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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 37, August 31, 2013

Anatomy of Kishtwar

Monday 2 September 2013, by Arup Kumar Sen

The recent outbursts of communal violence in Kishtwar, a remote town in Jammu and Kashmir, amply bear out the pathologies of our modernity. Rekha Chowdhary’s reading of the genesis of the town (The Hindu, August 17, 2013) and other media reports make our point evident.

Kishtwar was known for its near idyllic inter-community relations till two decades back. The town represented an exemplary situation in 1947 when conscious collective efforts were made by the elders of both the Hindu and Muslim communities to maintain the age-old mutual trust. The situation started changing in the early 1990s when militancy entered the district of Doda (the district of Kishtwar was carved out of the Doda district in 2006) and the mountainous terrain and villages of the district provided a safe haven to Kashmiri militants. Initially, there was local recruitment to militancy. However, foreign jihadis started outnumbering the local militants gradually. As a response to selective killing of the Hindus by militants, the formation of Village Defence Committees (VDCs) took place in remote areas, and this created a major change in the response of people towards each other. Most of the VDCs were formed in Hindu majority areas (it is reported by government officials that the ratio of Muslims to Hindus in the population of the district is 55: 45). While the Hindus found some relief in the idea of VDCs, the Muslims feared the arming of the other community as a potential danger to themselves.

Throughout the period of Ramzan this year, there were reports of intermittent firing by VDCs in villages around the Kishtwar town. Over time, Rightist politics and fundamentalist forces have gained much space in the region. The Jamaat-e-Islami and RSS have created exclusive constituencies of Muslims and Hindus. The Eid day provided just the right spark.

There have been enough signs that everything is not lost in Kishtwar. After each flare-up, we find here restoration of normal inter-community interactions. People attend each other’s festivals and continue to have a mixed social life. It may be mentioned in this connection that the shrine of the patron Sufi saint of Kishtwar—Hazrat Shah Farid-ud-Din Baghdadi—is revered equally by Muslims and Hindus. “The annual Sarthal Mata pilgrimage is possibly the only pilgrimage where annual sacrifice is offered both by Hindus and Muslims to appease the goddess. The only difference is that Muslims slaughter the animal the halaal way while Hindus take the jhatka route.”

The above account reminds us of the insightful distinction made by Sudipta Kaviraj between ‘fuzzy community’ and ‘enumerated community’. The vote-bank politics of political parties has tried its best to transform the ‘fuzzy’ communities of Kishtwar into census-based modern ‘enumerated’ communities. We should salute the people of Kishtwar, who resisted such attempts in their own folk-ways.

[I have freely borrowed information from Rekha Chowdhary’s article carried in The Hindu.—A.K.S.]

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