SRINAGAR: How the Indian state has used the Amarnath pilgrimage as a project to integrate the state of Jammu and Kashmir with the Union of India, at the cost of Kashmiris, who have been excluded and belittled before the grand show of pampering of Hindu pilgrims, is the subject of an important document that was released on Thursday in Srinagar.
Introducing the 208-page report, ‘Amarnath Yatra: A Militarized Pilgrimage’, Swathi Seshadri, a contributor, said, “There are many yatras that take place in India, but Amarnath is the most militarised one. Nearly 30,000 armed forces, which include various companies of Indian Army and paramilitary troops, escort buses in which yatris come from Jammu. From the moment of entry of the pilgrim in Jammu, till the last destination which is the cave, the yatris are always escorted by armed forces. This does not happen even in the Char Dham Yatra, the country’s largest pilgrimage.”
“The number of yatris has quadrupled in the past twenty years. In the mid 1980s the number was a few thousand; in 1997 it reached one-lakh twenty-thousand; it crossed five lakh in 2015. This increase is unprecedented and has mostly been caused by the flow of Hindu nationalists who use the yatra to assert their power over Kashmir,” Swathi added.
Swathi, who works with Banglore-based Equations, which has produced the report in collaboration with the JKCCS (Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society), said that during the period of the yatra, an operation theatre and 35 doctors are made ready for the yatras, while for the locals who live around the cave, a primary health centre manned by a few doctors is kept at service.
“Even as the numbers of pilgrims have increased, the pilgrimage now has no bearing on the Kashmir economy. There is no substantial revenue people generate through the yatra. From food to healthcare, all is provided free by the state. Whatever income the yatra generates, most of it goes to the economy of the states that the yatris come from. Kashmirs earn a meagre share by providing menial services such as ponies, porters, tents, and taxis,” Swathi said.
According to the report, the Indian government in Delhi directly controls the yatra through its appointed governor. “The number of yatris, and period of their stay, has been determined unilaterally by the state. For instance, in its latest committee that will decide the days of stay, it has not included the custodian of this yatra who believes that the yatra should be concluded in 15 days for the sake of the environment and the Kashmiri people on whose land the yatra arrangements are made. The government has included in the committee those who are of the view of extending the period of the yatra and not those who hold the contrary view,” Swathi said.
The report has ten chapters, all of which point out how the Indian state has institutionalised the yatra through its military apparatus and what the implications of this on Kashmir are. The JKCCS’s Kartik Murukutla, Khurram Parvez and Pervez Imroz have also contributed chapters to the report.