Jammu Unease

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MUSLIMS in Jammu have expressed serious concern about the attempts to stoke communal tension in the region in the wake of the announcement of the DDC election. Some prominent activists from the community held a press conference on Sunday to urge the Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha to intervene and deploy forces in strength in Muslim majority areas of Gujjar Nagar, Bathindi, Chuwadi and Sunjiwan to prevent the ongoing attempt to vitiate the peaceful atmosphere of the areas. Speaking at the press conference, the former bureaucrat Khalid Hussain said that that Muslims of the Jammu region are nationalists to the core and do not need a certificate from anyone to prove their nationalism. He said there were ‘elements’ who were spreading hatred against Muslims by accusing them of trying to change the demography of Jammu. Similarly, the advocate Sheikh Shakeel Ahmad urged the LG to invite all communities for a discussion on the issue to clear any misgiving among the locals.

Muslims in Jammu complain they are wrongly accused of being the major beneficiaries of the Roshni scheme that allowed the occupants of the government land to own it after payment of a rate determined by the government. But according to Ahmad, out 44000 beneficiaries only 1100 are Muslim families.

But as highlighted by these activists, the issue is the narrative that is being peddled in the region. Muslims are being blamed for having taken over the forests. This has made a significant section of the population in the region believe in the propaganda and demand eviction of the community from the forest lands. Over the past some time, the government has launched drives to evict the Gujjars and Bakerwals, most of them Muslims, from the forest land allegedly illegally occupied by them. Recently, the government also launched one such drive at Pahalgam, a famous scenic resort in South Kashmir. A team comprising forest and wildlife officials assisted by police demolished the seasonal hutments of the nomads and also removed the fences and broke houses at the foothills. The forest department claimed the land was encroached and the drive was the result of a High Court order calling upon the administration to retrieve occupied government land.

But the online videos of these demolitions generated deep unease in Kashmir. The PDP president Mehbooba Mufti visited Pahalgam to protest the drive, saying these were designed to alter the demography of the region. Similarly, the situation in Jammu is no different. It is thus incumbent on the government to ensure that the communal harmony is maintained. And as far as the retrieval of the government land, it is important that the drive is not seen to be pursued selectively against a particular ethnic group or the community. That politicises and communalses the whole issue.

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