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18th June '2013
“Operation Shiva”, pilgrimage or battle!
 

 

Preparations have been in full swing for the forthcoming Amarnath Pilgrimage. In spite of many apprehensions about the ecological and environmental damage, there has been no curtailment in the numbers of pilgrims or in the duration of the pilgrimage. About 15,000 pilgrims are expected to trek the route from both the sides every day for 45 days or so. Taking into account the unregistered pilgrims and the families and relatives of security personnel on duty, the numbers may touch a million. The recent announcements from the security agencies including the starting of “Operation Shiva” and the preparations being made by the Hindutva parties in different parts of India for sending young trishul wielding pilgrimsmakes it appear that they are coming for waging a “Battle of Amarnath” rather than for a journey of faith! It is reported that there would be layers of security provided by various agencies on the two sides of the track. In addition, troops would be camping in Pahalgam Golf Course for any eventuality. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) will provide aerial surveillance of the route. As announced by the senior Army officers, there have also allegedly been intelligence reports about possible militant attacks on the pilgrimage.

 

The valley of Kashmir situated in the bosom of high Himalaya has always been an ideal place for spiritual meditation. It is popularly called in Kashmiri, the “Reshiweur” or the bowl of saints! Being in absolute majority, the Kashmiri Muslims were not so much concerned about their religion till 1947. No doubt it was the Muslim majority of Kashmiris that suffered at the hands of the Dogra rulers yet Kashmiris did not develop hatred against the Hindu religion but only against the feudal set up which had deprived them of the basic human rights. It was only after the events of partition and the machinations of the two neighbouring countries that religion came into the forefront. Pakistan which came into being on the basis of religion did not hold much attraction for Kashmiris as they had suffered at the hands of Muslims also in the past. Punjabi Muslims used to look down upon Kashmiris during their stay in the erstwhile Punjab where they used to go for work especially as manual labourers. Even the nickname “Hathow” was given to them by the Punjabi Muslims.

Kashmiris have been exhorted right from 1947 to be part of the secular republic of India instead of the fundamentalist Islamic republic of Pakistan. The ideological conflict between the two artificially created nations has found Kashmiris as ideal guinea pigs for experimentation. Historically Kashmiris have seen a multiplicity of religious faiths. The Saivite Hinduism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Islam have given way to each other in succession without any inter-religious conflict. The transition has always been smooth. This has helped Kashmiris to develop a much broader and tolerant religious outlook than other places in the sub-continent. While as on one side some of the Pakistanis have taken Jihad in Islam to extremes, on the other side some Indians have taken Hinduism to the extreme brand of Hindutva. In spite of a blood bath in the sub-continent during the partition days, Kashmir preserved its age old amity and tolerance among various religious faiths.

On the Indian side even though it claimed itself to be a secular republic, the Hindu domination came into being immediately after partition. The contention of being secular after accepting the division of the country on religious lines is nothing but shear hypocrisy! It is the typical dual policy described by Kautaliya in Arthshastra. Kashmiris had the first taste of Hindutva through the agitation of Parja Parshad in Jammu under the banner of “Ek Nishan, Ek Vidhan, Ek Pradhan”. This agitation was started by the Jammu based Parja Parshad on the inspiration of the erstwhile Jana Sangh (present BJP) and the RSS for total merger of the state with the Indian Union against the complete State Autonomy bordering on virtual independence, advocated by Sheikh Abdullah. This very agitation created grave and serious apprehensions in the minds of the Kashmiri Muslims regarding the intentions of the Indian government. In fact, it was the turning point in the thinking of Sheikh Abdullah regarding the secularism promised to him by Pandit Nehru.

 

For last 65 years Kashmiris have been starkly presented mainly the extremist Hindu face of India. In spite of incitements and provocations from Pakistan, they have refused to give up their centuries old religious tolerance. Even though the Indian state presents itself as a secular entity, yet the overwhelming stance from India has been the ugly face of violent Hindutva. After having failed to convince the Muslim majority about the authenticity of its secular credentials, the Indian government itself has been presenting and promoting Hindutva in regard to Kashmir. The starkest example of this has been the pilgrimage to the holy cave of Amarnath in the Kashmir Himalaya.

Kashmir has been an important seat of Saivite Hindu philosophy in the past. In fact, Buddhism also once flourished here. The fourth Buddhist Council was held here and the Mahayana Philosophy of Buddhism was postulated here by a conclave of great Buddhist Scholars and Philosophers and was spread all over by Bhikshus from here. However, subsequently Kashmir became a Muslim majority state after the peaceful advent of Islam here. Most of the religious transitions in Kashmir have been voluntary and peaceful. Kashmir became home to Muslim mystics who introduced the Sufi philosophy. In fact, every hillock in Kashmir has a shrine of one or the other Muslim spiritual preacher who used to meditate in the serenity of this valley.

 

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. This used to be the pattern till early nineties. In fact, in 1990 there was hardly any pilgrimage due to disturbed conditions in the valley. However, in 1993, a militant organisation consisting of foreign militants called the “Harkat-ul-Ansar” imposed a ban on the pilgrimage. This was the beginning of the politicization of the yatra. The ban gave a strong affront to the Hindutva parties all over India and it was taken as a challenge. After this incident the yatra became more an assertion of Hindu India’s control over Muslim Kashmir than a journey of faith. Most of the pilgrims were young members of Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena, RSS, and similar other parties and would be shouting slogans all along the route. Subsequently there were also some incidents which drew more attention towards this pilgrimage. The first one occurred in 1996 when hundreds of yatris perished in an untimely blizzard on the route. More than 70,000 pilgrims were all along the route when the weather turned bad and there was a severe blizzard in Sheshnag area. Officially 200 yatris perished while as the unofficial estimates were much higher. Thousands were saved by local villagers who gave them clothing, shelter and food. Dr. Nitish Sen Gupta was appointed as an inquiry officer to ascertain the causes of the tragedy. The main finding was that the yatra had been totally uncontrolled and unregulated. He recommended only 5,000 yatris per day from both the routes and limited the duration of yatra only for one month. The second incident was a militant attack in Pahalgam during the yatra. In this incident about 30 persons mostly locals died due to indiscriminate firing by the security personnel. Again an inquiry was instituted. General Mukharjee, the 15 corps commander conducted the inquiry and held the security personnel responsible for indiscriminate firing. He also recommended adhering to the recommendations of Dr. Nitish Sen Gupta for controlling and regulating the yatra. Another factor in making the Pilgrimage uncontrollable has been the regular opening of Baltal route. Traditionally, the yatra used to follow the Pahalgam route with stops en route at Mattan and Pahalgam. However, the Army detachments stationed in Sonamarg area went to the cave through Baltal. It was a very quick route to the cave. In the beginning, this route remained restricted to Army officers and their families. In fact, the yatra management through the earlier Dharmarth Trust used to completely close this route during the actual yatra period. However, subsequently it was converted into a regular route against the wishes of the Mahant and other members of the Trust.

The things ran smoothly as long as the Government directly controlled the Yatra. It was Dr. Farooq Abdullah, who set up a Shrine Board to better control and manage the Pilgrimage through Hindus themselves. However, he probably did not know what an unmanageable mammoth he was creating. The Shrine Board functioned smoothly during the time of General Rao as the Governor and he did not take upon himself the task of setting up a virtual Amarnath Nagar. In fact, during his tenure the total involvement of the Board was limited to the Shrine area from Sangam to Cave, hardly a distance of about 2 kilometres. It was with the coming of General Sinha as the Governor that the Board became rather unwieldy and started grabbing the entire Pilgrimage along with the land en route right from Pahalgam on one side and Baltal on the other side. He seemed to have come with a total Hindutva agenda to Kashmir. His aim was to somehow get Kashmir connected to India. Instead of accepting the Muslim majority connection to a “Secular” state, he chose to get Kashmir connected through its Hindu past. He helped the Hindutva parties in mobilising the youth all over India and also persuaded people to set up free langars en route. The aim was to convert Kashmir into a Hindu Pilgrimage centre. Religion being the most emotive factor in Indian politics, this became a readymade handle for Hindu votes. The goal has been to convince the Hindu majority in India that Kashmir is the most pious Hindu pilgrimage centre and it has to be retained at all costs regardless of the status of its present population. The youth are being prepared to offer any sacrifice to keep Kashmir as part of India. This process has been termed by Swami Agnivesh as “Hindu Terrorism” who has been boldly bringing out the impact of this pilgrimage on the people of Kashmir as well as its environment.

 

The most disturbing fall out of this virtual “Battle for Amarnath” has been the ecological and environmental damage to this once serene and clean mountain area. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims trekking in fragile mountain areas has a tremendous impact. First is the scattering of garbage including non-biodegradable items like plastic bottles, tins and so on. The accumulation after every yatra is in tons! Then comes the human excreta and all the muck seeping/going into the flowing water. This water is used for drinking by people living downstream throughout the valley. Apart from the water getting polluted, the massive human intrusion has resulted in the accelerated melting of glaciers, the main source of this water.

 

A very damaging fall out of the uncontrolled pilgrimage has been on the political side. 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. Already there have been rumours on the same subject mentioning even Israeli settlements in the Palestinian area! Just a strong rumour that the land was being transferred to outsiders created a massive upheaval in 2008. The last year’s Supreme Court direction for constructing a road to the cave and permanent settlements provoked strong reactions among the local people. In fact, one has to seriously and strictly enforce regulations as is done in other environmentally fragile parts of the Himalaya. Kashmiris have to be assured that they are welcome as a Muslim majority part of the country rather than as a colonised part conquered by Hindu India. The most visible characteristic of the composite culture of Kashmir is the fact, that the formation of an ice lingam considered to be a form of Lord Shiva in the Holy Cave of Amarnath was discovered by a Kashmiri Muslim belonging to Malik family of Pahalgam. This family was involved with the yatra till the formation of the Shrine Board. Even now a large number of Muslims such as horsemen, porters, camping agents, hoteliers and officials on duty are totally involved in the organisation of the pilgrimage. It has been a journey of faith and should be allowed to remain the same. This can be done only by controlling the number of pilgrims and the duration of the pilgrimage. Any attempt at turning the pilgrimage into a battle for Hindutva is bound to boomerang. It is not only going to damage the composite culture of Kashmir but also convince Kashmiris that behind the secular mask of India there is a strong and violent “Hindu Terrorism” lurking impatiently to grab them!

 
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