June 1998 News

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In Kargil, Khomeini's Shadow Nurtures a Growing Parallel Government

7th June 1998

KARGIL (LADAKH): Ayatollah Khomeini's legacy may be gradually fading in Iran but the late Shia spiritual leader continues to shape the destiny of indigenous Ladakhi tribes living in this cold desert region located along the border with Pakistan.

Portraits of Khomeini adorn marketplaces, homes, public institutions and even offices in this town, located between two Himalayan peaks overlooking the Suru river, about 200 km north of Srinagar. The Khomeini Trust, a voluntary organisation comprising mostly youth, is aggressively tightening its hold on the society giving rise to distress signals from traditional religious leadership of this predominantly Shia area.

"These (Khomeini Trust) people are trying to import Iranian culture into this small society which is living on the borderline," says Sheikh Ahmed Mohamadi, vice-chairman of Islamia School Trust, a 40-year old theological institution. He said the administration had mutely watched the increasing militancy of the Trust over the years. "These boys have destroyed our peace for last eight years," Mohamadi says.

Officials say the rise of the Khomeini Trust had created a "suffocating atmosphere in Kargil". The lone cinema hall in Kargil has been closed following instructions by the Trust. Kashmiri secessionist leaders received rapturous receptions from the activists of the Khomeini Trust while the rest of Ladakh region ignored them.

The Trust has been organising separate religious functions and its activists raise anti-American and anti-Israel slogans during Muharram processions. "We live under a different Constitution and cannot afford slogans which should be raised only in Iran," says Mohamadi. The recent elections saw the open nexus between the National Conference and the Khomeini Trust. The liaison, senior residents warn, could turn into a Frankenstein's monster.

Ominous portends of the power struggle between two seminary institutions (the Trust and Islamia) had surfaced on Muhharrram this year, when their supporters nearly came to blows and curfew was imposed. The residents say that the truce was temporary and their growing tensions could snowball into major conflict any time.

The Khomeini Trust is reportedly flush with funds coming mainly from Iran. It has been running the first Islamic bank here for past five years without the permission of the Reserve Bank of India. They have occupied government buildings to house their offices. An auditorium of the state information department has recently been vacated by them. Now it's a meeting hall of this religious organisation and a huge portrait of Khomeini hangs there.

Behind the militant face of this organisation lay the deep desire of youth to retrieve their people from the abyss of social backwardness that the `institutions such as Islamia School has pushed them into, the organisers say. Asghar Karbali, the young secretary of the Khomeini Trust, says: "Illiteracy is their biggest enemy which had kept the people backward." Kargil is the least literate district in Kashmir and statistics about women's health and education reflect its backwardness.

The Trust runs cooperative societies to provide market to the small apricot growers in this region. It is trying to green at least 12 villages through watershed management, sponsoring education for 80 orphans and is paying monthly pension of Rs 500 to Rs 700 to a large number of poor widows. The Trust runs at least nine schools with nearly 4,000 children on rolls and lays emphasis on girls education, which is labelled as a taboo by the traditional leadership.


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