Zanskar under curfew after rioting over conversions
Authorities imposed curfew restrictions in remote Zansakar in Ladakh as Muslims and Buddhists clashed over conversion for the second time since September 24.
“Police has taken cognizance of clashes between two communities in Zanaskar,” a police spokesman in Srinagar said. “Three persons including the Tehsildar were injured who are being shifted to Srinagar.”
Around 26 Buddhist from six families converted to Islam in the local Jamia Masjid on the last Friday of September. Of them five are residents of Padam, the centre of the remote town, and one lived in Zangla. As the local Muslim minority took the converts on their shoulders and moved around in the market, it triggered tensions.
In the immediate reaction, the Buddhist majority, enforced a strike and started social boycott of the converts. Zanskar Buddhist Association that is the main party of the majority community led a campaign against the conversions. Apart from writing letters to the Muslim community leaders, they had threatened of a larger agitation in case it does not stop. They accuse Muslims of luring the families to Islam, an allegation that the local clergy rejects.
During the last fortnight, however, the pressures from the majority community created a situation that the family living in Zangla, returned back to Buddhist fold making Muslims allege that it was done under pressure. This triggered the new tensions in the belt in which three persons were injured and police imposed curfew restrictions.
Zanskar is the Buddhist majority belt of Muslim majority Kargil district. Sending reinforcement to the place becomes increasingly difficult because it is located 332 kms from Kargil. Zanskar has around seven months long disconnect with Kargil because of massive snowfall on the passes in between. In extreme emergencies, the people opt for Chaddar – the name given to the frozen surface of Zanskar river, that is used for movement between the two towns during winters. This reduced the distance to only 157 kms but sometimes the movement on this slippery river proves dangerous. At least one Western tourist died this fall using the Chaddar. Now authorities are implementing a road that will connect Zanskar with Leh bypassing Kargil which would improve connectivity.
Conversions have remained a major issue in Ladakh region. Muslims and Buddhists have lived in harmony for centuries but inter-faith marriages instantly became a major issue in 1989. It triggered a massive movement fuelling Union Territory status demand. It eventually led to the setting up of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council for Leh to cool the embers. Though earlier the tradition of polyandry was a factor leading to conversions and inter-faith marriages, the incidence is much less now.
The twin district arid desert of Ladakh is witnessing peculiar demographic upheavals especially after it was opened for tourism. In last forty years ending 2001, census analysis suggests the Buddhists have lost 7.96 percent – as their percentage share in the combined population of Leh and Kargil districts. Though Muslims have improved their tally by 1.97 percent, Hindus are the real gainers who witnessed an improvement of 5.57 percent – almost tripling its share since 1981. Right now (2011 census is awaited) Muslims constitute 47.40 percent of Ladakh with Buddhists playing second fiddle with 45.87 percent. Hindus, Sikhs and Christians own desert’s 6.22, 0.31 and 0.17 percent slice in the population, respectively.