Understanding Contours of Insurgency in Jammu Region

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Jammu and Kashmir region is segmented into north and south parts by the Pir Panchal Range, the south of which is Jammu division. Presently Jammu division comprises of six districts–Poonch, Rajouri, Doda, Udhampur, Jammu and Kathua. Out of these, Poonch, Rajouri and Doda touch the Pir Panchal range. Unlike Kashmir, Jammu’s demography represents a linguistic and religious mosaic. There are around 66% Hindus, 30% Muslims and 4%others.Though Rajouri, Poonch and Doda districts are Muslim dominated but have sizeable Hindu population. Jammu, Udhampur and Kathua are Hindu dominated. Both Hindus and Muslims are characterized in terms of their caste, tribal, ethnic and linguistic identities. There are distinct groups like Rajputs, Gujjars, Dogras, Punjabis, Kashmiris, Paharis etc.

In context of multiple identities, politics of Jammu cannot be seen in terms of simple Hindu-Muslim divergence. People here do not identify themselves simply in terms of their religious identity. Their socio-cultural identity has substantial significance for them. It is true that militancy in Jammu region is an extension of militancy in Kashmir region, and, therefore, not independent of it; but it is also true that it has its specific nature in Jammu region. This specificity is both rooted in political environment of Jammu region that is quite different from Kashmir as well as in its location. One cannot ignore its local characteristics in terms of reasons, character and aim. The peculiarities of militancy of Jammu region are located in its geographical, cultural and political contexts.

Though militancy in this region has been located mainly in three Muslim dominated districts of the region, it cannot be simply explained in terms of religion. It is also difficult to argue that it has similar basis of support and operation as in Kashmir because there is divergence in the political responses of Muslims of two regions. It may be pertinent to mention that the divergence in the responses of the two was quite clearly established much before 1947. Such divergence continues to operate even after 1947. The politics of Jammu region has been defined by its political discontent against the concentration of power in the hands of political elite of Kashmir region.

Jammu region has its strategic location and has greater proximity to Line of  Control (LoC) and International Border (IB). The Poonch and Rajouri districts share a long border in the form of LoC. This is  a soft border as large number of people have migrated to Pakistan. People in this region have close relationships to the people of other side. The Muslim dominated areas of Jammu region are linguistically, ethnically and culturally similar to those residing across the line of control.

It is the terrain that favours militants in this region. Jammu’s topography is far more complex than that of the Valley. Rajouri, Poonch and Doda districts of Jammu region are thickly forested. This provides the militants a perfect cover. Many parts of Jammu region are thinly populated and difficult to access. There are parts such as the Hill Kaka region of Surankote that can be reached only after two to three days of tough trekking. The militants have constructed sanctuaries in Surankote. This area has become base camp for militants for a number of reasons. The main one being its topography. It is from here they move to Rajouri crossing Doda and then to the Valley.

In the early 1990s, militancy made its first inroads into Jammu region through Doda district. The Doda district comprises of at least 57% Muslims and 43% Hindus including Sikhs. The Muslim population of Doda is ethno-linguistically identical to the valley population. Whereas the population of two other Muslim majority districts of Jammu region: Rajouri and Poonch, are non-Kashmiris such as Rajputs, Pathans  and Gujjars. They are not ethnically and linguistically identical to the valley’s population. The twin border districts –Rajouri and Poonch– were used by militants as transit routes to training camps in Pakistan. Militancy began in Poonch and Rajouri districts in post-1995 period. It was only in 1997-98 that militants started building bases, and the districts had been in the grip of militancy since then. It was from 2000 that militants started going on offensive in these districts of Jammu region. In April 2002, militants threw a grenade on an army vehicle at Hari Mohalla in Surankote market. The grenade exploded injuring five soldiers and some locals, and an encounter broke out and in the cross firing two civilians were killed. In august 2002, militants targeted the house of Azad Khan, a policeman, and killed his father, brother, sister-in-law and nephew.   The purpose of militancy in Jammu region, therefore, is linked to the aim of provoking violence and creating a sense of insecurity.   One can give a number of examples of killings with the objective of provoking communal tensions in the region. Thus on the eve of Independence Day in 1993, 14 bus passengers of minority community were segregated near Kishtwar and shot dead. In January 1996, 15 persons were shot dead in Barshala village of Doda district.  Killing of eight Hindus in Swari village of Budhal Tehsil of Rajouri district on 24 September 1997, killing of 15 people of a minority community at Sarhoti Dhar villlage in the Padder area on 3 August, 2002, and recently on 1st May 2006, 35 people of minority community were killed–15 in Basantgarh area of Udhampur district and 22 in two villages of Doda district. These and many other examples can be stated in this context.

It is not that such targeted killings of the minorities has not had any effect. Apart from the electoral and political polarization that has been gradually taking place, there has also been some kind of communal tension. On August 9, 2003, for instance, trouble erupted in Kishtwar town when local youths of minority community clashed with the majority community as the shopkeepers of majority community refused to down the shutter of shops despite a bandh call of BJP. An indefinite curfew was clamped in Kishtwar town following the communal clash in which over a dozen shops of both the communities were looted and burnt by the mob.

However, such kind of impact of communalization of society of Jammu region is not wide-spread. The incident referred above has been one of the isolated ones and does not represent a generalized reality of the region. On the whole, there has been sufficient communal tolerance that has been reflected all through the years of militancy. The reason of such communal tolerance can be located both in the tradition and pattern of living of the people here as well as lack of popular support to militancy. Most of the Muslims also relate negatively to militancy because they are much more pressurized by its presence and their lives get affected more by its presence. Not only they are pressurized and intimidated by their co-religionist militants to provide them food and security, they also face the harassment of security forces looking for cues for the presence of militants. Moreover, the militants are often looking for opportunities to recruit new members in their organizations, and, therefore, try different ways– monetary allurement, religious fanaticism or forceful abduction – of attracting, particularly, the local Muslims towards them.  In some cases humiliating experiences at the hands of army can turn people into active militants or militant sympathizers. The main source that sustains militancy in the region is infiltration and that continues unabated. One of the peculiarities of militancy in the region is the vast number of foreign mercenaries.

The major militant groups which are active in the three hilly districts of Jammu region are: Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Harkat-ul-Mujaheddin, Hizbul Mujaheddin (H M).The HM’s fighiting units in these districts is better called as Hizbul Mujaheddin Pir Panchal Regiment(HMPPR). Most of the members of HMPPR are recruited from local population.:

The normal life of the people of this part of the Jammu region has been affected by militancy. Work in several educational institutions, government offices, and dispensaries situated in remote villages has been paralysed as the employers have abandoned their point of posting due to militancy. There is shortage of teachers and school-buildings, either burnt by militants or occupied  by Security forces; and students have to sit in open and classes are rarely held in class-rooms.

Violence has affected the people of this part of the region in more than one way. Killing of innocent civilians, towns under curfew, all this happen in Poonch, Rajouri and Doda.   Militants are killing people for refusal to provide shelter or for not supporting them. Civilians are also killed on the pretext of informers– on an average two to three civilians are killed by militants daily in Jammu region. Such killings are very high in Poonch, Rajouri and Doda. In some cases, militants have been resorting to brutal methods of killing like sliting of throat, chopping of ear, nose and other parts of body, strangulation etc. Thousands of families have left the militancy-affected districts of Doda, Rajouri and Poonch, and the Government refuses to register them and to give them relief.

Thus, it is evident that though militantcy in Jammu region is located mainly in Muslim dominated areas, yet there is no direct correlation between religious identity and context of militancy in this region. Severe communalised politics is bound to fail because religious based identity has been overlapped by the cultural, ethnic and tribal identities. Moreover militancy in this region has socio-economic base also.This is evident from the fact that in Buddhal tehsil of Rajouri district, there is presence of Hindu militants. One of the reasons for this is that people of this region are poor, unemployed and lack educational opportunities and health facilities. They are more interested in developmental issues .Therefore, what is required is that the government should cater to the grievances of these people and ponder over their dimension of the problems. While crossing the pathways to peace, government must abandon repressive policies to prevent the mass alienation.

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