Land Allotment and Amarnath Shrine

By Ram Puniyani,

Jammu and Kashmir has been one of the regions of the country mired in different types of troubles all through. To add to the painful situation, the issue of land allotment to Amarnath shrine and later reversal of this decision has worsened the harmony, which is eluding the region.

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J&K Government in contravention to the Supreme Court ruling decided to divert 39.88 (June 2008) hectares of land to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB). This was preceded by lot of miscalculations and misrepresentations. In the volatile situation of the state this land diversion was presented as if the land has been sold to the Shrine board. This also had the implication of changing the tourism related services in the state. Currently the economic activity generated due to yatra (pilgrimage to the shrine) is one of the major sources of income for Muslims en-route. With SASB taking over many/all these services, a perception was created that those regularly associated with yatra services will be sidetracked and it will now become an exclusively Hindu affair. Further, this was wrongly perceived in the valley as if this is an attempt to change the demographic profile of J&K by settling more Hindus in the region. This baseless perception had some roots in the common knowledge that Shimon Peres, the Israeli Foreign minister had advised Lal Krishna Advani about changing the demographic composition in the valley. These twin factors were in the minds of people when this land diversion was presented as the sale of land and spontaneously there were huge protests in the valley. Separatist Extremists sections of Kashmir politics further enhanced the fury. These protests were immediately projected as anti-National by the BJP etc., and huge demonstrations, equally fierce were orchestrated by BJP etc. in the Jammu region.

The Amaranth yatra by Hindus is rooted in one of the most syncretic-mixed support structures. The cave where shrine is located was discovery of a Muslim Shepherd in 1850s, since when the pilgrim has started. The descendents of the Muslim shepherd and sahdus managed the yatra till 2001 when the SASB took over and is trying to increase its hold on the arrangements. Remarkably the yatra went on smoothly even at the peak of militancy in Kashmir, barring of course few aberrations here and there. In 2006 the Governor ordered to place dry ice on the Lingam (phallus, the holy deity) which showed signs of melting due to the increase temperature caused by increase in the yatra traffic and unseasonal heat. This was also a matter of protests. The pilgrimage is the major annual tourist event for the whole state, a means of bread butter for many of them. Also the syncretism in people’s attitude is explicit all through as one sees the deep interconnection of the religious communities in the organization and carrying out of the yatra logistics. This again came to the fore when the pilgrims who got trapped due to breaking out of the demonstrations were well served by the Muslims en-route, who organized the food supplies and other help to them.

The spontaneous breaking out of protest in valley was used by elements, like Syed Ali Shah Gilani, belonging to the extremist faction of Hurriat Conference, in the valley politics, who went on to fan the fire of separatism during the agitations and further aggravated the situation by calling for boycott of polls to be held in October.

The ruling coalition of Congress and regional PDP has been far from objective. Both the coalition partners calculated more in terms of vote bank rather than going by the ethos of democratic and secular values. Congress forced the diversion of the land under pressure from the Governor Sinha, and PDP sensing the mood in the valley backed out leading the Government to revert the order, PDP walked out of the Government leading to the fall of the government.

In Jammu region the BJP etc. has inflamed the situation by organizing massive bandhs. Its call for All India Bandh led to many highhanded actions, more so in BJP ruled states, the worst of which was death of several people in Indore, Madhya Pradesh due to the accompanying violence. In J&K BJP on parallel grounds has been communalizing the whole situation. Contrary to the local feelings it has also been talking of trifurcating of J&K, along religious line, Kashmir valley, Jammu and Laddhak. Demanding of separate statehood for Jammu has been one of the causes of rout of BJP in the last elections. Now it is at its old game again and is making an election issue out of the Amaranth shrine land transfer mismanagement.

J&K has been suffering both the communalisms in a painful way. The issues related to autonomy of Kashmir not being respected, the highhanded approach of central government, the violation of democratic process by constant rigging of elections has resulted in the atmosphere of fear and mistrust amongst Kashmir people leading to alienation and giving support to separatist elements. This process has been duly supported earlier by the Pakistan Government, in turn supported by the US designs of having its presence in such a vital area. The militancy in the decade of 1980s, the exodus of Kashmiri Pundits due to the militancy and hasty actions of Jagmohan has left severe marks on the psyche of Kashmir. The best thing happening in the area has been the strengthening of democracy during last few years, as manifested by the relative fairness of last elections and the reduction in the militancy due to better representation of people and change in the attitude of Pakistan. Still the fear of highhandedness of the Central government and the heavy presence of military is a big obstacle for the restoration of faith in Indian democracy in full. There is a need to curb communalism of both types, to create an atmosphere where Pundits can go back, there is a need to win over the heart and mind of the people of the region and to ensure that communalization of Kashmir related issues by extremist Kashmiri factions and RSS-BJP is opposed to the fullest extent.