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Trouble in Zanskar

Kashmir Times, Oct 28, 2012

Sectarian interference from outside needs to be curbed to restore social calm in the remote region

Zanskar, Ladakh (India) -- Rarely heard of and very rarely portrayed, remote Zanskar sub-division of Kargil district in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir state is suddenly in news for the wrong reason. Usually sensitive issue of religious conversion is said to have polarised the local community resulting in outbreak of mob violence.

The main town of Zanskar, Padam, has been placed under curfew to prevent further trouble. So far the trouble appears to have been contained and kept within manageable limits of the local administration but, given the combustible mix of the issues at stake, nothing can be taken for granted.

Zanskar is a Buddhist-majority part of the Muslim-majority Kargil district adjoining the Buddhist-majority Leh district in the Ladakh region within the Muslim-majority J&K state. So the seemingly simple issue of majority-versus-minority, or vice versa, tends to have spiralling effect.

Because of the remote geographical location of Zanskar only sketchy details are available about the incident that triggered off the communal clash. Broadly it appears that the local Buddhist population is highly agitated over the reported recent conversion of about two dozens of their fellow-community persons to Islam and that they are demanding their immediate restoration into their original religious fold.

Even in best of circumstances, religious conversion is a highly sensitive issue. Therefore, the apprehensions being voiced on this score by the two communities need to be addressed very cautiously.

Firstly, nothing should be said or done to add fuel to the fire. Secondly, the local authorities must be sufficiently equipped to ensure that the situation does not get out of their hands. Thirdly, a lasting solution to this thorny problem should be explored through social channels of communication. Fourthly, recent history of Ladakh shows that sectarian elements there need to be held in check before they jump into the fray. Communal violence in the region tends to escalate viciously.

Allegations of forced conversion need to be convincingly investigated without fear or favour. Indeed, Islam itself prohibits forcible conversion and expressly forbids use of coercion or temptation. The Muslim community should have no objection to dispel fears on this account as it is also a religious obligation. At the same time the constitutional freedom given to individuals in matters of personal faith needs to be upheld at all costs. The twin objectives, obviously, necessitate that initiative be taken by the local administration to get the two communities together to sort out matters.

Foremost task of the administrative authorities is to prevent further violence and to gradually restore social calm. In the surcharged atmosphere neither of the two communities would be inclind to come forward and communicate with the other. Tension in the atmosphere is a huge deterrent to well-meaning citizens who might be inclind to lend their helping hand.

Going by the past experience of similar situation in Ladakh, mischievous elements far beyond the remote region jump into the fray to grind their own axe. The local administration should take effective preventive measures and not allow the fire to spread. Statements on the Zanskar situation coming from different shades of opinion across the state largely betray insensitivity. There seems to be a race between rival sides to rush in without any concern for consequences.

The localised problem should in no case be allowed to trigger off any larger conflagration. That makes it all the more necessary for the state administration to curb each and every attempt at mischief before it adds fuel to the fire. Much would, however, depend on how soon the local machinery brings the situation under control.

The issue at stake calls for utmost sensitive handling at all levels. Seeking local community’s active participation in resolving the contentious issue should be the prime objective of all concerned. Restoration of communal peace and social harmony in Zanskar has wider dimensions that transcend its limited geographical connotation.

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