“Mehbooba Mufti’s firmness in dealing with this barbaric murder was a consolation”

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Shuja Zaffar is a retired banker who was elected as Chairman of the Jammu Muslim Front last year. He spoke to Tahir Bhat about the situation in Jammu and the state of his community

KASHMIR LIFE (KL): How is the Kathua case changing the situation in Jammu, especially for the Muslims?

SHUJA ZAFFAR (SF): Jammu has a sizeable population of Muslims which contributes to the development of Jammu. Local Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christian have good relations. They get along very nicely as Jammu is a well-knitted society.

At the same time, I don’t deny that atmosphere of Jammu got polluted due to the participation of two sitting ministers of BJP coming in support of Hindu Ekta Manch to protect the suspects involved in the gruesome rape and murder of a minor Bakerwal girl. This shocked the Muslim minority as the silence of the Prime Minister demoralized the Muslims.

However, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s firmness in dealing with this barbaric murder of girl child was a consolation to the peace-loving people of Jammu. She played a vital role in forcing society to think jointly resulting in the announcement of strict law by Government of India.

People from all sections and walks of life raised their concern and put a joint front which I think has strengthened the bonds.

The fact is that outside and non-local elements are responsible for communal tensions, unrest and the hatred which are seemingly dividing the society right now.

KL: Why were early migrations of the nomadic populations this year?

SZ: There was no early migration but in some cases, the extraordinary situation led to precautionary steps. Besides, these nomads own property and can come and go at will. Nobody has ever stopped them. But there seemingly is some well-knit plan to create a wedge and flair up the communal tension to give set back to the system of governance.

KL: How has the government’s drive against encroachments in the forests impacted the Muslims in Jammu region?

SZ: Why you say Muslims encroach upon the government land? Have you visited the Ranbir Canal banks? You will find a lot of encroachments. Government machinery failed to balance the rule of law and became a toy in the hand of lawbreakers.

KL: Have the raids by Jammu Development Authority and Forest Department changed after the Kathua incident?

JMF: Jammu Development Authority (JDA) never raided any colony of Muslims, Schedule Castes, Sikhs, Hindus or Christian. What was being done on the ground was done by the forest department. But the forest people have not touched the influential people who grabbed a lot of forest land. They were creating problems to the underprivileged people despite lacking judicial powers.

KL: What are the major crises that Muslims in Jammu face, other than Kathua?

SZ: Jammu Muslim were always neglected.

KL: Which party represents the Muslims in Jammu?

SZ: Jammu Muslims have remained historically attached with NC though in a section Congress was also a choice and continues to be.

KL: If Muslims in Jammu think they are the target of the right-wing parties, how did BJP win all the seats in the Chenab valley where Muslims are in majority?

SZ: I told you, outsiders are medalling and polluting the atmosphere of Jammu. They have worked overtime to divide the people so that their power is reduced. This is also a fact that Muslims got carried away by the promises of Modi’s Achay Din and they voted for a change. They are dismayed today.

KL: What is the status of education among Muslims in Jammu?

SZ: The literacy rate in Muslims is barely 45% which is not encouraging. I see a clear discouragement in this low literacy rate.

KL: What is the state of business of Jammu Muslims?

JMF: Muslim businessmen are gradually picking up and they have the handholding from the established business in the region as well.

KL: Do you support the idea of Gujars and Bakerwals giving up their nomadic lifestyle and start living in one place?

JMF: They must take their own decisions. I personally support the idea that communities must transform for overall betterment. People must be educated and they should adopt all the modern facilities to improve their lives.

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