Fatima received a fatal injury in police action during sectarian clashes that broke out in Budgam district of Kashmir valley in July this year. According to her relatives, Fatima was looking for her grandson outside her house when she was hit on the head by a policeman. Nearly a week later Fatima succumbed. Usually the killing of a civilian by the police invokes the peopleâs wrath. People from all walks of life come out on the roads to protest the âbrutalityâ; however, Fatimaâs burial was a comparatively silent one. Perhaps the people were apprehensive about the implications their reactions might lead to. In a place where dying for a âcauseâ is routine, death on sectarian lines does not fit the usual scheme of things. Rather it raises many serious questions and puts forward some ugly challenges before society.
Historically, the flourishing of the Shia sect in the Kashmir Valley is attributed to Mir Shamsuddin Araqi, a saint and religious scholar who came to Kashmir during the reign of the Chak dynasty in the later part of the 15th century. The Chak rule is considered to be the only golden period for Shias in the whole history of Kashmir. However, it was just after the downfall of the Chaks that the persecution of Shias started. After the Mughals, it was the Afghan rule in Kashmir that became a threat for the Shiite community. The hatred for this minority was visible through plunders and massacres. It was during this period that the Shia community started practicing âTaqiyahâ (hiding oneâs religious beliefs for oneâs own safety) for safeguarding their lives and honour. Since then Shiites in Kashmir have seen many highs and lows.
In the year 1947 and after, Shiites took active part in the political affairs of the State. In many instances they were at the forefront of Kashmirâs struggle for independence â a sizeable population from the community also had to suffer at the hands of the State for their pro-Pakistan leanings. Munshi Mohammad Ishaq, a Shia leader was a prominent figure of the historic Plebiscite Movement. And during the armed uprising in Kashmir in the late 80âs the Shia community also had a militant outfit Hizb-ul-Mominoon (the party of the faithful). Many of this groupâs âboysâ were either killed or arrested.
A scholar from the Shia community Ibne Muhammad (name changed) says, âThe Shia community is a strong stake holder in Kashmir and we have been participating fully in the political struggle of Kashmir throughout its history.â Talking about the diversity of political thought within the community he says, âYou can find a Shia presence across the political spectrum of Kashmir. There is a Shia leader in every major separatist and mainstream political party here.â
In spite of such active participation in Kashmirâs political affairs, many incidents over the last two decades, especially the sectarian violence in Pakistan, have created a serious threat perception among Shias in the Valley.
The Shia population in Kashmir lives in small pockets. In the capital city Srinagar they are mostly confined to Dal (Mir Behri), Zadibal and Shalimar areas. Budgam is the only town in the Valley where Shias form a majority.
But incidents and events over the past two decades have led to a situation where the Shia community has shrunk into small enclaves, gradually taking the shape of ghettos, a sharp contrast to earlier times when Shias and other Kashmiri minorities were scattered all along the interiors of Srinagar city. âThe revival of sectarian based politics in Pakistan and Middle East, and the dramatic resurgence of anti-Shia forces there reinforced the fears of the community,â says Masroor Ansari, son of former Hurriyat president Moulvi Abass Ansari and the current president of Itehadul Muslimeen, a constituent of the moderate separatist amalgam Hurriyat Conference. He further says that fears actually worsened after the entry of foreign armed militants in Kashmir in the late eighties, with some militant groups actively supported by the Pakistani Wahabi organisations, perceived by the Shia community to be influenced by anti-Shia hate propaganda.
Although there is not much representation in the legislation, a few Shia politicians including representatives from Kargil are present in the State Assembly. Besides a senior leader of the main opposition party PDP, Moulvi Iftikhaar Hussain Ansari and a young politician Aga Ruhullah who is associated with the ruling party National Conference (NC) had a cabinet rank before the recent reshuffle.
Ansari reiterates that there has been manipulation through delimitation of districts and tehsils because of which eight Shia community majority pockets in Kashmir have now been reduced to only three. Recently, two cabinet ministers from the previous Council of Ministers, Qamar Ali Akhoon from Kargil and Aga Syed Ruhallah from Budgam, were dropped in the reshuffle. Only one member of the community, Firoz Khan from Kargil has been inducted as MoS (Minister of state). This can only be seen as a raw deal given to the Shia community, which has a population of 15 lakh in the state.