Colonel Awadhesh Kumar, Special Forces
The Indian state is now no more shy in enforcing the Rule Of Law in the Kashmir Valley, just because a few Separatists bigots of Hurriyat variety try and Oppose it in the name of religion or a few terrorists try and oppose it with force of Arms backed by the State of Pakistan. Now all such groups including their sponsors in Pakistan have become aware that India is capable of using force 1000 times more than they and that India will not shy away from doing so in case required. Internationally, Countries of all hues and varieties: Super Powers, Regional Powers, Pretending Powers or No Powers, all including United Nations have generally understood that with respect to Kashmir, no interference whatsoever will be tolerated by India, from any one …..not even Turkish Press.
So it was quite amusing if not hilarious for Turkish Press to accuse India of using a totally new kind of strategy in the Kashmir Valley that is Cultural Imperialism. As per them, India under the increasing influence of Hindu nationalism, is using Hindu pilgrimage sites in order to expand its nationalist project.
Pakistanis and now it seems a few Turks too talk of discovering of Amarnath Cave only in 1850. We hope that it was discovered by not a Kashmiri Pandit but a Kashmiri shepherd Buta Malik, a muslim. The Amarnath cave located more than 9ooo m above sea level in the southern region of the Kashmir valley became a Hindu pilgrimage site soon after. Though the propaganda spreaders are claiming that the site has become popular for annual pilgrimage among Indian Hindus only recently !!! Well, for the Indian (Sub)Continental history, 150 years can certainly pass of as RECENT. They forget that Kashmir had a central place even in India’s Vedic period ….so they need not make us laugh at their foolishness. They should know from the days old SHARDA PEETH that is Kashmir has had higher status than even Kashi. Srinagar City was itself established by King Ashoka. Patanjali the grestest medicine scholar, Panini the ‘ great grand dad ‘ of even Wren and Martin, Acharya Abhinav Gupt the playwriter and Sharang Dev the great musician who gave us Hindustani music, all such great Indians were Kashmiris. The great king of Kashmir Lalitaditya’s kingdom in 8th Century in fact extended from Capsian Sea to Kaveri Basin and eastwards to present day Assam. Therefore its not Kashmir where Indian needs to extend any claim but it seems we Indians need to claim Istanbul itself, in the name of Lalitaditya. The Martand Sun temple near Srinagar was built by Lalitaditya and his deeds can be read in RAJTARANGINI by Poet Kalhan.
The pilgrimage, over the years, has been institutionalised by the Jammu and Kashmir State administration. Apart from promoting National Integration, it has also become the largest source of integrated tourism business for the State and its people. Both Jammu region and Kashmir region have gained equally from this Annual month long festival. Both the State Govt and NGOs play an active part in ensuring proper management of the increasing number of pilgrims.
The Amarnath Yatra has thus become explicitly synonymous with tourism, cultural and religious project to not only showcase the natural beauty of the Kashmir Valley, the hospitality of the locals but also the unity of India from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. All this has been happening even with the prevalent threat of terrorist strike against the Pilgrims.
From less than 50000 pilgrims in 1950, the number of pilgrims visiting the Amarnath Cave has risen to nearly 800,000 in 2017. There has been attempt to regulate the number of pilgrims through registration. A total of 150,000 pilgrims had officially registered for the Amarnath Yatra before the commencement this year.
To begin with, the Yatra would last around two to three weeks. However, with the rail line reaching Jammu and now to Udhampur there has been big increase in number of tourists visiting. Also with better facilities being offered, the duration of Yatra has gradually increased to between 40 and 60 days over the last decade. In its management and maintenance of the Amarnath Yatra, the J& K state has ensured prioritisation of environmental sustainability over mere commercial gains.
Just as the number of pilgrims to Goumukh and Gangotri have been limited after the calamity, precautionary measure has been taken for the Amarnath Yatra too.A limit of 7,500 visitors to Amarnath from each route per day has been placed keeping in mind the carrying capacity of the region. In spite of all the precautions taken, the Yatra has its own hazards. This year’s Yatra, that commenced from June 28, began amid a persistent spell of rain which threatened to recreate the devastating floods of 2014. Landslides that occurred on the Amarnath Yatra routes have claimed 10 lives so far with the threats looming large as wet weather has already suspended the Amarnath Yatra.
The fervour with which this Yatra has been conducted in the past two decades is symptomatic of the Will of the people of the J&K state to show their cultural affinity with the rest of Indian Union. It provides an opportunity for National Integration of Jammu and Kashmir State with rest if India.
The pilgrims are welcomed by signboards of “Love Kashmir, Love India”, “Kashmir: Paradise on Earth” and a variety of welcoming announcements from the local population all along the route from Jammu to Pahalgam and even on the other route to Sonamarg. Such signs can be seen on street sides, curbs, check posts, private property, and even boulders up in the mountains where the pilgrimage takes place.
The visiting pilgrims come into contact with locals all along the route and the camps in Pahalgam on one side and Sonamarg on the other side. All along the routes the local Kashmiris work for their livelihood as hotel owners, restaurant Owners, bus and taxi drivers, horse owners, or tent owners. Over the years, the managing authorities have also gradually tried to increase all kinds of involvement of Kashmiris in the Yatra, thus increasing the potential for them to earn from this massive pilgrimage.
It is this involvement of the locals on a massive scale that has ensured, that Pakistani terrorists and their handful of supporters have not been able to disrupt the Yatra un any way.
The “security grid” tasked with the management of Yatra consists of the Indian army, the Indian paramilitary forces and the J&K Police. These forces are mobilised every year prior to the Yatra and guard the pilgrims’ right to move from Jammu to the Amarnath cave.
This year, the Jammu and Kashmir police had sought an additional deployment of personnel along the Yatra routes because of direct threat issued by LeT and other Pakistan based terrorists. However, India is not a small country and if required, the entire Indian Army and the 125 crores Indians will stand and guard the route to thwart any IS designs to carry out disruptions.
The visit of pilgrims is restricted to not only Amarnath Yatra in Kashmir and Vaishno Devi in Jammu but takes place to other little known religious places also. There are pilgrimages in other places of reverence for Hindus throughout Jammu and Kashmir. Such places include Sindhu Darshan Utsav in Leh District, Buddha Amarnath in Poonch District, Machail Yatra in Kishtwar District, Kailash Kund Yatra in Doda District and Kousar Nag in Kulgam District.
The Yatra, therefore symbolises that India is one from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. That Hindus visit their shrines located in Muslim-majority Kashmir valley. Whereas Muslims visit their shrines in Hindu majority areas like Ajmer and Mumbai. A 2017 report by Jammu & Kashmir Civil Society aptly called the Amarnath Yatra as the use of religious tourism, to promote National Integration.