Peace in Jammu and Kashmir is fragile and a small incident could well turn into a major conflagration. The violence that suddenly erupted in Kishtwar during Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations on 9 August and soon took communal overtones is testimony to the brittle nature of peace that prevails in these areas. The violence unleashed in Kishtwar soon spilled over to the neighbouring districts of Udhampur, Samba, Kathua, Reasi, Rajourie and Doda. Curfew imposed in Kishtwar following the violence continued for 12 days, until lifted on 21 August 2013.
What caused the violence? As per local media reports, a group of villagers from Hullar, raising anti-India slogans, were going to the Eidgah to join Eid parayers at the Chowgan ground. This group got into an altercation with a few youth from the other community at Kuleed. At this time, some police personnel, said to be Personnel Security Officers (PSOs) of a local leader, opened fire in air. They were allegedly joined by some Village Defence Committee (VDC) members, who opened fire from their houses. The government version of the events stated, “Some anti-social elements picked up a fight in Kishtwar which turned violent and caused further disturbance to the large gathering on the occasion of Eid festival. As a result of rumour mongering the incident spread to other parts of the city where anti-social elements looted shops and indulged in arson”. The tensions were also heightened if not entirely induced by the killing of five Indian soldiers in cross LoC firing.
Though incidents of violence continue to occur sporadically, it must not be forgotten that Jammu and Kashmir has a rich history of peaceful coexistence between diverse religious communities and ethnic groups. There is no historical basis for animosity between different sections of society, which therefore lends credence to the view that violence is more often than not provoked. To that extent, the threat lies within. Two causative factors merit consideration. First, there are vested political interests who want to perpetuate the tension and chaos in the region. Second, the peace process in J&K cannot be achieved without addressing the intrastate dimensions of the conflict. Jammu and Ladakh do not necessarily identify with the Kashmir nationalism. The latter has its roots in the Praja Parishad Agitation of 1953, which exemplifies the intra state differences that exist within J&K and are often used as a tool by politicians to divide people on communal lines.
Sheikh Abdullah, when elected as the leader of the State Assembly in 1951 launched the ‘New Kashmir Manifesto’, which advocated agrarian reforms, women’s empowerment and employment. This found resonance amongst the progressive elements of Kashmir. However, his unwillingness to ratify the Delhi agreement of 1951 caused unease in the Centre about the regime it had set up in Srinagar. Though the National Conference made secular claims, its policies aimed to secure Muslim votes in the valley of Kashmir. This struck a negative chord amongst the majority Hindu population in Jammu that found itself at the receiving end of these policies as well as an unfamiliar repression. Thereafter, the Hindu majority joined the violent agitation launched by local Praja Parishad Party and the newly formed Jan Sangh (presided over by Dr. Shyam Prasad Mookerjee) against Sheikh Abdullah. They campaigned for revoking the special status accorded to the state of Jammu and Kashmir and demanded its total accession to India. The slogan, “Ek Desh mein do Nishan, Ek Desh mein do Vidhan, Ek Desh mein do Pradhan - Nahin Chalenge, Nahin Chalenge” echoed in the Jammu region.
Ram Chandra Guha, in his book “India after Gandhi” mentioned that, “The popular movement led by Dr. Mukherjee planted the seed of independence in Sheikh Abdullah’s mind; the outcry following his death only seems to have nurtured it”. Abdullah assumed that he could seek American help to carve out an independent nation of Kashmir, something like the “Switzerland of the East”. The unfortunate death of Dr. Shyam Prasad Mukherjee sparked an anti Nehru (who for a long time was indifferent to the chaos in the state) and most importantly an anti Abdullah sentiment across Jammu. Consequently, in 1953 Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed replaced Sheikh Abdullah as the Prime Minister of J&K. He adopted a constitution without any reference to referendum and pushed forward the integration of J&K within India. This incident sowed seeds of factionalism between the people of Jammu and Kashmir, the effect of which exists till date.