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J&K, historical bastion of pluralism: Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi

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Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs conducted a case study on how Kashmir’s religious diversity turned into the ‘religious militancy’. Highlighting the valley’s shift from religious pluralism to radicalism and sectarian discord, it concluded that religion has become increasingly important as a central marker of identity and a flashpoint for conflict in Kashmir. It reads: “Religious pluralism and religious tolerance have ebbed over the past two decades, making Kashmir a major element in a wider set of sectarian divides. For instance, events within India like the destruction of the Babri Mosque at Ayodhya in 1992 by Hindu extremists (and the deadly riots that followed) heightened tensions within Kashmir and outraged the international community.”

The traditions of religious pluralism have deep roots in the history of Kashmir valley. Even when the entire country was afflicted with the partition on the religious lines, the Kashmiris were basking in the glory of its marvelous communal harmony and interfaith diversity. At a time when the Islamist nationalism was on the march in Pakistan in 1970s and Hindu nationalism was taking roots in India in 1980s, Kashmir’s syncretism still flourished by leaps and bounds. Though a few hardcore religionists in the valley sought to sabotage the valley’s distinct moderate religious precepts and practices, the common Kashmiris have been imbued with the pluralist Rishi-Sufi tradition. Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir have been known for their wide embrace of the Hindu and Buddhist cultural practices. This is why their version of Sufism is distinctly known as Rishi-Sufism. The Dargah of Hazratbal in Srinagar has been the most visited religious place in the entire valley.

But what has catapulted Kashmir from being the bastion of religious plurality into a battleground of the radicalism and militancy? This question is exponentially arising, more relevantly now when a top army official in Kashmir, Lt Gen JS Sadhu acknowledges the disturbing growth of religious radicalisation among the Kashmiri youth. He has recently stated that the “public support to terrorists, their glorification and increased radicalisation are issues of concern”, as reported in The Indian Express.

This reinforces the point that the practical solution to the country’s gravest tragedy does not lie in a military crackdown, but rather in a dialogue-based ideological discourse. It cannot be denied that the separatist leaders have cunningly propelled their political ambition into a religiously inspired and ideologically motivated cause. What was known as an ‘independence movement’ of the Kashmiri militants over the past three decades, is now being shaped and intensified as a religious conflict. This is precisely why the militant ideologues have successfully swayed a vulnerable section of the Kashmiri Muslim youth. Regrettably, this is the worst time in the valley’s history when the religious antagonists have smartly played into the local politics. In many earlier incidents, they tried hard to further this nefarious end, but to no avail. Remember the attacks on the Kashmiri pundits on one hand, and the militant-led siege of the Sufi shrine Charar-e-Sharif in 1995, on the other. Both were viciously planned to disturb the religious harmony in the valley. But the valley’s Hindus and Muslims in general and the Rishi-Sufi followers, in particular, responded in a mature manner. They did not react with any violent outburst even though they were shocked by the destruction of the Sufi shrine. Thus, they sabotaged the religious fanatics’ ferocious designs to fan the fire of communal disturbance and resultant destabilisation in Jammu and Kashmir.

But later, separatist ideologies thrived in the fanatic religious indoctrination catching the imagination of the gullible Kashmiri youth, students and children with impressionable minds. Pakistani jihadist ideologues preached the narrative of political Islamism which disassociated the Kashmiri Muslims from their local harmonious practices and syncretic culture. They emboldened the separatist leaders and strengthened their political appeals among the gullible Kashmiri youths. The above-mentioned research study held by Georgetown University also underpins this point: “Just as the Pakistani government supported religious militants in Afghanistan to further its own interests, it has pursued a similar strategy in Kashmir. Jihadist groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed were a useful tool for the Pakistani government: they effectively challenged Indian control of Kashmir, provoked harsh repressive measures from the Indian military, and allowed the regular Pakistani military to gain distance from frontline hostilities.”

Now, the most precarious thing that the religious zealots seem to have spread in the valley is the narrative of victimhood and the psyche of retaliation among the angry Kashmiri youths. Consequently, today’s generation in Kashmir is going haywire, protesting, hitting the streets, injuring and killing the police personnel and getting themselves injured and killed and thus shaking the state administration, day in and day out. Most deplorably, a few misguided youths are waving the Islamic State flags and chanting pro-Pakistan and anti-India slogans in valley. Thus, things have turned the worst.

In this grim situation, while the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti appears to be helpless, the army takes a fresh pledge to fight the militants. A top commander is reported to have said that “the army will have to kill militants and will do so but there is no intent to harm civilians”.

But the question is: how can the army fight the ideological indoctrination in the valley through the military crackdowns? The militants have been waging their ‘battle of faith’ on the social media and messaging apps, circulating the provocative videos and fabricated texts. Recently, the Chief Minister Mufti has expressed concern over the videos of militants being circulated on the social media, which result into the growing militancy in the Valley. In her meeting with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, she said that social media, particularly Facebook and WhatsApp have been widely used to create more and more stone pelters in the valley, as reported in the Urdu daily Inquilab on 25 April. An editorial in the leading Urdu newspaper in the valley, Kashmir Uzma noted that certain WhatsApp groups based in Kashmir have whipped up the provocative passions in the entire Indian Muslim community. Clearly, this situation compelled the Jammu and Kashmir government to order the suspension of internet services in the valley for a period of one month or till further orders, as Firstpost reported.

However, the close observers of Kashmir do not view these oft-repeated and run-of-the-mill moves as practical solution to the valley’s grim situation. Neither military crackdowns nor suspension of internet services can take Kashmir out of the deepening ideological crisis.

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