Srinagar, April 21 (KMS): The faith of pilgrims of Amarnath yatra – an annual pilgrimage conducted in occupied Kashmir by a Delhi-based Hindu Shrine Board – is being instrumentalised to further India’s political interests, says a report prepared by EQUATIONS, a Bengaluru-based research, campaign and advocacy organization and Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society.

The report “Amarnath Yatra: A Militarised Pilgrimage” is based on the data accessed through the Right to Information Act, and interviews conducted in occupied Kashmir, Delhi and Ludhiana. The report was released in Srinagar on the occasion of the 13th martyrdom anniversary of rights activist, Aasiya Jeelani, and in memory of her life, work and struggle for justice. Aasiya Jeelani was killed in an IED explosion in Kupwara while monitoring so-called elections on April 20, 2004.

The report states that a prolonged yatra (about two-month-long) in presence of a huge number of armed forces’ personnel on the pilgrimage route is detrimental to occupied Kashmir and its ecology. The report also observes that “the yatra is being used for political means”.

“Based on interviews with key personnel of the armed forces, it appears that about 30,000 personnel were deployed in 2015 for the purpose of the Yatra. This is in addition to the camps of the armed forces located on the route, who are additionally activated for the duration of the Yatra. The Report also looks at the history of conflicts related to the Yatra, particularly the Amarnath land row of 2008, and the role of militarization in such conflicts,” the report says.

Swathi Seshadri, who is a part of the research and editing team of the report, told reporters at the release function that “we urge devotee groups to resist this use of their faith”. She said that the interference of various socio-religious organizations in the affairs of the Amarnath Shrine Board, which regulates the pilgrimage to the cave, was “nothing short of blackmail”.

“The threat (by these organizations) that there will be communal tension if their opinions are not considered should be punished as per the provisions of Indian Constitution and law…the state government cannot take cues from socio-religious organisations on its conduct while setting aside the people it claims to have concern for,” the executive summary of the report reads.

While underlining the cordial and supportive nature of Kashmiris towards the yatra, the report said demilitarizing the yatra is the need of the hour. This compassion by the Kashmiris must be responded to by removal of the armed forces from the yatra route, the report says.
The report also states that the Shrine Board has attained the stature of a “state within the state” and therefore calls upon the puppet administration of occupied Kashmir to bat for more powers over the conduct of yatra.

The repost says that due to non-disposal of waste material was leading to visible ecological degradation along the route. It also says that the share of Kashmiri tour and travel operators and hotel owners is minuscule since tour operators used are mostly from Jammu region or from Indian states. The report contests claims of socio-religious organisations that people of Kashmir gain the most from the Yatra because of economic benefits.

The repost says that the history of the Yatra is ridden with conflicts over resource allocation and land use, which are likely to be further exacerbated by the communalised State policy. The report suggests that attempts to start Kausar Nag and other yatras in occupied Kashmir “should be nipped in the bud”.

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