Kousar Nag Yatra: Making An Issue Out Of A Non-issue

4 August 2014
The Tribune (Chandigarh)
Arun Joshi

Jammu: Small things have the potential to upset long-term peace plans. Such things and events leave a hurt that lasts longer than imagined. Jammu and Kashmir is particularly vulnerable to threats that have come from extremists and reached a point where they threaten to gobble up all what this state has stood for - its tradition of hospitality and mutual co-existence. The latest example is the way a small issue of prayers by Kashmiri Pandits at Kousar Nag in Kulgam, south Kashmir, was spun as if thousands were on their way to the sacred lake with the sole aim of ravaging the environment. Looking at the pictures of the devotees who were stopped, the number was less than 30. And the prayers were to last four days. Of course, there are ecological concerns in Kashmir, where the forests have been looted during the period of militancy. Swathes of mountains are without trees. The water bodies have vanished. The growing construction on the agriculture and forest land has added to the pollution. Some of the lakes, particularly Dal and Wular, have their own tales of woes. The pollution level is of unimaginable proportion. And, no one will allow Kousar Nag to meet the same fate as the Dal and Wular have met. The surprising fact is that Minister for Tourism Ghulam Ahmad Mir and CPM MLA from Kulgam M Y Tarigami had recently pleaded that the Kousar Nag should be designated as a tourist destination. The beauty of the lake can draw tourists from across the world. When tourists will come, so will local picnickers as well as vendors to set up tented accommodation in the Himalayan heights. How will it then be possible to keep the lake as pure as it is today? The pilgrims were to offer prayers. And, prayers are offered at a clean and pure place. The fault of the pilgrims is that they publicised their pilgrimage and involved the government. The four-day pilgrimage was made to look as if it was for 40 days and thousands would climb the heights to reach the lake. The organisers in their quest for security approached the government, further strengthening the impression that this was the beginning of some major event in the future. Now, when the government denies that it had given any permission for the yatra, there are a series of questions that come to the mind: is the state bureaucracy that had granted the permission working independent of the political leadership? If so then the political government has a reason to introspect as to why did it happen so. The short answer to this is: the government has a history of flip-flopping on issues. And that results in a crisis where there is none. An agenda was set by the forces hostile to the small duration pilgrimage by a limited number of pilgrims. The pilgrims were profiled because of their religion because it was stated in clear terms that 'no Hindu cultural onslaught would be tolerated because that would threaten the Muslim majority character of the Valley.' Vinod Pandit, chairman of the All Parties Migrants Coordination Committee and the man who was leading this idea of the revival of the yatra that was going on till the 1980s before militancy broke its cycle, has a valid poser for the government and others: 'how come we (Kashmiri Pandits) are not welcome even as temporary pilgrims when you are talking of embracing us and resettling us in your neighbourhoods?' The alarming sign is that there is a clear attempt to incite passions to create a situation. If one side is behaving in this manner, the other side too is behaving equally, if not more, unreasonably. That an issue of the small and short-duration yatra has 'hurt the sentiments of the 900 million Hindus across the country' doesn't stand any ground either. The people across the country have many other issues to deal with. Most Hindus in the country might not have even heard of Kousar Nag. The attempt to polarise the situation is not one-sided. Kashmir is watching Jammu, and Jammu is watching Kashmir. To put it bluntly, people are watching to see what would be the next step of the extremists in the two regions. As of now, the situation has stayed within control but it can snowball into a major crisis.