Publicise Shrine Bill

The report on proposed Protection of Hindu Shrines Bill has been tabled in the legislature. The Pandits want the legislation to protect the age old shrines and temples of Valley which, it believes, are the symbols of its ancient culture and traditions. The pandits have been very active seeking support for the bill. They raised the issue during a civil society interaction last year and managed to muster support from the majority community as well. The Bill was discussed in the previous session of the legislature as well. Some Hindu organizations and legislators expressed serious reservations about the Bill. They raised objections and sought amendments in the Bill. They also favour that the Trusts like J&K Dharmarth Trust and Akahara which also manage some shrines and temples in Valley be not brought under the purview of the Bill. The Martand Trust has also opposed the Bill.. The Kashmiri pandits do not want non-pandits to maintain their shrines in the Valley. Pertinent to mention during the past twenty-five years, sants and parohits from outside have arrived in the Valley and have been looking after the pandit temples and shrines. The pundits say they are not familiar with the Kashmiri traditions. They perceive maintenance of the pandit shrines by outsiders as an act of sacrilege. The majority community, however, expressed deep concern over vulnerability of Muslim shrines in the Valley and urged the government to include shrines of both the communities in the Bill. The concern of the pandits for protection of their temples and shrines is not totally unfounded. Some temples and shrines have really suffered damaged during the past twenty-three years. But the Muslim shrines have suffered more damage. The Dastegeer Sahib shrine was gutted in a mysterious fire last year, the Chrar-e- Sharief shrine met a similar fate in 1995, Shah-e-Hamdan shrine at Tral suffered damage and the list is endless. In some of the cases the government ordered probes to ascertain facts but nothing came out and the real culprits could not be brought to justice. The proposed Bill must address the concerns of both the communities. It should not just be a Hindu Temples and Shrines Bill. It must be titled Jammu Kashmir Protection of Shrines Bill. This will serve a dual purpose. The state has been polarized to the hilt.  Further polarization in the name of protecting temples can prove disastrous. Before introducing the Bill in the legislature, the proposed legislation must be made public. Let the government not repeat the past mistakes. Let people be given a chance to participate in the law making process. Let the people decide whether they need legislation like the one that is being considered and discussed now.