Getting to Amarnath
Supreme Court’s intervention has the potential to depoliticize yatra and restore the fundamental purpose of the pilgrimage as a spiritual pursuit
POINT OF VIEW
Will Supreme Court’s intervention finally end the politics surrounding Amarnath yatra and salvage it as essentially a spiritual journey for the faithful? One hopes that it happens. As underlined by the extended VHP protest in Jammu against the curtailment of yatra period to 39 days, this annual Himalayan pilgrimage remains hopelessly politicized. VHP and the larger Sangh Parivar’s fight for the extension of yatra to two months is matched by insecurities across the mainstream-separatist divide in Kashmir. The government, even SASB seems hardly in position to tinker with the pilgrimage without being misunderstood on either side of the political divide. There is no impartial arbitrator left as a result.
This is where Apex Court’s intervention makes sense. Only judiciary is now in position to sort the accumulated issues with the yatra. The court has taken suo motto note of the rising death toll during the yatra, and issued notices to the centre and J-K governments to seek explanation of the cause of deaths. The court has also raised environmental concerns and questioned the government’s wisdom in sending seven times the number of pilgrims for the darshan considering the fragile ecological nature of the area.
The Court has appointed a high-powered committee headed by J-K government to report on the cause of growing number of deaths of Amarnath pilgrims. The committee which includes J-K Chief Secretary, secretaries of Home, Health, Environment and Forest, and also various security agencies is expected to suggest ways in which the deaths can be avoided.
One hopes that the court’s intervention serves as an opportunity to think objectively about yatra and its problems. Over the past two years, deaths during the pilgrimage have shocked everyone. There is certainly the urgent need to take measures to reduce this number. But there are a whole lot of other issues that are involved. And most prominent of these is the environment, period of pilgrimage and of course the number of pilgrims that undertake the yatra. But the issues have become so politicized that it is virtually impossible to talk about them without being seen as biased towards or against a particular political ideology.
This is where Supreme Court's intervention will make a difference. It will depoliticize the discourse about the yatra and restore the fundamental purpose of the pilgrimage as a spiritual pursuit. As of now yatra is anything but. One section of opinion in Kashmir sees it as an aggressive bid to change the demography of Kashmir. They see it as a political objective disguised as pilgrimage. The exponential rise in the number of pilgrims over the past decade has fed this perception. But the voices against yatra within Valley pits Kashmir against the larger public opinion in India. Hindutva forces in the country see the opposition to pilgrimage as part of separatist bid to snatch Kashmir away from India. This perception even extends to mainstream parties like PDP and National Conference. This is why even Chief Minister - Governor too - can't be an honest arbitrator in the matter.
So, the pilgrimage while it may be regulated by the government, is not entirely controlled by it. For example, there is no control on the numbers of maximum yatries that should be sent up into hills at one time. According to Nitish Sen Gupta committee report in 1996, there should not be more than 20,000 pilgrims at a time on the high ranges. And then there is massive environmental impact that despite being documented by environmental groups and even by government’s own State Pollution Control Board in 2006 is not being taken into account. The only reality of yatra so far is the rising number of pilgrims, despite the deaths and impact on the environment. And this in turn feeds suspicions in Kashmir of a hidden design behind the pilgrimage. And when this sentiment is voiced in Valley, it is challenged by the Hindu groups outside the state. This is a vicious circle and can become a perpetual conflict unless government and SASB step in to evacuate the pilgrimage of its politics. Supreme Court’s timely intervention offers an opportunity but it will need to be built upon by the state and of course central government.
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Lastupdate on : Tue, 31 Jul 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 31 Jul 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 1 Aug 2012 00:00:00 IST
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