State and Re­li­gion

Southasia - - The last stop - By Anees Jil­lani Anees Jil­lani is an ad­vo­cate of the Supreme Court and a mem­ber of the Washington, DC Bar. He has been writ­ing for var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions for more than 20 years and has au­thored sev­eral books.

Hindu le­gend has it that Shiva re­counted to Par­vati the se­cret of cre­ation in a cave in Amarnath, lo­cated 145 kilo­me­ters east of Srinagar. It has thus be­come an im­por­tant pil­grim­age site for Hin­dus and holds an ice lingam (the phal­lic sym­bol of Shiva) that changes size with the sea­sons and the stages of the moon. By its side are two more ice-lingams, that of Par­vati and of their son, Ganesh.

This Hindu re­li­gious site has led to many con­tro­ver­sies in the past with the ma­jor one tak­ing place in 2008 when out­siders were al­lowed to pur­chase land in the area, which is oth­er­wise con­sti­tu­tion­ally not per­mit­ted.

The lat­est one re­lates to a De­cem­ber 13, 2012 Di­vi­sion Bench rul­ing by the In­dian Supreme Court in a suo moto writ pe­ti­tion af­ter it took cog­nizance of a num­ber of deaths dur­ing the Amarnath ya­tra in 2012. The SC ap­pointed a com­mit­tee that vis­ited the spot and in­ter­acted with the Jammu & Kash­mir government and the Shri Amar­nathji Shrine Board (SASB).

The Court had taken no­tice of the mat­ter on July 13, fol­low­ing the deaths of 67 pil­grims in just 17 days dur­ing a 45day pil­grim­age. In 2011, 105 per­sons had died. The Court noted that the pil­grims have a con­sti­tu­tional right un­der Ar­ti­cles 21 and 19(1)(d) to move freely through­out the ter­ri­tory of In­dia; free of fear, with dig­nity and safety and to en­sure en­force­ment of such a right is the pri­mary obli­ga­tion of the J&K and the In­dian Government. The SC jus­ti­fied its ju­di­cial no­tice on the grounds of lack of nec­es­sary fa­cil­i­ties and es­sen­tial ameni­ties en route and around the Holy Cave.

Lo­cal Mus­lim Kash­miris say that a few hun­dred ya­tris used to visit this site some years ago but the num­ber has sud­denly risen to hun­dreds of thou­sands. Many Kash­miris view this trend as a Hin­dutva con­spir­acy to change the de­mog­ra­phy of their State.

The Supreme Court, on the other hand, de­spite In­dia be­ing a sec­u­lar state, took spe­cial in­ter­est in this mat­ter. It stated that Amarnath gen­er­ates huge rev­enues not only by way of of­fer­ings but also from the charges and fees that the Amarnath Board takes from the pony-own­ers, palki­wal­lahs as well as the heli­copter ser­vices.

The Supreme Court made a num­ber of di­rec­tives in its De­cem­ber Judg­ment. How­ever, the most con­tro­ver­sial one re­lated to wi­den­ing the walking track and pas­sages, with no pas­sage to be less than 12 feet. It also en­joined for the pro­vi­sion of rail­ings and re­tain­ing walls on both sides. The judges, how­ever, made it clear that “nei­ther have we di­rected nor should we be un­der­stood to have im­plic­itly di­rected that there should be a met­alled mo­torable road in place of the walking tracks/pas­sages.”

Kash­miri lead­ers, in­clud­ing mod­er­ates like Maulvi Umer Fa­rooq and rad­i­cals like Syed Ali Shah Gi­lani, unan­i­mously con­demned the Supreme Court ver­dict and its in­ter­fer­ence. The lat­ter called for a state-wide strike on Septem­ber 4 which suc­cess­fully shut the Val­ley. The op­po­si­tion is jus­ti­fied on the grounds that the Court rec­om­men­da­tions will harm the en­vi­ron­ment, like trees and wildlife, in the area.

One of the rea­sons for op­pos­ing the rec­om­men­da­tions is the fear that the sug­gested im­prove­ments will re­sult in mak­ing the Amarnath ya­tra fea­si­ble through­out the year. Syed Gi­lani sees it as a Hin­dutva con­spir­acy to harm Mus­lim in­ter­ests. He has there­fore called for the State not to in­ter­fere in mat­ters of re­li­gious shrines, for both the Hindu and Mus­lim com­mu­nity.

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