by Tarushi Aswani
Jammu and Kashmir has never been read separately. Ever since they were chunked together roping in Ladakh by the British in the 1800s, they have been in unison. With a history of several hundred years, the region we now know as Jammu and Kashmir, it has exhibited a very cohesive and inclusive social fabric where language and culture have often blurred lines of religion.
From being under the British to witnessing the slow erosion of autonomy rights guaranteed by India, the region has only seen a change of masters. Never has the region fully ruled itself since the inception of the modern nation-state.
While 1947 split the region into lands that seem politically and ideologically incongruous, a similar activity spelling a split yet again finds roots in the BJP’s Hindutva ideology that seems to establish Jammu as a Hindu bastion in a Muslim majority region.
Until 1990 Jammu City was closed off by Tawi in the south-east, Bakshi Nagar Reahari in the west and Panjthirthi in the north. With many developing colonies, two of those were Muslim dominated, Gujjar Nagar and Talab Khatikan. Though they were small Muslim pockets elsewhere also. Post-1990 two factors led to expansion on all sides. Just as liberalization shuffled the world, moving different people into newer locations, its effect in Jammu was likewise. Many from the peripheries moved to the city.
Jammu being a major urban centre making nine districts has attracted many to migrate over the years to its commercial and industrial centres. A cursory look at the community wise growth of population in Jammu urban centre since 1951 makes it amply clear that the Muslim population hasn’t shown any growth. It has remained majorly static. Regarding coming up of Muslim pockets like Bathindi and Sunjwan, it has followed a well-settled pattern of urban settlements of people of one faith reside together, adhering to the geographic proximity to the area of their origin. These areas were ﬁrst inhabited by people who moved from congested urban pockets of Gujjar Nagar and Talab Khatikan. Latter were joined by people from outer districts.
Over the years there have been allegations regarding land encroachment by these Muslim tribal communities who are culturally nomadic and have a pattern of movement carved out seasonally. Having seen cultural changes over time they have transformed from nomadic pastoralist to semi-settled farmers. They have built permanent holdings in and around their winter pastures on the land under their possession since ages.
Muslims who constitute 33.5 per cent of the population in Jammu, over the years were strategically targeted in violence surrounding the partition. It is these Muslims in Jammu who have now become eyesores of communal elements. Right after the collapse of the Government in July 2018, Gujjar families in Jammu were looked upon as encroachers on the very land they owned and as recent as December 2018, an anti-encroachment drive against Gujjar families in Jammu was initiated.
Earlier this year too, these Gujjar families residing in Kathua and Rajpura districts of Jammu have faced threats from various communal elements, allegedly with the help of the local authorities. There have been cases as well wherein the hard-earned properties of destitute nomads was occupied. While the BJP Government was swift enough to revoke Article 370 and 35A overnight, when it comes to safeguarding the rights of a tribal community suffering because of religious extremism, the BJP by not extending the Forests Act to the state of J&K thus reinforced a well-established fact that it is certainly not the saviour of Muslims anywhere.
This nomadic community that is conveniently being sidelined has high poverty levels and contribute an enormous revenue to the economy. Of the three divisions of the erstwhile in the State, Jammu accounts for the maximum amount of sheep and goat livestock, rearing of which is the primary livelihood of the nomads. Therefore, while reaping benefits as a state from their livelihood, they cannot selectively overlook their targeting and marginalization.
The atmosphere of insecurity reflected in the Kathua Case itself. Aimed at intimidating the Bakarwal community, the heinous incident of rape of an eight-year-old revealed the hatred that is being channelized against nomads in Jammu. Since the last seven decades Gujjars, Pahadis and Bakarwals who reside in the strategic locations in J&K were treated as first lines of defence for years by the Government of India, for their loyalty with India despite continuous ill-treatment. The same community is now seen as a threat to India’s interests because of BJP’s changing definition nationalism.
Another effort at flushing out Muslims from Jammu finds its manifestation in the communally motivated campaign such as Ikk Jutt Jammu Maha Adhiveshan (The Save Jammu Crusade) which advocates for halting the growth of Muslim colonies in and around Jammu. IkkJutt Jammu draws its bigotry and brazenness from its leaders who openly display their ultra-right mindset asserting growing Muslim population can pose dangers, while the BJP has taken charge of bringing back Pandits who once lived in the valley, such organizations are mightily going about flushing out Muslims from Jammu. IkkJutt Jammu is the organization that defended the rape accused in the Kathua case.
The day BJP pinned Bharat Mata Chowk in Jammu, it marked the expansion of their Hindu Caliphate to the region and isolate Kashmir. With the greater inclusion of Jammu with India owing to religious alignment and BJP has completely cutoff Kashmir making it an open-air prison. Looking at the recent demotion of Jammu and Kashmir to a Union Territory, it is noticeable that Kashmir has suffered a greater loss even in terms of how it has lost territories, while Jammu stands united. Geographical isolation employed to not only further the dilution of a Muslim majority, but the government has also stripped Kashmir of its constitutionally guaranteed safeguards.
Adding to further this argument, the UTization of the region can also be looked upon as BJP govt’s move to do away with the Muslim majority legislature, which accounted for 74% of the legislature. It is nearly impossible to erode the Muslim majority count in the legislature even by the means of demographic change and the like. But converting the hold of the legislature into a redundant assembly of elected representatives, wherein no action can circumvent the office of the LG reduces the stature of J&K into a large municipality. By appointing an LG who is but naturally a Hindu, from a democratic conflict zone, BJP has turned Kashmir back to the time of Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects era.
Not to forget the top strategic postings of bureaucrats allotted to non-Kashmiris: The Chief Secretary; the Police Chief, the IGP in Kashmir and Jammu; Chairperson of the Public Service Commission, Chairman Jammu and Kashmir Bank, the Divisional Commissioner’s at Kashmir and Jammu – are non-Kashmiri Hindus.
Now after rupturing a democratic system that has existed over the years, by scrapping article 370, and demoting the state to a Union Territory, the BJP govt has ensured the placement of a systematic strategy wherein Muslims lose their voice despite being the majority. Operating on a political system where majority rules, Kashmir has lost the rights that a majority is entitled to simply by the virtue of being Muslim. Here, it is visible that Jammu represents India, the way communal fringe groups behave and commit crimes against Muslims, is a reflection of how India treats its Muslim minorities.
Simply put, the new Domicile Law also spells expansion of the Hindu Rashtra.
Jammu & Kashmir which has historically been etched in the memory of South Asia as one now witnesses heavy communal divide, Jammu & Kashmir is now being poised as Jammu vs Kashmir.
(Author is an independent journalist. She tweets @tarushi_aswani. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Kashmir Life.)