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The 'bhoots' of Bhunzwah

Zahir-ud-Din, August 17, 2013: 23:23 IST

On August 3 masked 'bhoots' started appearing... and knocking at the doors at Sheri and Taraweeh...

Delivering a sermon after a tragedy is what most people do. But Kishtwar incident merits an in-depth and serious study to ascertain what went wrong, why, when, where and how. Therefore, instead of suggesting measures to prevent such flare-ups in future, it is important to hear the unheard voices, muffled by the debris of the devastated town.

A superficial study of the events before and after the incident brings to the fore some disturbing facts. The study reveals that the government did not do what it was supposed to do. The media behaved irresponsibly and the civil society’s shameful silence fuelled the flare-up. The government, media and the civil society, therefore, have to accept the responsibility for what happened across Jammu region post August 9.

Provocation ignored


An unfortunate development that shook the entire district a week before Eid suggests some invisible hands were all set to create trouble around the auspicious festival.
Even the intelligence sleuths had cautioned the authorities of trouble. The warning was ignored and the conflict ridden state paid a heavy price.

On August 3 masked ‘bhoots’ started appearing in Muslim dominated areas of the district. The ‘bhoots’ would knock at the doors at Sheri (dawn, when Muslims start their fast during the holy month of Ramadhan) and Taraweeh (when they are in mosques to offer special prayers in the evening) and produce horrifying screams.

Thousands of persons armed with swords, knives, canes and licensed weapons staged a massive demonstration in Kishtwar on August 3. The protesters raised slogans against the administration.

The people also grabbed a police officer and his associate while playing the masked ‘bhoot’ at Bhunzwah, Kishtwar. The capture triggered strong demonstrations in the village with people demanding stern action against the erring police officials.

The police rejected the reports as baseless. However, the government rushed MoS Home, Sajjad Ahmad Kichloo to take stock of the situation. Rejecting police claims about veracity of the allegations, Kichloo ordered increased night patrolling in the affected areas.
Similar ‘bhoots’ appeared in various areas of Kashmir Valley in early ‘90s. People by and large believed it was an operation launched by a security agency. The ‘bhoots’ spread scare across Kashmir but disappeared when people registered strong protest.

Apart from directing increased night patrolling, the government did nothing. Nobody knows what happened to the police officer, who people claimed, was caught while playing the ‘bhoot’. This is exactly where the trouble started and government remained mum.

The Chief Minister caused miscarriage of the peace efforts before they could be undertaken on August 10 by stating that two Muslims and one Hindu had been killed. Although this statement was ridiculed by saner elements, it fuelled communal passions and the violence spread to entire Jammu region.

The MoS Home, Sajjad Ahmad Kichloo, has been accused of delaying imposition of curfew in the troubled town. However, this has been vehemently denied by the district administration. The delay, eyewitnesses believe gave a free hand to the rioters for quite some time. They also told a Jammu based daily that a gun shop in the heart of the town was “allowed to be looted by highly charged mob.” Pertinent to mention the first victim died of splinter injuries.

Irresponsible media

Contrary to established precedents, the media also behaved irresponsibly this time. Chief Minister’s statement was carried prominently by all the newspapers. It became a Hindu-Muslim issue. The media in Jammu Kashmir has matured enough due to two decades of bloody conflict. By and large the media have behaved responsibly. For example, the Chittisingpora massacre was reported by one of the leading newspapers of the state without mentioning the faith professed by the victims. The intro of the story read: “Amid shock and utter disbelief the people mourned the killing of 35 Kashmiris at Chittisingpora, a hamlet in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district.”

Similarly the 1998 Wandhama massacre was reported with utmost responsibility. What, therefore, happened this time? Why media persons resorted to reckless and irresponsible reporting? Why was Chief Minister’s irresponsible statement carried prominently? This type of reporting is a serious offence under Section 153-A of Ranbir Penal Code (RPC) and if law is allowed to take its course, all the newspapers that carried the statement and the Chief Minister himself can be booked.

A senior journalist while commenting on what he called ‘molestation of journalistic norms and ethics’ said a victim is neither a Muslim nor a Hindu.

Indifferent civil society


The civil society of both the regions played a significant role in restoring normality in 2008 when the state got polarised due to Amarnath land row. Delegations comprising businessmen, lawyers and prominent citizens rushed to Srinagar to interact with their counterparts in Kashmir. It was decided that the civil society will not allow a handful of vested interests to take the entire state for a ride. It had an impact. The agitation ended and the person who had been fuelling communal passions was rejected by the electorate in 2008 elections.

Nothing of that sort happened this time. While the Valley fortunately remained calm, the civil society groups from Kashmir and Jammu remained somewhat indifferent. No fact-finding teams were sent to the affected areas and no peace rallies were held anywhere in the state. The civil society groups in Kashmir and Jammu did not even issue a statement.

Role of political parties

Politicians from across the political spectrum jumped in to have their pound of flesh. While the separatists perceived it as a conspiracy hatched by the Village Defence Committees (VDC) to scare Muslims into submission, the pro-Indian camp saw it as an attempt to trigger yet another migration of the minorities. This was followed by an uncalled for statement from the union Finance minister P Chidambaram. Speaking on behalf of the indisposed Home Minister, he said another mass migration would not be allowed. This was the time when things were not fully clear. Nobody knows the facts even now.

A retired judge of the high court will probe the incident and come out with facts (if he is allowed to do so). The people are not optimistic about the proposed probe. Since 1996, 145 probes have been ordered into allegations of rights abuses and massacres. Nothing has come out. Even findings of the probes have not been made public. The statement sent wrong signals to a particular community.

Right wing political parties, especially the BJP, saw it as an opportunity to expand their electorate. The VHP rushed a delegation to Kishtwar to help the ‘persecuted minority.’ The delegation, however, was stopped near Kud. The incident also evoked a reaction from BJP’s Arun Jaitley. The inevitable has happened. Like Kashmir Valley, Kishtwar upheld age-old traditions of tolerance and brotherhood in 1947. No untoward incident was reported from the area then. But now things have changed. The river Chenab that enlightens the state and parts of north India succumbed to communal elements on August 9. It was Eid-ul-Fitr - a day that both the communities used to celebrate together.

(The writer is editorial consultant of a Kashmir based English daily, Kashmir Reader, and a prominent analyst and columnist of the Valley.)

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