The traditional warmth and affection that Kashmiris shower on visitors becomes more than evident during the 46 days long Amarnath yatra which is held every year and pilgrims returning from this pilgrimage are full of praise for the way locals had looked after them. And even though some unfortunate incidents do occur now and then (like the 2017 armed attack on a bus carrying pilgrims that left seven yatris dead and 18 wounded), the people bear no grudge against the locals as they know that being peace loving people, Kashmiris would never do such a thing.
This year the government has imposed a two-hour restriction on move of civilian vehicles on the 97-km stretch from Qazigund to Nashri on National Highway and suspended train services on the Banihal-Qazigund rail section from 10 AM to 3 PM. Though it has been clarified that this is a temporary security related measure only for the duration of Amarnath yatra, this decision has stirred a controversy. In a bid to score brownie points, mainstream political parties are busy issuing statements that are projecting a distorted picture of reality.
Recently, the National Conference and Peoples United Forum or PUF (an amalgamation of and IAS topper turned politician Shah Faesals Jammu & Kashmir People’s Movement (JKPM) party and Er. Rashids Awami Ittihad party) came onto the streets to protest against these restrictions.Though theres nothing wrong for political parties to protest against any government decisions that they feel arent in public interests, but they need to realise that while levelling charges without thinking could cause embarrassment to some groups, distasteful sloganeering may result in negative portrayal of the entire Kashmiri community.
For example, if National Conference president Farooq Abdullah has an axe to grind with the Governor, why drag in the people by saying Today, we see how miserably the common population is being treated. The disdain with which the people are being treated speaks volumes about the contempt the incumbent governor administration has for the local population. Similarly, NC and PUF protesters raising slogans like Yatri agar insaan hain, tohkya Kashmiri haiwaan hain? (If pilgrims are humans, then are Kashmiris beasts?) is not in good taste and a direct insult our peoples hospitable nature!
For the people of Kashmir, restrictions on movement isnt something new as we have been experiencing frequent and prolonged closure of vehicular traffic for the last three decades. This is the reason why attempts of political parties to the interpret orders restricting vehicular traffic for just a couple of hours as an intentional scheme aimed at selective discrimination of Kashmiris is something that will not find wide acceptance. Little do politicians realise that their ill-considered utterances are only conveying the erroneous impression of Kashmiris being an inconsiderate community that is only concerned about their own comfort.
Political opportunism has made politicians come out with some weird statements. Er. Rashid considers vehicle restrictions during the yatra period a gross violation of the fundamental rights of Kashmiris. This is surprising for two reasons- one, how does a mere two-hour movement restriction constitute a gross human rights violation, and two, if this is true then what about the numerous times when road traffic is closed continuously for days together due to shutdowns ordered by separatists?
At a time when the issue concerning return of Kashmiri Pandits is being actively debated, it would be prudent not to say anything that could be misinterpreted as a negative stance. Thus, by saying that Its unfortunate that the yatra is being communalised for political gains and New Delhi is giving a notion that Kashmiris are anti-Hindu, Er. Rasheed has only given an opportunity to vested interests for colouring this statement with a communal hue!
The separatists too havent let go of this opportunity to criticise New Delhi. JKLF acting chairman Abdul Hamid has echoed Er. Rashids sentiments by saying, that This ban (restriction on vehicle and train movement) is like putting the entire State under siege and how this showed the religious fanatic face of the rulers hell bent upon inflicting miseries and hardships on common citizens of Kashmir.Hurriyat (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farook has also hit out by saying that time and again Kashmiris are subject to harassment and inconvenience as the highway is shut down for them on one pretext or other.
The separatists concern that a two-hour curb on vehicle movement has given detractors a good opportunity to attack what they have dubbed as All Parties Hartal Conference for its duplicity. They point out that when both the JKLF and Hurriyat leaders consider a two-hour suspension of vehicular traffic as inflicting miseries and hardships on common citizens of Kashmir, how do they justify their frequent and prolonged calls for observing shutdowns? And this is an issue that will invariably come up whenever the separatist conglomerate gives a shutdown call!
Surprisingly, even some of those who claim to have no prejudices seem to have joined the chorus against restrictions on vehicular traffic. JKPM chief Faesal took to Twitter for conveying a mysterious message warning that those signing orders to stop movement of locals must remember that there will be a day of reckoning. Terming it as bizarre and unacceptable, former JNU student leader turned politician Shelha Rashid has taken to Facebook to state that Nowhere in the world is the local population held hostage to the movement of pilgrims. Im sure she doesnt mean it, but the choice of words in her statement can easily be misinterpreted as having a communal undertone. And by saying that A message is being telegraphed that convoys and pilgrimages are the priority, natives can wait, senior journalist and political commentator Gowhar Geelani too has given the wrong impression that Kashmiris consider pilgrims unwelcome outsiders.
In this entire melodrama, perhaps its Governor Satya Pal Malik who alone has spoken up for Kashmiris by saying Yatris like people of Kashmir. And by emphasising that Let me tell you again that the pilgrimage has been conducted in Kashmir only because of the support of the locals, he has put the record straight!
Tailpiece:Just a month and a half ago, when a tourist boat capsized in the turbulent Lidder stream, tourist guide Rauf Ahmad Dar hailing from Yinad village in Kulgam district sacrificed his own life while rescuing seven tourists. When such is the level of our concern for the wellbeing of visitors, cant we bear whatever little inconvenience caused by the restrictions with a smile so that the image of Kashmiris being wonderful and caring hosts isnt tarnished?—