Study warns against militarisation of Amarnath Yatra
By Afsana Rashid, The Milli Gazette Online
Published Online: Apr 21, 2017
Srinagar: De-militarize the annual Amarnath Yatra and restrict it to its traditional 15 days, emphasized a 208-page report “Amarnath Yatra: A militarized pilgrimage” released here on 20 April by Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a local human rights group and EQUATIONS, a Banglore-based non-governmental organization. The annual yatra takes place every year between July-August.
“The faith of the yatris cannot be instrumentalized to further India’s political interests. We call upon devotee groups to resist this use of their faith,” read a joint statement by JKCCS and EQUATIONS. It added that military has no place in a space of divinity and “if the terrain renders the yatra dangerous then disaster management institutions need to be involved and not the armed forces.
The report is based on a study conducted by the two organizations between 2014-2016 on data collected through RTIs, interviews with government officials, concerned authorities and organizations and people in Kashmir, Jammu, Delhi and Ludhiana in addition to secondary sources.
The study further calls to conduct an Environment Impact Assessment of the pilgrimage and make necessary changes to the numbers of pilgrims allowed and to its conduct. “Number of pilgrims and number of days should be restricted. Carrying capacity should be scientifically established and regulatory mechanisms accordingly put in place,” said Swathi Seshadri, Research Coordinator, EQUATIONS, while speaking to The Milli Gazette.
What was traditionally a 15-day yatra of a few thousand pilgrims is now conducted for between 45-55 days and attended by lakhs of pilgrims. The increase in number of days was institutionalized after the formation of Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) in 2001, the joint statement said, adding, “There has been pressure from socio-religious organizations in Jammu and other parts of the country to increase the number of days of the yatra.”
The statement reiterated that these organizations by their own admission were nationalist organizations interested in furthering the cause of a Hindu state. “In this context, keeping the yatra alive and thriving is all the more pertinent for these groups since it is located in Kashmir, not only because it is a Muslim-majority region but fundamentally because it has been struggling for its right to self-determination.”
Seshadri further said that if government has the responsibility of administering the yatra, it should itself undertake it instead of outsourcing it. Not only the langars (community kitchens) operating between Chandanwari-Amarnath Cave-Baltal region need to be regulated but their numbers should be rationalized. “Discriminatory practices like disallowing entry of Kashmiris in the langars should be actively discouraged by the state.”
Seshadri added that attempts to create more yatras such as Buddha Amarnath and Kauser Nag need to be stopped “as they are not traditional yatras but are manufactured today.” To a question if such report/study would embarrass/displease certain quarters, she replied, “Rationality has nothing to do wih religion.” She added that SASB, which functions like a ‘State within the State’ needs to be re-imagined in such a way that it plays only an implementing role with decision-making reposed with the state government.
The joint statement said that the strings of the Board, headed by the Governor, lie with the Indian government and no government in Jammu and Kashmir can take up cudgels with the Board and its decisions. “The role of the state government and its departments is to merely extend support to the yatra, without any questions asked.”
Over a period of time, and especially from the 1990s, the demographics of the yatra have changed with lakhs of yatris participating from many regions of the country, the statement said, adding that the number of yatris participating has increased from mere thousands until 1990, with an increase since 1996 to over three lakhs in 2015. “Specific efforts have been made by Bajrang Dal and other socio-religious organizations to increase the popularity of the yatra. NGOs which run langars also contribute significantly to the participation in the yatra through their outreach work and fund-raising.”
The report added, “If indeed tunnels are being planned then these need to be stopped immediately. Construction of the tunnels will seriously compromise the stability of the mountains, potentially causing catastrophe, the victims of which could very well be the yatris.
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