India-Centre wades into Barelvi-Wahabi duel in Kashmir?(story by Times of India)

Centre wades into Barelvi-Wahabi duel in Kashmir?

Randeep Singh Nandal, TNN & Agencies Apr 25, 2012, 03.36AM IST



Sectarian shadow boxing between Islamic sects is getting full play in Kashmir. It’s the ‘Good Barelvis’ versus ‘Dangerous Wahabis’. And the duel seems to be getting some support of the Centre and its agencies. Could this turn out to be the kind of folly the State committed when it played footsie with Bhindranwale in Punjab?

SRINAGAR: Chances are that Pir Jalaluddin, head of the Batmaloo Sahib shrine in Srinagar, never heard the two bullets that hit him on the night of March 17. But for many in Kashmir, these were echoes of a sectarian war in the making in the Valley. The Pir belonged to a new aggressive group of the Barelvi sect of Islam in Kashmir, a grouping that in the past six months has lost no opportunity to rally its large following in the state.

Shrine-going Barelvis constitute about 70% of J&K’s Muslims – an overwhelming majority in the Valley. However, the past 20 years have seen the more puritanical Wahabis like Ahle Hadith make rapid inroads in the state – a spread that is often ascribed to vast inflow of foreign funds to these organisations from Saudi Arabia. Thanks to their resources, Wahabi groups have ensured easy availability of Wahabi literature.

“When I was about to pass out of college, I too turned a Wahabi for a few years, unlike my shrine-going family,” said an unlikely young professional who didn’t want to be identified. Going further, he said, “The evening sermon was followed by tea and snacks. The mosque was large and airy and had reading material like books and pamphlets. Go to any roadside bookseller and he will have dozens of magazines and books to choose from on Wahabism.”

But the picture is changing now. With their righteous slogan of “Custodians of Kashmiriyat” and “Inclusive Islam”, the Barelvis are upping the ante to counter the spread of Wahabi organisations. There are several signs of this: the attack on Pir Jalaluddin, the recent attack on policemen at Hazratbal shrine, then another shooting at Dastgeer Sahib, but overtly people pretend there is no sectarian strife. It’s only in private they talk about it. And what’s more, it seems the state and its agencies are not neutral in the strife.

There’s a tactical understanding that the “Good Barelvis” are better than the “Dangerous Wahabi”. The genesis of the belief lies in the summer unrest of 2010 when the “Conflict Generation” of Kashmir, boys born post-1990, took the lead in agitations. A subsequent survey by the Union home ministry found that almost 60% of young people spent a considerable time listening to religious discourses on the net or on CDs.

The overwhelming majority of this material was of the Wahabi school. It was here that the idea of “Good Barelvis” and “Dangerous Wahabis” took root.

By the fall of 2011, the strategy is said to have been fleshed out. When the Kashmir Sufi movement page opened on Facebook in October, the battle for ideas was joined. Starting with a massive rally on February 12 this year, it has been a Barelvi spring awakening for Kashmir. Not a day goes by without a function in some part of the Valley by organisations like the Karvan-e-Islam. Central agencies ensure these functions are given wide coverage by “sympathetic” newspapers. Senior government officials are prominent guests at these religious gatherings.

Almost in tandem, many religious shrines are being renovated across J&K to accommodate larger flocks. There’s been a sudden inflow of funds which has raised eyebrows. It’s at this level the tactical push begins to walk on thin ice. For, on the ground where the mosques are mushrooming, it is the Army which is present in any meaningful way. And the Army that prides itself on being secular, appears to have been convinced to throw their lot to push this sectarian caravan.

Army units are keeping a close watch on the construction of new mosques in their operational areas with orders to observe the Wahabis. Many have sprung up recently. For example, in Pulwama, which has some 202 large mosques, 2011 alone saw 43 new ones coming up. In Budgam, close to Srinagar, some 66 new mosques will be completed this year. Early in April, a Rashtriya Rifles unit on the outskirts of Srinagar organised a day’s langar at the Urs of a local Shrine. The devout also benefited from a road built to the shrine with Army funds made just weeks earlier.

Some officers are uncomfortable with such involvement of the forces. “Nobody here has ever accused us of being a Hindu army or of sectarian bias. This tarnishes us. We are also influencing our officers and men subconsciously. If these are the good chaps then, by definition, a Jamaat, Deoband or an Ahle Hadith person is dangerous because of the way he practices his religion. Can you really judge a man by the TV channel he watches?” asked an officer, referring to the Wahabi-supported Peace TV.



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