Restoring Yatra’s Rich Traditions

Restoring Yatra’s Rich Traditions

8 July 2013
Kashmir Times


Srinagar: UJC chairman and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen supremo’s refuting the official reports about the possible attacks by the militants on the Amarnath yatra is significant. The man who picked up the gun more than two decades ago and continues to be the undisputed leader of indigenous militants emphatically declared that they do not believe in terrorism and killing of innocent civilians including tourists and pilgrims. The statement manifests the scope and space for opening of meaningful negotiations without any pre-conditions as it highlights the important distinction between militancy and terrorism. The second dimension of the statement pertains to the increasing obsession of the Indian state and the Jammu and Kashmir government with the Amarnath yatra, which has never been under any threat of indigenous militant groups. In the mid-nineties, a foreign militant group Al Faran, that suddenly emerged and disappeared after the kidnapping of six foreign tourists, threatened to disrupt the yatra but did not survive long after that. In fact, a year later, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen opposed the threat to the yatra, while re-affirming faith in its pluralistic nature in tune with the glorious traditions of Kashmir. There was never any threat to the pilgrimage or any hostility to it from the local population till the former governor S.K.Sinha embarked on the course of obsession with the yatra, and laid the foundation of the sarkari mindset on a pilgrimage that was traditionally taking place for a period of 15 days. The extension of the duration of the yatra and the burgeoning number of yatris, with a deliberate plan to decrease the influence and role of the locals in the pilgrimage ever since has become a bone of contention between the government and the locals not only due to concern about ecological threat. The impressive numbers are boasted about and dubbed as a boost to tourism and economy, whereas an objective analysis would reveal that the yatra with its greater reliance on facilities provides by the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, the state government and the langars makes negligible or no difference to the economy of the locals or to the tourism of J&K. The statist obsession with the yatra rather is something that has turned the population of the Valley hostile and also paved way for religious and regional divide, which was at its peak during the Amarnath land row in 2008. Efforts to boost up the figure of pilgrims and increase the duration of the yatra are seen as politicization of the pilgrimage, causing excessive insecurity in the minds of the Kashmiris, who view the obsession as a Hindutva onslaught and an attempt to stamp the Muslim majority region with a Hindutva influence. Such fears, even if they may be misplaced to some extent, and threat to ecology of the region cannot be brushed aside at the cost of defending a pilgrimage which is under no particular threat only to be used as a misplaced propaganda tool against insurgency. The huge cost of the exercise in terms of ecology, security, economy and politics is not really being taken into account. SASB’s latest assurance that Amarnath yatra does not pose any threat to ecology in view of its increased duration and numbers is contrary to the opinion of experts, including those who were roped in as advisors post 2008 to suggest ways and means to ensure ecological sustainability of the pilgrimage. The heightened emphasis on the pilgrimage is also not in consonance with the Nitish Sengupt report in the late nineties, which suggested a regulatory authority for conducting the yatra and curtailing the number of pilgrims both from the environmental and security aspects. Such obsession with the pilgrimage is neither pragmatic from the economic point of view nor military wisdom with excessive security, men, machinery and money being diverted for the upkeep of a yatra, which should have been best left to its traditional seasonal way of being performed without the much needed controversies that have erupted in the last decade, more so after the formation of the SASB. The latter, far from playing the much needed role of smooth conduct of the pilgrimage, has been responsible for exacerbating controversies, communal passions and tensions. The SASB was caught in the midst of controversies owing to the lack of accountability in its functioning and its excessively ambitious role, especially during Sinha’s tenure as Governor of Jammu and Kashmir and head of the Board, arousing suspicions among the local population about a hidden politicised Hindutva agenda. The psychological impact of such fears coupled with the pent up anger of the people due to continuum of suppression, human rights abuse and increased alienation and their increasing disillusionment with the peace process is detrimental to the interests of the Valley, of the country and also of the yatra. Some efforts were indeed made to bring the inflamed passions of 2008 down in subsequent years by the present Governor N.N. Vohra but the SASB this year again seems to be embarking on the tried, tested and failed course of becoming obsessive about the pilgrimage, thanks to the ambiguity of last year’s intervention by the Supreme Court in the matter, at the cost of generating suspicions and skepticism of the locals, rather than taking locals into confidence for better and smooth conduct of the pilgrimage which has been a great symbol of secularism in the Valley historically and has continued to be so despite the stress and strains of a military conflict and religious or regional divides.