Kashmir: Peace march for a university
Srinagar, the summer capital of restive Indian-administered-Kashmir routinely fashioned into a theatre of politically obsessed displays which often turn violent, witnessed atypical peace protest march on Monday, March 12, 2012.
That in support of the demand of setting up an Islamic university in the predominantly Muslim Himalayan state, the longstanding demand of a socio-religious organisation which appears to have gone haywire.
Hundreds of members and supporters of Jamiat-e-Ahle Hadith, which promotes Wahhabism, a religious movement or a branch within Sunni Islam, and is also involved in social work in what is officially known as Jammu and Kashmir state in extreme north of India, joined the peace march taken along the streets of uptown Srinagar to press its demand for Trans-World Muslim University (TWMU).
The idea is brainchild of Moulana Showhat Ahmed Shah, a prominent Kashmiri cleric and a familiar face in temperate camp of the separatists or pro-freedom activists, who was killed in a remotely detonated bomb outside a mosque in Srinagar in April 2011. Shah, 57, was vocal critic of stone-pelting during the pro-freedom protests and had termed it un-Islamic. He had earlier even won the wrath of hard-line separatists and religious radicals after he and some other senior Jamiat leaders met the then New-Delhi appointed Governor Lt. Gen. (retired) S.K. Sinha during the 2008 blood-spattered agitation over allowing a Hindu consortium called Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) to use forest land for creating facilities for tens of thousands of Hindu pilgrims who turn up at the Amarnath cave-shrine in Kashmir hills every summer to seek his help toward establishing the university in Srinagar.
Nevertheless, Monday’s peace march which culminated into a protest rally held at Srinagar’s Press Enclave was not fully apolitical in nature. The participants were chanting slogans against the regional National Conference and Indian National Congress party coalition government which rules the state under Omar Abdullah as Chief Minister. They were furious over the alleged “disruption” in the execution of the plan and blamed the local chief of the Congress party Prof. Saifuddin Soz and others in the party for it.
Moulana Gulam Rasool Malik, the Jamiat chief, warned that if the ordinance to establish the TWMU was not passed during the ongoing budget session of the State Assembly it would call for protests which will be a "flood". He said, "If the ordinance is not passed during this session, then this government will be responsible for any break down in law and order."
Without naming anybody, the Jamiat chief said that some unknown people had "ill-informed" New Delhi that the university would be a breeding ground for terrorists and hardliners. "Our organization's contribution in India's freedom struggle is known to all. We want to tell these people that the doors of this university will be open to everyone irrespective of his religion, region, caste or colour. It would only help towards furthering the standard of education in Jammu and Kashmir and beyond.”
A bills seeking setting up TWMU and Sheikh-ul-Alam Research University after Kashmir’s patron saint Sheikh Noorurddin Wali in the Valley and Guru Nanak Khalsa University after the founder of Sikhism in Jammu, the winter capital of the state, were passed by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly last year. But the plan hit major roadblock when ruling National Conference-Congress combine strongly opposed it in the Upper House or Legislative Council. The bills were subsequently sent to a joint select committee. Earlier the Hindu rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party members had in the Lower House strongly opposed the setting up of TWMU, citing the varsity would become a launching pad for “Islamic fundamentalism”.
It is believed the lawmakers who opposed the bill actually do not subscribe to the interpretation of Islam by the Jamiat and the school of Islamic thought it professes. They see Wahhabism as an austere, puritanical interpretation of Islam and in clash with the region’s famed Sufi traditions. The lid was lifted by Congress member Bashir Ahmed Magray who was the first to oppose the bill in the Legislative Council by saying “It involves a particular religious community.” But the Jamiat leadership rejects the apprehension as “gratuitous”. It also says deliberate attempts are being made by ‘vested interest’ to divide Muslims by advancing unconvincing arguments. “There is only one Islam there which was introduced by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and it would be naïve on anybody’s part to try to split it by placing tolerant and hard-line labels rather we see it as a deliberate attempt to divide Muslim for other reasons,” said a Jamiat activist.
But the fact remains that due to the efforts of the Jamiat the brand of Islam it preaches is making deep inroads into Kashmir. Swelling congregations flocking to over 700 mosques it has built across the Vale of Kashmir over the years stands testimony to it. Those who wish to strictly adhere to the Sufi Islam are worried over the growth; hence try to seize every opportunity that comes in their way to run the competitor down.
However, as for establishing TWMU in Kashmir, nothing stands in its way constitutionally. “Hence legislative stalling remains inexplicable,” said columnist Javid Iqbal. He wrote in mass-circulated Greater Kashmir “Education being a fundamental right, the longstanding plea of the Jamiat for setting up the TWMU in Kashmir seems to be a valid plea gone haywire” Referring to a Hindu consortium that runs the affairs of a revered community shrine Mata Vaishnodevi successfully setting up a university, he asked “Impeding the legislative passage (of TWMU) would surely entail a comparison—undesired, unwanted and unwarranted!” He adds, “We may not be drawn into comparison between the relative sailings of the two proposals. That too would be undesirable. All said and done, it ultimately boils down to the fact that there can be no cons in educational progression of any community, only loads of pros. Besides it stands to test the projection that Kashmir is the laboratory of India’s secularism!”