Kishtwar A Tinderbox, Region Under Curfew After Clashes

Kishtwar A Tinderbox, Region Under Curfew After Clashes

10 August 2013
The Indian Express
Maneesh Chhibber , Arun Sharma

Jammu: A day after rioting in communally-sensitive Kishtwar left two dead and several injured, arson and communal tension spread to Jammu and Rajouri districts of Jammu and Kashmir. Late Saturday, curfew was imposed in both districts. While curfew-bound Kishtwar town remained tense but largely calm, what kept the administration on tenterhooks was the possession of weapons by both communities in the area, with 45 being stolen from a shop in the town on Friday. Most village defence committees around Kishtwar town have authorised weapons. These include .303 rifles while those looted on Friday were only 12 bores. On the ground, Kishtwar remained peaceful, with all access roads to it blocked. While Kishtwar is a Muslim-majority town, Hindus dominate the neighbouring villages. Government sources admitted there is fear that clashes may erupt in some of the nearby areas where the numerical strength of the two communities is almost equal. 'These towns are now the trouble spots,' a senior officer said. The Centre is also keeping a close watch on the situation. Across the state, people from both communities held protests. Sixteen people were injured in clashes, six of them in Paddar in Kishtwar district. Jammu region saw total bandh, with the BJP and other organisations extending the strike till Monday. Trouble spread to Rajouri following pelting of stones by some miscreants at a local mosque. Though Hindus of the area came out in support of Muslims against the miscreants, people in large numbers started emerging from their houses, prompting the apprehensive administration to impose a curfew. Police resorted to lathicharge and lobbed teargas shells to disperse some stone-pelting youths. Later Saturday, following stray violence in Jammu district, curfew was also extended there. Reports of people holding demonstrations were also received from Kathua, Samba, Vijaypur, Sunderbani, Nowshera, besides all the towns along the Jammu-Srinagar national highway and Batote-Doda-Kishtwar highway. The state government stopped traffic along the national highway from Lakhanpur to Banihal and towards Doda and Kishtwar in a bid to quell protests. Security agencies which have put together the sequence of events leading to the Friday riots said trouble started in Kishtwar as a scooterist was trying to make his way through a procession of Muslims going for Eid prayers, which was at the time passing a Hindu-dominated area. The man, the son of an ex-BJP MLC, reportedly entered into a heated argument with members of the procession. Soon numbers swelled on either side, sloganeering began and eventually a stone was thrown, sparking off immediate violence. Soon, hundreds heavily armed men started walking towards Kishtwar from village Hullar raising provocative slogans. The district administration was reportedly slow in reacting as clashes erupted between this group and others from the town who were raising azadi slogans. Eventually, the civil administration requested for Army support, but the force took some time to reach as they are not deployed in the area in large numbers. The few men who made their way in were outnumbered and it was only by late evening that flag marches could be conducted with heavy reinforcements, eventually bringing the situation under control. As tension remains high, there is growing clamour for strict action against local officers and a probe into the role of sitting NC legislator and Minister of State for Home Sajjad Ahmed Kitchloo, who was present in Kishtwar.