Jammu is on the edge. The killing of a senior BJP leader—Anil Parihar—and his brother Ajit Parihar by unknown assailants in Kishtwar late on Thursday evening has triggered unrest in the region. Authorities have imposed curfew in Kishtwara, Doda and Bhadarwah towns and restrictions under section 144 in Ramban, Banihal, Poonch, Rajouri, Riasi and other sensitive locales to curb the attempts by the vested interests to disturb the peace further. The BJP leader and his brother were shot dead by waiting assailants in a dark, narrow lane leading to their house in the Tapal Gali Mohalla of Kishtwar town. The attackers were apparently waiting for the brothers to return home and used pistols to target them. Though the police are yet to identify the killers and the motive behind the killings, communal forces operating in the region are trying to make it a case of Hindu versus Muslims. Kishtwar is communally sensitive and the district had witnessed communal clashes in the past as well. In 2013, the otherwise a mesmerizingly beautiful place, Kishtwar had turned into a battlefield for the venomous Hindu and Muslim residents on the eve of Eid on August 9. As the Muslims of the town assembled in the local Eidgah for the prayers, within minutes, it turned into an arena of stone pelting and gunfire, the flames spreading out to the rest of the town and beyond. The frenzied Hindu and Muslim mobs attacked each other, burnt down each others’ properties at their will with state administration gawking from a distance as a confused spectator. The history of communal tension in Kishtwar is as recent as armed conflict in the state. In a district with 60 percent Muslims and 40 percent Hindus, containing both an insurgency that selectively kills based on religion and a counterinsurgency with selective persecution, has provided a fertile ground for whipping up religious tensions.
The creation of the village defense committees (VDC), with over 95 percent of their members drawn exclusively from the Hindu community, holding official licenses to kill in the name of counterinsurgency, has ensured the religious polarization. In the 2013 communal conflict, even if the village defense committee members didn’t start the violence, they had a major role in heightening the tensions. The VDC operate closely in tandem with the local police. The committee cadres are mostly drawn from Hindu community with minimum recruitment from the Muslim community, were multiplied during BJP government at the centre between 1999-2004, not only in Kihstwar but also in Doda, Rajouri and Poonch. There have been allegations against the VDC members that, together with police, they would harass Muslim resident. The role of police was even more dubious which was manifest in the arrest of a police inspector Shiv Kumar Sharma, who is suspected of having conducted extrajudicial killings and became a terror among Muslims. The present situation also needs to be analyzed in the context of the past communal flare-up. Since the civil secretariat has closed in Srinagar and the entire government has moved to Jammu, many valley people, besides employees, move to winter capital. It is anybody’s guess that a serious sense of insecurity is weighing on their minds and many employees are reported to have decided not to take their families with them. It is time for the government to act evenly with law breakers. Applying different yard sticks to them on the basis of region and religion would only but add to the trouble. The valley and Muslims parts of Jammu region cannot be left to the mercy of Hindu extremists mere for political reasons of the ruling parties.