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Fresh controversy surrounds year-old Amarnath report on "excessive" military presence, "abuse" of environment

By Our Representative
Even as the Lok Sabha elections draw nearer, controversy is sought to be once again created around more than a year-old report “Amarnath Yatra: A Militarized Pilgrimage” in order to point towards how it is “defamatory”, was published by a Bengaluru-based “foreign funded NGO”, Equitable Tourism Options (EQUATIONS), in alliance with what is termed an “Islamist group” (sic!), Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS).
Following her own tweet, well-known feminist-turned-saffron supported by Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the report received the support of “evangelicals and Islamists”, who have “declared all out ideological war against Hindu faith traditions”.
A twitter thread that follows included comments like, “Looks Agnivesh is part of this NGO and he said something similar on Amarnath Yatra”, “the Islamic Traitors, butchers and Agents of Pakistan and Vatican cherish Bhagwan Shri Amarnath ji Yatra to be a brutalized pilgrimage, so the rascals rant it as a ‘militarized pilgrimage’,” and “kick those bastards for hurting the religious sentiments of Hindus.”
The report – which is based on on-the-spot observations by activists from EQUATIONS and JKCCS, Kartik Murukutla, Khurram Parvez, Parvez Imroz and Swathi Seshadri, points to how, at the start of the yatra the team, on way to Pahalgam, the team “came across buses full of people shouting slogans like ‘Hindustan mein rehna hai bum bum bhole kehna hai’.”
Pointing out that, “clearly, for some, the reason to participate in the yatra was not spiritual alone”, at one spot, the 212-page report says, “On reaching Sheesh Nag Camp, the team was introduced to the issue of the dynamics between the armed forces and Kashmiris involved in the Yatra.”
Thus, “Between the upper camp and lower camp at Sheesh Nag … a horse without a rider had slipped here and frightened a yatri walking on the same path. A member of the of armed forces guarding the path felt this was reason enough to beat up the animal, and the horse owner was physically and verbally abused!”
It adds, “The team during its travel from Chandanwari to Sangam, encountered several instances where army personnel lashed out at horse owners for not being able to reign in the horses. At one point between Sheesh Nag and Mahagunus Top, there was a stream that had to be crossed, and there were a significant number of people and animals on the track.”
The report continues, “A tired horse stopped to drink water, which led to the animal being beaten badly by a uniformed personnel. The horse owner had to face verbal abuse, was beaten and accused of holding up the Yatra’s progress. All, because the tired animal wanted to drink water!”
The report also points towards how the “waste from the langars – free kitchens run by NGOs for pilgrims – was dumped in shallow pits”, with “the bathrooms nearby were also stinking … only the second day of the yatra.”
It comments, “The team could well imagine what the situation would be like in a few weeks, when lakhs of people would have travelled through these mountains, leaving behind more rotting food and toxic litter in the form of plastic.”
It further states, “At the Sheesh Nag camp continuous rains and fresh melting snow had created a mess which was a potential health disaster. Since the ice had not melted yet, langars had cut through it to make spaces on the ground to set up their tents, while shops had been set up on the frozen surface.”
The report continues, “With so many people and animals walking in and out of the camp and the melting ice, the ground was slippery. Even the tents where yatris and Kashmiris were staying were completely slushy, making movement around the camp a challenge.”
Noting how glaciers on which “significant stretches of the yatra go over”, were trampled upon, the report says, “Several of the large ones are located on the route between Chandanwari and Panchtarni. In several places the team found that glaciers had either been cut to create paths or had themselves broken away due to being constantly trampled upon by people and animals.”
Noting that “the attitude of most of the langars towards Kashmiris was objectionable”, the report says, at the “Shiv Shakti Seva Mandal’s langar at Posh Pathri, which prides itself in serving more than 100 dishes per day, does not allow Kashmiris to eat at the langar. Instead, the organisation has put up a small counter separately for Kashmiris.” It adds, “Representatives of the Baba Amarnath Sewa Mandal admitted that they had separate counters for horse owners so that the yatris are not disturbed.”
Pointing towards how the body which manages the yatra, Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB), with the J&K Governor as the chair, refused to be transparent about what it does, the report says, in its Right to Information (RTI) replies, SASB “abstained from giving significant information, quoting Section 2(d) of the J&K Right to Information Act, 2009, which says that only information and not opinion may be sought.”
The report quotes Prof Shakeel Romshoo, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Kashmir, who said, “I had attempted to conduct a study on the environmental impacts of the region beyond Chandwanwari on route to the cave. My students and I were stopped at Chandanwari and prohibited from going further. The authorities at the access control gates said that permission is needed to go beyond the access control gates during the Yatra.”
Prof Ramshoo adds, “I spoke with senior officials in the Governor’s office but was unable to secure the necessary permissions. Finally my team and I had to return without being able to conduct the study”.

Comments

Uma said…
If army personnel start discriminating there is no hope for India

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