It is unfortunate, indeed a matter of deep concern, that even as Jammu and Kashmir is under pressure from multiple fronts, politicians and political parties are stirring the communal cauldron in the state. Communal violence erupted on Eid in Kishtwar in the strife-torn state. At least three people have been killed and scores of others injured in the clashes. Although the army brought the situation more or less under control, clashes continue in Kishtwar. A curfew is in place and the mood is tense. Worryingly, violence has now spread to other districts including Jammu, Doda and Udhampur and these are under curfew too. Meanwhile, the Kishtwar killings have set off protests in the Kashmir Valley, where separatists have called for a bandh. Clearly, the situation is explosive. It has come at a difficult time, when bilateral tension is soaring over the killing of Indian soldiers on the Line of Control and ceasefire violations by Pakistan.
At a time when political parties should be burying their differences to stand firm against Pakistan’s hostility, they are busy scoring points and stirring trouble. The visit on Sunday of BJP leader Arun Jaitley and J&K’s People’s Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti to Kishtwar when emotions are running high could have triggered clashes. Both are known to give emotional speeches, which can incite mobs. The state government did well to stop them from going to Kishtwar at this point. While its decision can be interpreted as a threat to their right to movement guaranteed under the Indian constitution, it became necessary to prevent possible violence.
Incidents of communal violence are rarely spontaneous. They are often planned, engineered and triggered by groups and individuals keen to polarise society. With elections to Parliament and the J&K Assembly due in 2014, politicians will be looking to polarise society and reap votes. Instead of waiting for them to mend their ways, the state’s civil society needs to act. Research on communal violence in India indicates that cities that have cross-community associations are less prone to erupt in communal violence. The civil society can make efforts to set up such associations as these can prevent tension from escalating into violence. As for the J&K government, besides stepping up the deployment of security personnel, it must act on rumours that are fuelling violence. It must provide people with information that is accurate. Being niggardly with information on the ground and opacity is not the best approach during times of tension.