Kashmiri Pandits complain that the Jammu and Kashmir government has simply cowered to hardline sentiments and that the real reason for canceling the pilgrimage was not due to ecological concerns but because of religion. Upasna Pandey reports
The Jammu and Kashmir government’s decision to discontinue the Kousar Nag yatra in South Kashmir is snowballing into a much bigger controversy, threatening to derail plans to rehabilitate Kashmiri Pandits in the valley.
Kashmiri Pandits in the area and the world around are upset after the Omar Abdullah government ban on the yatra and labelling the area as an adventure spot rather than a pilgrimage ground. Irked at the government’s handling of the issue, some Kashmiri Pandits from America have even written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Expressing complete lack of trust in the state government, Dr Romesh Raina, general secretary, All India Kashmiri Samaj, said, “There is a clear pattern to this. Before this, there was the anti-Amarnath yatra violence at Baltal where scores of free langars for yatris were torched and many yatris were injured. There was also the incident of illegal encroachment of land at TirathRajTemple at Mattan.”
Dr Raina added that it was a grave concern that hard line sentiments were ruling the government and also lamented the lack of strong governmance from the National Conference.
He adds that Kashmiri Pandits have been going to Kousar Nag yatra a month before the annual Amarnath yatra for many years, so to even call it a new piligrimage, as cited by a few people, is wrong. “We are deeply anguished by the poor commitment shown by the state government towards the rehabilitation process, which can jeopardize the centre’s efforts as a result, added Dr Raina.
However, Syed Ali Geelani, chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (Geelani) dismisses that the Kousar yatra has any historical context. “We have not about this Kousar Nag yatra and it is quite recent. I don’t understand the need to start new yatra destinations in the Valley.”
Explaining his opposition to the yatra, Geelani added, “Initially, the Amarnath yatra used to be a 15-day trip taken by small groups of Kashmiri pandits from across the country. Today, however, it has a shrine board, has acquired lots of land, and is being run by non-Kashmiris mostly. So a lot is being done in the name of a yatra for establishing political ground and these things do disturb the overall conditions in the Valley.”
However, the Kashmiri pandits are countering this view. They say that the issue is not ecological concerns as put forth by the state and the separatists but purely a case of the rise of fundamentalism and brazen intolerance towards the plural status of the state.
“Across the world, people from all faiths are allowed to freely congregate and practice their religion at spots they consider important. There is, of course, adverse impact on the overall ecology but it cannot be a reason to stop a religious practice,” said a Kashmiri Pandit who did not wish to be named.
“There is blatant deforestation across the Valley, in tourist hotspots such as Gulmarg. The DalLake is highly polluted. But, the government has taken no steps to regulate the flow of tourists or new hotels in the area. But, the same ecological reason is given when they (the government) wants to cancel a pilgrimage,” said Dr Ajay Chrungoo, president of Panun Kashmir.
Citing the historical and religious importance of Kousar Nag, ML Kaul, a retired professor and author of several books on the Valley says “The Kousar Nag pilgrim is mentioned in Nil Mat Puran, which is a 6th century text. In fact, Kousar Nag is actually called Kram saras, and it formed by melting of a glacier. As a practice, Kashmiri Pandits hold natural water springs in high reverence, and worship them as gift from God.”
He also dismissed the argument that there is ecological danger due to pilgrims going to Kousar Nag. “The water at Kausar Nag is ice cold and pilgrims do not use it for bathing or any other purpose. It is only a place of worship so there is no question of polluting the spring water,” added Prof Kaul.
Meanwhile, the state government has remained mum on the issue. When contacted for a comment, officials Sources refused to comment, adding that the Home Commissioner has been authorised to speak on this, and the National Conference party would not like to comment as “it is a sensitive matter”.
And with the assembly elections just around the corner, the already battered National Conference can’t afford another controversy on their hands.
Image: Protesters clash with the police in Srinagar over the Kousar Nag Yatra. The area has witnessed violence in the past few days over the issue. Photograph: Umar Ganie/Rediff.com