burn and loot because they were "nationalists force". Recall Governor of J&K, LT General SK Sinha famously said that nationalist raised tricolor whereas anti nationals raised Pakistani flag. So as long as one waived tricolor and carried out crimes the goons would be considered patriotic. But woe befall anyone who raises green flag as mark of their opposition to forced union with India. (This is reminiscent of what notorious police officer IG of police Kalluri had declared that anyone waiving red flag in Bastar is a traitor because Maoists waive red flag).

The report of the Interlocutors, ostensibly a major initiative of the UPAII 'A New Compact with the People of Jammu and Kashmir' in 2012 while rejecting the argument of discriminatory treatment of Jammu in terms of financial allocations, and establishing that Jammu has benefitted most, failed to point out that the five Muslim majority districts of Jammu region remain more deprived and suffer from neglect in all likelihood due to their demographic character.

Therefore, the interlocutors could have addressed the issue of majority and minority in J&K. Hindus are considered minority in J&K unmindful of the fact that in India they are an overwhelming majority. Even within this game of majority and minority the character changes at state, region, sub-region, district level; Hindu "minority" in Kashmir is a majority in Jammu! If in overall sense of J&K Muslims outnumber non-Muslims, whereas in Indian context the picture changes dramatically. Besides, all top echelons of the administration are mostly manned by non-Muslims and military is predominately non-Muslim. Indeed despite the fact that Muslims comprise 67% of the population their representation in the state police is a low of 41%! In other words even in a Muslim majority state where Hindus comprise 30% or so they make up 59% of the police force! So while interlocutors warned about the danger of 'communal polarization' they neglected one of the main props of this communalization namely the security forces and administration. In short the Indian state.

It may be that to most Indians military suppression in J&K is history. But this is a brutal and lived experience of people. Treating Indian army or para military forces as 'holy cow' or praising them for gallantry may be politic for weak kneed, but fighting 'one's own people', to kill, torture, rape, disappear is both ignoble and cowardly. As part of counter-insurgency creating or exploiting divisions among Muslims such as Shia-Sunni or Sufi Islam versus Wahabi Islam, has not gone unnoticed by Kashmiris and if the machinations of agencies to play on these divisions were stalled or foiled the credit goes to the much maligned 'hardliners', the Muslim fundamentalists of Indian 'secular' nightmare. Or the fact that the very people Indian authorities patronized, from self-appointed Sharia Court of Mufti Bashiruddin to the Wahabis, were the very same who for instance campaigned against Christians in J&K 2013. So the role of the state must occupy the centre of the discourse. For instance, by promoting Islamists who are anti-movement, Maulana Showkat Shah of Jamiat Ahl i Hadeeth had declared in 2008 stone pelting to be anti-Islam something which endeared him to the establishment, and going overboard safeguarding interests of Hindus in J&K by patronizing rabid Hindu chauvinists, authorities play both end of the divide; Hindu-Muslim and Muslim-Muslim.

While articulation of Muslim-ness could still be explained and understood, when people are reeling under military oppression. What cannot be brushed away is the State sponsored and patronized Hindu majoritarian activities. In other words pick up any 'stone' in Kashmir and it will turn up some startling truths which Indian State and Society so desperately try to suppress. There is a proverbial story that explains it. Hari Parbat in Srinagar has been under military occupation since insurgency began in 1990. On April 18, 2007 the doors of the fort were thrown open to public only to be closed within 24 hours because members of press found that whereas the temple and gurdwara located inside had been refurbished the mosque remained in ruins! It was explained away by the BSF saying that soldiers worshipped in temple and gurudwara and therefore these were restored whereas there were no Muslim soldiers and therefore the mosque remained in a decrepit state. There was no notice taken of this by the media and secularists. Hari Parbat remains closed to public.

Because the single biggest issue is the communalization that Indian State has brought about which is a story waiting to be told.

*Nelson Mandela spoke of "Few things are as painful as an invisible wound".

Vol. 47, No.11-14, Sep 21 - Oct 18 2014