Amarnath Yatra is not new to Kashmir. But of course the way it is being managed now is new. In the past it used to be how a religious affair is supposed to. Governments would involve itself minimally, and yet always help by way of creating different facilities for the visiting pilgrims so that they do not face any difficulty. But even for this, it would always be the local population which would do maximum footwork. But now the pilgrimage has been turned into a state spectacle with lot of politics around it. And the way the government has involved itself in the conduct of Yatra, it seems that running this pilgrimage has taken precedence over running of this state. This should perhaps explain the government’s decisions which are inflicting avoidable miseries on the common people here under the garb of providing security to the Yatra.
The decision to suspend vehicular traffic on Srinagar-Jammu highway as well as train services across the Pirpanchal for several hours daily for the purpose of Yatra is a case to prove the point. One can understand that the government is duty-bound to ensure safety and security of the pilgrims besides facilitating smooth movement of Yatra, which it is doing, but for this there is absolutely no need to put curbs on the civilian traffic. If no such need was felt in the past, why is it that this year the authorities have decided that the only way they could ensure security to the pilgrims is by turning the Yatra routes out of bounds for the local population? The decision has put people here to tremendous hardships and is needlessly turning them away. People of Kashmir have always welcomed Yatra and even facilitated it one way or the other, for this annual ritual has always been part of Valley’s collective cultural ethos. But today the same people are being held captive to this Yatra, which is very unfortunate, and smacks of decisions that are taken in great haste without proper application of mind.
Humans are, by nature, programmed not to look squarely into the face of a tragedy. Gloom is unpopular and, as such, people prefer the art of “out of sight, out of mind” escapism. In case of Kashmir, governments have adopted this intrinsic human behaviour into a state policy. But there comes a time when issues must be recognized as issues – and resolved. Or at least, sincere attempts could be made to try and resolve them. This is particularly so when the democratic way of life and image of the state is at stake. It has been for long that the state has, relaying on its security machinery and deft managerial skills, opted to defer today’s crisis for tomorrow. But this cannot and should not go on endlessly. Nobody, neither an individual nor the state, has the luxury of pick and choose when and what it will do at its personal convenience. Nobody can dawdle with history forever.
Amarnath Yatra is as much part of Kashmir’s religious landscape as are the rituals of other faith traditions here. It was happening smoothly and without any hassles until different political formations including the governments started interfering with it. It is time for the state to revisit its policy and rethink as to how far it would want to go into meddling with this purely religious affair. Of course the logic that ‘one’s freedom ends where someone else’s nose begins’ has to be the guiding principle. The state cannot afford imposing a disconcerting sense of siege on an entire population here by going overboard with its disjointed ideas about providing security to the Yatra, which can easily be managed and secured the way it has always been in the past. In fact today besides the additional human resource by way of more deployments, the security apparatus has an added advantage of availability of and access to the latest technology which could and should be employed for securing Yatra as well as allaying any fears the state may have on this count. Harassing local population one way or the other is not at all needed, and it could easily be avoided with a little bit of imagination and creative thinking by those making decisions for the beleaguered masses of Kashmir.