Don’t fear for Jammu !

After all the recent news and current affairs channels and their reporting all over the world and lazily browsing all of them I was dumbstruck how idiotic and self serving the channel managers were reporting. The Amarnath land transfer case which hurt the sentiments of Hindus in general and Jammu region in particular has been shown as attack on kashmiriat. Kashmiriat that is swallowing millions of dollars without a thanksgiving but with an ever increasing millitant and blackmailing nature.

The Jammu and ladakh regions have been always sidelined in the enthusiastic pampering of the kashmiriat. I have been to Kashmir and its not just what people see on their TV sets or in their morining newspapers. Now it is no more an issue of religion or the Amarnath temple land but of self pride and years of negligence towards a region that has been largely secular and safe.

Don’t fear for Jammu

Rekha Chowdhary

Jammu’s religious and ethnic harmony has roots too deep for the Amarnath agitation to permanently affect

In the images that are being flashed all over the country and the world, Jammu is beginning to be represented as communal and chauvinistic. This tends to obscure the more recent past of Jammu, the past twenty years of conflict when Jammu stood for much more — for its plurality, for its mixed life, for its inter-communal harmony, for its shared social and political spaces. These twenty years proved that there is a secular ethos that has seen the people of Jammu through very difficult phases of militancy and which has frustrated all attempts to use religious differences for creating communally divided constituencies.

This has been a testing period for all of Jammu — for Hindus and Muslims alike. Enough attempts were made to polarise the people on a communal basis during the period of militancy. There were occasions when important public or religious places were targeted by militants- there were twice shoot-outs in the famous Raghunath temple, and in the crowded railway station. Fundamentalist organisations sought political advantage out of these incidents, but the people refused to fall prey to these provocations. There were numerous occasions of selective killings of minorities by the militants in far-flung parts of the region, mainly aimed at provoking communal backlash. But beyond generating tension for a few days or months, these incidents did not succeed in creating permanent divisions. During the last such incident of selective killings in Kulhand, in Doda district, Hindus and Muslims jointly organised a peace march and restrained the political parties from using the issue for their own vested interests. During this period, attempts were made to use militancy to generate and perpetuate electoral politics, but these did not succeed in the long run. Attempts were also made to float the age-old formula for resolution of conflict on the basis of a division of the state on communal lines, whether under the name of the Chenab formula or as a trifurcation of the state. But such formulae did not appeal to regional sensibilities and were clearly rejected.

The way the region has withstood the pressure of militancy and maintained communal harmony during the two decades of conflict, despite all the provocations, should be noted and recognised. Jammu, it needs to be emphasised, is more heterogeneous than any other part of the state of J&K. Unlike Kashmir which is homogeneous on religious, linguistic and cultural lines, Jammu is diverse on all these counts. Though it is a Hindu-majority region, it has a strong Muslim minority. Other than Kathua and Udhampur which have a predominantly Hindu population, the sub-regions of Doda, Poonch and Rajouri are largely Muslim. Diversity is also defined by the multiplicity of languages on the one hand (Dogri, Punjabi, Pahari, Gojri), and tribal, cultural and caste differentiations on the other (Gujjars, Bakerwals, Gaddis, Paharis, caste Hindus and Muslims, and Dalits). Since societal plurality has political manifestations, politics therefore is not defined merely in terms of the Hindu or Muslim identity of people but also in terms of their cultural, linguistic and caste identities. Incidentally, one of the most competitive politics in Jammu region is that between Paharis and Gujjars, both predominantly Muslims.

Heterogeneity has contributed to the richness of Jammu. Apart from the fact that different religious and cultural groups live side by side, there is much that has evolved as ‘mixed living’ and ‘shared spaces’. What has been particularly striking is the level of comfort with which people deal with each other’s differences. Distinctions of religion, culture or language do not give them a sense of danger and do not invoke a sense of suspicion about the ‘other’.

The city of Jammu has been an example of plurality to the rest of the region. For decades now, it has been home to anyone seeking shelter from troubled situations — refugees from Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir; those living on the border and displaced during various wars; Kashmiri pandits, during their exodus in 1990; the people displaced from various militancy-infested parts of the region, and so on and so forth. So welcoming has been this city to these ‘outsiders’ that many Punjabis moved to this city during the period when militancy was at its peak in Punjab. Lots of Kashmiri Muslims have made this city their second home and built houses here. Jammu city has absorbed all kinds of people and expanded in the process, not only physically but also in its character — in its capacity of accommodation and its tolerance of divergent cultures and religions.

The vibrancy and strength apparent in Jammu cannot disappear in a mere matter of days. The secular ethos is ultimately going to assert itself in the long term. Communally divisive politics does not have the roots to sustain itself.

The writer is a professor in the department of political science at the University of Jammu

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