If today the ongoing movement for the right to self determination in Kashmir enjoys international support, then it is primarily because it is seen as the struggle of a people and not a particular community. So, the announcement by the Hurriyat (G) Chairman SAS Geelani that he would launch an agitation after Eid-ul-Azha to protest against New Delhis religious aggression in Kashmir is disturbing because it portends ill for the ongoing struggle.
Geelani sahib may have sound reasons for his misgivings on the Amarnath issue, but he needs to understand that by making sweeping statements like They are trying to create a Hindu civilization here by settling the outsiders here, he is unwittingly playing into the hands of those who seek to project the Kashmir issue as a communally inspired movement. This delicate matter has been made more complicated by the following demands he has put down:
No road should be constructed on the Amarnath route.
The Amarnath yatra (pilgrimage) should be reduced to 15 days period.
Only a limited number of yatris (pilgrims) should allowed to undertake the pilgrimage.
Yatra should be conducted by the local Kashmiri pandits.
Abolish Amaranth Shrine Board.
Non-state subjects should not be allowed to interfere in the conduct of the yatra.
While most of these demands are fully justified from the environmental point of view, some like abolishing the Amarnath Shrine Board, conduct of the yatra by Kashmiri Pandits and non interference of non state subjects in conduct of the yatra sound more like feudal diktats. The octogenarian leader should realise that every faith has its own set of traditions and beliefs (which Islam teaches us to respect) and it is best not to meddle with religion as even the most well meaning suggestions are liable to be misconstrued as sacrilegious interferences. And one can draw a leaf out of history as an example- though having absolute authority to do so, even the Dogra rulers never attempted any changes in the conduct of the yatra by giving its responsibility to Kashmiri pandits and instead let things continue as they were. So, one cannot fathom as to how exactly will the demand of the Hurriyat (G) Chairman that Kashmiri pandits conduct the yatra help the movement for the right of self determination. And if this be so, why is he insisting on changing an article of faith and that too of another community?
Even with regards to the environmental concerns, Geelani sahib would have done much better if he approached the issue with more positive demands. If garbage accumulation and unhygienic sanitary conditions plague the yatra, then rather than demanding curbs by seeking to reduce the duration of the yatra or the number of yatris, would it not be a better option to demand that adequate facilities be created to overcome these environmental hazards? Why demand imposition of restrictions on the yatra which may well give an erroneous impression that the people of Kashmir have a negative and confrontational attitude towards people belonging to another faith? Isnt having an accommodative temperament one of the characteristic Kashmiri traits which we are proud of?
If it was New Delhis nefarious plan to malign the movement for the right of self determination by orchestrating the mass migration of Kashmiri pandits to give it a communal hue, then through his latest announcement Geelani sahib is unwittingly strengthening this propaganda by giving an impression that the religious sentiments of other communities have no place in Kashmir. Geelani sahib had earlier expressed his concern on environmental issues relating to the Amarnath yatra and this was a reason good enough to agitate. But to suddenly announce that the agitation was against religious aggression, the patriarch is running the risk of changing the very perception which the world has regarding the spirit that is guiding the ongoing movement for the right to self determination.
An earnest appeal to Geelani sahib- for Gods sake, please do not let the movement for the right to self determination degenerate into a crusade against religious aggression. For Gods sake dont do anything that may jeopardise international support for the Kashmir cause as one can ill afford to embark on a road in which the ongoing struggle is looked upon by the world community as a motivated movement with communal intent. For Gods sake dont fall prey to the machinations of the unscrupulous, who in the garb of invigorating the azadi movement are actually pursuing their personal agendas.
We must learn from history, but this is only possible if we have the courage to face the truth with a free and open mind. One cannot dismiss the fact that though erroneous, there exists a discernable perception within a section of the international community that the ultimate objective of the Kashmir struggle is to provide an exclusive homeland to the Muslims and that is why the Kashmiri Pandits were driven out of the State. When the Amarnath land row erupted in 2008, it was not a Hindu- Muslim issue. Yet, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) news report gave it a Muslim versus Hindu angle and read, Police have fired bullets and tear gas to disperse big Muslim rallies across Indian-held Kashmir as anger grows over the transfer of land to a Hindu trust. Likewise, the Wikipedia article titled The Amarnath Land Controversy contains an uncharitable statement that The protests highlighted the eclipse of secularism in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
So, today our leaders need to be more discerning while deciding upon the road that they must choose and certainly be more careful while expressing their views. While they may be serving the cause with complete loyalty and without malice towards anyone, they should realise that the world judges people from what they see and hear. Agitating merely for the sake of showing dissent may grab headlines but tends to breed indifference just like the cry wolf! fable. Wisdom and patience are important virtues which can help save the movement from losing its original character. Therefore, our leaders need to demonstrate these qualities so that the principled stand on which the Kashmir struggle is based is not marginalised by emotional outbursts, ill-considered actions and championing dubious causes as the same can pose a serious threat to its credibility.
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