Nearly a month since unidentified militants killed RSS leader Chanderkant Sharma and his personal security officer (PSO) Rajinder Kumar at the state government-run district hospital in Kishtwar on April 9, the hilly district town is in the grip of palpable tension.
While leaders from both communities maintained that Kishtwar’s composite culture is hard to break, and that there is no strain, they admitted that the apparent peace is fragile in view of continued “attempts to polarise” the situation .
In what many Kishtwar residents see as making things worse, neither the civil, nor the police administration has tried to establish contact with leaders of either community.
Earlier, militants had shot BJP’s J&K unit secretary Anil Parihar and his elder brother Ajit in Kishtwar town on November 1, 2018. The siblings were returning home after closing their shop in the town when unidentified assailants opened fire on them.
The police and security agencies have not been able to crack either of the cases of targeted killings in a district declared militancy-free nearly a decade ago.
Vijay Kumar, Adviser to J&K Governor, had visited Kishtwar on Saturday to review the situation and take stock of the investigations. Additional DGP (Security) Munir Ahmad Khan and Inspector-General for Jammu zone M K Sinha had accompanied Kumar.
After his visit, Kumar said there should have been a full security revamp after the Parihar brothers were murdered. He also said the decision to change an experienced local SHO due to the election model code of conduct, and “hurried posting of (a) substitute”, has been “an issue”.
Maintaining that non-detection of the case “should not be attributed to lack of intent, and the police should not be made to look defensive”, Kumar said, “Well-meaning people on either side is our bulwark against those trying to stoke the embers…. I have stressed on mohalla-level coordination; law and order pressures should not divert the investigators.”
A senior official, however, said that despite claims of cordial relations between the communities, there is a lot of “artificiality”.
On a visit to Kishtwar town, The Indian Express found members of both communities together at tea stalls, restaurants and at Chowghan Ground, the big field in the city’s centre and a hub of social, cultural, sports and religious activities. But in private, they admitted that an atmosphere of distrust prevails.
“The situation is bad, although we have condemned both incidents of killings,’’ said Kishtwar Jamia Masjid’s imam, Farooq Ahmad Kitchloo, who also heads the Majlis-e-Shoura committee, which comprises prominent Muslims and heads of mosque committees in the district. Admitting that there has been no formal meeting between leaders of Hindu and Muslim communities so far, he said the district administration or any “good-spirited NGO” should volunteer to help reestablish contact between the communities.
Sanatan Dharam Sabha leader Hansraj Batiyal, however, said any such move will be of no use at a time when members of the “other community” provide logistics to militants and allow them stay at their homes.
Dr Mohammad Iqbal Malik, a member of Majlis-e-Shoura, pointed out that even after the administration converted the town into a “chhowni (Army cantonment)” by setting up bunkers in each locality, many members of the Hindu community still demand “Kashmir-type operations’’, indicating a larger presence of security forces.
“We are being looked at with suspicion even after the police and security forces have searched each house in the town and picked up many people from the community, including women, only to release them later,’’ said Shabir Ahmad, a contractor by profession.
Imtiyaz Zargar, provincial joint secretary of the National Conference (NC), said that after the Parihar brothers were killed, the general impression in Kishtwar was that these were political killings. But five months on, the police are yet to probe that angle, he said.
Former J&K minister and National Conference legislator Sajjad Ahmad Kitchloo said absence of any initiative from the local administration to establish contact with the people has led to this situation.