PUCL Bulletin, April 2004
Jammu’s forgotton Muslims
-- By Balraj Puri
President Musharraf, in his recent statement to Reuters, conceded that the Azadi sentiment is confined to the Kashmiri speaking people in the valley. He, however, asserted that Kashmiri speaking Muslims were a minority in the Muslim population of the state. He identified Muslim communities on the south of Pir Panchal that divides Kashmir valley from the Jammu region.
These Muslims, along with Muslims in the Pakistan held part of the state, according to him, outnumber Kashmiri Muslims and were in favour of Pakistan.
While one may disagree with his assessment of the views of different Muslim communities, the reality of the ethnic divide between Muslims of the state that he has underlined cannot be denied. This divide, which cuts across religious identities, had often directed their urges into divergent channels. Before 1947, when Kashmiri Muslims led by Sheikh Abdullah and supported by national leaders like Gandhi and Nehru were fighting against the rule of the Dogra Maharaja, they did not get much support from Muslims — as also Hindus — of Jammu; which was most populated region of the state.
And when Sheikh Abdullah and his National Conference had indicated their tilt towards accession to the Indian Union, the Jammu-based Muslim Conference and the Hindu Sabha supported the Maharaja’s desire to remain independent. One of the reasons for this decision cited by the then president of the Muslim Conference, Chaudhary Hameed Ullah, was that “the Muslims of Jammu have never been lacking in showing loyalty and respect for the Maharaja and it is because of this attachment that we did not support the Quit Kashmir movement (launched by the National Conference for an end to Dogra rule).”
Significantly, militancy which started in the Kashmir region in 1989 did not extend to Jammu till around 1994, when its decline in Kashmir began. This was because the causes of the rise of militancy, its character, composition, objectives and tactics were different in the two regions.
By now we know why Kashmiri Muslims were alienated by the end of eighties when Kashmiri nationalists, under the banner of the JKLF, started an armed revolt for the Azadi, after getting arms and training from Pakistan. After some years, Pakistan withdrew support for the pro-Azadi JKLF and sponsored the pro-Pakistan Hizbul Mujahideen. Later, more extremist jihadi outfits joined the movement. As the support of Kashmiri nationalist sentiment for the militant movements decreased due to other reasons also, the recruitment of Kashmiri youth for it declined. They were substituted by non- Kashmiri youth, including from the Pak-held part of the state and the Punjab province of Pakistan. They were far less acceptable to the people of Kashmir. Ethnically they were close to the Muslims of Jammu.
Meanwhile, much had been done to alienate them. Apart from the continuous neglect of their cultural and political aspirations and economic needs by the Kashmir-based leadership, Jammu’s regional discontent got communal expression. The RSS and the VHP gave a call for a separate Jammu state, which could not inspire the local Muslims. As a reaction, organisations emerged for a separate regional status for the Muslim majority districts of Doda and Rajouri-Poonch.
With the rise of communal tension, Hindus would lean on the support of the security forces and Muslims would tend to seek security from the militants. In the absence of much knowledge about the local people, the army would often act on suspicion. The human rights violations in Jammu region are rarely noticed by the media or the human rights activists. This situation made easier the task of militants of the same ethnic stock from across the LOC, even though — unlike in the valley —there was no overground separatist organisation.
Some of the recent measures taken by the Indian government illustrate the extent of its ignorance about the Muslims of Jammu and even their existence. For instance, when a direct Haj flight was introduced from Srinagar to Jeddah, Muslims of Jammu were required to travel 300 to 500 km to reach Srinagar to catch the flight whereas it was far more convenient and less expensive for them to board a train to Delhi and get a flight to Jeddah.
The role of Muslims on the south of the Pir Panchal, as a crucial part of a common regional and ethnic identity of Jammu (with over 30 per cent of its population), has to be realised. A secular and satisfied region of Jammu would be a strong geo-political link between the Kashmir valley and the rest of India instead of a barrier that it is sought to be made into
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