Notwithstanding the fact that the BJP chose to keep off from the all-party initiative at the eleventh hour, Muslims and Hindus retrieved their centuries-old bondage with their participation in a peace march, ending days of tension and turbulence in Kishtwar township of Jammu province on the festival of Rakhsha Bandhan, on Wednesday.
The Army was called out and curfew imposed in the entire hill district when the two communities indulged in large scale riots on the festival of Eid-ul-fitr, resulting in devastation of property and three fatal casualties.
District Magistrate of Kishtwar Baseer Khan said that he ordered lifting of the day curfew, for the first time since August 9, when representatives of both the communities attended a joint meeting at his office, alongwith the all-party delegation. The participants, who were later joined by about 500 men from both the communities, took out the first peace march from DC’s Office to Dak Bungalow. Slogans of Hindu-Muslim unity and brotherhood, communal harmony and peace were chanted until the rally walked a distance of one kilometer and dispersed on a positive note.
“However, curfew will continue as a precautionary measure from dusk to dawn for some days. The Army and the police are still in place”, Mr. Khan told The Hindu.
Divisional Commissioner Shant Manu said that the authorities would commence assessment of the damage caused to different properties from Thursday. He said that the police would separately carry out its investigation into the incidents. A judicial enquiry, to be conducted by a retired High Court judge, who is yet to be nominated, would run independently into the circumstances that led to the communal riots in the State.
Senior Congress leader and Cabinet Minister Taj Mohiuddin, who led the peace march, told The Hindu that the all-party delegation failed in its initiative on Tuesday night. “First the National Panthers Party MLA Balwant Singh Mankotia disappeared mysteriously. Later, the BJP leaders, Nirmal Singh and Ashok Khajuria, moved out with their rigid stance on two key issues. They insisted on Deputy Inspector General of Police Ashkoor Wani’s transfer and demanded an investigation by the CBI rather than a judicial probe. Neither demand was acceptable to the majority of the representatives,” Mr. Mohiuddin said.
The Minister said that he finally jumped into the fray with his “personal commitment and responsibility” and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s instruction. “I shouldered the responsibility fully and arranged the meeting of the respectable citizens of both the sides. The Imam of Jamia Masjid welcomed the Hindu delegation warmly at DC’s Office today while reciting a Hadith and explaining how Prophet Mohammad had bequeathed the minorities as a holy Amaanat for the Muslim Ummat and declared their protection mandatory for all Muslims,” Mr. Mohiuddin said. He made a special mention of the “remarkably positive and encouraging response” from Jamaat-e-Islami. BJP’s National Executive member Dr. Nirmal Singh confirmed that his party, as well as the NPP, stayed away from the peace process at its final stage “for strong reasons”.
“We had demanded Rs. 25 lakh compensation to each of the shopkeeper. When Taj Sahab explained that the government could not commit more than Rs. 5 lakh at this stage, we made the traders agree and accept it. However, we moved away when the government turned out the minority community’s demand for the transfer of DIG [Ashkoor Wani] and Dy. SP,” Dr. Singh said.