Friday, June 21, 2013


Just before the start of the annual pilgrimage to the holy cave of Amarnath, popularly considered being the “Abode of Lord Shiva”, the top Army brass made a declaration that they have launched “Operation Shiva” to protect the pilgrims coming from all over India against the alleged threat to them from Kashmiri militants. According to the Northern Army Commander, intelligence reports had been received by him that the militants were going to attack the pilgrimage. His apprehensions were confirmed by no less a person than the Union Home Minister. The Army Commander announced an elaborate plan for protecting the Yatra. It involves multi-layered security of the track by paramilitary forces. Deployment of Army in Pahalgam Golf Course. Aerial surveillance of the track by UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and so on. This perceived threat has been discounted by no less a person than the State Chief Minister from the government side and has been decried by most of the leaders of the popular movement in Kashmir. The raising of the hype at this juncture when the tourism season is at its peak is going to discourage many intended visitors to Kashmir during the period of the pilgrimage.
Sometime back, the well-known activist and civil society member, Swami Agnivesh had called the Amarnath Yatra as a manifestation of Hindu terrorism in Kashmir. One must appreciate the boldness and the matter of fact declaration of truth as perceived by the famous person regardless of the consequences. This is not the first time that he has drawn attention towards the destructive effects of an uncontrolled and unregulated pilgrimage on the local ecology. Earlier he was in 2011 scolded by the Supreme Court of India for calling the Yatra a “Pakhand” (Hypocrisy). In fact, Haryana and Punjab High Courts had issued arrest warrants against him for his remarks about the Yatra! He had severely criticized the state government for not doing anything in regard to controlling the numbers and the duration of the pilgrimage. He alleges that the Government of the State of Jammu and Kashmir is not concerned about the environmental hazards and has given free hand to SASB for unknown reasons. The Swami had further said that, “When the Uthrakhand Government can limit the duration and number of pilgrims then what is the problem in Jammu and Kashmir”. Severely Criticizing Hindu extremists for sowing the seeds of hatred and animosity between Hindus and Kashmiri Muslims, he feels that the time has come to limit the duration of the Yatra so that the rise of religious terrorism could be curbed.
The unnecessary hype to the alleged threat to the pilgrimage is on one hand going to discourage the devout Hindus from coming here and on the other it is going to boost the resolve of the young fiery members of the Hindutva Brigade especially the Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena and RSS to come in large numbers to counter the supposed challenge of the militants. One fails to understand why Indians instead of accepting Kashmir as a Muslim majority area of great Sufi Saints in a secular country, try to revive ancient Hindu connections of the valley? If we take Hinduism as the basis of integration then Kashmir has absolutely no connection to India. The pilgrimage to Amarnath is being used by the Hindutva elements to demonstrate Hindu connection of Kashmir. For last 150 years or so since when the Amarnath Pilgrimage started, it used to be only for a week or so and the largest number of pilgrims never exceeded 15 or 20 thousand.
The unchecked growth of the yatra and the off and on proposals for permanent structures as well as a road to the holy cave have alarmed the common Kashmiris. They are becoming apprehensive that thousands of Trishul wielding Hindus may one day swamp them away from their feet! People probably fear that if the number of yatris and the period of yatra go on increasing necessitating permanent structures, it may change the majority Muslim character of the valley. The recent disaster in Uttrakhand has starkly demonstrated the ill effects of the uncontrolled pilgrimages into fragile mountain areas. The age old pilgrimage area has been turned into a grave yard of mud and slush precisely by the same reasons which are prevalent here also. Kashmir could also face a similar situation someday if the pilgrimage is not controlled and regulated as regards the numbers of the pilgrims and its duration. We have the earlier example of 1996 when hundreds of pilgrims perished in a snow blizzard.
The pilgrimage to the holy cave of Amarnath discovered by the Malik family of Pahalgam, the village of shepherds, has been a journey of faith and brotherhood. It should be allowed to remain the same. This can be done only by limiting the duration of the yatra and the number of pilgrims on one side and on the other hand by stopping unnecessary hype about the threats to a “Hindu” yatra by Muslim militants. Any attempt at turning the yatra into a battle for Hindutva is not only going to damage the fragile mountain ecology of Kashmir but also its centuries old composite culture!

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