Kashmir looks to religion to end violence

Indian state government request for religious leaders to work for peace has a hidden agenda, some critics say
Kashmir looks to religion to end violence

Kashmir's chief religious cleric, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq meets a delegation from New Delhi headed by former federal minister Yashwant Sinha in Kashmir in November 2016. The state government has asked religious leaders to help bring peace in the restive state. (Photo by Umar Shah)

India's Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir state has sought out religious leaders to help bring peace to the restive region where violence lingers and Islamic groups continue with their demands of freedom from Indian rule.

State Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said that the government would like religious leaders to play their role in restoring normalcy and peace in the state.

Her party, the Peoples' Democratic Party, which, in coalition with the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, runs the state, has supported her statement. General Secretary Nizzam-ud-din Bhat of the Peoples' Democratic Party told ucanews.com that Kashmir society was wedded to religious values and religious clerics can influence people.

"The government has sought cooperation from the religious leaders not with any political interest but to bring peace to society," Bhat said.

At least 90 civilians were killed and over 15,000 injured during a five-month uprising that began July 8, 2016. More than 12,000 were arrested and detained as Indian forces worked against the rebellion.

Some 60 percent of the state's 12.5 million people are Muslims and Hindus form 30 percent, making it India's only Muslim-majority state. Christians are a miniscule minority of some 35,000 people, half of them estimated to be Catholics. A senior priest of Jammu-Srinagar Diocese that covers the whole state said that the church would be happy to work for peace there.

Restoring peace in Kashmir should be a priority for everyone and the church is always ready to do its bit in this regard, said Father Roy Mathew, parish priest in the Jammu and Kashmir capital Srinagar.

He said 2016's violence left the state rattled and the "poor were the worst victims." The daily wage workers, who form the majority of the state's Christians, "suffered much because they had no work, wages or money for months," he said.

The church would be "ready to do whatever is needed from our end to bring back normalcy," Father Roy said.


Muslims unimpressed

However, most of the Muslim religious organizations have rejected the government's appeal as a political gimmick to divert attention from the real issue.

The state's chief religious cleric and separatist leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said that the government is pursuing a pro-Hindu agenda in Kashmir. Rashtriya Swamek Sangh (RSS), the umbrella organization of Hindu groups working to make India a Hindu nation, has become active in Jammu and Kashmir.

"[RSS is] using its auxiliary Muslim Rashtriya Manch and allied groups such as Jamait Ulema-e-Hind and a network of 20 to 30 NGOs to spread its influence and pro-Hindu agenda in the state," he said.

"The RSS has a long-term interest in fracturing Kashmiri society, preventing a cohesive Kashmiri voice and creating confusion and discord," Mirwaiz told ucanews.com. 

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Kashmir's prominent Shia religious organization, Itthad-ul-Muslimeen said that unless the Kashmir issue is solved the region would have no peace. "Once the dispute is resolved peace can prevail," said party leader, Molvi Ghulam Hassan.

The solution for them is India ending its rule and allowing the Kashmiri people to decide to remain as a free state or merge with neighboring Pakistan, a Muslim nation. However, India regards Jammu and Kashmir as an integral part of the nation.

The dispute over the region began soon after British rule ended, when India and Pakistan began to claim Kashmir. After decades of disputes, three major wars and numerous skirmishes both nations now administer parts of Kashmir.

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