And Now Love Jihad in J&K

Srinagar—While noises against Muslim minority for alleged Love Jihad have ebbed in the rest of the country, they are being raised in J&K where ironically the community is in majority.

The Buddhists in Ladakh have threatened to launch an agitation in case J&K Government doesn't take immediate steps to prevent Muslims marrying Buddhist women and converting them to Islam.

On September 7, Ladakh Buddhist Association submitted a memorandum to the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti urging her to take steps to stop the Muslim youth from alleged forcible conversions of the Buddhist women.

"In recent past, Buddhist families and young girls have been lured by the Muslim community in various parts of Ladakh forcing them to embrace the Islamic fold", the memorandum read. "Young girls are being lured by Muslims to marry and finally convert them to Muslim (Islam)".

The provocation for the memorundum and the threat of agitation has been the recent marriage of a Buddhist girl Stanzin Saldon of Saspol, Leh with Murtaza Agha of Kargil.

"Many such cases have been attempted by Muslim boys from the past many years which has generated widespread anger and resentment all over Ladakh," the memorundum says. "Despite the periodic meetings and warnings to Muslim community, no serious steps seem to have been taken and local administration security agencies, community leaders and the representatives seem to be hushing up such matters".

The LBA has given the state government a week's time to address the issue failing which it has threatened to hit the streets.

But is one case of conversion a sufficient provocation for an agitation? It is as the Association sees it as the latest in a series of such conversions spanning the last several decades.

Says PT Kunzang, the General Secretary of the LBA:"We have the complete data of such marriages and conversations. There have been 97 conversions of the Buddhist girls to Islam over the past four decades," he said.

“We can’t tolerate it any more and thus have put the government on notice,” says Kunzang. “Failing to act will strain the communal harmony of the region”.

The LBA has been long campaigning for the Union Territory Status for the province, a demand which is opposed by the adjacent Muslim majority Kargil district.

However, the circumstances surrounding the Saldon’s marriage with Agha and her conversion are bitterly contested by the two sides. The two were married recently but Saldon is alleged to have converted in April 2015 at Kammanahalli in Karnataka. In an affidavit to advocate and notary public Shaik Mahaboob in Karnataka, Saldon has stated that she voluntarily converted to Islam.

“I declare that I am a Buddhist by birth and now I strongly confirm and restate that I have embraced and revert back to Islamic faith in consultation with Islamic scholars on 22nd April 2015,” the affidavit reads.

Later in an affidavit dated 28 July 2017 in Srinagar, Saldon states that she married Agha on 7 July “out of my free will and consent”. Even the J&K High Court has passed an order on the same day that the petitioner “shall not be harassed”.

But these facts have little resonance among the Buddhist community harbouring deep demographic insecurities.

“We are just one lakh fifty thousand in number,” says Kunzang. “Such conversions are a threat to our ethnic survival”.

Ladakh comprises two districts, Leh and Kargil with a total of population of about 274000. Around 76.87 percent population of Kargil is Muslim, with a total population of 140,802, while that of Leh is 66.40% Buddhist, with a total population of 133,487, as per the 2011 census.

Buddhists who are in majority in Leh form 49 percent of the population. The districts are governed by the autonomous hill development councils with their politics guided by an often contradictory perception of their political interests. While Kargil is close to Valley, Leh largely identifies itself with the Hindu majority Jammu province. So while legal challenge to Article 35A has generated deep unease in Valley, Jammu and Ladakh have remained largely unperturbed.

However, according to members of the Muslim community, the conversions are not one-sided only and that many Muslim women have also converted to Buddhism, one of them Bilquees d/o Abdul Raza r/o Yuljuk Brakchan. She has married a Buddhist Gyalson.

Similarly one youth Sajjad Hussain r/o Shimsha Kharboo has also converted to Buddhism.

“They are happy about Muslim conversions to Buddhism but protest those from Buddhism to Islam,” said Sajjad Kargili, a well-known local journalist. “It is this approach which spoils the communal harmony of the region”.

According to Kargili there have been conversions to Christianity and Hinduism too and that the latest census has shown some presence of Hindu population too in the region but the LBA never raised these issues.

“It is all politics and an attempt to draw attention of the centre towards Ladakh in the light of the turmoil in Kashmir Valley. It is also an attempt to convey to New Delhi that the LBA ideology is akin to the ruling RSS ideology at the centre and gain political concessions from the posture,” Kargili said.

“It is all politics and an attempt to draw attention of the centre towards Ladakh in the light of the turmoil in Kashmir Valley. It is also an attempt to convey to New Delhi that the LBA ideology is akin to the ruling RSS ideology at the centre and gain political concessions from the posture,” Kargili said.

RSS, Kargili said, has two offices in Ladakh, one in Leh and another at Zanskar.

The situation has thus assumed fraught dimensions. And if not attended to in time, could tip the region into its familiar communal unrest. In 1989, there were violent riots between Buddhists and Muslims, provoking the Ladakh Buddhist Association to call for a social and economic boycott of Muslims, which was lifted in 1992.

“At this juncture, we feel that the Muslim community leaders, the local administration and the other stake-holders need to warn the Muslim community and the state government machinery to immediately intervene and arrange to bring back the girls before peace, tranquillity and the communal harmony take an ugly turn,” the LBA memorandum states.

So CM Mehbooba has a task at hand to defuse a developing crisis which her beleaguered government can hardly afford amid an already fraught political climate generated in Valley by the judicial challenge to Article 35A.

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