On Pilgrimage Tourism

On Pilgrimage Tourism
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Relations between India and Pakistan have hit such lows that these have affected an area that is close to peoples’ hearts across the divide: pilgrimages to holy places. What is popularly known as pilgrimage tourism is now, for practical purposes, dead, in both India and Pakistan. This constitutes a travesty. The division of the subcontinent into the dominions of India and Pakistan led to a condition where many holy places happened to be in either country. So pilgrims, because they had to cross borders, had to seek visas and other assorted permissions to visit their respective holy and hallowed places that were dear to them and close to their hearts. All this was fine because India and Pakistan, post partition, were two different sovereign units with sovereign control over their borders and respective jurisdictions. And, in general, except when relations between the two reached a nadir, pilgrimage tourism was allowed. But, over the past few years, there has been a slide in relations between the two; this drift has and continues to slide further and intensify. The price for this deepening, and structural hostility between India and Pakistan is paid by religious adherents. All that these religious pilgrims desire and crave for are brief opportunities to pay obeisance, respect and offer prayers at their respective holy places. But, alas, this is not to be, at least, for the foreseeable future. The problem, to repeat, lies in the nature, tone and tenor of relations between India and Pakistan. Instead of breaking off and severing links like these, India and Pakistan, are making it difficult for themselves, especially when and if, a time comes when they have to enter into parleys over issues and sticking points that they do not see eye to eye on. From the perspective of diplomacy and prudent statecraft, areas and domains like pilgrimage tourism should have been kept open and (un) controlled. Besides intrinsic and self evident reasons, pilgrimage tourism could have kept open channels of diplomacy and communication that could have been employed as threads and starting points to resume dialogue. But, this is not to be (at least, for a long time, as far as the eye can see, so to speak). The disallowing of pilgrimage tourism then is a reflection of the broader break down of relations between the arch antagonists. It can only be hoped that this development is neither ominous nor portentous of darker times.

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