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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Ladakh tense over grooming jihad

In Ladakh, Buddhist groups are back to protesting against predatory Islamic conversion tactics such as grooming jihad. Having seen their ‘direct action’ plans in J&K receive heavy resistance after abrogation of Article 370, it is feared that Islamists have gone back to their tried and tested tactics of gradual demographic shift. 

Efforts are now being made to get Buddhist girls converted, say representatives of groups like Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA). Such forced conversions are then termed as ‘inter-faith marriages’ between consenting adults and words like ‘free will’ are used by the English-language mainstream media to brush the matter under the carpet. All this has not gone down well with the people of Ladakh and there is a resistance gaining ground against this widespread menace. 

A public rally was taken out by LBA on Wednesday demanding strict laws to stop such conversions in the state. Founded in 1933, the LBA aims to protect Buddhist interests, bring social reforms in Ladakhi society and preserve its art, language, culture and tradition. They plan to petition the authorities and have prepared a memorandum to submit to Lieutenant Governor RK Mathur at Raj Niwas in Leh.

On November 20, a Muslim named Abdul Qadir Wani, 31 living in the Padum village ‘married’ a Buddhist girl Sonam Angmo aged just 21 from the administrative center of Zanskar. The victim’s family alleged that their daughter was abducted and forced into marrying Wani. They demanded that their daughter should be handed over to them, immediately. Presently the Muslim man and the girl are in police custody in Kargil.

A delegation led by LBA leaders met with Ladakh ADGP SS Khandare. They demanded the administration bring back the girl and reunite her with her family members. They want strict action against all those who indulge in such conversions in the area.

LBA Senior Vice President Chhiring Dorje said that the Padum grooming jihad has created resentment among locals of the state and the situation in and around Zanskar remains tense. Chhiring said that grooming jihad (aka ‘love jihad’) cases should stop or else communal harmony will be at stake in an area that borders Kargil. 

Several cases of Muslims grooming Buddhist girls have come to the fore in the past. This is sending the wrong message to both communities living in the area.

Chhiring called the outcome of the meeting with the ADGP as positive and said that they were promised appropriate action. The LBA has also written a letter to Lieutenant Governor RK Mathur after the issue caught their attention. They said that a well-planned conspiracy is underway in Ladakh where radicalized Muslim youth are targeting Buddhist girls.

Following violent riots between Buddhists and Muslims in 1989, the LBA had boycotted Muslims both socially and economically. It was later lifted in 1992 after an agreement between the LBA and Ladakh Muslim Association (LMA) that conversions had to be stopped to restore communal amity in Ladakh. It was agreed at the time that members of the two associations would intervene in cases of forcible conversions and ensure that women were sent back to their parents or husbands.

In 2000, LBA complained that the agreement had been flouted in  flouted in connivance with the state government officers – they stated that Buddhist women were again being abducted from their villages and forced into Islam. The former state of J&K was ruled by ‘secular’ Farooq Abdullah in both 1989 and 2000. Rioting erupted again in Oct, 2012 when 6 Buddhist families were converted to Islam and paraded around in a victory march.

This phenomenon of abduction/grooming, forced conversion of non-Muslim girls is prevalent across the subcontinent, and is a widespread state-sponsored act in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. 

Ladakh comprises of Muslim-majority Kargil and Buddhist-majority Leh districts, but Muslims (most of them are Shias) have a slender majority in the Union Territory as a whole.

Some states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat have come out with laws to counter illegal and unethical conversions, including through the grooming jihad route. It appears the time has come for the central government to pass such a law at the national level to ease anxiety and ensure harmony across communities.

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