By Shreya Kedia
Catastrophes of the kind that struck the Amarnath pilgrims not just kill people, but also peace in Kashmir. Crocodile tears and hollow condemnations will not solve the crisis
Monday’s terrorist attack on a bus ferrying a group of Amarnath pilgrims, that killed more than half a dozen people and injured several others, establishes at least one fact without an element of doubt. It is that the terrorists, their handlers sitting across the border and also their sympathisers within the country, consider the killing of innocent pilgrims, besides the security personnel, as fair game.
Undoubtedly, there has been profuse condemnation of the incident and crocodile tears have been shed from several quarters who are much concerned about the ‘Kashmiri ethos’. Already, several separatist leaders, politicians and civil society groups have expressed heartfelt grief over the killing of the yatris. Besides, there will also be profound talks about Kashmiriyat (Kashmiri values), Insaniyat (humanity) and Jamooriyat (democracy); and about the need for a ‘political solution’ to the conflict, for greater autonomy to Kashmir etc.
But the reality is that such platitudes mean nothing. They are but just smokescreens and come into play time and again, whenever there is violence in Kashmir valley. What otherwise would explain that former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s talk of Kashmiriyat, Insaniyat andJamooriyat never actually went down well with the separatists, especially with the likes of Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik. Undoubtedly, Vajpayee’s magic mantra marked a good beginning and set right the discourse between New Delhi and Srinagar, but it failed.
Sadly, today, though Vajpayee’s call is being advocated by those who want to give a healing touch to Kashmir, the terms ‘Kashmiriyat’, ‘Insaniyat’ and ‘Jamooriyat’ have been reduced to mere slogans, unmoored from reality. There have been so many mutated versions that it has come to mean the systematic destruction of Kashmir. The Amarnathyatra is one of the few meaningful symbols of inclusivity left in Kashmir. It is also one that the separatists and their sympathisers keep alluding to. But there is no need to be fooled by disguised behaviour.
To this end, the targeting of pilgrims must be seen in a perspective that few politicians, more so in the valley, are willing to confront. It is a fact that the Amarnath yatra, which is among the few living examples of communal harmony in Jammu & Kashmir, has been targeted to disrupt communal amity. And, over decades, despite repeated terror attacks and threats on the people in the State, theyatra has continued. This is certainly not for the first time that it has been targeted or sought to be targeted. What is different is that the terror strike has come to coincide with renewed attempts at Islamisation of the valley
The Monday attack was the third major such militant strike since the emergence of militancy in the 1990s. In 2000, twenty one Amarnath pilgrims were killed after their base camp was hit by militants. It came close on the heels of a three-month ceasefire declared by the Hizbul Mujahideen. Again, in July 2001, 13 pilgrims were killed when a militant hurled grenades at a camp and later fired indiscriminately near the Amarnath cave.
The Monday incident came in the backdrop of militant commander Burhan Wani’s first death anniversary; Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin’s constant threat to continue an arms struggle against India to cleanse the valley; and also amid continued India-Pakistan border tensions, the fallout of which the security forces and the State Government and its people continue to struggle to contain. It is in these contexts that the incident assumes larger significance.
By attacking the pilgrims, the terrorists seek to target the very ethos of a syncretic culture in the region that was developed with the discovery of the cave in 1850 by a Muslim shepherd, Buta Malik. It is widely believed that Malik once met a saint who gave him a bag of coal, which turned into gold once Malik reached his home. Overwhelmed by this miracle when Malik went back to find the saint, he discovered the cave instead. Since then, the cave became a place of pilgrimage for Malik, his family members and also Hindu priests. The Amarnath yatra thus is a symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity. As lakhs of Hindu pilgrims descend on the valley each year, it is the local Muslims who facilitate their travel in many ways– providing them food, and working as their porters and guides.
Post the terror attack, many issues have emerged. Some have raised questioned about the bus, which was carrying the pilgrims, not having been a part of the official convoy of the Amarnath trip. Others have made a hue and cry about the lack of security cover. Yet another lot has questioned the time of travel.
According to them, the driver of the bus had flouted the security guideline. He should not have taken the route beyond seven in the evening. These are questions that need to be answered and an investigation to the security lapses must be called for by the State Government. But this is not to say that the terrorists would not have held back their guns anytime if the bus was registered or if it had been travelling on the specified time. They would have attacked anyway. Besides, one must not forget the courage of the bus driver who continued to drive despite the assault and saved many lives.
Definitely, it will not be too long before the terrorists are brought to book, but the latest attack must bring attention to a larger question: What is to be done to the handlers of such operations; to the hate-mongers who are promoting this kind of terror? These are questions that need to be answered through political will and political action. The Army, of course, is there and has been doing its job well — it has put a brave front against the emergence of a new-age militancy in the valley and across the border too.
Tragic incidents like these do not just kill people, but also peace in Kashmir. To this end, the Mehbooba Mufti Government has been not very unfairly criticised for its failure to effectively confront the rise of militancy. It is a fact that the State regime (particularly the constituent, Peoples Democratic Party) has not been able to take a firm stand against the militants. The politics of soft separatism is being played by Mehbooba Mufti’s party. To restore normalcy, she must not dangle in between. She must cross the line and walk the talk in tackling terrorism. To do that, she must allow a free hand to the military and the police to deal with the situation.
Meanwhile, that a record number of pilgrims have left for the Amarnath yatra after the terror strike, is for sure a sign of courage in face of adversity and also a slap on the face of separatists and other divisive forces. It is a fact today that supporters of militancy are not just restricted to the enemies from across the border. There are also apologists, politicians and also academics who are at the forefront to condemn ‘state atrocities’, but care little for our soldiers.
(The writer is Senior Assistant Editor, The Pioneer)
Courtesy: The Pioneer
For regular updates download Samachara Bharati app http://www.swalp.in/SBApp