If there is one issue which brings with it historical differences, extreme passions, deep seated mistrust, internal and external interference, a tortured past and an uncertain future, it is the issue of Jammu and Kashmir.
Those who truly love the state above every existing conditioning of opinion and expected alignments depending on region and faith, put in effort everyday sifting through the news and the depressing discourse to look for a story which brings the gift of good tied up with a big and bold satin bow of hope.
Though spotting the good maybe as hard as finding the proverbial needle in the haystack and may involve the back breaking work of picking through a mountain load of hay, changing the course of a fast flowing river was never going to be easy, yet must be done sometimes to sustain life and growth.
The flavour of the season and increasingly so now has been an attempt to polarize the religious communities in the state further.
The phrase ‘Jammu Muslims’ has been popping up from all quarters, accompanied with varying degrees of suspicion and animosity-inducing analysis.
We have seen Kashmir centric newspaper reports citing development statistics of Jammu Province centered only on the indices of religion.
In another instance listing reasons for an upcoming book the author amongst other things seems to suggest that it is the dismal human development indices of Muslim dominated areas of Jammu Province which, when put together, show the mean index of the Jammu Region slightly lower than the Kashmir Valley.
Digging under that hay, the first thing of note is that the language and tone of these articles and comments, is suggestive and creates a specific impression which is not based on the whole truth.
Skewed development analysis solely based on religion does not sit well in a backward state and the most backward Province of Jammu, which is second only to Ladakh.
Notably 6 out of 10 districts of Jammu Province have a Muslim majority. There is not so much a paucity of funds but the existence of poor planning and implementation by the state administration.
When the frequent power outages happen in Jammu Province they do not distinguish between a Hindu and a Muslim home; when the local hospitals are incompetent in treating a patient it maybe either a Hindu or a Muslim who cannot afford to seek medical care in either Punjab or Delhi; the dangerous and terrible road conditions bring misery and fatalities irrespective of faith; the poor quality of education, water supply etc affect the quality of life for all; land encroachments and deforestation adversely affects our eco system whoever the perpetrator is.
Skewed theories when unopposed only embolden.
Every self-respecting separatist soon followed suit, making more of the same hay while the sun shone, promising ‘protection’ to the Muslims of Jammu.
Protection from what wondered the minority community in a state which has its own Constitution and Flag and where post 1947 the leadership has been Muslim as is most of its state machinery.
As a person who calls Jammu Kashmir home and hails from the Jammu Province, the more I try to make sense of this the more confounding it gets.
It contradicts with how we feel; in the summer of 2009 in the US my Father spent all his evenings with an elderly Muslim gentleman from Jammu’s twin city of Sialkot Pakistan, choosing him over Hindu senior citizens his age who hailed from other parts of India.
How can shared culture, history and heritage be ignored and everything painted with a broad brushstroke of religion. It is easy to hide behind and whip up a sentiment against a perceived villain with an arrow poisoned by religion, the much abused and potent opium of the masses.
The unashamed politicization of religion has been common practice in our State since the days of Sheikh Abdullah when he used the Hazratbal Dargah in Srinagar after the Juma Namaz for his most vitriolic speeches to formulate opinion against the then Bakshi regime and India, creating a political and religious mass hysteria.
The blatant mix of politics and religion has continued and so have the speeches after the Friday prayers in Kashmir.
Any feeble opposition to this false communal branding is silenced by bringing up the much regretted massacre of Muslims in Jammu in 1947; a time when the entire Indian sub-continent was bleeding.
Does this shameful blot in our history, which rests heavy on shoulders belonging to both religions and regions, obliterate every shining example of our people living together peacefully in Jammu Province?
Stories of Hindu villagers bringing stone slabs when a Muslim neighbor passed away and the Muslims fetching wooden logs and milk when a Hindu friend died; of the many Dargahs devoted to Sufi Peers dotting our landscape which people of both faiths hold in reverence; the beautiful Hazratbal Shrine in Srinagar which was last restored in the reign of the Hindu Dogra Ruler Maharaja Pratap Singh; of the pride the Dogra Hindus feel for an Ustad Allah Rakha or Malka Pukhraj; of the organic relationship with our Gujjar community who are largely responsible for the distribution and supply of milk in our region; of the acceptance of Urdu which was promoted as a medium of education by Maharaja Hari Singh to encourage literacy amongst Muslim youth.
There has been a lot of forced migration from the Valley, POJK and the militant infested hilly areas of Jammu Province to Jammu City and the adjoining districts, even by Muslim families.
Is this not testimony enough?
Muslim families from the Valley now increasingly own property in Jammu City but there is no evidence of it happening the other way round.
The people of Jammu, especially the Dogras, have a legacy and tradition of valour.
In the face of both overt and subtle attacks on our basic nature, an attack which is mischievous and also threatens the larger peace, I looked for this famed valour in all the necessary but non traditional places and came up empty handed.
The fact that everybody’s magnificent obsession remains Kashmir and no one is asking Jammu for their response is a contributing factor.
I concluded that there is barely any popular counter narrative from the people who have these allegations hurled at them time and again. The case has been tried and verdict of guilty passed even without taking into account our side of the story.
What is even more curious is that the minority is hanged every year for the same alleged ‘crime’.
July 13th is a gazetted state holiday to mark the unfortunate killing of 21 Kashmiris in 1931.
So many have taken a shot at laying threadbare this event but the Dogra narrative is missing and their silence deafening. This year even the Kashmiri Pandits and other Hindu activists have chosen to congregate at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar on the 13th to mark a day when violence was directed towards the Hindu minority in the Valley in the guise of an uprising against autocracy.
Going through the body of work coming out of Jammu University’s History Department, research on Dogra history is found wanting and does not go too far.
In such a scenario it is praiseworthy that Harbans Singh’s ‘Maharaja Hari Singh – The Troubled Years’ and Shailendra Singh Jamwal’s ‘Barjor Dalal Report of the Srinagar Riot Enquiry Committee-1931’ demand a fresh and unbiased look into the role played by the British and the mysterious Abdul Qadir who came to Srinagar as a cook to an European tourist and immediately started brewing trouble.
His seditious speeches spread rumours and falsehoods inciting communal passions. Was he an agent provocateur, a stooge of the British who, realizing the strategic importance of the Kingdom and threatened by a Nationalistic Maharaja, spun a web of conspiracy?
It was a black day indeed for a Maharaja who had won the people’s heart only 10 years before, because of his agrarian reforms which had prevented a famine like situation similar to the one seen in southern India in 1877 – 79?
But it does not justify a continued hypocritical judgment of a people.
Sometimes it is important to not let the sleeping dogs lie; to more certainly question the intent of divisive statements and literature which deepen the ideological differences; to polish off the dust so that truth can shine; to find that voice and reply.
We must attempt to clear the heavy air hanging over incidents which divide the people of the state on regional and religious basis; to restore self-esteem especially of a people who single-handedly and by sacrificing much continue to hold together a pale shadow of a former glorious Kingdom.
All sides must be heard to enable a closure and bury hatchets.
Only then the ‘and’ which sticks out jarringly between Jammu Kashmir can be dropped.