The registration for pilgrims to the holy cave of Baba Amarnath has started. It is reported that about 16,500 pilgrims would be allowed every day for 55 days. That may amount to a million pilgrims or so. Such a large number of people going into ecologically fragile mountain areas will have serious adverse impact on the environment. The only voice raised against this impending disaster is that of Swami Agnivesh. Following the Home Minister’s remark that there is also “Saffron Terror” in India, it had been mentioned in these columns that terrorism has no colour, caste, creed or religion. It was also pointed out that instead of straightaway declaring the existence of “Hindu Terrorism”, the Home Minister has pointed fingers only on the extremist Hindutva elements. However, following very strong reaction from BJP and others, the Home Minister had to eat a humble pie and tendered an apology for his “Saffron” remarks. This shows the scare the rightist Hindu elements can create even among the ruling party members and that too in a person responsible for the internal security and law and order for the whole country. But someone else has displayed more courage and come forward to state in unequivocal terms the existence of the Hindu brand of terrorism. The well-known activist and civil society member, Swami Agnivesh has 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!
The 150 year old Amarnath Yatra has been getting controversial by the day after the extension in its duration and the failure of the Shrine Board as well as the government in limiting the increasing number of Yatris year after year. Many articles have been written by various experts about the adverse environmental impact of the uncontrolled and unregulated Yatra on the local ecology. The Yatra which used to be a journey of faith for thousands of devotees has turned into a battle to establish Hindu supremacy over the Muslim majority Kashmir. Swami Agnivesh in spite of the wrath of the rightist Hindu parties which he had to face earlier has now once again come out strongly against the extension in the period of the Yatra to 55 days. According to him, “Hindu zealots push hundreds of thousands of pilgrims into Kashmir to give an impression that Jammu and Kashmir is its integral part.“Amarnath Yatra” has given flip to religious hysteria and we call it religious terrorism.” He further says that, “the Yatra is a handy tool for SASB and Hindu extremists to exploit the sentiments of millions of Hindus across the country.” He has appealed Hindu pilgrims “to understand the designs of Hindu zealots who propagate this Yatra in such a big way that every Indian gets attracted towards it.”
Swami Agnivesh says, “How come it is possible that by visiting the Amarnath Cave, one could become pure? Pilgrims are being flocked to Cave to die and we all know last year, so many people lost their lives there, Agnivesh said and added that it is better for Hindus to die in their homes instead of in the mountains of Amarnath”. He has severely criticized the state government for not doing anything in this regard. He alleges that the Government of the State of Jammu and Kashmir is not concerned about the environmental hazards and is giving free hand to SASB for unknown reasons. The Swami further says 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 Yatra so that religious terrorism could be curbed.
In comparison, the State Government headed by the young and smart Chief Minister has been behaving very meekly in regard to the destruction of our environment and ecology. There is absolutely no doubt that the Kashmiris are faith loving people and respect all religions. In fact, in earlier times the entire Yatra was handled by the Muslims from the surrounding areas who took care of ponies, porters, tented colonies, eating places, security and so on. The Dharmarth Trust was responsible only for organising the darshan at the cave. Now, entirearea has been taken over by the Shrine Board which was constituted in the time of Dr. Farooq Abdullah displacing the traditional caretakers of Dharmarth Trust headed by Dr. Karan Singh. Since that time and especially during the Governorship of General Sinha, the Yatra has gone out of control. The only Chief Minister who could face the communal General and get the Yatra period reduced was Mufti Mohammad Sayed but he had to pay a price for it! He had to make way for Ghulam Nabi Azad even though he was working well for the interests of both the state and the country!
Apart from the meek Chief Minister and other leaderseven the Civil Society in general is not able to take a firm stand on the subject fearing that they may be labelled communal or anti-religious. However, it is a pity that the present Chairman of the Shrine Board who has been associated with mountains for a long time and is aware about the fragility of mountain environment of which Nanda Devi Sanctuary and Gangotri are living examples has not been able to convince the board members to limit the duration and number of pilgrims!
As Swami has said when the Uttrakhand Government can control and regulate Gangotri Yatra why cannot the local Government do the same thing? If the “secular” Government of India can impose total regulation and control on the Hajis visiting Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage why can’t they put a similar control on this pilgrimage? The most ironic thing is that the highest court in the country instead of issuing directions to the Shrine Board to control and regulate the Yatra to take care of the delicate and fragile mountain environment, is instead directing the State Government to improve and expand the track by paving it and also provide permanent facilities to the pilgrims. It is a pity that such a bold and outspoken stand by a Hindu leader showing concern for our state has not received due appreciation and support from the local civil society or the leaders of all hues and shades which are available by the dozen here!