Kashmir killings: current attacks are clearly an attempt to foil Amit Shah’s first visit to J&K after August 2019
The fundamentals of the contemporary political history of Jammu and Kashmir are clear enough that religion has a pivotal role in the valley’s separatist movement which assumed a new dimension after the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 followed by the Russian invasion in Afghanistan. It was the time when Pakistan started and sustained an insurgency aimed at dividing the Sikhs and the Hindus in Punjab.
J&K is a Muslim-majority Union Territory with only 32 per cent of the non-Muslim population, mostly dominating the four particular districts of Jammu, Udhampur, Samba and Kathua in the Jammu province. J&K’s claimant across the International Border and the Line of Control, Pakistan, is a theocratic Islamic State. This is why a Plebiscite on the religious lines between the Hindu-dominated India and Pakistan is a foregone conclusion. This is why the Plebiscite has not happened in the last 72 years and may not happen in the foreseeable future.
Alongside azaadi (freedom from India), the popular slogan of the alienated masses right from 1990 was ‘Pakistan se rishta kya: La illaha illallah’ (The religion of Islam binds Kashmir with Pakistan). But that doesn’t mean that the armed insurgents would treat only the non-Muslims, particularly the Hindus and the Sikhs, as a threat to their idea of Kashmir’s separation or annexation to Pakistan. In fact the bloodletting in 1989 began with the assassinations of the National Conference (NC) activist Mohammad Yousuf Halwai and the Jana Sangh stalwart Tika Lal Taploo.
As the killing of around 150 Kashmiri Pandits triggered a mass migration of the minority community in 1990, fifty-four resident Pandits were massacred at Sangrampora (Budgam), Wandhama (Ganderbal) and Nadimarg (Pulwama) respectively in 1997, 1998 and 2003. Forty-two members of the Sikh community were massacred at Chittisinghpura (Anantnag) and Mehjoor Nagar (Srinagar) in 2000 and 2001.
Mostly in the first 15 years of the militancy, selective killings of the non-Muslims happened at several places including some massacres of the Hindus in the Muslim-dominated Chenab and Pir Panjal mountain ranges of the Jammu province.
Notwithstanding all such target killings, Muslims account for over 96 per cent of all the civilians killed in J&K in the last 31 years. Everybody perceived to be against the militants or Pakistan or identifying himself with India or participating in the Indian democratic processes is an open target of the militants. All such victims are labelled as ‘informers of the security forces’, ‘collaborators’ or ‘RSS stooges’.
The worst of the minority killings happened from the year 1997 to 2003. The current month’s killing of 7 members of the minority communities – 1 Kashmiri Pandit, 1 Kashmiri Sikh, 5 non-Kashmiri Hindu workers – is no match to the 5 massacres in which as many as 100 persons, mostly Hindu pilgrims and brick-kiln workers, were killed in 36 hours at Pahalgam, Mir Bazar, Sandoo Achhbala, Doda and Khodinad village of Banihal between 1 and 2 August, 2000.
In the construction and agriculture sector, J&K is hugely dependent on the skilled and unskilled workers – carpenters, masons, painters, brick layers, barbers et al – from Bihar, Jharkhand, UP, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Punjab.
Officials in the office of the J&K Labour Commissioner put the number of such non-J&K workers at around 300,000 in the summer season. Many of them have been operating their own confectioneries, restaurants and salons in Srinagar and other districts since the 1980s and 1990s. Hundreds of such permanent seasonal workers, mostly from Bihar, are golgappa hawkers. Hindus and Muslims, they stay together at Hyderpora, Chanapora, Rambagh, Habbakadal and other city interiors in Srinagar besides in rural areas in the valley.
Officials believe around 25 per cent of the non-J&K workers stay and work in Jammu and other districts of the Jammu province even as 75 per cent prefer to earn their livelihood in Kashmir. Why so? “In Bihar we earn a maximum of Rs 300 a day, in Jammu around Rs 500 but in Kashmir we get Rs 800 per day. Besides, the people of Kashmir are extremely hospitable. They took care of us in the worst of the Coronavirus pandemic last year. We have never had an issue with the common people. We just fail to understand why the militants are selectively targeting us,” Sandeep, a carpenter from Bihar, who stays at Habbakadal, said.
A concerted campaign and attacks on the non-J&K workers have been a part of the Valley’s separatist movement since long. The militants’ political and intellectual supporters have on several occasions called for social boycott and expulsion of the non-J&K workers in their statements and social media posts. On one occasion, within a day of an activist’s statement, militants lobbed a hand grenade on the Bihari labourers at a bus stand in Batmaloo which left three of a family dead.
However the campaign didn’t graduate into a mass movement even after a teenage girl was found raped and killed by three non-J&K workers in Handwara area of Kupwara district. Nevertheless, the separatists’ influence increased remarkably after the PDP President Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s opposition to the allotment of a piece of land to Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board in 2008 created a wedge between the people of Kashmir and Jammu on religious and regional lines.
“The seeds of a radicalised separatist movement were actually sown in 2008. It got traction in 2009, 2010 and 2016. Now this tree is bearing the fruit,” said a former professor of Political Science at the University of Kashmir. He refused to endorse the belief of some observers that the current phase of insurgency was essentially a result of the abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A and split of the erstwhile State into the two UTs of J&K and Ladakh. “Ironically the separatist support structure got the best of its advantages first during the BJP government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1998-2004 and later during the BJP-PDP government in Narendra Modi’s government at the Centre in 2015-1,” he asserted. “They have themselves sown these seeds with the incentivisation of separatism. Now that the militants have staged a comeback and they are eliminating their targets at will, everybody in the government is groping in the dark.”
The current spree of killings began in a week of the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s belligerent address to the UN General Assembly on 24 September 2021. Penitent on the February 2021 ceasefire with the Indian troops on the IB and the LoC, Khan had his speech loaded with signals of hostility for New Delhi. The violence was remarkably stepped up immediately after it was reported in the media that the Union Home Minister Amit Shah would be holding his first visit to J&K after August 2019 in the fourth week of October 2021.
Shah, the pilot of J&K’s reorganisation into a Union Territory without special status in August 2019, is scheduled to visit Srinagar on 22 and 23 October before addressing a massive public rally in Jammu on 24 October. The ruling BJP at the Centre has started extraordinary political activity to make Shah’s visit a grand success. Senior NC leaders Devender Singh Rana and Surjit Singh Salathia joined the BJP last week. Brother of the Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Dr Jitendra Singh, Rana has been the former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s Man Friday continuously since 1998. Reports from Jammu indicate some more significant defections from NC, PDP and other parties to the BJP.
The militants and their political supporters, who have been perceptibly disappointed over the absence of mayhem since August 2019, seem to believe that sabotage to Shah’s ambitious J&K visit would be hugely embarrassing for Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Shah. Former Chief Minister and the PDP President Mehbooba Mufti while referring to the current bloodletting claims that the “double engine vehicle” of Modi and Shah has conked off. Interestingly, her sarcasm is endorsed by her bête noire, former J&K and current Meghalaya governor Satya Paul Malik. “When I was the Governor (of J&K), terrorists wouldn’t dare to enter a radius of 50 km around Srinagar. Now they are enjoying a field day and killing people on the streets in the city,” Malik said the other day.
October 2021 has already broken the record of violence of the last four years as 37 persons have died in different incidents in just 17 days. It is after a long pause in the border skirmishes that as many as 9 Indian soldiers, including 2 JCOs, have fallen to the two terror strikes in Jammu’s Poonch district which is akin to the Pakistani Army’s BAT actions in the past. Even as the security agencies insist that it was a small group of 3 to 4 battle-hardened intruders which would be tracked down and eliminated in the woods, Defence analysts view it as an escalation in the border skirmishes.
Army Chief Gen MM Naravane’s presence for two days in Jammu, coupled with Shah’s elaborate meeting with the top Police, security and intelligence officials in New Delhi on Monday and a meeting with Prime Minister on Tuesday, are seen as clear indications of the pressure on the Central government. Defence analysts, who spoke to The Probe, are expecting a “robust response” including a possibility of the September 2016-type surgical strikes by the Indian troops somewhere across the LoC. “Admittedly the deterrent created by the February 2019 Balakote has dissipated,” said a Defence analyst.
In the Kashmir valley, as many as 11 civilians – all soft targets – have been killed in a series of 5 attacks in the first 17 days of October. It has triggered a wave of terror particularly among the members of the minority communities and the non-Kashmiri workers as 7 of the 11 have been targeted selectively for their religious affiliation. Around 2,000 of the traumatised workers have left the valley in the last three days.
On 2 October, unidentified terrorists shot dead Abdul Majid Guru, a local gym trainer, at Karan Nagar and Mohammad Shafi Dar, an employee of the Power Development Department, at Sheikh Dawood Colony Batmaloo, Srinagar. On 5 October, popular chemist Makhan Lal Bindroo, a permanent resident Kashmiri Pandit, was gunned down at his pharmacy in Srinagar.
On the same day, golgappa vendor from Bihar, Virender Paswan, was shot dead at Alamgari Bazar Hawal and Mohammad Shafi Lone, president of a commercial drivers union, at Shahgund, Hajan was also killed.
Two days later, on 7 October, terrorists shot dead Supinder Kour, a local Sikh lady teacher and Principal of Government Higher Secondary School Sangam, Iddgah, along with her subordinate teacher Deepak Chand, a resident of Janipura, Jammu. On 16 October, golgappa vendor Arvind Kumar Shah from Banka Bihar and carpenter Sageer from Saharanpur UP were shot dead in Iddgah Srinagar and Litter Pulwama respectively.
On 17 October, terrorists shot dead two workers from Bihar, namely Raja Reshi Dev and Joginder Reshi Dev, and left their associate Chun Chun Reshi Dev critically wounded at Karan Ganjipora Wanpoh in Kulgam district.
The Jammu and Kashmir and security forces have reportedly detained around 1,000 persons across the valley for their past history of involvement in stone pelting and other subversive activities. Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and many others call the detentions as ‘knee jerk reactions’ of the authorities who seem to be groping in the dark. For many in the valley, an abrupt spurt in the terrorist violence is an indication of the borders being dangerously porous and vulnerable to infiltration at a time when the Islamists in Pakistan are celebrating Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan and a possibility of their guerrilla operations in Kashmir.
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz is an independent journalist based out of Jammu & Kashmir. With 27 years of experience, Fayyaz is a policy analyst and a political commentator. He has extensively reported on conflict – after the 1990 Kashmir conflict – for the national and international media.
- January 24, 2022
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