Guess who is complaining about Love Jihad now? It’s the Buddhists of Ladakh
Think Ladakh and what comes to your mind but the Great Himalayas, picturesque lakes and fluttering prayer flags. Now add ‘Love Jihad’ to that.
A section of the Buddhist community in Ladakh have threatened to launch an agitation if the Jammu and Kashmir government doesn't take immediate steps to prevent Muslims marrying Buddhist women and converting them to Islam.
The Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA) on 7 September submitted a memorandum to Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, urging her to take steps to stop Muslim youth from alleged forcible conversions of Buddhist women.
“In the recent past, Buddhist families and young girls have been lured by the Muslim community in various parts of Ladakh, forcing them to embrace the Islamic fold,” the memorandum read. “Young girls are being lured by Muslims to marry and finally convert them to Muslim (Islam).”
The provocation for the memorundum and the threat of agitation has been the recent marriage of a Buddhist girl Stanzin Saldon of Saspol, Leh with Murtaza Agha of Kargil.
“Many such cases have been attempted by Muslim boys from the past many years which has generated widespread anger and resentment all over Ladakh,” according to the memorundum.
“Despite the periodic meetings and warnings to Muslim community, no serious steps seem to have been taken and the local administration, security agencies, community leaders and the representatives seem to be hushing up such matters,” it added.
The LBA gave the Mehbooba government a week's time to address the issue, failing which it has threatened to hit the streets.
But is one case of conversion sufficient provocation for an agitation?
“There have been 97 conversions of Buddhist girls to Islam over the past four decades,” LBA General Secretary PT Kunzang said.
“We can’t tolerate it any more and thus have put the government on notice,” says Kunzang. “Failing to act will strain the communal harmony of the region”.
The LBA has been long campaigning for Union Territory Status for the region, a demand opposed by the adjacent Muslim majority Kargil district.
The circumstances surrounding Saldon’s marriage with Agha and her conversion are bitterly contested by the two sides.
The two were married recently but Saldon is alleged to have converted in April 2015 at Kammanahalli in Karnataka.
In an affidavit to advocate and notary public Shaik Mahaboob in Karnataka, Saldon stated that she voluntarily converted to Islam.
“I declare that I am a Buddhist by birth and now I strongly confirm and restate that I have embraced and revert back to Islamic faith in consultation with Islamic scholars on 22nd April 2015,” the affidavit reads.
Later, in an affidavit dated 28 July, 2017 in Srinagar, Saldon said she married Agha on 7 July “out of my free will and consent”. Even the J&K High Court has passed an order on the same day that the petitioner “shall not be harassed”.
Such facts have little resonance among the Buddhist community harbouring deep demographic insecurities. “We are just 1,50,000 in number,” says Kunzang. “Such conversions are a threat to our ethnic survival”.
Ladakh comprises two districts – Leh and Kargil – with a total of population of about 2,74,000; 49% of them are Muslims.
Around 77% of Kargil’s 1,40,802 inhabitants are Muslims. In Leh, 66.4% of the 1,33,487 are Buddhists, according to the 2011 census.
Buddhists, who are in majority in Leh, form 49% of the population.
The districts are governed by the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils, whose politics is often guided by a contradictory perception of its political interests.
While Kargil is close to the Valley, Leh largely identifies itself with the Hindu majority Jammu province. So while legal challenges to Article 35A has generated deep unease in the Valley, Jammu and Ladakh have remained largely unperturbed.
"The conversions of Buddhist girls to Islam shouldn't take place. This will put Ladakh on fire,” Dorjay Motup, a BJP leader and executive councillor (education) of the Ladakh council told Catch.
“You know the situation in the country. You know the situation in J&K. In such an environment if our girls are forcibly converted it will trigger backlash and harm communal harmony in the state,” he added.
However, according to members of the Muslim community, the conversions are not one-sided: many Muslim women have also converted to Buddhism. One of them, Bilquees, the daughter of Abdul Raza, a resident of Yuljuk Brakchan, married Gyalson, a Buddhist.
Similarly one youth Sajjad Hussain, a resident of Shimsha Kharboo, also converted to Buddhism.
“They are happy about Muslims converting to Buddhism but protest those from Buddhism to Islam,” said Sajjad Kargili, a local journalist. “It is this approach which spoils the communal harmony of the region.”
According to Kargili, there have been conversions to Christianity and Hinduism too and that the latest census has shown some presence of Hindu population too in the region; but the LBA never raised those issues.
“It is all politics and an attempt to draw attention of the Centre towards Ladakh in the light of the turmoil in Kashmir Valley. It is also an attempt to convey to New Delhi that the LBA ideology is akin to that of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and gain political concessions from the posture,” Kargili said.
RSS, Kargili said, has two offices in Ladakh, one in Leh and another at Zanskar.
The situation has thus assumed fraught dimensions. And if not attended to in time, could tip the region towards communal unrest, something which it is familiar with.
In 1989, there were violent riots between Buddhists and Muslims, provoking the LBA to call for a social and economic boycott of Muslims, which was lifted in 1992.
“At this juncture, we feel that the Muslim community leaders, the local administration and the other stake-holders need to warn the Muslim community and the state government machinery to immediately intervene and arrange to bring back the girls before peace, tranquillity and the communal harmony take an ugly turn,” the LBA memorandum states.
Edited by Joyjeet Das