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Kathua exposes J-K faultlines

Harsha Kakar |

The rape of a young girl in Kathua, has brought forth fissures which had existed within the state of Jammu & Kashmir but had been brushed under the carpet.

Any rape is a slur on society and that of a minor is the most heinous crime which can never be forgiven. While those responsible should be severely punished, the investigation and subsequent actions by political parties and lawyer groups, amongst others, have highlighted the current regional and religious differences within the state.

J&K has three distinct regions, segregated mainly by religion, especially after the forced migration of Kashmiri Pundits from the valley. Kashmir remains predominantly Muslim while Ladakh is Buddhist. The demography of Jammu, predominantly Hindu, has recently been changing.

Militant incidents in Jammu are considered an extension of problems in the valley. As long as militancy remained confined to the valley, other regions remained unconcerned, as the valley was always distant and separate despite being a part of the same state.

Jammu, being the gateway to the state, has suffered in development because of multiple factors which restrict investment. Ladakh has always been remained aloof.

In Kargil, the marriage of a Buddhist girl to a Muslim boy from the valley led to tensions which resolved with time. Ladakh has continuously demanded Union Territory status. Thus, three distinct regions, forming part of one state have been a challenge to all governments.

Jammu was already at odds with the rest of the state for multiple reasons. Linking a few would highlight why fissures came to the fore, with the rape being a trigger. Over the years Bangladeshis, seeking to migrate to Pakistan but unable to do so, had settled around the city.

It was an irritant but was ignored. With passage of time, there was an increased north to south movement, with colonies of Kashmiri Muslims, seeking to escape violence, mushrooming around the city. This alongside the increased establishment of mosques began impacting minds in Jammu on a planned migration changing demography.

The arrival of Rohingya Muslims in the region increased security concerns and the same was flagged in multiple forums without any response. The BJP which represents the region was losing ground as it could not convince the Centre to act fast.

The minor girl’s case appears linked to the state government’s direction that no member of the Gujjar-Bakarwal community should be dislocated from forest land, until the state government put a tribal policy in place.

This was viewed by the locals as an attempt to change demography as these communities come to the Jammu-Samba belt during winters and have been doing so for decades.

Another troublesome factor which has been simmering is the state’s decision seeking to defend Article 35A in the Supreme Court. The defence of the state appears to be that it has ensure Article 370 remains unchanged and the demography of the valley is unaffected.

Logic defending this action was only announced in speeches in the valley. The Jammu belt is more concerned as many of its locals are married outside the state; also, it has residents who migrated from Pakistan during partition but are not considered state citizens. Its views have never been considered.

The differences within the ruling coalition also appear to be looming large. The BJP members of the government recently refused to endorse the newly announced surrender policy claiming the government was paying more to surrendered militants than to those who were killed by militants or in Pakistani firing. The same BJP felt that the Joint Investigation Team formed by the state to investigate the rape incident had a valley bias and was harassing innocents.

Politically too, the state remains divided. The two main regional parties, NC and PDP, are valley-biased. Their intentions have always been to maintain their supremacy in the valley; any additional seats which flow from the Jammu and Ladakh belt are a bonus. The BJP which for the first time obtained an absolute majority in Jammu has been under fire locally for failing to deliver.

The BJP is aware that unless it acts in favour of Jammu, the next elections, including 2019, may witness a reversal and the revival of the Congress. Hence, some of its members joined the agitation. This has added to tensions within the government. Mehbooba Mufti, politically inexperienced, has been unable to hold the coalition together.

The frustration within the government was aptly summed up by Tassaduq Mufti, the brother of the J and K Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti. He stated in an interview to the Indian Express, “The two parties, PDP and BJP, have ended up being partners in a crime for which an entire generation may have to pay.”

Since both parties have their separate regions and thus separate agendas, comments by the J and K tourism minister, Naeem Akhtar bear merit, “So far nothing has happened for which we can feel proud”. While his reference was solely linked to the valley, the fact remains that each party views its own region of interest and the state suffers.

For a state with such an internal divide which cannot be easily resolved, the ideal solution could be to split it into manageable portions, following which governments at the local level could concentrate on development. However, the restrictions imposed by the accession document have ensured that such an action cannot take place.

The rape of the minor girl, brutal and deserving the severest criticism, has opened fissures which for decades have been simmering but had been brushed under the carpet. The perpetrators of the crime deserve no mercy and must be punished as per the law of the nation.

But the protests should be a wake-up call to the Centre and the state, that religious and regional fissures which have raised their ugly head, need to be tackled immediately. Otherwise more violent incidents can be expected.

The rape was a catalyst for expression of anger by Jammu. Politicians of all parties need to set party ideologies aside and work towards strengthening internal bonds, both religious and regional, especially in a border state already facing turmoil, sponsored from across the border. If they fail to open their eyes even now, the state and the nation would bear the brunt and Pakistan would gain.

The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.