A massacre and a message

Published : Aug 03, 2002 00:00 IST

The Qasim Nagar killings have a special import, coming as they did in the middle of a large-scale political enterprise aimed at separating Hindu-majority Jammu from Muslim-majority Kashmir.

Jehadis should keep in mind that today Hindus are united and competent enough to protect their honour and dignity. What happened in Gujarat is a clear indication for jehadis that Hindus will not tolerate atrocities anymore.

- Vishwa Hindu Parishad president Ashok Singhal, Jammu, July 23.

A TRUCK pulls into the Rajiv Nagar slum each afternoon to deliver drinking water: it saves each family Rs.50 a day, the fee otherwise charged by autorickshaw drivers for making the drop. Little else has changed since July 13, when 28 people were shot dead here by suspected Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists. Rajiv Nagar residents continue to live in makeshift sheds fabricated from discarded apple crates, and few of them have any hope that the future will be better. Ram Lal, who makes a living selling balloons in Jammu's upmarket neighbourhoods, has received Rs.1 lakh for each of the two children he lost in the attack. Asked if he will use the money to move elsewhere, Ram Lal is stoic. "We're poor people," he says, "there is nowhere for poor people to go."

Rajiv Nagar - better known by the name of its adjoining municipality-authorised settlement, Qasim Nagar - is not the first major communal massacre the Jammu region has witnessed. It may not be the last either. Yet, the July 13 killings have special significance, coming as they did in the middle of a large-scale political enterprise aimed at separating Hindu-majority Jammu from Muslim-majority Kashmir. For the coming Assembly elections, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have committed themselves to backing candidates from the far-Right Jammu Kashmir National Democratic Front. The NDF is a breakaway faction of the Bharatiya Janata Party, led by RSS State head Indresh Kumar and former BJP State president Tilak Raj Gupta, committed to the creation of a new State of Jammu.

Although there has been little street-level manifestation of the communal tension in Jammu, it takes little time in the city to see just how deep hostilities run. The reasons are not hard to find either. Since the outbreak of violence in the State, the Jammu region has seen a slow, but evident, change in its demographic system. The city itself has become home to considerable numbers of affluent ethnic Kashmiris, whose enterprises have come to challenge the traditional hegemony of Jammu's old-city business communities. Large numbers of Gujjar and Bakkarwal nomads, scared off their traditional high-altitude pastures by the war between terrorists and Indian forces, have moved to areas around the relatively peaceful Jammu. So have Muslims from the rural areas of Doda, Rajouri and Poonch, all in search of homes where life has just a little bit more of certainty.

RSS and VHP politicians have, predictably enough, reacted to this growing influx in hysterical terms. VHP boss Ashok Singhal, for example, has claimed that the National Conference (N.C.) has "a game plan to change the demographic character of Jammu and turn the Hindu majority into a minority". Although there is no sign of anything of that kind happening, the BJP is worried that its long-standing hold of power in and around urban Jammu will be threatened by the emergence of new Muslim-majority pockets. The party's defeat in the February Lok Sabha byelection made clear that even pro-BJP Hindus were incensed by the BJP's failure to put together a coherent anti-terrorist policy. This, in turn, led the VHP and the RSS to endorse the NDF's aggressive campaign to divide the State on communal lines, a demand that has been rejected by the official BJP. Soon after the attack in the March 2002 on the Raghunath Temple in Jammu, VHP senior vice-president Giriraj Kishore gave the campaign a clear ideological form. The terrorists who attacked the temple, he asserted, "could not have succeeded without the help of some locals". The VHP-RSS, unlike the effete politicians of the BJP, had an answer. Those who attacked the temple, Giriraj Kishore warned just weeks before riots broke out in Gujarat recently, "should also understand that they had many shrines related to their religion in the rest of the country, which can also be made targets".

POLEMIC apart, migration into Jammu poses several difficult questions, which need hard answers. In October 2001, informed sources told Frontline, 16 Corps Commander Lieutenant-General J.B.S. Yadava was disturbed enough to send a detailed communication to the State government on the new Muslim-migrant enclaves. From Gen. Yadava's point of view, three axis of settlement were of particular concern. His letter pointed to the fact that a large number of Gujjar settlements had come up along the more than 38 rivers and mountain nullahs in the Samba Sector, which constitute key infiltration routes into Pakistan. A second major area of settlement was across National Highway 1, connecting Pathankot in Punjab to Jammu, which runs parallel to the India-Pakistan border. The settlements potentially provided a staging post to terrorists seeking to target the Pathankot-Jammu road and railway line, as well as access to key areas in rural Jammu. The third major area was around the periphery of Jammu city itself.

Gen. Yadava's letter received a curt response. The Jammu and Kashmir government argued that State subjects could settle wherever they wished, and the Army had no business to involve itself in the issue. One key point made in the 16 Corps letter, however, went unaddressed. The General had pointed out that many of the new settlements were coming up on government land, and that encroachments even in strategically-sensitive areas were being regularised. Although the letter was too polite to say so, N.C. cadre were often involved in the creation of such enclaves, brokering land sales and then promising regularisation of forest encroachments, and access to housing schemes like the Indira Awas Yojana. A Jammu-based Minister is widely believed to have encouraged supporters to start a large-scale forest fire near Sidhra earlier this year, an enterprise that was meant to clear land but went tragically wrong after three of the would-be settlers were accidentally burnt to death.

Intelligence data obtained by Frontline show that much of the migration is driven by economic concerns. While just one new Gujjar settlement came up in and around Jammu between 1960 and 1969, the number went up to 22 in the 1970s and 35 in the 1980s. The new settlements clearly mirrored the growth of Jammu city, and with it the rise of a market for milk and milk products. With the rise of terrorism in the early 1990s, Gujjar settlement accelerated sharply, and 25 new settlements came up between 1990 and 1995. Over the following five years, as violence on the high mountain pastures used by Gujjars grew markedly, more than 30 additional settlements came up. Since the Gujjars' buffalo herds needed water, the nullahs running towards the border were particularly attractive. "We don't like it here in the heat," says Younus Gujjar, a herdsman from Udhampur now living along a canal in Akhnoor, "but it is impossible to take our herds up into the mountains any more. Terrorists demand food, money and shelter from us, and then the Army harasses us for having provided it."

Similar security-related and economic concerns seem to underpin much of the non-Gujjar migration into Jammu. Upwards of 100,000 residents of Kashmir are believed to have purchased property on the outskirts of Jammu, notably around the Narwal, Sidhra, Greater Kailash, Sanjuwan, Janipura, Roop Nagar and Bhatindi areas. Perhaps half this number have moved in from rural Jammu. Rural Muslims have also begun to look for homes in relatively safe, Hindu-dominated areas such as Bani, Bilawar, Sunderbani and Dharamsal. Many of the new residents are affluent migrants, looking for a safe base for their business and personal assets, but Jammu city also receives fair numbers of the rural poor, displaced by terrorist violence or searching for new economic opportunities in the city. Other Muslims moving into Jammu include the large numbers of Bangladeshi nationals who are regularly interdicted while attempting to cross the border into Pakistan, who then seek work in farms and brick-kilns around the city.

HYSTERICAL claims of a conspiracy to marginalise Jammu Hindus, then, are clearly misplaced. But the fact remains that the new migration does hold out security risks. The growth of Gujjar settlements along the Basantar, Aik and Devak rivers, for example, has been mirrored by a sharp increase in terrorist activity. On June 18, troops recovered several kilograms of explosives, along with grenades and ammunition, stocked just below one such settlement. The rivers, flanked by dense growth of elephant grass, allow easy infiltration up to the National Highway at Sapuwal, just 7 km from the border, and a succession of terrorist attacks have taken place in the area. Much of the arms trafficking is done by heroin smugglers, a fact which emerged as early as 1988 with the arrest of Pakistan national Mohammad Iqbal in the Sapuwal area. Having crossed the highway, access into the terrorist-hit areas of Doda, Udhampur and Bhaderwah, or into the north to Rajouri and Reasi, is relatively easy. Weapons recoveries and encounters have taken place this year in until-now safe areas such as Bilawar and Bani.

It is probable, perhaps inevitable, that terrorist groups will seek sympathisers and cultivate assets among Muslim communities which have set up enclaves along these routes. Indeed, three Pakistani terrorists separately arrested by the Jammu and Kashmir Police since May - Mohammad Mustafa, Mohammad Arshad and Zulfiqar Ahmad - had succeeded in renting or acquiring properties around Jammu, recruiting local assets and obtaining identification papers. What no one seems sure of, however, is just how to deal with a problem that is certain to have serious security and communal ramifications in the years to come. The N.C., which operates in Jammu as a representative of Muslims rather than as a secular organisation as it does in Kashmir, has acted in a positively inflammatory fashion. The State government is now considering the grant of up to 500 hectares of land for Kashmiri Muslim migrants to Jammu. While such migrants do need assistance, there is no apparent reason to create ethnic-communal ghettos that will feed the fears of ordinary Hindus, and legitimise the ranting of the far Right. Even more worrying, neither secular political parties nor non-governmental organisations seem to be working to bridge the gaps between communities.

Rajiv Nagar illustrates just how this communalised political culture works. The only volunteers visible in the slum are from the RSS and the VHP, who from the local temple have been distributing day-to-day relief to local residents. The N.C. has been content to leave the job of relief to the state, and no volunteers from the organisation have come to work in the area. Indeed, Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah has made it clear that the slum residents will not be given permanent rights to the land they live on, for their parents were not State subjects. While that is legally true, a mechanistic application of the law seems inhuman, particularly since many of the slum residents have grown up in Jammu and Kashmir. More important, options like granting slum residents long-term leases, which would be legal, do not seem to have even been considered. State responses of this kind have served only to push slum residents towards the Hindu Right, who at least offer some concrete relief. "We're wanted to build the Chief Minister's house," says Rajiv Nagar resident Bhola Giri bitterly, "but forbidden to build our own."

Tragically, politicians of both the major political groups in Jammu seem satisfied to see the region lurch towards a communal cataclysm. Just as Hindu communal anxieties serve the interests of the VHP and the RSS, Muslim fears of domination by the Hindu majority are adroitly exploited by the N.C. In key senses, such communal friction is the outcome of elite rivalries: between the traditional Mandi business communities of urban Jammu and the new ethnic-Kashmiri interests in the city; between Gulf-remittance wealth in Rajouri and Poonch and mainly Hindu small business; between Gujjars and Hindus for access to diminishing and degraded pasture lands. A democratic system should have been able to accommodate these developing fissures but has instead served to sharpen them, as politicians scramble to secure political space. Even as the VHP-RSS demands a separate Hindu-majority Jammu, elements in the N.C. have been seeking to recast the region's Muslim majority areas into a new Chenab Hill Development Council.

It was not always like this. Most visitors crossing into Jammu city over the Tawi bridge miss the two shrines that stand side by side on the left hand corner of the road. Neither temple nor mosque, sharing a boundary wall and a common entrance route, has ever seen conflict. Now, it seems, most people in Jammu have stopped looking at the twin shrines as well.

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