Kathua rape case deepens Jammu's communal schism, brings city's perceived Hindu-Muslim divide back into focus

Editor's note: This is the first in a two-part series that looks at the perceived demographic divide (and the resultant communal tension) between Hindus and Muslims in Jammu; it is a schism that became perceptible in the late 1980s and was brought into sharp focus following the alleged rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua.

It has been a rallying cry for many over the decades that Jammu's Hindu majority character is being altered. The alteration in majoritarian character in this part of the state can be a great mobiliser. It can change fortunes of political leaders and make them win elections. The fear is often evoked and used by many, like a genie coming out of a bottle to solve difficult problems.

That could be the reason why a growing perception has set in among residents of Jammu city for a long time now, that a Kashmir-centric government, led by a Muslim chief minister, has been trying to change the demography of this Hindu majority area, and the other three districts surrounding it.

Traders and residents say there is a huge influx of Kashmiri Muslims in households surrounding Jammu, and this has been witnessed after the inception of insurgency in Kashmir Valley in 1989.

 Kathua rape case deepens Jammus communal schism, brings citys perceived Hindu-Muslim divide back into focus

Lawyers agitating during a 'Jammu Bandh' organised in the city recently. PTI

"These are beautiful houses, better than the ones you or I live in... and their numbers are increasing after every passing year. A feeling persists that there is a strong push to change the demography of this place," Gautam Awasthi, a 29-year-old trader in Jammu’s Raghunath Bazar, a commercial hub of the city, told Firstpost.

Jammu, a city boasting of the Raghunath temple, a complex of seven Hindus shrines – one of the largest in northern India, built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh between 1822-1860 – a Kali Mata Mandir, overlooking the city built within the premises of Bahu Fort – which overlooks the mighty Tawi River. This place also has Peer Khoo, a cave that people say connects it to the Amarnath cave.

But, Jammu was a Muslim majority area before the Partition. Dr Rajender Bazar back then was called the Urdu Bazar. It was here that violence against Muslims had erupted in the areas Ustad Mohallah and Khati-ka-Talab. It had lasted three days and the approach roads were shut down.

After negotiations by a Muslim officer, those in the region were promised safe passage. They were gathered at the Rajput ground, bundled into busses, and sent to Sialkot road. When they reached Mira Sahib, now Suchatgard, at checkpoints erected by rioters, they were massacred and raped. Conservative estimates put the number of killed at 2.35 lakhs.

"The foundations of Jammu were laid on communal riots," Muslim Action Committee president Muhammad Sharief Sartaj said.

Today, there are no Muslim leaders in Jammu and no political party can afford to have one. Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Congress leader, is an exception. But he too never made Jammu his political base. Even the Valley-based political parties, like National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party, rally behind Hindu leaders in this part of the state.

Gujjar Nagar is just behind the chief minister's residence in Jammu. The area was first developed by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah for people who would carry milk on their heads across the river from Sidhra.

Sheikh argued that due to frequent floods and because crossing the river was dangerous, he gave them pieces of land in what was then a jungle behind his residence. Today, the area has a substantial population of Muslims residents.

They soon changed their profession and the people who lived in Ustad Mohallah, one of the traditional Muslims areas, spoke Dogri better than the Dogras themselves. Their culture is still heavily influenced by the Dogras, something clearly visible in their wedding celebrations. They are also part of every Hindu festival, be it Holi or Diwali.

In the early 1970s, Gujjars of this area would never marry outside their clan. They were the milk suppliers for the city. After the 1990s, when the influx of Muslims from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar started, the Gujjars started marrying outside their clan. Today, not one original inhabitant lives here. They are scattered all over.

"After the 1990s there was massive economic development among Gujjars of Gujjar Nagar, and they started building khoties on the outskirts on the land given to them at throwaway prices," Bunty Mahajan, a resident of Peer Mitha told Firstpost.

Today, the Muslims are present in Khati Talab, Gujjar Nagar, Ustad Mohalla, Peer Mitha, Talab Khathi, Bathindi, Sunjwan, Sidhrawh among others areas.

Although it might look like there has been a demographic change, the census reports suggest otherwise. As per the Census of India in 2011, the population of Jammu district is 1,529,958 while 502,197 are living in the city, of which Hindus account for 81.19 percent, the Muslims just 7.95 percent and the Sikhs 8.83 percent. It sits on an area of 2,342 square kilometres, while the population of Muslims in the district stands at seven percent.

"Seventy percent of the students from Valley study in Jammu," Surinder Mahajan, president of the Raghunath Bazar businessmen association, said. "Wherever you go, you will see students from Kargil or Ladakh or Kashmir Valley. But this good as ours is the only place in the three regions which has such a composite culture, making it difficult for people to divide us."

In winters, when the capital shifts from Srinagar to Jammu, the foot flow of Kashmiris into the city is more than five lakh. It is remarkable how the infrastructural capabilities of the regions have tremendously improved since the onset of militancy in the 1990s. Besides Kashmiri Pandits, thousands of Muslims too left the Valley and made this district, particularly Jammu city, their home.

It is a city of traders; its worldview is moulded by trade and business. As the social media storm over the alleged rape and murder of a nomad girl suggests, entire Jammu is now communally charged or polarised. "That is not the case," said Mahajan. "Jammu has given a place to Kashmiri Pandits, Kashmiri Muslims, Sikhs and others, and they all call it home."

But youngsters like Awasthi say that in recent years, he has seen the effects of the Valley trickling down to Jammu. "I am sure in a few years, when Geelani calls for a shutdown, markets in Sidhara and Sunjwan will also close."

Ankur Sharma, a Jammu-based advocate appearing for five of the eight accused in the Kathua rape case, said that Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has an Islamofascist agenda, and is trying to change the demography of the place.

"Under her, we have got proof that she is using these investigations to further her Islamic and hegemonic idea," Kumar told Firstpost.

Read Part 2: Kathua rape puts Sidhra, one of few remaining Muslim settlements in Jammu, at focal point of communal rift

Updated Date: Apr 24, 2018 16:00:26 IST