[Reader-list] Amaranth Yatra

Shuddhabrata Sengupta shuddha at sarai.net
Mon Jun 30 14:03:25 IST 2008

Dear Sonia, Dear Rashneek, dear all,

Thank you, Sonia and Rashneek for the debate on the Amarnath Yatra  
issue. The question of temple boards and their closeness to power,  
and their lust for acquiring forest lands is not unique to Kashmir.  
It also happens, as you will see below, (see the report - Sabarimala:  
The Faith in Spate, by K.A. Shaji) in distant Kerala. The ruling left  
front government in Kerala is as involved in this game as anyone  
else, because 'Temple Boards' are gold-mines and no state government  
wants to close an operation that earns them the gold that can be  
mined in these gold mines. I am appending below a report on the  
question of the Sabarimala Temple boards desire for even more  
reserved forest land. The story is remarkably resonant of the  
Amarnath issue. A local, highly culturally specific, syncretic  
pilgrimage turning into the road-show of a revivalist 'Hinduism',  
with lucrative revenue spin-offs.

I live in an area in Delhi where I have witnessed every year, for the  
past few years - 'Chalo Amarnath Chalo' (Let's go to Amarnath)  
posters and banners being put up by local RSS functionaries. And  
there are active fundraising drives which culminate in a cavalcade of  
Tata Sumos with the local 'Youth' blaring 'bhajans' from their  
booming auto-sound systems taking off to go do 'darshan' of the  
melting lingam. I don't think they (the Sumo Pilgrims of my  
neighbourhood) really care whether or not the forests of Kashmir go  
up in smoke.

I also know that the Sabarimala pilgrimage has been twisted out of  
shape in a similar way, both by Hindutva enthusiasts, and by  
construction contractors close to the ruling Left Front. Fragile  
forests can barely sustain the burden of so much sudden faith.

Incidentally, revivalist Hindus are by no means alone in their  
disregard for the local heritage and environment. The ruling  
dispensation in Saudi Arabia has effectively turned the pilgrimage  
sites of Mecca and Medina into an air-conditioned cultural wasteland.  
it has systematically destroyed shrines that were considered holy by  
millions of Muslim pilgrims, especially from South Asia, and  
completely transformed the intricate urban fabric of Mecca and  
Medina. There is a long history of protest, including in India, by  
Muslims against the way in which the Saudi Government, in cohorts  
with the Wahabi establishment has wrecked the topography of Mecca and  
Medina. Similarly, the Israeli state's policy of expansion, through  
settlements, and building high security segregated roads that cut  
through the west bank of the Jordan river are often camouflaged under  
an appeal to scriptural sanction for 'Greater' or 'Eretz' Israel.  
There is a great deal of money to be made in pilgrimage, and it  
affords everybody an opportunity to make some quick transformations  
of the landscape in the name of 'infrastructure development'  and  
'settlement' , both of which are euphemisms for speculation in real  

I am also appending a detailed report on the environmental impact of  
what was proposed by the erstwhile governor Gen (Retd) Sinha of Jammu  
and Kashmir for the Amarnath Yatra by Gautam Navlakha that appeared  
recently in the website of a journal called Kashmir Affairs. Finally,  
it is not my case that the acquisition of land for the Amarnath Board  
(SASB) is wrong, and the acquisition of land for the so-called  
'Mughal Road', which has been pointed out by Aditya Raj Kaul, in a  
recent post is wrong. Both are equally disastrous from the  
environmental point of view. And the silence of political formations  
(of all persuasions) on the environmental impact of the revived  
Mughal Road and their recent discovery of environmentalism (in the  
case of the Amarnath land transfer issue) does make their commitment  
to environmentalism somewhat suspect. The PDP's stance is  
particularly hypocritical, as the original decision has been ratified  
by its own minister, (for Forest) in the (Indian Held) J&K state  
government. Still, even if the commitment of all the protagonists is  
suspect, I must say that I have rarely seen a popular movement  
reverse a state-driven decision on an 'environmental' issue, and the  
recent success of the agitation in Kashmir (whatever be the motives  
that impelled it) which has resulted in a reversal of the Land  
Transfer issue is something to be grateful for.

These are issues that need to be seen quite separately from secterian  
concerns. I hope this debate can help us see them in that way.



1. Sabarimala: The Faith in Spate
by K A Shaji


Legend has it that when Lord Ayyappa set out to seek solitude, he  
settled upon Sabarimala. Its sylvan surroundings and undulating  
terrain had made it an ideal retreat for the bachelor god. The  
pristine monsoon forests had wrapped like an ornament around his  
hermitage at the top of the hill. The Lord believed to have called  
the area with tranquil atmosphere as his poonkavanam (sacred forest).

A shrine inside the forest and a deity who chose the calm ambience of  
hills and valleys has few parallels in the country and outside. But  
now, it seems, all of the glories of Sabarimala were a thing of the  
past. When mythology meets present-day reality, Sabarimala is no more  
a chosen abode of the hermit God. During January-February each year,  
more than 50 million devotees, as claimed by the temple authorities,  
are thronging this forest temple for annual pilgrimage, putting the  
fragile ecology of the region under severe stress. Now, the holy hill  
is a synonym of increasing inflow of pilgrims, inadequate  
infrastructure, a devastated environment and a hapless wildlife.

While the entire hill and the adjacent river Pampa, the third largest  
river in Kerala, are stinking due to sewage pollution and  
accumulation of garbage, the situation is not much different in the  
administrative and spiritual circles of the hill shrine. First, it  
was a controversy involving Kannada film actress Jayamala and a group  
of orthodox Hindus, who questioned her claim of touching the idol of  
the bachelor god defying the barricades meant for preventing sexually  
active women from entering the hill shrine. Then one of the highly  
revered traditional priests of the temple was robbed of a large  
amount of money and gold ornaments during his visit to the house of a  
woman engaged in flesh trade by a mafia gang. And now, it is the turn  
of aged father of a senior priest to allege that his son is under  
influence of a powerful Ezhava community leader with shadowy nature  
and the leader's followers are using his son to pocket the temple  
money. In the meantime, the Left Front Government has disbanded the  
existing administrative body of the temple citing corruption at high  
level and is preparing to enact a legislation to keep the corrupt  
community leaders out of the administrative body forever.

On monetary grounds, the temple is the third largest in the country,  
standing very close to Tirupathi and Guruvayur. The cash-strapped  
Kerala Government, despite its leftist moorings, is depending very  
much on the income from the temple to meet salary needs of its  
employees. In order to increase the revenue, the successive  
governments and the so-called proponents of development are  
vociferous of implementing multi-crore construction plans in  
Sabarimala clearing forests and building a concrete jungle in its  
place. But nobody in the spiritual and administrative levels of the  
temple as well as the government establishment are apprehensive of  
the increasing level of pollution and the extreme level of  
deforestation. Their focus is entangled only in the growing number of  
controversies and the commissions to be available after the beginning  
of the construction work.

Located about 467 metres above sea level, the Sabarimala temple is  
surrounded by 18 hills and situated inside Periyar Tiger Reserve, one  
of the few safe havens for tigers in the country. According to bird  
watcher B.Sethumadhavan, as many as 2000 species of flowering plants,  
endemic and medicinal, have been identified among the region's flora.  
`` About 63 species of mammals, some of them endangered like tigers,  
elephants and lion tailed macaque live here. So far, 223 species of  
birds and 45 species of reptiles including King Cobra have been  
identified in this area,'' he said. The ever- expanding number of  
pilgrims and mindless construction works are posing severe threat to  
their very survival. Devotees of a Lord, who believed to have loved  
the flora and fauna and their safekeeping, are now on a rampage in  
the name of development forcing the wildlife to move out of their  
traditional habitat.

As per legends, the vehicle of Lord Ayyappa is tiger. But,  
astonishingly, neither the tiger nor the surrounding evergreen  
forests do not come in the list of priorities before the |Travancore  
Devaswam Board, which administers the shrine. ``There was an increase  
of 35 per cent in revenue while comparing with last year during the  
November-December period. In the number of visitors, the increase is  
of 19 per cent. These figures show the need for immediate  
developmental works in Sabarimala. But there are agencies like Forest  
Department which cry for tigers and forests,'' alleges G.Raman Nair,  
outgoing president of the board.

However, environmentalists and forest officials are countering the  
allegation. ``The development works so far at Pampa have made it  
impossible a soul-filling holy dip in river Pampa. At least, two  
scientific studies conducted by Government's own agencies had found  
that landslips and tremors would take place at the holy hillock any  
time largely because of the extensive concrete flooring at the temple  
premises. The devaswam is only interested in money making. It has no  
concern for the impending dangers for both nature and devotees,''  
pointed out Sumesh Mangalassery, a member of the environmental group  

According to Sumesh, a panel of Kerala Legislature on environment led  
by RSP leader A V Thamarakshan had submitted 32 proposals to the  
Devaswam Board to protect Sabarimala around five years back. But none  
of them were acceptable to the board. Even the suggestions of Kerala  
State Pollution Control Board to minimise the pollution of river  
Pampa were paid scant regard by the board. A visit by Tehelka to  
Sabarimala found that river Pampa continues to remain the main victim  
of the callous attitude of the authorities. It gets choked in the  
temple area as solid waste including human excreta; plastic bags,  
empty water bottles and coconut husks block the free flow of water.  
About 35 million people took a holy dip in the river between November  
and January, which is the major source of drinking water for three  

According to a study by the pollution control board, the total  
coliform count recorded at the river portion close to Sabarimala is  
about 1,14,000 per 100 millilitres (ML) during the peak of  
pilgrimage. Just before the pilgrimage season, it is merely 380 per  
100 ml- well below the permissible limits of 500 per 100 ml.  
According to local people, the overflow of human faeces from sceptic  
tanks around the temple stands the major reason of the pollution of  
the river. ``More than 3,000 temporary toilets are functioning close  
to the temple in addition to about 600 permanent toilets. The  
capacity of the sewerage treatment plant is very limited,'' pointed  
out K.Anirudhan of Sabarimala Samrakshana Samithy.

Most of the experts, who had conducted studies on the pollution and  
environmental problems prevailing in Sabarimala, point to the need of  
regulating the ever- increasing number of pilgrims. ``Sabarimala is  
bursting at the seams with millions of devotees now. Thirty or forty  
years ago, only around 50,000 pilgrims visited the temple. Today, the  
number is fifty million and is rising at the rate of 20 per cent  
every year. The ever-swelling flow resulted in a major mishap on  
January 14, 1999, when 100 pilgrims died in a stampede at the site.  
Indications are that Sabarimala is a disaster waiting to be happen,''  
warns noted Kerala based environmentalist P K Uthaman. According to  
him, almost two thousand tonnes of human waste are deposited in crude  
earth pits and outside in Sabarimala every year. These wastes are  
finding their way into not only the river Pampa but also to river  
Periyar by underground as well as over ground rivulets, posing a  
threat great health hazard for the pilgrims as well as those living  

In addition, the lack of post pilgrimage cleaning drives often result  
in unabated flow of hazardous waste into the rivers. The temple area  
has already been converted into a concrete jungle where guesthouses  
and other structures are constructed haphazardly all around. They are  
meant for temple officials, priests, VVIPs and police personnel.  
According to M.Gopal, a pilgrim from Bangalore who visited Sabarimala  
this year, human excreta and plastic waste were found strewn just  
outside the Sannidhanam (the main building of the temple). As per  
data available from forest department, over 2.5 lakh empty plastic  
bottles of packaged water were collected from inside the tiger  
reserve. The number of tetra packs collected would come around 4.5  
lakh. The temple complex of the hermit, who believed in renunciation  
of earthly attractions, is now filled with commercial shops selling  
products ranging from gold ornaments to dress materials. All these  
shops were constructed by clearing forests.

``The total time available for darsan as of now is a total of 1431  
hours, i.e. 515160 seconds. If a darsan goes on one at a time basis  
and a devotee gets a second, the total strength of the pilgrims can  
only be 5,15, 160 per year. If ten people could somehow cluster  
together per second for darsan, the maximum number would be  
51,51,600,'' points out a document prepared by |School of Social  
Sciences at Mahatma Gandhi University on behalf of Kerla Forest  
Department. The document also questions the claims of the board that  
over 50 million people visit the temple annually. But anyway, the  
number of pilgrims' visting Sabarimala is many times more than its  

``The authorities must find out some mechanism to regulate the  
alarming increase in the number of pilgrims. Sabarimala is not only  
an environmental but also a social disaster,'' opined Dr.Rajan  
Gurukkal of School of Social Sciences. Now a day, the uncontrolled  
flow of pilgrims from various entry points is resulting in people  
swarming all around the protected sanctuary leading to man –animal  
conflicts. Recently, an elephant trampled upon one pilgrim. Then it  
was found that the pilgrims were sleeping in the corridor used by the  
elephants for going to the river to drink water at the night. A large  
number of such corridors were already disrupted due to the  
construction works undertaken in the recent past.

According to Sedumadhavan, the authorities are even paying scant  
attention on the safety of pilgrims. As many as 12,000 litres of  
diesel are being stored just above the sannidhanam without any  
storage licence or safety parameters. They are also keeping a large  
number of crackers near the sanctum sanctoram without any safety  
concern. The only solution on the part of Trvancore Devaswom Board  
for all problems plaguing Sabarimala is denudation of nearby forests  
and setting up new amenities. According to Rajan Gurukkal, such an  
attempt would be disastrous as all the existing problems of  
Sabarimala can be viwed as the after effect of deforestation.

The devaswam board has already ruined about 55.09 ha of forestland in  
the name of sabarimala development. In the opinion of  
environmentalists, they demand more forests to cut and smuggle out  
precious trees and construction of further concrete strctures with  
ulterior motives. Maintaining the sanctity of the shrine and the  
precious eco-system never appeared a priority before them. So far,  
the devaswam board was constituted once in five years by nomination  
of people with no administrative acumen at the behest of successive  

Rajan Gurukkal and his team at School of Social Sciences have  
prepared a long-term action plan for saving Sabarimala from the  
sequence of disasters in the offing. But the lobbies of corrupt and  
communal elements are not allowing the devaswam to look into them.  
Even the small step of Left Government in disbanding the existing  
devaswam committee is being interpreted as an attempt by atheists to  
interfere in Hindu religious matters. The move by left government to  
appoint experts in place of politicians at the board also facing  
opposition from Sangh Parivar organisations, who claim as custodians  
of Hindu places of worship.

The board and its corrupt administrators were not able to get their  
hand on the forest so far due to stringent central acts and Supreme  
Court rulings. But even the outgoing members are repeating their old  
slogan of `no development in Sabarimala would be possible without  
deforestation.' Unless the authorities change their attitude from a  
revenue-centred approach to a pilgrim centred aprach, there is not  
much hope. But they still repeat that development (read  
deforestation) could not be stopped for the sake of a few birds and  
animals. ``The board had neither faith in environmental protection  
nor in religious sanctity,'' opines Rajan Gurukkal.

Decongestion of base town Pampa by increasing facilities at a  
relatively distant town of Nilakkal, demolition of unauthorised  
concrete structures at Sannidhanam and Pampa, cleaning of the river,  
better waste disposal facilities and provisions of basic facilities  
for pilgrims without affecting ecology are the urgent needs of  
Sabarimala. The tigers and elephants must be protected.

If there is no mechanism to check the number of pilgrims, that would  
increase to two to three crores within years. Moderate elements among  
the Hindu community are favouring a statutory body for Sabarimala in  
line with Tirumala-Thirupathy Devasthanam and Amarnath temple. Such a  
body consisting of experts from different fields can change the  
course of priorities of the forest temple.


2. Amarnath Yatra: The Pilgrimage to Eco Disaster
Gautam Navlakha

Should one question the propriety of promoting pilgrimage in a  
ecologically fragile area or wink at it in the name of devotees right  
to free movement and worship? This question comes to mind when  
looking at Amarnath Yatra especially the phenomenal increase in the  
number of pilgrims. This increase is not of few hundred or few  
thousand but runs into hundreds of thousands. There has been a  
doubling of the period for pilgrimage from one month to two this year  
as well as forty times increase in number of pilgrims, from 12,000 in  
1989 to 450,000 in 2005 (this year it is set to cross 500,000) are  
cause for concern. In fact the actual period is longer because a  
fortnight before the official yatra is reserved for army men and  
their families to visit the Amarnath cave through ecologically more  
vulnerable Baltal route. Moreover, in order to provide security for  
pilgrims who come out in large number, the paramilitary forces have  
to be deployed in large number. The current deployment will be in  
excess of 20,000 for the entire period. Their presence and stay  
cannot but affect the rise in pollution levels. Inclement weather too  
is an issue because rains in the plain means snow in the higher  
reaches. This results in crowding at the camps, straining services  
including disposal of waste. But worse things can happen as in 1996  
when unexpected heavy snowfall resulted in death of 243 pilgrims and  
injuries to hundred more due to avalanche.

The State Pollution Control Board (SPCB), recently in a 37 page  
report warns that generation of waste by pilgrims, absence of waste  
disposal sites, open dumping of garbage, air pollution, sewage  
generated by hotels, yatri camps and local residential areas makes  
its way into Lidder river. The SPCB warned that waste generated by  
pilgrims more than the local average and primarily contains plastics,  
polythene and leftover food packets all along the route. According to  
their calculation 55,000 kgs of plastic waste is generated every day  
during the pilgrimage. Besides, thousands of open toilets erected  
along the banks of Lidder river ensures that effluents enter the  
river. Thousands of vehicles ply up and down the mountains around  
Pahalgam all the way up to Chandanwari spewing carbon monoxide. The  
Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB), which came into existence on  
February 21, 2001, has been dismissive of such claims. They assert  
that 230 pre-fabricated toilets being raised in Nunwan base camp and  
human waste disposal off in leach pits with micro-organism technology  
using Bokaslin powder and other chemicals would take care of the  
problem. However, the issue is more than the supposedly effective  
modern methods to manage waste. The sheer presence of large mass of  
people is a cause for concern. Department of Science and technology  
through its principal investigator on glaciology has argued that “the  
ecology, the environment and health of the glacier can be under  
severe threat in case the Baltal route to the Holy Cave was  
frequented by thousands of pilgrims”. And pointed out that “depletion  
and degradation (of glaciers) are the result of human breath, refuse  
and land erosion”. (The Tribune July 5, 2005).

It is disconcerting to note that opening of Baltal route for pilgrims  
on foot and those using helicopters has crossed several thousand  
every day. Apart from the Department of Science and Technology of J&K  
government even the Nitish Sengupta committee, which was constituted  
to look into the deaths of 243 pilgrims in 1996 due to the snowstorm,  
had recommended that number of yatris be restricted to 5000 per day  
for a period of one month and the total number of pilgrims be capped  
at1.5 lakhs. According to them Baltal route should allow 1500  
pilgrims and Pahalgam 3500 per day. However, the General JR Mukherjee  
committee, which looked into the cause of death of 35 people, due to  
cross fire, during the 2000 yatra, focussed on security arrangement  
and wanted the duration of the yatra to increase as security scenario  
improved. But neither report looked at the environmental impact of  
the yatra. Thus when the SASB invokes the recommendations of the two  
committees what it does is to use it selectively and link the number  
of pilgrims to the issue of managing security for them. In this sense  
they underplay the question whether the eco-system can bear heavy  
influx of pilgrims. This emphasis on encouraging larger number of  
pilgrims shows its impact on the environment in unexpected ways. Such  
as the SASB contemplating “air conditioning” to preserve the shiva  
lingam from melting. The recent controversy over the pilgrims  
alleging that the SASB has been constructing the “snow lingam” is now  
being passed off as due to change in the course of the water channels  
after last year’s earthquake and global warming. Without ruling this  
out human contribution to this phenomenon cannot be ignored when  
glaciers are rapidly receding. As a matter of fact yatra was never  
undertaken in June precisely because formation of shiva lingam does  
not always take place then. Incidentally the local people speak of  
“human” intervention in restoring what is a natural phenomenon, as  
something that has happened in the past too. This apart large number  
of pilgrims means that going gets tough as one draws close to the  
cave with traffic jam being the order of the day. At times pilgrims  
have to wait for hours for their turn. Increase in dust in atmosphere  
too is caused by crowds of people as well as helicopter service. The  
dust raised is visible from long distance away. All this also means  
that individual pilgrims, that is other than VIPs, are disallowed  
from spending more than seconds inside the cave. Above all carbon  
dioxide levels shoot up warming the area all around.

It cannot be that the SASB is unaware of the environmental concerns.  
If it receives short shrift it is because the yatra has come to  
symbolise Indian government’s determination to promote its claim in  
J&K. That pilgrimage is being heralded as victory against a movement  
demanding azadi from India is available in the news portal of Indian  
government, Press Information Bureau. It says that “yearning for  
moksha (salvation) can move the devotees to the challenging heights  
of Kashmir and will be a fitting gesture of solidarity with our  
valiant soldiers who have been fighting the enemy to defend our  
borders”. (pib.nic.in/feature/feo799/f1507992.html). Thus what is  
otherwise merely a religious pilgrimage of the Hindus has been  
elevated to represent a patriotic enterprise. Besides, the SASB is  
headed by the Governor and his principal secretary is the CEO of the  
SASB. Thus the Government of India is clearly in charge of organising  
the yatra. And it is the SASB which has been pushing for larger and  
larger numbers of pilgrims and challenging the right of the state  
government from interfering in anyway with the schedule announced by  
the SASB.

It is true that not everyone who goes to Amarnath accepts this  
association of religion with patriotism. But the fact of the matter  
is that official perception of pilgrimage as patriotic duty has  
allowed the communal fascist elements to join in organising their  
supporters. Little wonder that frequency of conflict between section  
of such ‘pilgrims’ and local population due to their obnoxious  
behaviour has shown an increase. What is equally disconcerting is  
that the SASB presided over by the Governor has also been engaged in  
controversial transactions. The CEO of SASB is the principal  
secretary to the Governor. Present CEO’s wife, in her capacity of  
Principal secretary forest department granted permission to SASB on  
May 29, 2005 to use forest land. But this provision was not in  
accordance with the provision of J&K Forest Conservation Act 1997  
and, therefore, the state government withdrew the order. However,  
thanks to a stay order by a division bench of the J&K High Court the  
withdrawal of permission to occupy forest land, was suspended. Any  
visitor to Pahalgam can observe how this forest land is being cleared  
to setup camps for the yatris. In fact now the SASB has asked the  
state government to give them land in the radius of 5kms of the cave.  
This arouses local passions precisely because Indian security forces  
and other entities have transferred large tracts of land to house  
camps for security force personnel, or for central projects, as well  
as for schools which are run by army among others. Even a pro-Indian  
National Conference party has protested such transfers of land since  
1989. Not very far from the camp for the pilgrims in Pahalgam, in  
Lidru (opposite Kulan village) what locals describe as one of the  
finest meadows, spread over 550 kanals (one kanal=one eighth of acre)  
in area, has been given to the army to run a school! Local population  
feels helpless at being unable to stop this. Therefore, when SASB  
wants large tract of land transferred to it under the claim of  
providing accommodation for lakhs of pilgrims it must be weighed  
against this local concern. Were the numbers of pilgrims to be  
brought down the pressing need for transferring large areas to SASB  
or for providing carpet security and thus deployment of force, can be  
brought down.

This apart the SASB has also been involved in other controversial  
acts. One such was the recent attempt by the SASB to bring down the  
involvement of local people in the yatra. When on June 5, 2006 the  
local pro-India Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) claimed that SASB was  
ignoring livelihood of locals, the SASB countered by claiming that  
such criticism would generate controversy and thus “jeopardise”  
tourism in Kashmir. Quite apart from the fact that promotion of  
pilgrimage for commerce flies in the face of proclaimed concern for  
people’s faith PDP pointed out that if local porters and ponywallahs  
can strike work at Vaishnodevi Shrine against the (mis)management of  
the Shri Vaishnodevi Shrine Board (SVDSB) and seek support from local  
Congress leaders then what is wrong if local people from Pahalgam and  
Kangan areas seek their help to protest against the practises of SASB  
which discriminate against them. In fact the Pithoo Workers Union at  
Katra have protested the suspension of six of their leaders, alleged  
manhandling by SVDSB officials and demanded recall of its additional  
CEO. Neither the Governor as head of SVDSB nor the Board issued any  
statement chastising the Congress party!

Arguably, when yatra was halted between 1991-96 due to threat of  
section of the militants it played into the hands of the extreme  
right wing elements in Indian society who have since then become an  
integral part of mobilising large numbers of pilgrims. Thus a form of  
competitive communalism came into play. Thus when section of the  
militants represented earlier by Harkatul Ansar and now Lashkar-e- 
Taiyyaba or Jaish-e-Mohammed threaten to disrupt the pilgrimage it  
only gets the backs up of the devout Hindus opens them to vitriol of  
the rabidly anti-Muslim Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Shiv Sena etc.  
and accentuates the communal divide. However, it is equally important  
to note the actual fact that more people have died in yatra due to  
inclement weather and cross fire than at the hands of the militants.  
Besides, the main indigenous militant organisation Hizbul Mujahideen  
has always supported the yatra and has consistently demonstrated its  
opposition towards those who have tried to disrupt the yatra.  
Moreover, prior to constituting SASB the state government, local  
people and social activists provided aid and assistance to the  
pilgrims. However, threat of environmental damage has become a matter  
of utmost concern because the central government under the cover of  
SASB remains unrelenting in its pursuit of ever larger numbers to  
come for pilgrimage.

In a way the Amarnath yatra illustrates the way in which the Indian  
government injects communalism in our body politic. And also  
represents how secularism in India has been perverted to mean state  
patronage of religion/s. This patronage is not equitably distributed  
since Hindus outnumber others by more than eight times. Which is to  
say that between un-equals equality ends up promoting Hindu religious  
practises. In Amarnath yatra, in fact, the India government even  
discarded its pretended neutrality by publicising the yatra as a  
patriotic duty! Consequently, the likelihood of Amarnath pilgrimage  
getting mired in controversy, over environmental damage and  
eventually feeding into further alienation of people because they can  
do little to save damage to their lived environment, has increased.  
Trouble is the Indian government cares little for people and prefers  
to pander to the extreme rightwing by projecting the yatra as a  
patriotic enterprise to boost the morale of the Indian paramilitary  
forces. The very same force which the local population regards as  
symbol of their oppression. Thus a bigger mess is in the making right  
before our own eyes.

Shuddhabrata Sengupta
The Sarai Programme at CSDS
Raqs Media Collective
shuddha at sarai.net

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