Tension in J&K town after RSS show of strength on Dussehra
Bhaderwah: In Jammu and
Kashmir, where expectations are high that the Prime Minister will bring with
him the much-awaited economic package when he lands in Srinagar on Saturday,
one town is still talking about Dussehra day.
Almost two weeks later,
Bhaderwah in Doda district still remembers three things: a visit by Chief
Minister Mufti Moham-med Sayeed who declared he would increase tourist footfalls
to this scenic part of the Chenab Valley; a bigger turnout at the annual RSS
shastra puja procession; and, firecrackers in the Ravan effigy that could have
set the town ablaze, had community elders not managed to prevail.
As they do every year,
Hindus and Muslims in this town had gathered around 4.30 pm that day for
Dussehra’s grand finale.
Hours earlier, RSS
activists had marched through the town, some holding guns, others with lathis,
at the same time as the Chief Minister held a review meeting of the Bhaderwah
Development Authority, and inaugurated a tourism festival.
As the effigies of
Ravan, his son and brother, packed with firecrackers, went up to the sounds of
patakas, there was a commotion.
Clutching torn and
half-burnt shreds of paper in their hands, some men in the crowd claimed the
crackers had been packed with pages from the Koran. The writing on the paper
looked Arabic. Swiftly, a crowd gathered, demanding action against the
“It was touch and go,
but we have 95 per cent good people in this place, that is why the situation
could be controlled,” Sajjad Khan, Deputy Superintendent of Police in
Bhaderwah, told The Indian Express. “Leaders of both communities, from Sri
Sanatan Dharam Sabha and the Anjuman Islamiyya, cooperated to restore order.”
The elders at the
Anjuman Islamiyya mosque explained to a crowd outside the mosque that no one in
the town could be held responsible for firecrackers that had been bought from
Jammu. A message went out from the mosque loudspeaker, asking people to calm
The next day, Muslim
community leaders — like most places in the Chenab Valley, Bhaderwah has a
mixed population of about 60 per cent Muslims, 40 per cent Hindus — called a
general shutdown in protest.
“We have handed over
our demands to the police. They must investigate who was behind the incident,
and who supplied the firecrackers,” Khairat Hussain Farash, president of the
Anjuman Islamiyya, said.
The government has set
up a police SIT to go into the incident. The police are also getting the script
on the torn pieces of the paper examined by a Mufti for an expert view.
But the close call has
put the town on edge. Farash pointed to the weapons display by the RSS during
the processions and asked if Muslims would be allowed to march with weapons.
BJP district secretary
Manish Kotwal said there was nothing unusual about the RSS march. “It has taken
place every year and no one has said anything before this. RSS is a social
organisation, they are not anti-national. But what has changed is that
Bhaderwah elected BJP and there is frustration about that,” Kotwal, who is also
an RSS activist, said.
“Some people don’t like
that the BJP is a ruling party in the state now,” said Kotwal, “and they are
trying to destabilise the government.”
The October 22
incident, along with the Udhampur truck attack incident in which a teenaged boy
died and another is still battling for life, the marches by the RSS from Jammu
to Rajouri and Kishtwar, the ink-throwing incident on independent legislator
Engineer Rasheed, the fracas in the J&K Assembly over beef, and even the
Dadri killing, have given rise to a feeling among Muslims across the region
that “anything can happen anywhere to anyone”, Abdul Qayoom Zargar, a social
worker in Doda, said.
Across the Chenab river
from Bhaderwah, Doda witnessed for the first time this year a march by RSS
activists through the town, with participants displaying guns and lathis.
The day after, members
of the Muslim community took out their own procession, demanding a ban on the
“We are sitting on a
powder keg,” said lawyer Syed Asim Hashmi. “The most dangerous thing is that
the RSS wants to own this town politically.”
Both Zargar and Hashmi
said the situation in the region had changed after the Assembly elections
which, for the first time, polarised Hindu and Muslim votes — three BJP
legislators, all first-time candidates, and one Congress candidate won the four
seats in Doda district.
“The communities are
now polarised because of that,” Zargar said.
Doda, he said, was
communally peaceful even during the height of militancy. “Hindus lived here
without fear. No Hindu thought of migrating from this place, even though this
was a centre of militancy. They lived here without any communal tensions. But
now attempts are being made to somehow create even the smallest spark,” he
Chenab Valley, which
includes the districts of Doda, Kishtwar and Ramban, was a region that
“guarantees the unity of Jammu and Kashmir”, Hashmi said, but the polarisation
has set off fears and suspicion between the two communities.
“There is a strange
atmosphere everywhere. Muslims fear that this region will become part of Jammu,
and Hindus fear that it might become part of Kashmir,” he said. Adding to the
insecurity are the Village Defence Committees, all Hindu, which were given guns
to defend themselves during the years of militancy. “Why do we need VDCs now,
especially in mixed Hindu-Muslim villages,” asked Zargar.
Kishtwar, which witnessed communal violence in 2008, and again in 2013, a few
months before the Lok Sabha elections and a year before the Assembly polls,
when three people were killed, BJP MLA Sushil Sharma, and Minister of State,
had the exactly opposite view of the situation.
“After the elections,
there is a change in the atmosphere. Both communities wanted the change, and
they brought it electorally. Since then, the atmosphere has improved, and
everything is peaceful,” said Sharma, who used to be a VDC member himself and
was later promoted as a Special Police Officer.
Attempts were being
made to spoil the atmosphere through the Udhampur incident, he said, “but the
government is taking it very seriously, and the situation has been mostly
defused. It was an attempt by some elements to set the Valley on fire but it
has been brought under control.”
RSS activist and zonal
head Chander Kant said the new political configuration has sent out a message
to all “wrong elements” in the region “that in today’s situation, they have no
political backing. There will be proper investigations by police against
anti-national activities, there will be cases registered against people. Wrong-doers
are under check now.”
Kishtwar Deputy Commissioner
Ghulam Nabi Balwan said the town was “peaceful”, and the people had all given
him the assurance that they will maintain peace and communal harmony. The RSS
march had gone off peacefully, he said, and the activists had accepted the
route suggested by him. “But we are also vigilant. If anything untoward
happens, we are ready to tackle it and localise it, and prevent it from
escalating. This is a town where the lives of the two communities are intertwined.”