Independent lawmaker Er Rasheed who risked his life to reach trouble torn Kishtwar town during communal clashes tells Bilal Handoo that the mainstream political parties are fanning the fire in wake of 2014 elections.
Er Rasheed: As you know I don’t have any security cover like other lawmakers. I traveled in my private vehicle to reach Kishtwar via Sinthan Top. It is easy to avoid attention when you travel low-profile. I don’t believe in showoffs. I was stopped at various places.
On the outskirts of Kishtwar town, near Maidan, I was stopped by army and JKP personnel. They wanted to know where I was going and why. I told them that I was going for a condolence meeting, which was true.
I was in fact going there (Kishtwar) to offer my condolences to the families who lost their loved ones in communal clashes.
KL: How was situation like in Kishtwar and its adjoining areas that day?
ER: I went there on the 4th day of clashes. Roads were completely deserted as we drove past small villages which looked like haunted places.
We saw some Muslims assembled near a small village. When we stopped near them they all ran away. They got scared that we are Hindus and might kill them. And when we reached near Kishtwar town, we saw a guy, apparently Hindu with saffron band tied on his arm. We stopped the vehicle but to our surprise, he too ran away. In short, people irrespective of their religion are fed up of such situations.
You see, Kashmiri politicians have let down the people of Pir Panchal and Chenab valley. If you go through current census, Jammu region is in fact a Muslim majority area. People from Poonch, Ramban, Doda, Kishtwar and Rajouri feel more connected to Kashmir region because of our common culture and language. The opening of Mughal road and Sinthan road has bridged the distance between people living in Kashmir valley and Chenab valley and Pir Panchal region. India has created this notion that Muslims living in Jammu region don’t support freedom struggle. But I am sure if some day India holds a plebiscite in Jammu, they will be shocked.
KL: How was your interaction with people in Kishtwar during your visit?
ER: During my visit, I interacted with people from 10 villages in Kishtwar. They told me that VDC members come in darkness of night and pelt stones on Muslim houses. This has induced fear in people who have now serious apprehensions to send their children to School.
Even at places where Muslims are in majority too feel insecure as they blame that they are targeted both by the state administration and VDC. When I was returning from Kishtwar, police party along with VDC members stopped my vehicle and abused me. They (VDC) pointed their guns at us near Chatru village and followed my vehicle. They let me pass only after local SHO informed those militias that I am MLA, otherwise God knows, what would have happened to me.
KL: What actually started the clashes?
ER: First of all let me tell you, neither Hindus nor Muslims want communal riots. Some politicians and their agents from the region are actually behind all this. What I knew from very credible sources and locals from both the communities in Kishtwar that the bodyguard of BJP leader Sunil Kumar made an unsuccessful attempt to make way through procession to Eidgarh, who were raising Naaraye Takbeer, Allah hu Akbar slogans. This bodyguard of BJP leader argued with some Muslims, which irked him. He went to village called Kuladh and informed villagers that Muslims have raised anti-Hindu slogans. This led to stone pelting. In stone pelting, Muslims suffered more damage. I can tell you with an authority that out of 35 damaged shops, majority belong to Muslims. A 42 year old PHE employee, Bashir Ahmad Mochi of Sangrambata village was burnt alive and then his photo was uploaded on the internet and gave him a Hindu name. We are equally pained by the killing of a Hindu, because humanity does not allow us to divide people on the basis of religion, so doesn’t Islam. BJP is now doing vote-bank politics which is shameful.
KL: What happened in Padder on Eid?
ER: Some 63 km away from Kistwar, there is a village called Kijai in Padder area. With around 250 households Peddar has just 1 per cent Muslim population. In Kijai village, which has around 1500 households there are just 20 houses that belong to Muslims.
As Muslims were offering the Asar (late noon) prayers on next day after Eid incident, VDC members cornered the mosque and asked Muslims to come out. As people were coming out, some 50 to 70 VDC members indiscriminately fired upon the people and injured four of them. And when police party reached at the spot, they fired upon them as well. People told me that there was one armed sub inspector, Swaroop Singh who played a very good role to safeguard Muslims. I think he deserves appreciation as every Muslim in Padder praised him. See, Muslims are not communal; they expressed their gratitude to that cop. And when injured were shifted to Gool Gulab Garh hospital, VDC members attacked the hospital and killed one of attendants there. And when helicopter arrived to take injured for treatment, VDC members didn’t allow it to land. It was only after army reached at the spot that the helicopter was allowed to land.
KL: Are Jammu based politicians trying to fan communal fire in Kishtwar because of their personal gains?
ER: I think with elections round the corner all political parties, particularly the BJP, are trying to polarize situation in Kashmir. Congress is trying hard to gain footing in Chenab valley and Pir Panchal area in coming elections. NC is in confusion and in dilemma.
The way Indian parliamentarians debated Kishtwar with a very communal tone hurt Kashmiris. It has lesson for Kashmiri politicians. Are they not same politicians who maintain their criminal silence over Gool killings, Markundal killings and Kunan mass rape. But NC and PDP who are casual labourers of New Delhi are helpless. See, Mehbooba Mufti has 21 MLAs and yet she is not allowed to visit Kishtwar. It is not Omar Abdullah, but central agencies and New Delhi itself who are calling shots in state.
KL: There is a strong demand for disbanding of VDC in Kashmir. Even senior resisitance leader Syed Ali Geelani is pitching for it. What is your take on VDC?
ER: It is ironic that government is sponsoring VDCs that are like private militias. It is good if Geelani Sahab is talking about it.
But let me tell you, I have been requesting government to disband VDC ever since I became MLA in 2009. I am sorry to say that this nation gets wake up call when there is something wrong. Everybody laughed at me and I was expelled from Assembly on a number of occasions over VDC issue. You see in Odisha and Chhattisgarh, Supreme Court of India gave a ruling that ‘you cannot have these extra constitutional militias sponsored by state government’. When DGP, home minister, chief minister and Prime minister claim that they have curbed militancy with the support of locals that means with the support of Kashmiri Muslims. If it is true, then let me ask India: “You have rewarded minorities of Jammu with VDCs and you are providing honorariums to them. And what about Kashmiri people whom you claim have helped in curbing militancy? Then why don’t you establish VDCs here in Kashmir.” So it means India has subjected Kashmiris to forced or bonded labour for 14 long years. It is shameful for India that it has subjected 200 to 300 Kashmiris to forced labour, unpaid labour per day for 13 long years. But contrary to it, India has allowed VDCs to enjoy all privileges in Jammu in the name of dirty national interests.
KL: But state has already made it public that they don’t want to disband VDCs?
ER: No, it is not state of J&K which is talking, it is arrogance of New Delhi which is talking. BJP leader Arun Jaitely already said that we should see from New Delhi how to run the state and administration. Let Omar Abdullah be a good or bad chief minister, but Jaitely and others have humiliated the mandate given by people to the elected government. They (central leaders) want to hold Kashmir like a colony. They don’t believe in Omar Abdullah, Mufti Syed or Geelani. They want puppet here, not CM. So, let them talk the way they do, since their army is already terrorizing people. So, I am filing a petition in state high court against VDCs and also launch a political campaign against them. Police officers told me that there is no record of weapons allotted to VDCs and they have misused them. Besides, they have done every damn thing to trigger communal clashes in Jammu. They recently raped a minor. If there are already 12 lakh government forces operating in Kashmir, then why state needs these extra constitutional militias. If they fear that situation is so fragile, then why don’t they allot guns to every Kashmiri, whom they claim have helped in curbing militancy?
KL: Many say incidents like Kishtwar are taking place due to 2014 elections. What more can we expect?
ER: I cannot rule out this fact. I would wish if NC-PDP join hands in the coming elections for the larger interest of Kashmir cause. But I have my doubts over its possibility, because both these parties take dictations from New Delhi. Congress will again dictate terms and it will be disintegration and fragmentation of Kashmiri mandate, which will be unfortunate. Only NC and PDP will be responsible for this because they are not sincere. If they really want to serve the people, they have to say goodbye to dirty politics and work for the resolution of the Kashmir issue, then I am ready to follow them. Otherwise I will ask Kashmiri people to give mandate to my party, Awami Itihad Party because you need a change. Either let NC and PDP play the roles of big partners or leave the space for others. They can’t go on exploiting Kashmiris in the name of autonomy or self rule when they only serve arrogance of New Delhi.
KL: It appears BJP is now making its strong foothold in Jammu district, what do you think?
ER: I think so. They exploit people and polarize the situation. Even Congress is following the suit. They are trying to sell their so-called secularism agenda in New Delhi and in other parts of India, while BJP has its interest in Jammu. BJP wants to repeat Gujarat in many other places. They are making J&K a base camp for 2014 elections.
KL: Don’t you think Right wing politics is making Jammu its hotbed?
ER: It is state which is facilitating the entry of RSS in Jammu. Let them allow Geelani to visit Jammu, the way it allowed RSS leader like Praveen Togadia who spread venom of communalism last year in Rajouri district. I am not here to advocate Geelani. He is not communal like Togadia. Jammu people are not communal as they are being portrayed. There are good Hindus who want to resolve Kashmir issue, but it is state and India that are unfortunately communalizing the situation there. They are doing it as they don’t want to resolve Kashmir issue. Being superpower does not mean how many people you have killed in Kashmir. It is not the yardstick that you have killed one lakh people and now you will be entitled with superpower status.
KL: Many believe Omar Abdullah played a masterstroke by asking Sajjad Kichloo to step down?
ER: No, no. I have sympathies with Omar Abdullah. He was helpless and was forced to do that. Kichloo’s resignation has deeply demoralized Muslims of Jammu where BJP resorts to communal politics. Kichloo has not done anything wrong. He went to Eidgarh to offer prayers and was kept hostage by mob. He had to jump over the wall to save his life. Where is he involved? What could have he done?
It is just to please BJP and Ghulam Nabi Azad has thrown his anger on Kichloo through Omar Abdullah and showed people that Congress has an ultimate say in state.
And trust me, the judicial enquiry ordered will yield nothing, it is just a drama. There are fake encounters, fake enquiries and fake condolences. They are communalizing, commercializing and criminalizing the present crisis in Kishtwar.