Who’s to blame for desecration of mosques in Kashmir?

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Scores of mosques, shrines used as hiding places in last 31 years

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU: The damage caused to the village mosque at Hadipora in southern Kashmir’s Shopian district during an encounter on 9 -10 April has outraged the local population but, in contrast to some previous incidents, the public anger this time around is unmistakably against the non-State actors.
Three terrorists, including a 14-year-old fresh recruit Faisal Ganai, were killed in the encounter that happened around the place of worship in which the terrorists were hiding and firing out on the troops. The gunfight left some of the mosque’s windows ripped and the interiors damaged, even as the troops avoided using rockets and IEDs that quite often destroy a targeted structure.
Minutes after the spot was sanitised and the security forces withdrew from the village, a motley group of the terror sympathisers made unsuccessful attempts to stage a demonstration against the troops for the damage caused to the mosque. Just a few gathered as most of the residents began implicitly and explicitly blaming the terrorists.
Some of them, not willing to be named, said that they had been deprived of the place of worship at the very beginning of the holy month of Ramadan. “Had they not been hiding in the mosque, there wouldn’t have been any damage to it”, said a middle-aged orchardist.
Partly for the damage caused to the mosque and partly for the fact that a young boy-brother of four sisters-became a casualty in the encounter, even the terrorists disowned their slain associates. Videos of Faisal Ganai’s parents, grandparents and four young sisters beseeching the terrorists to release the teenage recruit went viral in the social media and generated a palpable public anger.
Reacting to some media reports, Albadar Mujahideen issued a rare statement, claiming that the terrorists killed in the Shopian gunfight were not their cadre. The statement claimed that they had been recruited by an Afghanistan-based radical outfit Ansar Ghazwatul Hind.
Even as a robust ecosystem of the terrorist sympathisers chose to remain mum, there were unsuccessful attempts to raise the religious passions and put the blame as usual on the Police and the security forces. The image of a blood-soaked Quran damaged in a suicide attack at a mosque in Damascus, Syria, was claimed to be of the Shopian encounter in a tweet.
“It prima facie suggested that someone was provoking the masses for violence with fake and false news. During a quick fact checking exercise, we found that it was actually the image of a Quran damaged during a suicide strike on the religious preacher Al-Bouti inside the Al-Iman mosque in Mazraa district of Damascus in Syria some years back. 42 persons had been killed and 84 left injured in that attack”, said a senior Police official. The tweet was later deleted without an apology, said the officer.
The Jammu and Kashmir Police sought peoples’ condemnation of the terrorists’ trail of misusing the mosques in Kashmir as their shelters and hiding places during the counterinsurgency operations in recent times.
“Terrorists have misused mosques for terror attacks i.e, Pampore on 19/6/20, Sopore on 1/7/20 & Shopian on 9/4/21. General public, Masjid Intizamia, Civil Societies & Media should condemn such acts: IGP Kashmir”, Zonal Headquarters of the J&K Police in Kashmir tweeted.
Apart from the three major incidents in 2020-21, scores of the mosques, shrines and other religious places have been damaged or fully destroyed in different encounters in Kashmir during last 31 years of terrorism.
In the very beginning of the insurgency, the domes of a major mosque in Srinagar were used as a hideout in 1989. An Islamic library gutted in a mysterious blaze near the revered Hazratbal shrine in 1992. Later in October 1993 and March 1996, the JKLF terrorists occupied the shrine. In 1993, they were given a safe passage but in 1996 they gunned down four Police personnel, resulting in the killing of around 30 terrorists.
In 1994-95, a group of the heavily armed terrorists, led by ‘Major’ Mast Gul of Pakistan, occupied the valley’s second most revered shrine at Chrar-e-Sharief. The standoff culminated into a fierce encounter on 11 May 1995 when Mast Gul and his associates set the shrine of the 14th century Rishi saint Sheikhul Aalam Sheikh Nooruddin Noorani on fire. A historic monastery and a mosque were also razed to rubble in the blaze along with half of the township sitting on a hillock. Some of the terrorists got killed but others, including Mast Gul, managed to escape.
Police guards were attacked and weapons looted from a number of the protected shrines. On several occasions, gun-toting terrorists entered and shot dead their soft targets inside the mosques. At one mosque in Sogam, Kupwara, they grabbed a civilian during the congregational prayers and chopped off his head at the entrance.