Brig Anil Gupta
A recent report released to the press by Concerned Citizen Group (CCG) headed by former Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha has made some serious observations about the Jammu region. The report has warned of growing communal polarisation in the region and stated, “There was perception among the local citizens that in the coming days the situation in Jammu was likely to become difficult to handle. The increasing communal divide could make the situation in Jammu quite provocative.” Whatever may be the standing of Sinha Panel yet the observations of the panel are alarming and their neglect will be at the peril of losing unique identity of Jammu region as a multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic, multi-faith and multi-religious heterogeneous mass of unity in diversity. Only recently, Mehbooba Mufti, the state’s Chief Minister had to say this about Jammu region. Mehbooba said that people of Jammu have always accommodated people from other religions, regions with “open heart.””People of Jammu have big hearts; they always stood against those vested interests who tried to disturb the peace and harmony in this region,and the same vested interests are now making efforts to pit Hindus against Muslims and vice-versa. I caution you against these people and their designs,” CM said. Who are these people the CM was referring to? The former Union Minister, Prof.Chaman Lal Gupta has charged the leadership of National Conference (NC) and their likes in the Congress of trying to communalize the situation in the State, especially in the troubled Valley of Kashmir and the sensitive areas of Jammu region.
Leaving aside the areas in illegal occupation of Pakistan or illegally ceded by it to China, the state of Jammu & Kashmir comprises of three main regions namely, Jammu, Kashmir &Ladakh, each having a separate regional identity. To maintain the unique heterogeneous character of the state it was imperative that existing regional identities should be maintained and kept intact. Alas, it was not to be. National Conference under Sheikh Abdullah decided to carve a Muslim majority district in Jammu region thus setting the stage for religious divide. Doda district came into existence in 1948. Sheikh also favoured the infamous Dixon Plan which was rejected by the Government of India. Sheikh repeated the same when he returned to power in 1975 by dividing Ladakh on basis of religion and creating a separate Muslim majority district of Kargil in 1979. In order to remain in power National Conference resorted to vote bank politics and began to exploit the heterogeneous fibre of Jammu region. Jammu region is situated south of PirPanchal which also separates it from Kashmir Valley. Jammu region has always been proud of its diversity with Dogra being its common identity.
According to the 2011 census, the total population of Jammu Division is 5,350,811. Ethnically, Jammu is largely Dogra, a group which constitutes approximately 67% of the population. Jammu’s people are closely related to Punjabis. The Jammu Division overall has a Hindu majority population – 62% of Jammu’s population practise Hinduism, 36% practice Islam and most of the remainder are Sikhs. The Hindus form a majority in the Jammu, Kathua, Samba and Udhampur districts, and roughly half the population in the Reasi district. Most of Jammu’s Hindus are Dogras, Kashmiri Pandits, migrants from Kotli and Mirpur, and Punjabis. The Sikhs are mostly migrants from Pakistani Occupied Jammu Kashmir (from areas like Muzaffarabad and part of Poonch annexed by Pakistan during 1947). The Muslims of the region form the majority in the districts of Rajouri, Reasi, Poonch, Doda, Kishtwar and Ramban. The Muslim ethnic groups are Dogra, Gujjar and Bakerwal who are ethnolinguistically different from the Kashmiri Muslims. People of Jammu speak mostly Dogri, Poonchi, Gojri, Kotli, Mirpuri, Hindi, Punjabi and Pahari. The Jammu region is also temporary home to about 1,00,000 Kashmiri Hindus (Pandits) who have been living in refugee camps after being driven out of the Kashmir Valley by Islamic extremists in 1990 at the onset of the Pak sponsored “Religious Militancy.”The majority Muslims of Jammu, particularly belonging to Poonch, Rajouri districts maintain their Rajput identity. There are no monolithic groupings of Hindus and Muslims in Jammu region and they co-exist happily together. The Muslims of Jammu lack commonality with the Muslims of Kashmir or Kargil except religion. It was for this reason that Jammu Muslims under the banner of Muslim Conference under Chowdhary Ghulam Abbas did not support the “Quit Kashmir” movement launched by National Conference for bringing an end to Dogra Rule.
One cannot just shift the blame on Pakistan or its mouth-piece Hurriyat Conference, the communalisation of Jammu is result of divisive vote bank politics by dividing the people on religious lines using the hollow slogans of competing nationalism, communal polarisation and religious insecurities. Effort is being made to divide the Jammu region into sub-regions based on religion thus attacking its identity as a single unit. While Kashmir, despite its numerous faultlines, continues to be referred as North and South Kashmir (geographic division), Jammu is being divided in sub-regions like Chenab Valley, PirPanjal, Duggar Pradesh and ReasiMahore, the single contributor of this sub-regional divide being religious affinity. National Conference at one time also harboured the idea of “Greater Kashmir” by including the Muslim majority districts south of Pir Panchal. It did not find favour with the Jammu Muslims as well as Hindus because of the mutual distrust they have against the Kashmiri Muslims.The contemporary imperative of coalitions to obtain a majority in the Assembly (because of the fact that regional parties compete with each other to divide voters on communal lines)has stoked religious polarisation. Rather than addressing the socio-economic issues facing the people of the region through good governance the effort is being made by the Valley-centric political parties to communally polarise and divide the region on religious lines. This is nothing short of playing with fire because it can threaten the very unity of the state.Unfortunately, while the Jammu Muslims are ethno-linguistically different from those of Kashmir Valley, the agenda of Islamisation has set a common chord resulting in convergence of ideology on religious lines. The political parties rather than diffusing this trend are playing with fire by communalising their vote bank, a communally motivated devious ploy.The role of Muslims on the south of the Pir Panchal, as a crucial part of a common regional and ethnic identity of Jammu (with over 30 per cent of its population), has to be realised. A secular and satisfied region of Jammu would be a strong geo-political link between the Kashmir valley and the rest of India instead of a barrier that it is sought to be made into, the political leadership needs to understand.
There is no need to refer to Jammu region in terms of religion based sub regions. The government departments are also resorting to using this reference. They should be best referred as the existing administrative unit, “District”. If at all there is a need for grouping, say for administrative convenience, the region could be divided geographically into East Jammu region (Doda, Kishtwar, Ramban and Udhampur) and West Jammu region (remainder districts). The three regions of the state need to join hand to ensure that regional tensions are not converted into religious tensions thus dividing the fabric of the state on communal lines. The civil society in all three regions has to work overtime to defeat the narrow minded vote bank politics of the political parties. The growing cancer of communalism should not be able to kill or mar the unity of the three regions of the state by respecting regional aspirations of each other and not their religious aspiration of hegemony or division.
This month, on 23rd March, the nation will be celebrating the martyrdom day of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, a true nationalist and a youth icon. The youth form the majority population in our country today. Any change in the society has to be led by the youth. Shaheed-I-AzamBhagat Singh was a staunch advocate of separation of religion from politics, though he himself was an atheist. He had disdain for politicians who indulged in communal politics and incited communal riots. He floated the idea of “common nationalism” as opposed to the idea of “competing nationalism.” Freedom from communalism and religious intolerance were Bhagat Singh’s ideal. The present generation youth must come forward to condemn and reject the idea of communalism. Understand the danger of communalism and fight against it before we set our own house on fire. We must stop seeing politics from the prism of religion. The individuals must be viewed as human beings and Indians and nothing else. Communal polarisation must be made a cognizable offence in a secular, democratic India.
(The author is a Jammu based political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst.)
(The views expressed are entirely personal)
Brig Anil Gupta