When members of two communities clashed in Kishtwar town on August 9 the initial reports said that it was a free for all situation in the town for more than six hours as the helpless district administration looked on as mute spectators.
What the situation must have been in the town is indicated by the fact that Sajjad Ahmad Kichloo, who was still the minister of state for home, run for his life as he revealed after submitting his resignation to the chief minister.
Kichloo’s story as the minister of state for home has been short-lived and confused. He has now been trying to look for some sort of martyrdom by claiming he was attacked by rioters who tried to set him ablaze.
No doubt the army was called out to bring the situation under control after three lives were lost and over 150 structures including shops, homes and public property was burnt by rioting mobs.
Tensions had been brewing in the areas as residents had been claiming miscreants were stoning their homes during the Iftaar time during the Holy month of Ramadan. Eid-ul-Fitr was chosen as the occasion to set the town on fire is an issue the judicial probe ordered into the incident is supposed to bring to public knowledge.
What could be more shameful than the killing of a victim who sought refuge inside the police station in Padder town of the district? That the police watched as spectators as armed hooligans dragged the victim out of the police station and shot him in cold blood is a happening the state government must hang its head in shame.
Some of the most serious allegations have been raised against the so-called village defence committees (VDCs) set up by the state police in the region. Available indications suggest the VDCs have become lawless brigades operating under the very nose of the security forces those provided them weapons in the name of fighting militancy in the region.
Once the VDC members start training guns on unarmed fellow citizens to settle communal and personal scores is a situation nobody can afford to allow to continue. Unless their role in the communal clashes is thoroughly investigated, the VDCs must be disarmed. The first step towards restoration of peace and building of bridges of confidence between the Muslims and Hindus of the region those have lived peacefully as brothers for ages would be to disarm the VDCs. Yes, if they are cleared of their alleged murderous role during the communal tensions, nothing stops the police from their reorganization.
Emotionally, socially and politically the Chenab Valley has always identified with the pain and sufferings of the people in the Valley. The growing concern in the Valley over the communal tensions in Kishtwar is, therefore, natural.
At the same time those trying to exploit the unfortunate incident for their political gains are as condemnable as the incident itself. The BJP leadership has suddenly started showing concerns about the communal tension in Kishtwar. That such misplaced and motivated concern can trigger more trouble than it can help to resolve is obvious. Let nobody try to build a political castle over the debris left behind by the Kishtwar riots. Right wing zealots of all hues and colours are friends of neither the Hindus nor the Muslims.
The state government on its part must shun the iron curtain approach to bringing back normalcy in Kishtwar. Logically the first thing that should have happened in the town after the unfortunate incident would have been a peace march led by none less than the chief minister and the leaders of different opposition parties. Instead of doing that, a blanket was thrown around the area to prevent both the media and the politicians from visiting the town. The gag on Internet and political leadership has helped only prolong the tensions there.
Another thing that needs to be seriously pondered upon is whether the imposition of curfew in seven other districts of the Jammu province was a prudent administrative decision. Was it panic, over-reaction or absolute lack of knowledge about what was likely to happen there?