Kishtwar, Aug 13: The otherwise blissful occasion of Eid this year proved to be a nightmarish experience for the inhabitants of this mountainous township as six hours of violence and arson left 2 persons dead and around 100 business and residential structures damaged.
Situated at a distance of around 230 kilometers from Jammu, in Kishtwar the two communities have been known to uphold communal brotherhood despite all odds and similar provocations in the past. The district has a population of 55 percent Muslims and 45 per cent non-Muslims.
Locals claimed that post 2008 unrest the wedge between the two communities kept widening and several events in the recent days contributed to August 9 clashes, something everyone here anticipated.
“We were apprehending that there were elements which were making all efforts to create communal wedge for their own gains”, a Congress leader claimed adding that a day before Eid a party delegation called on Superintendent of Police seeking adequate protection around Eidgah in view of the “prevailing tension in the district.”
“We were told that adequate security arrangement has been made in anticipation of trouble”, he said, while preferring not to be named.
People here said that there had been mounting tension between the two communities as villages inhabited by a particular community were being targeted by some unidentified persons during night hours. “Some masked men had unleashed terror in particular localities, pelting stones and knocking doors of people during night hours”, Anjum Hussain, a local resident said adding, “Government at the highest level was aware about the fact that this was an attempt to create tension among the particular community.” “People from Hullar and Bata villages had faced similar kind of threats for more than two weeks and people were so frightened that they had to patrol their villages during night hours”. The situation, he said, had aggravated as a general conception among the masses was that the miscreants resorting to such tactics were none other than VDC members and people from right wing organisations.
It were the people from the same villages, who had faced harassment at the hands of such miscreants, who entered into a clash with some youth from the other community near the Eidgah at around 10:15 AM last Friday.
Eyewitnesses speak:
Most of the people here are not ready to speak much about the incident due to simple fact of “avoiding police harassment during the ongoing investigation” and those who spoke wanted not to be named.
A man from Banjwar area, who claimed to be at Kuleed when the clash broke out, said, “I was moving towards Eidgah in my car when I had to park the vehicle on roadside as a procession from Hullar and other adjoining localities was on way to offer Eid prayers. I saw two youth on a motorcycle forcing their way into the procession.”
Claiming that trouble started when people from the procession tried to stop the motorcyclists, the eyewitness said, “Some more youth who were sitting outside a shop also entered into an altercation with the processionists, forcing CRPF personnel outside the nearby camp to intervene.”
“There was heated exchange of words between the two sides and the youth started hurling abuses on the processionists”, he claimed adding that within minutes both sides started pelting stones on each other.
“Personal Security Officers (PSOs) of a BJP leader and some VDC members also opened fire and in the meanwhile people from Eidgah also joined the clash.”
A renowned educationist of the area said that 90 percent of the people, who were offering prayers at Eidgah, started leaving for home as most of them had kids accompanying them.
“It was like a dooms day. There was teargas shelling and police was also firing in air. People preferred to rush back home as safety of children was their first preference”.
Eyewitnesses claimed that some miscreants targeted two shops owned by a particular community near Eidgah amid police firing in air. “The people came under stone pelting as they were trying to leave Eidgah. Hundreds of activists from the right wing organisations attacked a petrol pump owned by Malik family near Eidgah and torched more than six vehicles.”
Another eyewitness said that some youth from the majority community attacked Dak Bungalow where the then Minister of State for Home, Sajad Ahmed Kichloo, and Deputy Commissioner had taken shelter.
At least 3 police vehicles were torched by the mob and the minister was forced to remain inside for several hours.
People from the minority community allegedly then targeted some nearby houses and a private hotel, owned by kin of an MLC.
Muhammad Salam, a man in his mid 70s, was stabbed near helipad when he was returning home. “Three youth, who had gone to offer Eid prayers, received bullet injuries and were rushed to district hospital.”
“As there were no police and para-military personnel to save them, some people used their licensed weapons to save their properties and lives”, they claimed.
“Till 2 PM people from a particular community were being attacked and their property was being damaged. The administration completely failed to control the situation, giving a free hand to the miscreants”, they said adding, “Three shops were torched at Hidyal Chowk and the miscreants tried to attack houses in a Muslim majority locality.”
It was around 3 PM when violence broke out in other parts of the township. Agitated over the administrative failure, mobs gathered at many places and targeted shops of a particular community.
“The situation took an ugly turn when people came to know that around 2 persons from a particular community have been burnt to death”, an eyewitness said, adding around a dozen youth had assembled near Gudhali Chowk when they came under fire from the house of a senior doctor. “Three youth received bullet injuries”, they said adding that the mob then targeted a nearby shopping complex.
The eyewitnesses dismissed the allegations that processionists were holding Pakistani flags, while marching towards Eidgah.
“Usually people carry green flags (Islamic flag) on Eid but in Kishtwar we have a tradition that only one flag is unfurled. As such there was no flag carried by the processionists who were attacked at Kuleed,” they said.
“Muslim in this township have been following the tradition of unfurling Islamic flag on every Eid,” Abdul Rehman, a local resident said adding, “The green flag with a crescent remains with Markazi Jamia Masjid and on each Eid the flag is carried to Eidgah, from where a procession is taken which after paying obeisance at Ziyarat Hazrat Asrar-ud-Din (RA) culminates at the shrine of Ziyarat Hazrat Shah Fareed-ud-Din (RA). It is at this place that the flag is unfurled amid prayers.”
He added that during the peak militancy period the practice was banned by the government but for last several years people have resumed the Islamic tradition.
Administrative failure:
People of this trouble torn township said that more than the communal divide, administrative apathy was responsible for the deaths and destruction.
“Firstly there was inadequate response from the administration despite the heightened tension in the township. No effort was made to avoid such clash”, a local resident said.
He said that police made an effort to quell the mob near Eidgah but there was no follow-up to ensure safety of people and property from both the communities. “The petrol pump and a hotel building was targeted just under the nose of police”, an eyewitness said.
As the mobs went out of control and resorted to arson, number of youth took to Facebook appealing for calm and urging administration to impose curfew. “It was only after 5 PM that curfew was imposed in the township but till then two lives and property worth crores were lost.”
‘Violence in Paddar was planned’:
People from the majority community have alleged that the attack carried out at Kajai and Gulabgarh villages of Paddar, which left a villager dead and four others injured, was planned at Kishtwar.
“Some activists of a right wing organisation left for Paddar in a white colour Bolaero vehicle in the evening of August 9 and carried out the attack on the next day with the help of local VDC members”, people informed senior officers of civil and police administration during a peace meeting called by Deputy Commissioner Kishtwar, Baseer Ahmed Khan, today.
The administration was further criticized for not taking any action against those who were responsible for creating communal wedge.
However, the representatives of the minority community boycotted the meeting.


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