ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Kishtwar's Lava of Hatred

The Kishtwar communal clashes have become national news with the Bharatiya Janata Party aggressively pushing its viewpoint that Hindus are being victimised. However, the picture on the ground is not so black and white, and can only be understood in the light of the turbid past of communalisation of Kishtwar and the Jammu region on the whole, which was in fact largely fuelled by Hindutva forces and the security establishment in the region.

Where does one begin the story of the communal inferno in Kishtwar? From the Chowgan grounds where the conflagration started during the Eid prayers, its spillover effect in the rest of Jammu, or from the history of polarisation and divisive politics in this remote town in the midst of hills? Whichever starting point one chooses, the fragmentation and the 9 August communal riots, the actions of various key players who turned Kishtwar into a fertile ground for communal polarisation and divisions are revealed.

Kishtwar, one of the most sparsely populated districts of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), has a ratio of 60% Muslims and 40% Hindus, but till the start of counter- insurgency it enjoyed an exemplary secular amity. It was in the beginning of the 1990s when armed militants first struck in Kishtwar, carrying out communally selective killings, that things began to sour. The town first saw signs of communal tensions in 1993-94 after a slew of selective killings. The tensions subsided, but the flavour of insurgency and counter- insurgency continued to feed into mutual suspicion; the selective killings were reciprocated by the security forces that also cracked down, raided and targeted people selectively. The trend was the norm throughout the Chenab-Valley belt – Doda, Bhaderwah, Ramban, Gool-Gulabgarh and Kishtwar. But it was Kishtwar that was more severely hit. With a scattered population, separated by vast forests, bordering south Kashmir on one side and Kargil on the other, the area provided an ideal setting for militants’ hideouts and later, for covert operations by security forces.

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