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When rioters savaged once-peaceful Kishtwar
Saturday August 17, 2013 3:47 PM, Sheikh Qayoom, IANS

Separatist slogans were all it took to stoke communal passions, triggering riots that ravaged Jammu and Kashmir's Kishtwar town, left three dead and led to the resignation of the state's junior home minister who hails from the town.

Communities that have lived in perfect harmony for ages attacked one another with shotguns loaded with hatred and junior Home Minister Sajjad Ahmad Kichloo made the startling claim that mobs tried to set him ablaze.

The trouble started in the otherwise peaceful town of Kishtwar, over 200 km from here, when a procession of locals from adjacent villages entered the town Aug 9 to join others at the Eidgah grounds to offer Eid prayers.

Reports said the procession was shouting pro-azadi (independence) slogans when some Hindus resented this and started pelting stones at the procession and provoking them.

After the news about this reached those already present at the Eidgah grounds they rushed to the spot and joined the riots. Three people were killed and properties worth millions including over 100 shops were gutted.

The district administration had to seek the army's help to bring the situation under control. Eye-witnesses said it was a free for all situation in the town for six hours during which the mobs looted a gunshop and used the looted weapons to target each other.

The state government announced a judicial probe headed by a retired hgh court judge to ascertain the facts about what went wrong in Kishtwar and who stoked communal passions there.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by none less than its star campaigner and the likely prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, told a massive gathering in far away Hyderabad: "Kishtwar is burning. A narsamhar (bloodbath) has taken place in Kishtwar. We don't know how many have been killed there."

It cannot be accepted that Modi did not know that one Hindu and two Muslim had died in the Kishtwar clashes. Violence and madness had taken an equal toll of both the communities in the town, where Muslims form 55 percent and Hindus 45 percent of the population.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, visibly disturbed by the BJP campaign to focus attention on the Kishtwar riots, said during his Independence Day speech in summer capital Srinagar that the people of Jammu and Kashmir were being treated differently as if they were not part of India.

Abdullah cited figures of communal clashes in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Karnataka and some other states during 2012 and up to March 2013 to ask: "How many big leaders have visited those places to express solidarity with the affected people? How many of them used tweets or how many columns of newspapers were written on those clashes?"

It was an obvious dig at the BJP leadership.

Abdullah has, of late, been upping his ante against the BJP and its supporters. He has been a minister in the NDA government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee when his party was part of the alliance at the centre.

Abdullah's partymen believe his secular credentials cannot be questioned just because he speaks against the BJP.

"Isn't he the same person who got a resounding ovation in the Lok Sabha when he said he is a Muslim and an Indian (during the July 2008 trust vote)," asked a senior National Conference leader.

Whatever Abdullah's compulsions might be, the fact remains that the media attention has remained focused on the communal tension in Kishtwar during the last eight days while incidents of communal harmony and brotherhood went mostly unreported.

That the burial procession of a Muslim woman in Jammu city the other day had more Hindu and Sikh mourners than Muslims or that a Hindu bride was escorted by her Muslim brothers in violence-torn Kishtwar a few days back was generally overlooked by the media.

The resignation of junior Home Minister Sajjad Ahmad Kichloo definitely indicates the administration was out of sync with what was going to happen in Kishtwar Aug 9.

Kichloo had come to his Kishtwar home to celebrate Eid. He is the National Conference (NC) legislator from the Kishtwar constituency in the 87-member state assembly.

Instead of accepting his failure to lead the district administration that had to seek the army's help to break the communal clashes which also left private and public properties worth millions of rupees razed to the ground, Kichloo intended to achieve some kind of a political martyrdom by his resignation and the subsequent claim that rioting mobs had tried to set him ablaze - a shocking commentary on an administration whose minister says he managed to escape with his life from the rioting mobs!

Ironically, all those Kichloo claimed had tried to burn him alive were voters of his own constituency, irrespective of the fact whether they were Hindus or Muslims.

The nightmare in Kishtwar must not get repeated again, ever.

(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at

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