A siege mentality is gripping Jammu thanks to conspiracy theories

Jammu residents are being fed regular dollops of conspiracy theories on Kashmiri Muslims’ alleged plans to alter the province’s demography. Hindus are being urged to economically boycott Muslim nomads

Photo by Yawar Nazir/Getty Images
Photo by Yawar Nazir/Getty Images

Ashutosh Sharma

On Monday, former Union Minister Karan Singh—whose father Maharaja Hari Singh had signed the Instrument of Accession to India in October 1947—gave voice to a grouse which is shared by many in Jammu region: “People outside know Jammu and Kashmir state by the name of Kashmir only. But the fact is that the state has three regions: Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.”

Speaking at a panel discussion in Jammu, he regretted: “What a disaster it is that Jammu is being known by the name of Rasana!”

His remarks have come at a time when siege mentality has already taken over a sizeable section of the society of the region following politicisation and communalisation of the rape and murder of an eight-year-old nomadic Bakarwal girl in Rasana village of Kathua district in January.

As regional and communal tensions are coming to a head, several conspiracy theories are being churned out round the clock in Jammu, suggesting that the region is under attack of the “Islamic hegemonic expansionist agenda” of Kashmir-based separatist and mainstream political players.

Both Rohingya refugees and nomadic communities such as Gujjars and Bakarwals—who unlike the former are bona fide citizens of the state—are being seen as part of the larger purported political plot that allegedly aims at changing the demography of the region.

In his speech, Ankur—who likens Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to ISIS fighter Jihadi John in public speeches — accused the latter of encouraging “Islamic Jihadist” agenda in Jammu. Concluding that Jammu province doesn’t have any future in the state, he proclaimed that Jammu and Kashmir was on its way to becoming another Pakistan due to its special constitutional status in the country

Jammu Under Siege?

A seminar titled “Jammu Under Siege” that was recently organised in Jammu had the participation of many worried speakers. They included Lila Karan Sharma, president of the J&K unit of Vishva Hindu Parishad who had spearheaded the Amarnath land row agiation in 2008; SS Bijral, retired IGP and state BJP spokesperson; and Dr Ajay Chrungoo, chairman of Panun Kashmir among others.

Ankur Sharma, the lawyer for the five accused in the Kathua rape and murder case, was the special invitee at the seminar—which marked National Public Relations Day. It was held by J&K State Integration and Public Relation Society.

In his speech, Ankur—who likens Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to ISIS fighter Jihadi John in public speeches — accused the latter of encouraging “Islamic Jihadist” agenda in Jammu. Concluding that Jammu province doesn’t have any future in the state, he proclaimed that Jammu and Kashmir was on its way to becoming another Pakistan due to its special constitutional status in the country. “Article 370 ensures that the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly remains Islamic in nature. It ensures that whichever state government comes into being, it would be Islamic. It ensures that a theological state runs a communally motivated Islamic hegemonic agenda in the name of secularism.”

Referring to the purported minutes of a meeting held by Tribal Affairs ministry and chaired by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti in February, he said: “The government has given immunity to the nomads, who belong to a particular community, against legal action if they encroach forest or state or private land. The police will have to first approach the minister concerned to take action against them even if they commit rape. This is hogwash as no legal action would ever be taken against them. The Tribal Affairs Minister will always be someone from their community and religion. He will never allow legal action against people of his own community.”

“Even if there is a court decree against the accused community members, the police won’t implement it as per the new government order,” he said before adding that “from Lakhanpur to Banihal one can talk to all the SHOs that all the FIRs registered in the cases of cow slaughter and bovine smuggling have been registered against members of a particular community. But the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act are intentionally not invoked in the FIRs. The new government decree is encouraging cow-slaughter.”

Asserting that Jammu and Kashmir state is working like an Islamic state, he further said: “We don’t recognise Muslim communalism which is why such a big news, (regarding purported order of Tribal Affairs Ministry) where the state has been vociferously declaring that it’s communal, didn’t make the headlines. It hasn’t triggered any outrage or public debate.”

Alleging that the incident of rape and murder case is a textbook example as to how entire government machinery including the Crime Branch have been used to terrorise residents of Rasana village, he said: “It aims at making local residents feel powerless and demoralises them from opposing the government’s communal order aimed at settling Muslims in their area.” He further said that “Muslims communalism is a reality in Jammu and Kashmir. Jammu is under siege and we have to fight against it.”

Ajay Chrungoo laid stress on the criminal silence of the state and the Centre over ethnic cleansing of Hindus in the state. And Bijral, in his keynote address, emphasised on making the peace-loving people of Jammu aware of the deep-rooted conspiracy being hatched against them. He stressed that residents of Jammu must stay united in their fight for legitimate rights.

On the same day, ousted BJP minister Choudhary Lal Singh, who is campaigning for CBI probe in the Kathua case, addressing a rally in the home-turf of the Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh in Billawar, said that separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani couldn’t dictate terms to the government.

“We won’t’ succumb to the Hurriyat pressure,” he told the gathering. “Dogra is a marshal race but on Hurriyat’s direction, some forces are hell-bent to defame us. But they won’t succeed.”

Pertinently, the state has never had a Hindu Chief Minister and Jammu has lesser seats in the state’s Assembly than Kashmir.

Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party, which is also demanding a CBI probe in the Kathua rape and murder case, is campaigning for separate statehood for Jammu.

Call For Economic Boycott

Addressing a rally of Hindu Ekta Manch in Kathua recently, Ankur invoked Mahabharata, asking the gathering if they had forgotten to wage war against adharma. “At a time when our existence is under threat, shall not we remember Lord Krishna…will we not pick up arms? But before that, it’s responsibility of the Manch to make people aware that our lives are under threat. We are no longer safe here.”

Calling for economic boycott of nomadic Muslim communities, he told the rally “you will not sell your lands to them. Whether it is trade with them or purchasing milk from them or selling them fodder, this must be stopped immediately. Don’t make them financially strong…we have to do this because they (Kashmir-based political players) are hatching conspiracies against us.”

Asserting that Muslims have occupied the state Assembly, bureaucracy, police and other institutions including civil administration, he named some senior bureaucrats and accused them of settling Muslim nomadic families from outside the state, in and around Jammu, Vijaypur, Samba and Kathua.

Urging to strengthen the Manch, that he said has become the torchbearer for showing the path to people in the entire Jammu region, Ankur earlier told the rally, “You people must step up your agitation for CBI enquiry (into the Kathua rape and murder). We will not step back. But even after we get our demand of CBI enquiry passed, this Manch should not be disbanded. It is vitally important for our survival and existence. Kashmiris are already annoyed with us and they have already purchased our leaders whom we have accused as being sellouts.”

Adding Fuel To The Fire

About two weeks after the charge sheet on the Kathua rape and murder case was filed amid outrageous opposition by protesting lawyers, the Jammu and Kashmir Police had to issue a press statement. It sought to clamp down on a viral wave of news that the girl was not raped. The news report was published by Dainik Jagran dated April 20 on its front page. Its clipping was later widely circulated on social media by online warriors of Hindutva groups. Facebook pages like “I Support Narendra Modi” and “Right Log” shared the clipping, claiming that it’s part of the larger conspiracy to defame the Hindu population of Jammu.

But this is not the first time that the media has reported unsubstantiated stories to add fuel to the growing polarisation. In March, some TV journalists had accused Rohingya refugees of attacking them. They claimed that they were assaulted when they were reporting how the “illegal refugees” were availing sim cards and other documents in the state for availing citizenship. But the police trashed the allegations, saying that the attackers were not Rohingyas.

Daily Excelsior, the most circulated English daily of the region, has found the time ripe for digging up its archives and do some “public interest journalism”. First, it belted out a YouTube video on April 20 with cover picture of the news reports of the Prankote carnage that took place about two decades ago. As many as 29 members of the Hindu community were killed by militants in 1998 in Mahore area of Reasi district. Thereafter, the entire community had migrated from the village. They continue to live in miserable condition in dilapidated camps.

However, before the video came out, the clippings had already made way to the social media. The clippings were used as arguments to justify the narrative that Hindus can never be secure among Muslims in a Muslim-majority state. It seems a classic case of political players pitting one victim against the other to gain political capital.

Two days later, the newspaper carried a front-page report: “2 decades after Prankote massacre, survivors remain neglected lot”. Though the barbaric rape and murder case did not catch notice of the daily like several others in the region in the initial days, it later reported how local villagers were being ‘persecuted’ by the Crime Branch. While reporting on “migration” from Rasana following some arrests by the police, it carried a front-page report with the headline reading “Hindus migrate in Hiranagar under BJP rule!”

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