Road to Amarnath

Solution lies in addressing rather than evading the issue



Amarnath controversy has reared its head again in Valley.  This time it is
over the alleged plan to build a road to holy Amarnath shrine. Hurriyat G
chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani has accused the government of dumping
construction material along the route. State  government was prompt to deny
it. This was followed by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah offering to fly the
separatist leader over the yatra route to prove that no such activity  had
been undertaken. Earlier in the year Omar had made a similar offer to
rightwing elements in Jammu when they were protesting the delay in the
start of yatra which government said was due to the lingering presence of
snow along the route. And both times, government flew the journalists to
assure people of its sincerity.
Since the 2008 unrest over the land transfer to Amarnath Shrine Board that
pitted Kashmir Valley against Jammu, the yatra has intermittently sprung
into discourse as a volatile issue with potential to put Valley on the
edge. In fact, the pilgrimage has acquired a larger national dimension with
BJP seeing in it a potential wedge issue in elections.
The issue has become only further complicated with intervention of Supreme
Court.  At one level, however, the apex court is in the unique position to
act as an impartial arbitrator in the dispute.  It can help depoliticize
the issue by tackling the environmental aspect of the pilgrimage. For  example,
addressing the problematic questions of number of pilgrims that can be
allowed to go daily to holy cave shrine during the yatra period and the
duration of yatra itself.
But then what about the provision of facilities along the route which is
the demand of the other side. This is where real complexity of the issue
comes to fore. It is basically these facilities that cause severe unease in
Valley with or without their environmental implications. And at the root of
it is the perception among people, shared more strongly in some quarters,
that it could lead to some kind of demographic change. Geelani or any other
leader wouldn't raise this spectre if there wasn't a constituency for it.
Call this perception irritational or paranoiac or whatever but this is a
reality in Valley and it is not going to go away unless it is sensitively
addressed. And in this perception, Valley is not alone. The fear of
demographic threat is a universal affliction and cuts across religions and
cultures. And in places like Palestine and Northern Ireland, the fear of
demographic change has been a significant factor in their conflicted
political history. In Israel, some sections of political opinion publicly
talk about expelling the  minority Arab citizens to maintain the jewish
majority character of the nation.
Closer home, the partition still has a play in our collective psychology.
Across the country, the proponents of Hindutva ideology are so scared of
Muslim reproductive rate that they fear the minority could become majority
in another 300 years. In Jammu, there is similarly some queasiness about a
separate settlement by Kashmiri Muslims.
This is a sad reality of our times but we can't even dismiss these fears as
irrational. For these originate from powerful undercurrents of identity and
religion and are responsible for engendering and sustaining some of the
world's longest running conflicts.
As the brewing trouble over Amarnath yatra shows, it is threatening to
become a dangerously polarizing issue. More troublingly the issue is
getting linked to the questions of identity - on both sides - and this
should deeply concern us all. For, questions of identity are complex and
usually hardest to resolve. Government and SASB have been so far only
reacting to issue on a day to basis without an effort to confront the issue
head on. True, it is not easy to do this. There is a very fine line to
tread here so as not to exacerbate the already charged situation. But just
reacting to the evolving situation is also not the answer as suspicions are
deepening on both sides. Ignoring them or leaving them unaddressed will
only further complicate the issue and render less amenable to day-to-day

Lastupdate on : Tue, 13 Nov 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 13 Nov 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 14 Nov 2012 00:00:00 IST

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