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After shrine blaze, Kashmiris show magnanimity
The fire at Dastgeer Sahib shrine and desecration of a Shia mosque in Kashmir valley has only reiterated the fears that certain vested interests are out to turn the valley - a bastion of religious tolerance - into another Pakistan where kids as young as eight are indoctrinated to bomb the mosques and shrines.

FEW MONTHS back, rumours were doing the rounds that some inimical forces are bent upon dividing the Kashmir on sectarian lines but the mysterious fire at Pir Dastgeer Sahib Shrine in Khanyar, desecration of Holy Quran and Alam Sharif at a Shia mosque in the outskirts of Srinagar city has only reiterated the fears that all the rumours were not false.

Though life in Kashmir has limped back to normal but only after a week of spontaneous mourning shutdown, undeclared curfews, stone-pelting, paramilitary forces going bersek and smashing windowpanes and vandalising cars, and assaults on pro and anti-India leadership. The state was booming with tourists and such was the rush that even existing infrastructure fell short to accomodate the rush of domestic tourists. But fire incident at Dastgeer Sahib shrine, second most revered shrine in the valley after Hazratbal, changed the newspaper headlines all of a sudden from 'booming with tourists' to 'Kashmir tense after shrine fire'.

Rightly called the most dangerous place on Earth by former US president Bill Clinton, Kashmir again stood to its reputation and the fragile peace was shattered as soon as the news of fire spread across the valley. Television footage showed women wailing and beating their chests as they watched the historical wooden structure of the revered 350-year-old shrine going up in flames.

It takes a whiff to change the Kashmir situation but the fire in one of its most revered shrines, housing the holy relic of saint Sheikh Syed Abdul Qadir Gilani, was enough to explode the whole valley, as was rightly measured by the 'vested interests'. Adding fuel to the fire was the shoddy claim that short circuit caused the fire in the shrine, which locals contested on the grounds that there was no light since 5 o' clock on the fateful morning. Then came the worst, when to their utter surprise, eyewitnesses claimed that many fire tenders arrived without water. Though one of the fire department officials alleged that locals didn't let them use water from nearby Brari-Nambal Canal. But the official seemed out of his mind for even thinking that he would be allowed to use sewage water to extinguish douses from a holy shrine, housing the relics of Ghous-ul-Azam Dastgeer.

As one of the friends of this CJ rightly pointed out, the situation would have exploded beyond anyone's imagination, had the unfortunate incident taken place in the early nineties - when armed uprising was at its peak. This time around, we just witnessed a trailer as agitated youth stoned the cavalcade of Ali Muhammad Sagar, local MLA and state law minister to shoo him away. They even pelted stones at a police post and dozens of civilians and policemen were injured in clashes. Though religious leaders belonging to all sects appealed for calm still situation went out of control in Khanyar and adjoining areas.

Even a separatist leader Shabir Ahmad Shah was beaten and his face blackened with burnt wood. Once a hero for Kashmiris, Shah was fondly called Nelson Mandela of Kashmir for spending more than two decades in various Indian jails. He has even been called as 'prisoner of conscience' by the Amnesty International but even that was not enough to save him from the ire of agitated youth.

Though an investigation has been ordered to ascertain the cause of fire but as always, results of official investigations are hardly believed in Kashmir – apparently due to tampering of evidence at various official levels in previous investigations. With violence on the wane, various sects have been marking their presence across the valley by holding processions, conferences inside the mosques and in public parks. But there were always fears that some vested interests are trying to stoke fires by pitching various sects against each other – apparently to start a sectarian war akin to neighbouring pakistan where kids as young as 12-year-old are indoctrinated to blow up mosques of other sects. At many occasions these kids, as made to believe of landing up in heaven, ended up in police custody.

Such scenes have luckily not been witnessed in valley where majority of people follow the sufi Islam, a tolerant form of faith, deeply linked to mysticism. Though a huge chunk of younger generation has been influenced by the Wahhabism, an orthodox form of Islam but till now the debate is limited to disagreements only. A Kashmir University professor spoke on the condition of anonymity: “Yes, this incident could have been a mischief to put different sects against each other but their purpose has been defeated as Kashmir is a pluralist and a tolerant society.”

Post 2003, after Indian and Pakistan declared a ceasefire along the LoC and militancy declined, tourism started picking up in the valley. But even all these years, some incidents of grenade throwing on tourist buses were witnessed, which were claimed by none of the militant organisations. The tourism industry always suspected the rival tourist groups from Himachal Pradesh of orchestrating the attacks to shoo away tourists from the valley. Pertinent to mention here, is the fact, that it was only after the 1989 militant uprsing in Kashmir, that almost all the domestic and foreign visitors took to Shimla and Manali to cool themselves off in the scorching Indian summers – making it their favourite destination.

But this time, surprsingly nobody blames the Himachal tourist groups, even though valley ran it (Himachal) dry by drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors this year. Cutting across political and religious lines, everyone blamed the vested interests and called upon the people to act with magnamity, tolerance and responsibility to defeat the nefarious designs of these elements. Only last month, Gulam Rasool Hami, a cleric and head of Karvan-e-Islami, a sufi organisation alleged in a press conference that some bureaucrats were "working at the behest of central government to sow the seeds of sectarian discord" in valley. Vowing that every effort of triggering sectarian divide would be defeated, Mr Hami said that Kashmiris have lived in communal harmony and 'will continue to do so'.

Though in Khanyar, sitution went out of control but people didn't attack other sects or their mosques but pelted stones on police and the major reason was the delayed response of firefighting department. Nevertheless, Kashmir has lost one of the masterpieces of architecture but the only relief for believers is that the relics, housed in a fireproof vault, are safe.

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