B L Saraf
We believed that Amarnath yatra ghost has been exorcised, after it reared its ugly head in 2008. But like an immortal Terminator it keeps creaking in from nowhere after lying low for a while. The ghost surfaced in 2012 when some yatris fell victim to the bad weather and treacherous terrain. Kashmir civil society seized the occasion and launched a campaign to down size the yatra and cut its duration. Farfetched socio – ecological concerns were raised.
In 2017, we have self-appointed guardians of ecology descending from Bangalore to shed tears , in Srinagar, for the Valley’s alleged socio- ecological degradation , brought about by the ‘long duration and huge volume ‘ of Amarnath yatra. As if local elements were not enough to spell doom in the Valley agent provocateurs from outside have sneaked in to stoke the sectarian and anti-national fire, by demeaning the pilgrimage.
EQUATIONS, a Bangalore based research, campaign and advocacy organisation, in association with J&K Coalition of Civil Society released a report in Srinagar on 20th April, stating that the faith of Amaranth pilgrims ” is being instrumentalised to further India’s political interests.” The report mischievously described Amarnat Yatra “A Militarised Pilgrimage “. The report stated “the prolonged yatra (about two months) in presence of huge number of armed forces on pilgrimage route is detrimental to Kashmir and its ecology.”
True , there has been a rise in the number of yatris. There are reasons for it. The improved infrastructure coupled with the enormous support of the locals, is a major reason for the increased rush. The increased volume of the pilgrimage has, naturally, brought to the fore some serious issues which need to be addressed in the larger interests of the Yatra and ecology of the State. Unfortunately, it appears some in the Valley and those who stand marginalised in the mainland, since 2014 see in it an opportunity to resurrect the ghost of 2008, when the Amarnath land row was created to raise sentiments against the Yatra. According to them, the Yatra has seriously affected ecology of the Valley and destroyed the environment, to the peril of local populace. So, they say that the number of pilgrims and the period of Yatra should be curtailed.
To the bleeding hearts in Kashmir volume of yatra and elongation of yatra period is ‘ used for political means’, and is not out of religious considerations but by way of an reaction “precipitated by the ubiquitous Sangh Pariwar to wage Dharamydh on Kashmir.” Nobody can put his /her life to the risk only on a reaction, particularly when we witness larger number of women, children and middle aged men among the yatris. We will have to see the matter in world-wide perspective and find an explanation for the ever burgeoning religious processions to the places held sacred by the followers of different faiths. Rise of religious fundamentalism and consequent propounding of ‘ war on terror ‘ theory may have taken better part of some of the devotee’s inclinations and replaced spiritualism with the religiosity. Though, for the most of them core religious commitment remains there. Attitude of various extremist religious groups across the world have largely contributed to the rise of religiosity – over emphasizing religious denomination without caring too much for its spiritual aspect. Otherwise how can one explain the young educated and westernized professional Muslim females in the US and other western countries taking to Hijab and Muslim males flaunting the religious denominations, almost with vengeance? It is happening in Kashmir also, where few years back a burqa clad female was one among hundreds. Now case is quite opposite. We see the young forming a substantial component of the precessions which lead to the various religious place in India like Shirdi , Ajmeer and Vaishnovdevi , and elsewhere in the world. Added to it, is the relative economic prosperity the middle class experiences universally. Therefore, any increase in the numbers of Amarnath yatris has to seen in this context and certainly not as a campaign for a ‘Dharamyudh’ in Kashmir, or ‘A Militarised Pilgrimage “.
Why there is a heavy security arrangement for yatra ? Given that an extra -territorial sponsored terrorism is going on unabated in Kashmir, this is a question which EQUATIONS should ask Kashmir civil society rather than blame it on the State. It is most unfair comment to call Shri Amarnath Shrine Board “a state within a state” and accuse it of assuming all powers over the conduct of yatra. Board only complements state activities so for safe conduct of the pilgrimage is concerned. SASB has been doing a commendable job in organising the yatra by conforming to the highest environmental regards. No wonder, it has a reputed environmentalist on board.
Ecological and environmental issues are serious in nature and every citizen must be concerned with. However, It can’t be selective – certainly shouldn’t be perceived as such. The so-called environmentalist would have done good to their credibility had they shown same amount of zeal and zest to stop plundering of the green gold in the Valley. We have not heard them raise a murmur when the lush green forests were tuned into barren tracts of land to be usurped by anyone who could lay his hands on. They would sound authentic had they lifted their little finger when the majestic royal Chinar and the protected walnut trees were mercilessly felled in heaps and appropriated by the locals. They did not speak a word to save Dal and other water bodies from being polluted when palatial buildings were being constructed by the locals on their banks. There was all-round criminal silence when the highly precious saffron land was turned into automobile workshops, with toxic petroleum waste spilling all over degrading the whole environment.
Shri Amarnath yatra is the ultimate journey of faith which leads one to the salvation. It is a journey for peace and tranquillity. No wonder millions undertake it – year after year.
Seen thus, people are justified in asking questions why such a concern is voiced only on the commencement and continuation of the annual Amarnath yatra. Is this the reflection of a genuine concern or, in it, there is something more than meets the eye. We must very humbly tell these civil society members that by raking up such controversy they are doing no good to the cause of Kashmir, Kashmiryat and the pluralistic ethos of the State-certainly not to the cause they seem to espouse. The issues of ecology and environment are too serious to be politicised or used to polarise the Kashmir society. Let a holistic and sustained view be taken in this regard, so that a concerted effort is launched by all the stake holders to address them.
(The author is former Principal District& Sessions Judge)
B L Saraf