Ground report: 1,600 Kashmiri Muslims take refuge in a Jammu mosque

As Kashmiri Muslims become prime targets in Jammu, locals step in to provide refuge.

WrittenBy:Anuradha Bhasin
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At the Khatikan Talab Jamia Masjid in Jammu city, where local Muslims have arranged for meals for stranded people, a young Kashmiri woman is peppering questions at the men organising the langar. With two little girls, both less than eight years old, clinging to her kurta, she repeatedly asks: “When will we be able to go?”


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The woman’s family is among the 1,600 people provided refuge by locals. The top floor of the mosque, which is under renovation, serves as a community dining hall. “There are no arrangements here for their stay,” a local volunteer says. “The building is under renovation but most of them are living in adjacent hotels and some are living with local families.”

Dissatisfied with the answers, the woman continues to repeat her queries to the other men.

Her face is tired and her eyes are worried. She says: “We were here on holiday, staying in a hotel at Residency Road (500 metres away) but had to shift here.” When protests in Jammu started on Friday morning, a day after the Pulwama attack that killed at least 44 CRPF personnel, her family saw a mob that had begun burning cars on the road. Sensing trouble, they immediately packed their bags and ran to the nearest mosque. Since Friday, they have been living in one of the non-decrepit hotels in the vicinity of the mosque, where meals are provided to them by the local Muslims.

“It was difficult handling my children. They were alarmed and crying. Their screams enhanced my anxiety as we hurriedly sat in our car and reached here,” she says. Later, they discovered that the car parked adjacent to theirs was burnt down by an unchecked mob.

“They (her children) are disturbed ever since and scared by every little sound,” she says, curling her lower lip. But that is not her prime worry. “We just want to go back home. How do we go?”

A volunteer at the mosque tries to pacify her: “I think arrangements for your departure might be made tonight.”

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Organisations have banded together to provide relief to those stranded.

Sheikh Zahoor, who heads the Muslim Action Committee, is coordinating with several local Muslim organisations that have pooled in to provide basic relief to the stranded people—mostly Muslims. They’re also trying to rescue people after they receive SOS calls from various parts of the city. Zahoor says they managed to send over 500 people from the area to Srinagar and Doda yesterday. “Some of them had private cars and for others, we arranged some Tempo travellers. We coordinated with the provincial administration and asked them to ensure safe passage to them till Banihal.”

But Zahoor says they didn’t think it was safe for women and children to travel yet. “Similar arrangements will be made for the rest of the people from Doda and Kashmir only after we get an indication that all is well.” The Jammu divisional administration has also not given clearance for the departure of the stranded people from Rajouri-Poonch.

Another young man from Srinagar is visibly hurt. “Why is it that we are being targeted? We are just visitors. When tourists or travellers get stuck in Kashmir during shutdowns and curfews, our people try and help them. No doubt, these locals helped us a great deal and we are alive and safe because of them … But there were also others trying to attack us.”

He says the bitter memories of the city will stay with him forever. “We live in a violent situation amidst so much insecurity but I have never sensed fear the way I did on Friday. People were out to attack us because of our identity and…” He cuts himself off and turns away.

Among the people taking refuge are eye-witnesses to the violent scenes, the heckling and beating of some Muslims on Friday. “It went completely unchecked,” one of them says. “The police looked on from a distance as mobs appeared from both sides of the road and by-lanes—torching cars, smashing window-panes of vehicles with Kashmiri registration numbers.”

Sheikh Zahoor corroborates the “free hand” theory that the goons were given that day in the name of peaceful protests. The administration was virtually missing. He and some other friends were standing and talking at the Khatikan Talab crossing when different groups of protestors passed by. The entry to the locality stands on the junction of a road divided into Rajinder Bazar and Kanak Mandi, both Hindu majority areas. The shops on the road have been shut and the road deserted since Friday. But the by-lanes of Khatikan Talab are bustling with activity. Shops are open. Several Hindus and an occasional Sikh can be spotted among the crowd.  

The first few protests that passed by the Khatikan Talab crossing on Friday were peaceful. Zahoor says they could only recognise two groups: one of neighbouring Link Road Bazaar Association and another one of lawyers. “We joined them at the crossing in their protests, raising slogans with them and holding the tricolour. After some time, another small group of protestors including some lawyers (they were not local people of the area) reached there and stood where we were standing … They kept standing and suddenly they started pelting stones and tried to push their way inside, damaging cars parked on the road. There was commotion all around and people began running in panic.”

Zahoor says there no police at the scene for quite some time. “Some of us made efforts to counter them and prevent them from entering the colony. Thankfully, there wasn’t much damage.”

But in the nearby locality of Gujjar Nagar, the situation was far worse. Mobs went on a rampage for over four hours before the police intervened. As they burnt cars, damaged houses and beat up Muslims of the locality, the police looked on. There were also reports of some Muslim youths pelting stones from their rooftops on the protesting mobs on the road. But there are conflicting versions about whether the stone pelting began before the cars were torched or much later as an act of desperation.

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The scene at Gujjar Nagar on Friday.

By the time the police started bursting tear-gas shells and baton-charging the crowd, things were already out of hand. It took several hours to make them disperse and restore law and order in the area.

The panic in Gujjar Nagar area is palpable and so is the anger. The wreckage of the destruction has been cleared. The only tell-tale signs of Friday’s shameful incident are a posse of security men and barbed wires around the locality.  

Both are Muslim majority areas, but as compared to Khatikan Talab, Gujjar Nagar is a newer colony and is home to some locals as well as immigrants from several other parts of the province. Javed from Khatikan Talab maintains that local Muslims here have “nothing to fear”. “Despite what is happening in Jammu, our inter-community relations are intact. Our friends from neighbouring Hindu majority areas have come to us and expressed their solidarity. Hindus living in this area have opened their shops which is a sign that they have nothing to fear here. They have been very cooperative and all communities are helping in some way or the other to collect relief, particularly food and medicines for the stranded passengers.”

Some Sikh organisations have also similarly mobilised their volunteers to provide refuge and food to the stranded Muslims from other parts of the state. Efforts are mostly being made at the community level; the state administration has virtually failed to step in to locate safe shelters for the stranded Muslims or provide for their basic needs.

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According to reports, the state administration has done little to help the stranded Muslims.

Zahoor says unlike 2008, Muslims in this locality and much of old city feel a little reassured because the Hindu majority community members have expressed their support and solidarity. As he speaks, he gets a call on his phone: some travellers who had taken refuge in a small mosque in Subhash Nagar are asking to be rescued. Subhash Nagar is a Hindu majority area with very few Muslim residents. The callers tell him that miscreants last night burnt tyres outside the mosque gate.

Since Friday evening, security around the Muslim majority areas has been beefed up. Ever since, stray incidents of harassment and mob violence have been reported from other parts of the city where the Muslim population is scattered and lean. Two incidents of mob violence were reported at Janipura’s housing colony for move employees, primarily Kashmiris who shift to Jammu in winters when the capital shifts here. Muslim residents from Marble Market, adjacent to posh Trikuta Nagar, said they have been witnessing occasional protests outside their houses. “They assemble outside our homes and raise slogans, ‘Is desh mein agar rehna hai, Vande Mantaram kehna hai’ and ‘Desh ke gadaaron ko’. But so far there has been no direct attack.”

On Friday, a group of Muslim girls from Rajouri studying in Jammu were thrown out by their landlords from their rented accommodation in Hindu majority Bagh-e-Bahu Colony, in response to the Pulwama attack. A Hindu family in the neighbourhood accommodated them in their house. But the mob reached the house and began pelting stones. The girls were forced to seek refuge in a mosque. Meanwhile, in Raipur-Domana on the outskirts of Jammu, a Kashmiri family alleged that there was a petrol bomb attack on the courtyard of their house on Saturday night.

Such incidents raise questions about the possibility of surveillance and identification of Muslim houses, especially those belonging to immigrants from other parts of the state or temporarily living here. How long have they been under watch, if so?

Communally sensitive situations in Jammu are not new. The city has a dark history of brutal massacres in 1947. Post Partition, much of the communal violence (barring 1984 when Sikhs were demonised and vulnerable after the Blue Star operation and Indira Gandhi’s assassination) was strengthened by New Delhi’s laborious process of using Jammu as a counter to the Kashmir narrative. The earliest visible signs after 1947 were witnessed with the Praja Parishad agitation of 1952 headed by Shyama Prasad Mookherjee and the local Jammu champion Pandit Prem Nath Dogra. The Centre, initially wary of the agitation, facilitated its hype through its abject silence, hoping it to be a formidable force that could counter Sheikh Abdullah’s might and plebiscite demand. At the same time, Jammu has also had a history of accommodation, having been home to refugees and immigrants from across Jammu and Kashmir.

The high-pitched communalism, however, has picked up greater steam since 2008. Jammu’s predominant narrative has been more and more coloured by Hindutva ideology and has made the open transition from “anti-Kashmir” to the more brazen “anti-Muslim”.

The increasing hate-narrative of Jammu is not just a part of the larger landscape of the rest of the country. Jammu serves as a vital link between the making and marketing of the Kashmir project. While a pending political dispute is fodder for many vested interests to be mulched, the complex ethnic, linguistic and religious demography of the state, particularly Jammu, is a vital tool in the hands of the Hindutva to manipulate and turn the region into an ace laboratory of a perfect Hindutva recipe of disaster. This serves the twin purpose of provoking the state’s Muslim majority, fueling the ongoing cycle of violence, as well as inspiring both hatred for the country’s minorities as well as empathy of the majority Hindus for their co-religionists in Jammu region. The nation-wide narrative of hate is built up tangibly on the theories of “Jammu’s victimhood” and the “bravado of its Hindus in countering the anti-nationals within and outside the border”.

In the backdrop of the developments in the last few years, the anxieties and fears of the Muslims have been correspondingly increasing. At the same time, it’s punctuated by signs of continuity of its secular traditions.  

That is, perhaps, why unlike the past when Jammu has been rocked by communally charged forces leading to a law and order situation, the local Muslims of Jammu city—though anxious—are not reeling under as much fear as the Kashmiris or those from other parts of the state, including nomadic Gujjars. That is partly because the latter have been the prime targets in this mad frenzy that continues to simmer, despite a cover of curfew which continues to be breached every now and then. Among these people trapped in Jammu, those lucky to have found refuge and hosts among locals are heaving a sigh of relief. Beyond this terrible ordeal, there is a home to go to.

But horrified by the memories of violence they witnessed on Friday and worried that fair-weather conditions may once again shut the Jammu-Srinagar highway, the moments of despair and anxiety are far from over.  


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