VIDEO: Is India using Hindu pilgrims to change Kashmir’s demographics?
Why is the Hindu pilgrimage so controversial and what spikes fear in Kashmir?
The controversial Amarnath Yatra has been one of the most critical seasons for Kashmir.
Kashmiris believe that India is making use of pilgrims to tighten its grip on the region.
There are certain doubtful attributes associated with the said pilgrimage like it grows bigger every year and is entirely state-sponsored.
Every year during summer, thousands of Indians reach India-administered Kashmir for a famous pilgrimage called Amarnath Yatra. While advertised as religious, the event is quite suspicious as Hindu rightwingers especially motivate the people to join it, it keeps getting bigger every year and is state-sponsored.
On 3rd August, hundreds of Hindu pilgrims from all over India to trek up to 48 kilometers in a bid to reach a cave, which is believed to be mentioned in ancient scriptures. The cave was rediscovered by a Muslim named Buta Malik in 1850. Hindus believe that the phallus-shaped ice inside the cave is actually an embodiment of Lord Shiva.
But what makes these Hindu pilgrims suspicious?
A large influx of Hindu pilgrims in the Muslim majority India-administered Kashmir, which is already the most militarized area in the world, leads to the deployment of additional troops and worsening of security suspicion. However, there are certain facts about the Amarnath Yatra that deepens the conflict in the region:
It grows bigger every year:
The number of pilgrims has increased from 1000 to 2000 in the 80s to about 300,000 today. The reason being the rise in Hindu nationalism and extremism following the 90s. According to a report published by Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, the rightwing organizations like Vishwa Hindu Prashad and Bajrang Dal specifically encourage the Hindus to perform it.
Free accommodation and transport by the government:
The most intriguing aspect of this pilgrimage is that it is state-sponsored. How many pilgrims do you know are completely facilitated by the state? Not any other.
The state provides shelter, food, and transport to the pilgrims free of cost. Previously, the local Kashmiri pundits and family of Buta Malik for decades until the 2000s when Yatra was institutionalized and a specific shrine-born with a name ‘Shri Amarnathji’ was set up by the Indian government to support it.
Extending the Yatra from 15 days to 45 days:
The board made another controversial decision to increase the span of the pilgrimage from 15 days to 45 days – and it still wishes to extend it and increase the number of yearly visitors. The biggest concern is that it is being done at the environmental cost of the people living there.
The root passes through rivers and forests in the area which is already an ecologically fragile region. About 55,000 tons of waste is produced every single day, leading to pollution as well as the spread of diseases like Jaundice and Hepatitis B.
Another concern is that the area is also home to glaciers, which are already at risk due to global warming.
The pilgrimage is heavily militarized:
As mentioned above, an additional 30,000 to 50,000 troops are deployed in the region, which is already the most militarized area in the entire world. There were incidents of attacks on the pilgrims as an unidentified gunman opened fire on them. In 2017, 8 pilgrims were killed and in retaliation, hundreds of innocent Kashmiris were slaughtered.
It jeopardizes the daily lives of Kashmiris:
Kashmiris continued to protest against these attacks, saying that the tourists are their guests but are also outraged by the restrictions put upon them. Due to the increased security, the 100 km long highway remains closed for most of the day and only allows the movement of pilgrims convoys. Regular residents are only allowed to use it for three hours daily, causing serious inconvenience to students, patients, and traders.
While the Hindu extremists say that the pilgrimage boosts the local economy, but it is contrary to the truth because Yatra is now state-sponsored and local pundits cannot really make any money out of it, having a negative impact on the economy instead.
The controversial decision of allotting land to the board:
In 2008, the Indian government allotted one sq km of land to Shri Amarnathji board, allowing it to create permanent shelter for the pilgrims. The decision led to a massive uprising because Kashmiris believe India is planning a demographic change by condensing the area with more Hindu population and tighten its grip.
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