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Kashmir: Amarnath pilgrimage

Trouble over The Yatra


Amarnath Yatra is turning into communal aggression
HAROON RESHI | Issue Dated: November 30, -0001, New Delhi
Tags : tourism | amarnath yatra | communal aggression... |

In the Kashmir valley, the line that divides religion and politics is a thin one. Amarnath Yatra, the annual pilgrimage to the holy cave dedicated to Lord Shiva in south Kashmir’s mountains, has once again become an issue of debate and a controversy following a Supreme Court direction asking the Jammu and Kashmir government to construct a road to the cave through the mountains.

Valley’s Muslim leaders and some civil society groups have strongly opposed the guidelines saying that construction of the road will harm the area's ecological system. To avoid any unseemly controversy, the state government has announced that it had no plans to build the road.

About 6,30,000 pilgrims have performed the pilgrimage this year during the month-and-a-half-long yatra. Of the pilgrims, 90 died because of natural reasons and the rigours of travel through a sloping, mountainous track to the shrine situated at a height of 3,888 metres above sea level.

On July 20, the Supreme Court while taking sue motto cognisance of the deaths, directed the state government to construct the road. On September 4, a shutdown was observed across the Valley. The call, not unexpectedly, came from key separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

"This is a conspiracy against Muslims of the Valley to dominate them and this time they are using Supreme Court of India to execute their designs. The Yatra is turning into communal aggression. India wants to ruin the ecological system here by building a road in the mountains. If 90 people among seven lakh pilgrims die, it is quite normal. Many more people die during Haj. They could have prevented the deaths if pilgrims had been medically examined before being taken on board for the travel,'' railed Geelani.

The 82-year-old hardliner added that the road would not be allowed to be built. "Restrict the number of pilgrims and shorten the period of Yatra to save the environment here, as they do during the Gangotri pilgrimage site due to the ecological reasons," he told TSI.

Other Hurriyat leaders like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, also the Valley's Chief Muslim cleric, said the apex court directive on the road was unwarranted. “The Supreme Court should have kept ecological balance under consideration while issuing the directions. We are not against the Yatra.''

The reaction of the separatists has led to some hot tempered retorts from Hindu leaders who have warned of an agitation if the apex court's directives are not implemented. Senior BJP leader Ashok Khajoria told the TSI, "To oppose the court direction is against secularism. Who is Geelani to tell us how many pilgrims should perform the Yatra and for how long? Those who are talking of the environment should take a look at Srinagar where there is pollution and dirt everywhere. Why is Geelani not talking about the Dal Lake which has turned into a filthy pond?”

It is pertinent to recall that a bloody agitation had erupted in the valley in 2008 after the state government had tried to transfer 100 acres of forest land to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) for shelter and other facilities to Hindu pilgrims. More than 60 people were killed during the agitation which only ended when the transfer order was withdrawn.  With such high decibel rhetoric, trouble can never be too far away in the Kashmir valley.


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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017