The tragedy of Jammu's Muslims

A new book finally initiates a debate on the plight of the Muslims of Jammu

The tragedy of Jammu's Muslims
Perhaps for the first time, Muslims of Jammu are the subject of a debate in Kashmir. For the last 67 years, Kashmiri leaders, scholars, journalists and academicians have not considered the political upheavals that affected Jammu's Muslims as a subject worth discussing. Even after an armed rebellion broke out in Kashmir valley in 1989, which was to an extent supported by the people in the Chenab valley and Pir Panjal region, the Kashmiri leadership chose not to recognize their importance. For a long time, they complained that they were not even considered for representation in the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), the conglomerate that claimed to represent the political aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Now that the separatist camp is deeply factionalized and the mainstream political parties eating into some of their space, people in Muslim majority areas of Jammu have distanced themselves from the narrative centered around “the right of self-determination”.

However, in the last few weeks, Muslims of Jammu and their plight is being discussed in the separatist and civil society circles in Kashmir. And for the first time the civil society tendered an unconditional apology to them for having ignored them or failing to ensure their protection when they were massacred in thousands by Hindu fanatics in 1947 and 1948 under the supervision of outgoing Dogra ruler Hari Singh and a complacent emergency administrator Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. The occasion to tender an apology by noted civil society member Dr Altaf Hussain was the release of the book “Kashmir Conflict and Muslims of Jammu” authored by noted journalist Zafar Choudhary. All those representatives of various shades of opinion who attended the book release event echoed Dr Altaf’s view in an emotional yet defiant mood.

Zafar’s book in itself is the first of its kind, as successive historians only made passing references to the Jammu massacre. Its launch kick-started a fresh debate around the subject. The debate, however, is now linked to a grand rather sinister plan of the current government that is selectively targeting the Muslim community in Jammu region by ordering their eviction in the name of retrieving forest land. Since the Forest portfolio is with the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), a partner in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led coalition, its move has gone unquestioned so far. Even the lone Muslim face of BJP in the government, Abdul Gani Kohli, has been snubbed for raising a voice on the issue. His electorate comprises mostly of those hapless Gujjars and Bakerwals who are facing the government’s axe.

Equally worrying is the systemic way through which Muslim officers are being replaced from key positions in Revenue, Rural Development and Education Department. It conveys a lot about what is in store. In the last decade, polarization has become a stark reality in Jammu and Kashmir and within the Jammu region. This has also become evident during the elections. The one-sided mandate that became possible with communal politics played by Congress over a period and the benefit reaped by BJP in shape of 25 seats in the 2014 assembly elections, has threatened the balance in the region. With BJP virtually in charge of the Jammu region, the government has kept its hands tied on even the smaller issues. But in the larger context, it is not doing anything significant in Kashmir as well.

Coming back to Zafar’s book, it has taken the lid off many unreported and unheard events that have left the Muslims of Jammu vulnerable. This book is first in many ways. As mentioned earlier, no study had been exclusively focused on the plight of Muslims in Jammu especially in the backdrop of the massacres that took place in 1947 and 1948. He has painstakingly researched all the angles and come to the conclusion that how 237,000 people were mercilessly killed by Hindu fanatics supported by the Mahraja and even the Sikhs. Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah turned a blind eye to their helplessness and that is a crime that can never be condoned. The author has quoted many authentic sources and personalities suggesting that Sheikh had a personal grudge against Jammu's Muslims for the fact that they did not accept him as their leader.

That is why the Kashmiri population, which for long was under the influence of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, did not consider Jammu's Muslims as an important factor in the resolution of the larger political tangle. Even the Srinagar based scholars and writers have long been defending Sheikh for his complacency and taking subtle pleasure in terming the majority of Jammu's Muslims as collaborators. They have been doing this without taking into account the resistance Jammu's Muslims put to Sheikh Abdullah’s “adventure” of converting Muslim Conference into National Conference only to further the larger agenda of Indian National Congress in Jammu and Kashmir. It is a different issue that later on the Indian leadership did not trust Sheikh and humiliated him to the hilt. In fact, Jammu's Muslims, whose leadership was thrown into jail by the Maharaja and Sheikh’s emergency administration, paid the price for resisting the “grand Indian plan” of grabbing the state by hook or by crook. Since the people of Kashmir blindly followed Sheikh Abdullah, they refused to see the realities across Pir Panjal. Zafar’s book has unraveled some important events in this direction.

Not only has the author put the situation in a perspective, he has talked about the mayhem (till now unheard) that was let loose on the Muslims of Rajouri and Poonch districts after the 1965 war. He says that the Indian Army systematically killed over 2,000 people in the “Operation Clearance” and no author has so far taken pains to detail those painful days, which triggered massive migration to Pakistan administered Kashmir. “Not a single Muslim went unaffected in both the operations,” he quotes an elderly person in a Rajouri village, referring to Operation Gibraltar by Pakistan and Operation Clearance by Indian Army.

Zafar does not end at 1965. He also looks at the progressive dis-empowerment of Muslims in the region until 2013. Figures are self explanatory about the representation of Muslims in key institutions when compared to their population. But an interesting example he gives, which also shows sense of accommodation on part of Muslims, is about Shri Mata Vaishnodevi University (SMVDU) and Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University (BGSBU) in Rajouri. Of the 98 teachers in SMVDU, funded by Hindu Shrine Board, only two are Muslims, one of them from the Jammu region. In contrast, 25 percent of the faculty in BGBSU is non-Muslim and 33 percent of the members of the administration, including two deputy registrars and controller of examinations, are non-Muslims. BGSBU is funded by the Muslim Waqf Board.

The book has also tried to put what many call the “disinterest” of Jammu's Muslims in Kashmir’s separatist politics in a perspective. According to the author, this ambivalence is factored in how they have been denied a role in shaping up a discourse to find a resolution for the larger political problem. Right since 1947, according to him, they have been used as pawns in deciding the fate of the state, either through further division of the state or as a vote bank by Kashmir’s mainstream political parties. It is a must-read for all those who want to understand the dynamics of the changing political landscape in the state.

The author is a veteran journalist from Srinagar and the editor-in-chief of Rising Kashmir