Centre Wades Into Barelwi-Wahabi Duel?
Centre Wades Into Barelwi-Wahabi Duel?
24 April 2012
Times of India
: Sectarian shadow boxing between Islamic sects is getting full play in Kashmir. It's the 'Good Barelvis' versus 'Dangerous Wahabis'. And the duel seems to be getting some support of the Centre and its agencies. Could this turn out to be the kind of folly the State committed when it played footsie with Bhindranwale in Punjab? Chances are that Pir Jalaluddin, head of the Batmaloo Sahib shrine in Srinagar, never heard the two bullets that hit him on the night of March 17. But for many in Kashmir, these were echoes of a sectarian war in the making in the Valley. The Pir belonged to a new aggressive group of the Barelvi sect of Islam in Kashmir, a grouping that in the past six months has lost no opportunity to rally its large following in the state. Shrine-going Barelvis constitute about 70% of J&K's Muslims - an overwhelming majority in the Valley. However, the past 20 years have seen the more puritanical Wahabis like Ahle Hadith make rapid inroads in the state - a spread that is often ascribed to vast inflow of foreign funds to these organisations from Saudi Arabia. Thanks to their resources, Wahabi groups have ensured easy availability of Wahabi literature. 'When I was about to pass out of college, I too turned a Wahabi for a few years, unlike my shrine-going family,' said an unlikely young professional who didn't want to be identified. Going further, he said, 'The evening sermon was followed by tea and snacks. The mosque was large and airy and had reading material like books and pamphlets. Go to any roadside bookseller and he will have dozens of magazines and books to choose from on Wahabism.' But the picture is changing now. With their righteous slogan of 'Custodians of Kashmiriyat' and 'Inclusive Islam', the Barelvis are upping the ante to counter the spread of Wahabi organisations. There are several signs of this: the attack on Pir Jalaluddin, the recent attack on policemen at Hazratbal shrine, then another shooting at Dastgeer Sahib, but overtly people pretend there is no sectarian strife. It's only in private they talk about it. And what's more, it seems the state and its agencies are not neutral in the strife. There's a tactical understanding that the 'Good Barelvis' are better than the 'Dangerous Wahabi'. The genesis of the belief lies in the summer unrest of 2010 when the 'Conflict Generation' of Kashmir, boys born post-1990, took the lead in agitations. A subsequent survey by the Union home ministry found that almost 60% of young people spent a considerable time listening to religious discourses on the net or on CDs. The overwhelming majority of this material was of the Wahabi school. It was here that the idea of 'Good Barelvis' and 'Dangerous Wahabis' took root. By the fall of 2011, the strategy is said to have been fleshed out. When the Kashmir Sufi movement page opened on Facebook in October, the battle for ideas was joined. Starting with a massive rally on February 12 this year, it has been a Barelvi spring awakening for Kashmir. Not a day goes by without a function in some part of the Valley by organisations like the Karvan-e-Islam. Central agencies ensure these functions are given wide coverage by 'sympathetic' newspapers. Senior government officials are prominent guests at these religious gatherings. Almost in tandem, many religious shrines are being renovated across J&K to accommodate larger flocks. There's been a sudden inflow of funds which has raised eyebrows. It's at this level the tactical push begins to walk on thin ice. For, on the ground where the mosques are mushrooming, it is the Army which is present in any meaningful way. And the Army that prides itself on being secular, appears to have been convinced to throw their lot to push this sectarian caravan. Army units are keeping a close watch on the construction of new mosques in their operational areas with orders to observe the Wahabis. Many have sprung up recently. For example, in Pulwama, which has some 202 large mosques, 2011 alone saw 43 new ones coming up. In Budgam, close to Srinagar, some 66 new mosques will be completed this year. Early in April, a Rashtriya Rifles unit on the outskirts of Srinagar organised a day's langar at the Urs of a local Shrine. The devout also benefited from a road built to the shrine with Army funds made just weeks earlier. Some officers are uncomfortable with such involvement of the forces. 'Nobody here has ever accused us of being a Hindu army or of sectarian bias. This tarnishes us. We are also influencing our officers and men subconsciously. If these are the good chaps then, by definition, a Jamaat, Deoband or an Ahle Hadith person is dangerous because of the way he practices his religion. Can you really judge a man by the TV channel he watches?' asked an officer, referring to the Wahabi-supported Peace TV. State support to some sect or the other, often fickle and thinly thought out, isn't new in Kashmir. What's new is the Army's role. Gen S K Sinha as governor and Congress CM Ghulam Nabi Azad, for instance, had ensured in 2008 the clearance for an Ahle Hadith's proposal to set up an Islamic university in Kashmir. What's 'good' and what's 'bad', in other words, has kept changing. The militancy years saw a meteoric rise in Ahle Hadith's following. It's said it quickly rustled up around 15 lakh followers in the Valley who visited a claimed number of 814 mosques. And remarkably, the state flirted with it. In 1990, the proposal of an Islamic Shariah University was floated, without any work on the ground. Then in 2008, in a flurry of activity, 50,000 metres of land was transferred to it and a bill passed in the assembly. The only change was a slightly more acceptable name: it was now called the Transworld Muslim University. The Transworld Muslim University was the pet project of a venerable Ahle Hadith leader, Maulvi Showkat, whose murder created an outrage in the Valley. Before his death, the Maulvi was seen by some as being close to the establishment - an impression that grew when he passed a fatwa against stone pelting at the height of the 2010 unrest. If this was a calculated experiment in sharpening sectarian fault lines, it came to a bloody end when Showkat was killed by hit squad of his own organisation in April 2011. The police chargesheet of the accused says the killers were unhappy with Showkat's peace-oriented line. Suddenly, there was a rethink. The Transworld Muslim University was seen as being against the principles of Kashmiriyat. The university bill was allowed to lapse, some allege by the deliberate inaction of Congress MLAs. Simultaneously, the proposal of a Sheikh Ul Alam research university, dedicated to Sufi studies, entered the fray. 'In a state where lakhs of boys are unemployed, where the prime minister's office is encouraging big companies to start vocational training so that local boys get employment outside the state, where was the need for such Sufi research universities? Now, instead of one, we will get two. Will that solve the unemployment and political problems of the state?' said a commentator. This experiment, he said, has been tried before in Punjab, where Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was helped by a section of the Congress to undercut the religious appeal of the Akalis - with disastrous results. Will it turn out to be as dangerous a gamble in Kashmir? Hear this senior Hurriyat leader, who is reputed to have his ears to the ground: 'This won't give the Indian state any advantage. Nor will it dilute the alienation among Kashmiris. It will only accentuate sectarianism. In every ideology or religion, there are good and bad people. Every Wahabi is not a radical and every Barelvi isn't a Sufi. The man who murdered Salman Taseer (Pakistan's Punjab governor) wasn't a brainwashed Al Qaeda agent. He was a shrine going Barelvi Muslim.' There's possibly a nugget of wisdom in that which hasn't visited New Delhi yet.