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Ladakh's fragile 'peace' & politics of hate
By Bhat Iqball Majeed
Life has become extremely despairing amid the times we are living in. Day in and out we are witnessing people being maimed, killed and destruction of belongings taking place all around us. Some are being killed in the name of religion, some in the name of caste, some in the name of cow and some in the name of jingoistic nationalism. India is going through the worst times of history which would be rightly described in Meera Nanda's words as 'prophets facing backward'. Nationalistic bigotry is at its peak and death threats have become norm of the day.

I recently got a chance to visit Leh for a very promising initiative of peace building and conflict transformation. This was my first visit to Leh ever as a resource person for an organisation working on conflict transformation. The visit was interesting as well as surprising for me in many ways. Coming from a place like Kashmir, which is witnessing killings, destructions and enforced disappearances from last three decades, peace still remains as a very elusive idea.

I guess every Kashmiri of my generation and younger can hardly imagine how a violence-free society exists and if it all it exists what could it be like. The killings by unknown gunmen have almost become a nightmare for every Kashmiri. Therefore, with this baggage of lived experience, going to Leh has its own significance. Leh is very often portrayed in the media as a peaceful place, serene and tranquil where solace engulfs human being. My stay in Leh for almost a week made me visit some of the surrounding places and also some institutions that have come up very recently. Besides this I also had an opportunity to talk and have group discussions with the youth of Leh. Apparently, the situation in Leh was very peaceful but somehow, I always had a feeling that it is in Chomskian terms a "manufactured peace".

I did talk about this very existing fragile peace with my colleagues from Kashmir and Leh. However, most of them believed that peace is quite essential to the very existence of Leh as it is a tourism destination and thus there is no scope of any kind of violence. Though, I could not contest their argument by any means at that moment but my engagement with people in Leh during a week's time whispered insinuations of cosmetic peace in my ears. To my mind one question continued to make rounds, and that was about relationship between the Buddhist and Muslim community in Leh. My assessment of the relationship between two communities suggested a subtle building up of hostility. Every evening, I would end my day on a pessimistic note about the fragility of peace in Leh. This fragility of peace was direct consequence of the relationship that existed between the two communities in Leh.

As I went back into the history, I came to know about the first ever communal riot that took place in 1989. During this communal riot, there was a social boycott between Buddhists and Muslims which lasted almost for two years. My week-long engagement with people in Leh validated that post the historical communal riot of 90s, social fabric of Leh has taken a different shape.

Currently what we are witnessing is the division between communities at various levels. The school run by the Muslim organisations is having enrolment of Muslims only and school run by the Buddhists organisations is having enrolment of Buddhist only. This kind of subtle and informal exclusion at such level is an outcome of the manufactured peace that prevails in Leh. This peace has a necessity to prevail as a cog in the wheel of tourism industry. However, there is always a carrying capacity of the manufactured thing. Thus, a small incident like inter religious marriage is enough to break shackles of peace in Leh. Any individual act by the people from the communities is bound to be exploited for larger political gains keeping in view the politics of hate hovering in the skies of Leh. The façade of peace is waiting for any ripe moment to be exploited for the communal clashes in near future.

My fears came true so fast as last week's situation in Leh became critical with the forced shutdown of market in the town. The individual act of consented marriage between two young promising adults - a Muslim boy and a Buddhist girl has raised the communal fears too high in Leh. The 'Ladakh Buddhist Association' enforced the strike in Leh within few minutes on 7th of September. Ladakh Buddhist Association even drafted the memorandum to the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. Unfortunately, the language of memorandum was carries a strong tinge of provocation and intimidation. The memorandum would says, "……. we feel that the Muslim community leaders, the local administration and other stakeholders need to warn the Muslim communities and the state government machinery to immediately intervene and arrange to bring back the girl before peace, tranquility and communal harmony takes an ugly turn. We have repeatedly asked the Muslim community leaders in the past on many occasions to sensitise their community to stay away from such wicked and depraved act which otherwise will lead to communal unrest and the District administration will be solely responsible".

This takes me back again to those questions of where do we place the agency of the women and their right to decide whom to marry and not? Should we let community relationships subservient to the individual acts? In whose name are we trying to bulldoze the hard earned tranquility of the societies of which we are part? To whom are we trying to leverage out of such frenzy? Why cannot we let the adult mature members of our society choose their way of living? Why should we put individual freedoms hostage to hysteria of political gambles? The need is to discuss and debate these questions at large and not to hold our brains and thought process subservient to the political masters or to the anchors of television studios.

Let the sanity prevail even during insane times.

(The author is Assistant Professor at Department of Social Work Central University of Jammu (bhat.iqbal@gmail.com)


News Updated at : Thursday, September 14, 2017
 
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