Cruel Crisis

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In the aftermath of Gool when J&K was mourning from Gujar Nagar to Kargil, sectarian clashes erupted in the Valley’s belly. As violence raged for a few days, situation was controlled after state government acted harshly and permitted the stakeholders of Kashmir society to act, reports R S Gull.

JKLF Chief, M Yasin Malik talking to both the sides to pacify the anger.

JKLF Chief, M Yasin Malik talking to both the sides to pacify the anger.

Like the debate over the hen and the egg, nobody in Kashmir’s politics and administration is completely aware of when sections of Shias and Sunnis started fighting in parts of Budgam, a trend that is now three years old. There are various theories, some of them being reported from Delhi and some being talked in whispers. But the reality is that the clashes have witnessed more than 25 houses went up in smoke, at least two orchards axed and more than 100 houses damaged partially.

Kashmir’s separatists invoked the conspiracy angle. It gained currency when responsible civil society actors talked about particular groups with politico-strategic baggage having their field days in the feud.

The battles that skipped media coverage initially for some days, did make the section of the people happy who have consistently insisted that the crisis in Kashmir mess is essentially a Sunni issue. For long, they have been asserting that given the heterogeneity of ethnicity, faith, sects, sub-sects, language and culture, the Kashmir strife is more about Sunni strand rather than J&K as a whole or even Muslims as a faith.

Almost everybody believes it was a petty brawl involving two gangs of youth having nothing related to faith. Initially, it involved two villages which expanded with every passing day. Finally, when the government deployed army and managed a silence amid massive arrests – between 200 and 250, the clashes had reached Budgam’s around 25 villages. A senior police officer said that villages with mixed population offered grave problems compared to others.

“I am not going into the details about who did what – a process that can be initiated later, but the larger reality is that we did not act swiftly at the outset, perhaps because we thought it was just a routine,” a senior officer in Kashmir administration said. During his tours in the affected villages, he said people from both the sects came crying and weeping, saying the help that they expected came too late. “After all, we have the responsibility of protecting the lives and property of the people.”

In this feud, locals said, the elders and the middle aged stayed away, by and large, as the youth were in the forefront of the crisis.

It took police at least three days, according to residents, to silence the loudspeakers which were used to dish out hate and enmity in the name of faith. District administration was termed to be less sensitive initially. Even the state police was accused to be partial in handling the situation, an allegation the police is rejecting and attributing to vested interests. A middle aged woman was injured in police action in one of the villages and she is battling for life.

On their part, police says, they followed the norms. “We have been using 22 to 25 companies of paramilitary forces (CRPF, BSF and ITBP) in the affected villages for all these days,” a senior officer said. “We deployed officers who have had their earlier posting in the area because we definitely know they had their influence which we used to defuse the crisis.”

The officer said the crisis with the police force is that it is being hated by both the sections, right now. “In Shia village, they claim we acted on behalf of the Sunnis and in Sunni village residents swear that we worked for Shias. This essentially means we were not discriminatory,” the officer said. “Police is a local force and it knows the ground realities.” The officer said they lacked adequate response from the civil administration in consolidating the gains, they initially made.

IGP Kashmir A G Mir said the situation was aggravated by the social networking sites which helped the two sections to debate and make exaggerated accusations against each other. Another police officer said the political fault-line in the Budgam assembly constituency was visible throughout.

But the spread of the mess was so fast that the police needed force multipliers. This necessitated the deployment of the armed forces. Specific columns were deployed at specific locations – they are still there for the last three days, and it triggered a change. “The army is deployed at the borders of the villages that have attacked each other,” a police officer said. “District is under the command and control of the civil administration and not the army.”

Calling the army out was a major decision that was initially resisted by the state government thinking it would have “political ramifications” and a “bad press”. Finally, it was decided at the level of the Chief Minister that army was asked to stay out at specific locations and offer a buffer between warring sections. It helped. “Within a day or two, most of the restrictions would be over,” a senior officer said.

But the government made a tactical mistake at the beginning. It did not permit the separatists to enter the area. Syed Ali Geelani had sent his representatives to the area and they were stopped. As the situation complicated, they did not prevent them later. For the last three days, JKLF leader Yasin Malik, Shabir Ahmad Shah and his team and members of Hurriyat (G) are camping in the belt. Involvement of local stakeholders helped ease the situation. This was despite the fact that the initial peace march by the two sides cobbled by the administration was jeered at in a number of villages and it failed to create an impact.

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