Kishtwar is a place which has a great legacy of communal harmony since ages. This mountainous district of J&K state has a unique demographic status representing almost every prominent religion of India. Though Kishtwar as a whole has Muslims in majority (more than 50%), but a large of section of Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhism followers also live there. It’s a common saying that every new day starts with birds chirping, but in Kishtwar every new day begins with Azan in mosques, Bhajan in Mandirs and Kirtan in Gurduwaras.
When I was new to this town, I was mesmerised to witness this legacy of communal harmony and brotherhood. In our locality there was a Gurduwara, it had a small playground, all the local guys used to go there and play games together. If there was some function, they would serve us Prasad as well.
In Kishtwar people have strong faith in saints irrespective of their religious affiliations. People of all faiths visit the shrines of Hazrat Farid ud Din (R.A) and Hazrat Asrar ud Din (R.A) and seek blessings from Almighty. All the shopkeepers be it Hindus or Muslims, in the vicinity of these shrines seek blessings from these saints before opening their shops. This is a testimony to the strong legacy of communal harmony in this town.
But since last few years, it’s very disheartening to see that this abode of communal harmony is witnessing an increasing trend of intolerance. The legacy of communal harmony which has been a great asset of Kishtwar town and its people is now dwindling. Though there are various factors responsible for it, but here I would like to mention only one most important factor and that’s failure of civil society to uphold this great legacy. It’s natural that black sheep’s are in every society, but it’s the role of an awakened civil society to curb them and keep a vigil on their actions.
Our new politicians, educationists, media persons, lawyers, teachers, doctors, traders, engineers, youths etc have miserably failed to do this resulting in development of a frenzy atmosphere. On festive seasons all the citizens would equally enjoy all religious festivals and would distribute sweets and shared some good moments together that would in turn embolden the spirit of brotherhood. While as now we see police and other security forces deployed in every nook and corner of the town, it gives a sense of insecurity and disturbance, and it’s just opposite to the great legacy that the ancestors had transmitted to the new generation.
Kishtwar is very well known for “Chowgan” ground, and if any stranger visits Chowgan during evening hours, it would be honest to say he/she will see “real Kishtwar”. By real Kishtwar, I mean one can see peoples of all religions, age groups and gender at one time at one place, some playing games, some sharing light moments, some discussing business deals, some discussing politics, some discussing science and information, some having fun with their families, some having ride on their bicycles and motorbikes, etc. in an atmosphere of peace and harmony. But the same ground is now being used as a communal battlefield, which is not only very unfortunate but also a big shame to the whole society. This frenzy atmosphere will not only destabilize Kishtwar but will also dent its progress and prosperity. Now the question is what civil society should do?
Firstly civil society of the region should work to stop the communal politics that’s going on in the region since last few years. Politics should be completely separated from day to day life and it should be limited to development of the region. We must hold our politicians responsible for any sort of communal politics in future and should stand against any such move. In fact in past our political leaders have been very important pillars for maintaining this legacy of brotherhood, so our present political leaders should also simulate our past leaders in maintaining the communal harmony.
Secondly civil society groups should come out of their cocoon of personal interests, and work for the betterment of the whole region. It’s the responsibility of the civil society groups to ensure that every citizen of the region should get its due share of justice. There is a need to form a strong pressure group in the region to make genuine demands from the Govt. for the region and fight for the same.
Thirdly a healthy civil society believes in debates and discussions. Literary Seminars, scientific conventions and public meetings should be conducted at regular intervals to share and discuss ideas and debate on issues that are essential for any progressive society. Kishtwar is very well known for its great literary legacy, so many poets, scholars and administrators have born in Kishtwar, but they have not been duly accredited in our region but they are well known outside Kishtwar. Apart from this our educational institutions have to play a vital role by engaging in community mobilisation programmes and running campaigns in public interest. There is a need to work for developing a scientific and literary temper in our youths, which is very essential for a rational thinking society.
In conclusion, if we want to see a prosperous Kishtwar, then our civil society groups has to take the responsibility for it and work hand in hand with all the stakeholders to make Kishtwar a wonderful place to live in, as it has been since ages. However it’s pertinent to mention here that this year Kishtwar witnessed a relatively peaceful season, but a lot of work and effort from the civil society groups is needed put Kishtwar back to its age old legacy of brotherhood and communal harmony.
Written by Zahoor Ahmed Wani
A Senior Research Fellow, works in CSIR-IIIM, Jammu. A social worker, runs a voluntary organisation namely Warwan Valley Eco-tourist Society. Convener for Awake India Trust and J&K RBA Forum for Kishtwar district. You can follow him on twitter @zawani1986