There may be a few reasons that could be put forward as to why someone may oppose the temporary allocation (now rescinded under “public” pressure) of degraded forest land for the erection of “pre-fabricated structures” to temporarily house Amarnath pilgrims in Jammu and Kashmir.
The first possible cause for objection stems from principle. Namely that the State should not be in the business of interfering in matters pertaining to the administration of religious bodies and that a decision taken by a Governor that directly impact an entity that he heads (Governor Sinha, who signed the allocation order, being also the head of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board) is ethically questionable from a “conflict of interest” viewpoint. [Offstumped explains it here]
The second is an environmental one—of the precedence set in appropriating vast tracts of forest land for human use. Though it should be noted that the forty hectares of land under consideration are “degraded” forest land and much of it is already being used by Amarnath pilgrims.
The third is of course the most obvious and the one that has mobilized radical Kashmiris all over the valley— the mass communal hysteria that the Hindus are “re-colonizing” a land from where they have been ethnically cleansed. Of course the pity is that noone here is “owning” the land by any stretch of the word. Nor would Hindus be crazy to come back to Kashmir to “resettle”—-after all our capital is New Delhi and not Tel Aviv or Beijing (two countries who do follow a official policy of demography change through resettlement). Its not even the case that any permanent structures are being constructed for the benefit of the Hindus—-certainly not one with a computer center, bank and conference facilities as the to-be-constructed Haj complex in New Delhi (cost= Rs. 300 million).
The reason the proverbial shit has hit the Karakoram, though of course intensely political and religious, does have an economic origin.
A single family, the Maliks, descendants of the legendary Buta Malik who supposedly first discovered the cave, used to be the custodian of the shrine till 2000. While the fact that a Muslim has been the guardian of a Hindu shrine has been hailed as a manifestation of Kashmiriyat or “spirit of tolerance” , it would be only the most naive who would not note that one-third of the temple donations went to the Malik family thus providing a pretty strong financial reason for their secularism.
In 2000, however the administration of the Amarnath shrine was taken over by the Shrine Board and the Malik families lost their source of income.
Now a family do not a disgruntled minority make.
However in 2008, with the Shrine Board taking control of a sizeable amount of land on which development (even temporary) would take place, the local Muslim population which depends heavily on the Amarnath tourists, perceive an attempt by “outsiders” (read Hindus) to tap into their revenue streams—-after all if tents and other structures are constructed on the 40 hectares of land, a significant portion of tirth-yatris would no longer depend solely on the “Kashmiriyat” of the local population.
This is a planned conspiracy to civil occupation of Kashmir’ by New Delhi, Ronga said, “We are not against Hindus and Amarnath Yatra, but we are against the transfer of land to SASB. The Muslims have been at the forefront to provide all possible help to the Yatris during the annual pilgrimage over the years. However, now the SASB is communalizing the issue”.The KBA president said that the SASB would use the land to raise permanent structures to settle non-Kashmiris, thereby changing the Muslim-majority character of the Valley. “It is a conspiracy to civil occupation and to change the Muslim character of the Valley,” he said.
Anti-outsider feeling is not unique to the Valley—from the Bengali “parar chele” (locality boy) who feels miffed that the cement contract went to a “outsider” (and then breaks your car window) to the manus who feels angry at the Bituwa whose taxi is plying his “route”, this antipathy to the Johnny-come-lately is universal.
However this being the Valley, the sense of religious entitlement is immense, justification for violence immediately available, Hindus and Indians universally hated and one community’s perceived economic misery immediately becomes the “people”‘s Jihad.
In conclusion, let me make a few observations about an episode of “Face the nation” that I saw on CNN IBN which I found fairly interesting. [Video]
1. Note the topic of the SMS poll. It says “Is Jammu and Kashmir hostage to hate politics between communities”? This to me subtly implies that the politics in J&K is being driven by “mutual” hate between communities, whereas the reality in J&K (in other parts of the country it is different) is that the “hate” is not exactly two-way.
2. Note Omar Abdullah’s statement:
Why suddenly this year it is necessary to transfer the land and confine the yatra to that. Where in the order does it talk about temporary structures? It talks about tunneling; it talks about rail links, it talks about road links. I don’t see the word temporary being used,”
He is later told (and that’s what all press outlets reported) that the decision was only regarding the construction of “temporary structures”. Now since I have not read the original document, I do not know what is written there but this talk about “rail links” and “road links” is something only Abdullah mentions. The bigger question is—what is wrong in having rail and road links to Amarnath, should one be planned (not that it was)!
Of course Mr. Abdullah justifies the “anger of the Kashmiri”s with a ridiculous “Why was not there one (presumably structure/rails/tunnels) last year? There has been none for one hunderd and sixty years. Why now !” Dude. The answer is simple. It’s called progress. The same reason why there was no cell phone when your dad was your age. Is the great Kashmiri hope really that ting-a-ling that he expects the rest of India to not see through the fact that he has no leg to stand on.
3. Note Omar Abdullah saying:
The simple questions that we ask and this is where the problem arises because you start seeing things through the prism of religion and communalism. We are seeing it only through the prism of nationalism and protecting our right to our land.
We? Nationalism? Please Mr. Abdullah explain. Is Kashmir being referred to as a “nation” as distinct from India?
4. Note the journalist (Pravin Swami) from the China mouthpiece ironically named “The Hindu” in his sweeping statements blaming everyone—the Muslim and the Hindu politicians all around for spreading a message of hatred. Ho hum. Now I am sure that if the Hindus were the aggressors, the criticism would be much more focused and blame more selectively apportioned.
5. Also note this Swami’s closing comments
Mr Omar Abdullah’s party and Mr Baig’s party have lost a lot more lives to terrorist bullets than the BJP. More Muslims have died at the hands of terrorists than Hindus. The truth is everyone is out to turn trivial issues into a means of sharpening divisions between people. It is sad.
Just a second. Maybe the reason for that just could be that Hindus (who were always a minority in Kashmir) have already been driven out of the Valley. As a result, no Hindu party can have a sizable presence in Kashmir and hence cannot make as many “sacrifices” as Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Baig’s party. Did that possibility ever occur to you? (Kindly do remember the sacrifices that Mr. Baig’s party’s head honcho Mufti Sayed made when his daughter was “kidnapped”)
5. Note how our great Sagarika Ghoshe puts everything in perfect perspective with a most incisive closing line.
With all the politicking over his shrine, Shiva himself, the most powerful of Gods is angry and his lingam, in fact as a columnist said recently, is melting.
[Please keep the discussion civil. I know this is a most emotional issue. But still. I may moderate if I feel a line has been crossed. Also remember that the opinions in the commentspace are those of the commenters and not mine.]