Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Amarnath Yatra & Kashmir: Communalizing the Composite Culture

After a long time when things were fast returning to normal in Kashmir, the controversy over the land granted to Amarnath Shrine Board, ignited passions in the state.

It's tough to write on Kashmir especially when you are far away from the place. But it's quite easy to see how non-issues become issues and how things get communalised in our country.

One may feel surprised at the scale of protests against the land transfer in the Valley. Naturally, a temporary settlement for the pilgrims can't alter the demography of Kashmir. Yes I also felt the same initially.

But Kashmiris have never trusted Delhi ever since the days of Sheikh Abdullah whose government was dismissed and he was sent to jail where he was kept behind bars for over a decade. And there is a history of 'betrayals' thereafter with the dismissal of elected governments and all other issues we are aware of.

The Kashmiri anger, however misplaced it may be or it may seem, stems out of their suspicion of New Delhi, but is unfortunately viewed as a conflict between Hindus and Muslims, which it is certainly not.

In a country where lawlessness has become a norm (just recall the images of Gujjars on rampage in Rajasthan recently), the Kashmiri anger can also be seen with the same prism, rather than looking at it from a communal angle.

Personally, I would like the Board to get the land. And that there should be all possible facilities for the pilgrims who brave tough conditions to reach the shrine. And most of us feel the same but not by letting the 'separatists' and 'saffronites' take adantage of the existing crisis which both want to exacerbate.

But it's so easy to communalize things. And it's not so simple either: The yatra was initially of a fortnight but Retd General GK Sinha, during his stint as Governor took a confrontational stand and forced the state government to extend it.

As Indian Express writes, 'The Governor pushed his own ideas'. His Principal Secretary Arun Kumar directly wrote to Forest Secretary Sonali Kumar, who was his wife, and manged to get 4,000 kanals of forestland transferred to the Shrine Board. The suspicion was raised then also and the order was struck down then.

But a few months back, Sinha again sought forestland for setting up an independent development authority and though government didn't agree the land was handed over to shrine board. So there was a backdrop. For decades the land was used for the same purpose and why was the need for sudden transfer of it?

Now, the separatists sensed an opportunity. Hurriyat that had become irrelevant also got an issue. Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and their sister organisations were quick to add fuel to fire.

Alas, we have not just inherited the British policy of divide and rule, we have mastered it to perfection. With polls drawing nearer, every party had a stake except Congress that had botched it up.

The BJP just loved it. 'Afzal and Amarnath', they will be our main issues in the election, declared the party leaders, unabashedly. With LK Advani, the old warhorse with a a record of communal and divisive politics, at the helm, it wasn't unexpected.

And with protests intensifying in the valley, the Hindutva hardliners who have no concern with the state, either with Kashmiri Pundits or Muslims, declared that 'food and other supplies to valley will be cut', without realising that this will cause a further backlash. And this is what the hardliners in Kashmir would like to hear from their counterparts in the Sangh Parivar, so as to alienate the Kashmiri Muslims. Pravin Togadia also jumps the gun.

By pitting Hindus against Muslims, Jammu against Valley and Kashmir against Rest of India, they are doing great disservice to the nation. It is either the Kashmiri Pundit who has suffered in exile or the local Muslims who lost lives in the violence all these years. It has taken a long time for Kashmir to come out of blood and gore.

And it's no war. It's an issue that can be resolved but raising rhetoric to this level is simply unjustifiable. It's the duty of government to provide the best possible facilities to the pilgrims. But the BJP gets an opportunity to buttress its charges of appeasement by comparing the Yatra with Haj.

I too would like to hear saner, secular and more moderate Muslim voices emerging from Kashmir. But then the Saffron organisations also need to tone down their feverish jingoistic pitch.

In a hard-hitting editorial on Monday, Indian Express writes: However, short-sighted as the local political leadership has been, the central responsibility rests with the outgoing governor, S.K. Sinha, and those who sent him to Kashmir in the first place after he had amply proved in Assam that he was capable of making sensitive situations worse through irresponsible and ill-informed public assertions as well as partisan political interference...

As far as Haj is concerned, you can read my post written on this blog when I had welcomed the court order that had asked government to stop the subsidy. The BJP should end its hypocrisy. It should have taken a decision when it was in the power at the centre on the issue. At least, this time it should do away with it, if it gets to form the government.

Today people may mock at Kashmiriyat and claim that it never existed but they can't erase the fact that the Amarnath shrine was discovered by a Muslim and the Yatra symbolised the bond between both communities. And in the violence, it is always the Kashmiri Hindu and Muslim who has been the loser, not an outsider.

No wonder, the protests and politics of hate eclipsed the stories of ordinary Muslims taking care of stranded pilgrims and holding makeshift kitchens for them. See the report in Daily India and an Indian Express report.

Meanwhile, read Praveen Swami's article 'Piety, paranoia and Kashmir's politics of hate' published on The Hindu's editorial page.