(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
August 24 , 2008
Joint Delegation For Peace And Unity Visits Jammu
IN a small but significant initiative, three national women’s organisations along with other social organisations organised a joint delegation for peace and unity that visited Jammu on the August 11-12, 2008. I represented AIDWA in the delegation that included Mohini Giri (former chairperson of the NCW) of the Guild of Service, Jyotsna Chatterjee of the Joint Women’s Programme, Annie Raja of the NFIW, Afroz Bano of the War Widows Association and Veena behn of the Akhil Bharatiya Rachnatmak Samaj.
We were greeted at Jammu airport by Varma, a Gandhian activist of the Rachnatmak Samaj who had played an important role in organising our visit and also by CITU comrades, both men and women. We were joined by others from NFIW and also from the Rachnatmak Samaj. We went straight to the Mubarak Mandi in the center of the city where we paid floral tributes to the statue of Mahatma Gandhi and where there was an all-faith prayer meeting which was followed by all of us forming a human chain for unity and peace. This very modest programme was welcomed by the people in the area and also much publicised since it was such a departure from the sectarian and aggressive demonstrations that had become commonplace in the days of bandh and curfew in Jammu.
The delegation then visited Ustad Mohalla which is inhabited by members of both the major religious communities and which has always been a haven of harmony. Many people belonging to the area voiced their apprehensions and views and also their commitment to maintaining unity. The problems of daily wage-earners and poor people in a situation where all economic activity has stopped were also voiced. The next stop was the minority-dominated area of Talab Khatikan. As we neared the meeting place we saw many angry youth shouting and waving their hands at us to go back. Others, however, pacified the young men and welcomed as. Then we were told that there had been firing in the Valley on the crowds that had collected on the Muzaffarabad road and that several people had died and received injuries. This had, naturally, enraged many in the area. At the meeting where more than a hundred people had gathered, leaders of the Muslim Federation and the Gurjar community interacted with the delegation. In both these meetings, many who spoke expressed their deep sense of insecurity and fear. They told us that the homes of hundreds of Gurjars had been completely destroyed in outlying areas of Jammu and also that demonstrators insisted on taking processions through their residential areas which had very narrow streets and this could easily lead to untoward incidents. Some of them said that women family members were terrified of a ‘Gujarat-like situation’. Older residents spoke of the horrific killings of Muslims in Jammu that had occurred after Partition and said that the present atmosphere was bringing back old memories of that time.
The delegation then visited the home of Kuldip Dogra who had most tragically ended his life in support of the current agitation. We were told that he was most perturbed after hearing Omar Abdullah’s speech during the confidence motion in parliament and he said that he was also willing to die for the land. He then consumed insecticide and went to the dharna spot where he died. After this, the police behaved with great brutality with his widow and cremated the body at night. Apparently, this incident enraged people who gave up the dharna for more militant protests. The delegation offered their condolences to his brother and other family members (his wife and children were away) and Mohini Giri assured them that his children’s education would be taken care of by the organisations she heads. Unfortunately, due to lack of time, we could not visit the homes of others who have lost their lives in the agitation.
After this, we met Lila Kiran Sharma of the Sri Amarnath Yatra Sangharsh Samiti at his residence. He explained the reasons for the on-going agitation in great detail. After listening to him, we requested him to ensure that communal harmony was maintained in Jammu at any cost and said that any mischievous elements who tried to communalise the situation should be dealt with sternly. Sharma assured us that this would be done and that the unity of the people of Jammu would not be compromised in any way. At the same time, he tried to minimise the attack on Gurjar homes and made other statements that somewhat belied his assurances. He also warned that the Jammu agitation may not remain peaceful forever.
Later, the delegation met with Sikh men and women along with other individuals who are activists for peace and unity. Many of them wanted the Bandh to end because it was affecting them very adversely but did not have the courage to openly express this feeling. Some, who were truck-owners, told us that it was true that the first attacks on trucks took place in Jammu.
On the 12th morning, we held a press conference which was well-attended and, we learned later, that it was very well reported by the Hindi and English print and electronic media.
We also met the divisional commissioner, Sudhanshu Pandey, who had a very frank discussion with us. He told us that the situation had deteriorated and that clashes were taking place in Kishtwar at that very moment. Members of the two communities were attacking each other and firing had also taken place. He also said that despite the assurances of the Samiti, it was a fact that 74 homes belonging to Gurjars had been completely destroyed and that very morning water tankers being sent to areas where the minority community resided had been stoned. He also said that the attempts of the administration to open banks so that pensioners and others could withdraw money and also schools had been violently opposed.
Before our departure, we were able to facilitate the formation of a Sadbhavana Samiti comprising of men and women dedicated to peace and communal harmony. CITU leaders and members joined the Samiti and the local administration has assured all co-operation to this Samiti.
In our meetings with the DC and with the media, we made the following demands and suggestions:
The delegation feels that immediate compensation must be made for the families of those killed; to those whose homes have been burned and to those whose trucks and property have been damaged;
We appeal to the leaders of the agitations in both parts of the state to suspend their agitations so that an atmosphere is created for meaningful dialogue and restoration of peace. We hope that once this is done, they will initiate talks amongst themselves so that lasting peace is ensured. It is also important that the suffering of common people, the poor, women, children and the sick end;
We appeal to all concerned to ensure the movement of trucks to and from the Valley;
The education of children and young people must resume so that their future is not adversely affected;
The delegation appeals to the media to observe restraint and to shun anything that can provoke conflict.
The delegation left deeply concerned by the situation in Jammu and feeling strongly that the responses of the administration, the state and central governments had been completely inadequate.
We have since learned that the Sadbhavna Samiti organised a peace march on August 15 and has been holding meetings in different parts of Jammu every day.