Symbolic March not enough

A superficial patch-up exercise won’t and can’t work for long
The peace rally in Kishtwar, followed by the lifting of day curfew, may help in easing the situation and restoring the confidence of the people, if not in terms of inter-community relations but to some extent in the government. However, trouble in Kishtwar is far from over and the discordant voices coming from this landlocked region reveal that the peace rally had at best a limited scope of damage control at the superficial level. The wounds of communal polarization are known to go too deep and when it leads to a dance of death and destruction, the damage at the foundational level is too monumental to be treated only at the top surface with the cosmetic whitewash of an all party delegation walking through the streets of this obscure town, following meetings with select groups from both communities. The opposition to the enforced peace and the manner in which the all party delegation proceeded demonstrates the irritants that continue to exist on both sides of the communal divide. The main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party, which boycotted the delegation, has already cast aspersions on the selective nature of the meetings and the hand-picking of groups that the delegation met during its three day stay in Kishtwar. At least two groups, one representing the Hindu community and the other representing the Muslims, have already voiced their reservations to the cosmetic peace and called for far more serious endeavours and measures on part of the government. While the Sanatan Dharam Sabha, speaking on behalf of the minority community in Kishtwar has decided to continue with shut down in the town in protest against an ‘unacceptable patch up’, the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Movement has taken up the plea of the majority and expressed reservations against the brokered peace, maintaining that the existence of the village defence committees would continue to impact the relations between the two communities, primarily by posing as a major threat to the Muslim population of the area. 

Sight cannot be lost of the fact that communal tensions in this particular belt owes its genesis to the start of insurgency and was further exacerbated by the insensitive handling of the insurgency and the communalised counter insurgency operations to counter the communally selective killings. The approach that has seen the birth of recruiting adhoc cops, SPOs, other than surrendered militants, from essentially one particular community, and village defence committees by arming simply one community, against the norms of democracy and principles of secularism, to settle their personal scores or contribute to communal polarization was faulty. That the minority should see a sense of security in arming of the village defence committees is understandable keeping in view the dynamics of militancy in the 1990s in Kishtwar and erstwhile Doda district. However, this wrongful militarised empowerment, that has created more complications rather than resolving issues, cannot be legitimised and given a permanence in the landscape of this region. The BJP and the other affiliates also need to realise the unreasonability of the demand to further strengthen the VDCs, already bestowed with extra-judicial powers. The sense of insecurity of the minorities cannot be denied, even as the graph of militancy has shown a massive decline and the communally selective killings rarer, but this should not become a pretext to endorse a demand that is a threat to the secular fabric of the entire state. A joint exercise is required with the involvement of both communities to find ways and means to deal with this sense of insecurity, which is only enhanced by such short sighted measures. What is required is the setting up of village peace committees comprising members of both the communities and not defence committees.

These are tricky issues that the government needs to grapple with, a task that will be rendered useless without the involvement of all stakeholders, all political parties and social groups. In fact, the demands on both sides appear to be diametrically opposed to each other, making the issue at hand an emotive one. The job of balancing the sensitivities on both sides with application of logic and principles of fair-play and justice may not be an easy one. Nonetheless, it is the only course that needs to be embarked on if the animosity between the two communities that have lived in great harmony only until the recent past needs to be ended. The government also needs to bear in mind that the situation is exceptional, owing to the fact that any conflagration between two communities in this part of the state would have disastrous effects in rest of Jammu and Kashmir, and that is why the situation demands a sense of urgency and consistency. A superficial patch up exercise won’t and can’t work for long.