Women among 14 yatris beaten-up at Banihal

2 July 2008
The Daily Excelsior

By Sanjeev Pargal JAMMU: In a brazen act of violence, 14 Amarnath pilgrims from Lucknow, Meerut and New Delhi including women were mercilessly beaten-up, their vehicles damaged and clothes were torn off by a group of urchins at Banihal town in Ramban district late last evening. The yatris were forced to take shelter in petrol tankers and trucks and reached Udhampur in miserable condition where they were provided shelter and food by the local people and helped to board trains. This is for the first time during over week long violence in the State that Amarnath yatris have been thrashed so brutally by the mob belonging to a particular community. Right leg of a woman pilgrim, Shakuntla Narang of New Delhi, was badly fractured in the attack while other yatris had bruises all over their bodies. Some of them had their clothes completely torn. SP Ramban Basant Rath confirmed the incident saying a FIR has been registered against the accused under Sections 147, 148 and 149 RPC at Banihal police station. SHO Banihal Inspector Nazir Dar admitted that no arrests have been made so far and an open FIR has been lodged against the accused. Even as the incident took place in the presence of a large number of police personnel, police have not even named the accused in the FIR but to say of their arrest. Official sources said three TATA Sumos and Tavera vehicles of Baba Amarnath ji pilgrims, who were returning after the pilgrimage, were intercepted by the mob at Banihal on Jammu-Srinagar national highway late last evening. The mob, belonging to majority community, subjected the vehicles to heavy stone pelting. Later, they brought down the pilgrims from the cars and started beating them mercilessly as police watched the entire thrashing like a mute spectator. Clothes of some pilgrims were also torn off. It was only after an Imam made an announcement from a local Mosque not to harm the pilgrims that the yatris were freed. Some Jammu based petrol tanker and truck operators shifted the pilgrims to Udhampur where BJP leader Pawan Gupta arranged food, shelter and medical treatment for them. The pilgrims boarded the train from Udhampur and left for New Delhi vowing never to come to Kashmir again. Some of the seriously injured Amarnath pilgrims have been identified as Harish Kumar, Shakuntla Narang and Karuna Narang of New Delhi, Ravi Yadav, Suman Lata and Vishal Yadav of Lucknow, Pardeep Kumar, Sachin Gupta and Sonia Kumari of Meerut. Shakuntla Narang had a deep fracture in her right leg. Injured yatris were provided clothing besides other facilities by local BJP unit led by Pawan Gupta before they left for New Delhi. Speaking to the Excelsior on telephone of Mr Gupta, Karuna Narang of New Delhi said it was a naked act of communal violence by the miscreants of Banihal who kept on beating and thrashing them for 15 minutes in the presence of police and none dared to stop them. 'We thought we will be killed but suddenly an announcement from the Mosque saved us', she said. Police neither resorted to teargas nor opened firing to disperse the mob to save the pilgrims from the wrath of goondas. Except for registration of a FIR under Sections 147, 148 and 149 RPC, no action has been taken against any of the miscreants. 'No arrests have been made so far', police said despite the fact that the incident took place in Banihal town in front of a large number of people. Police, however, said that after the incident security arrangements for the pilgrims returning after the pilgrimage on Ramban-Banihal section have been further intensified. Meanwhile, despite curfew, demonstrations and other incidents, about 9,000 pilgrims today left for holy cave shrine of Baba Amarnath ji from three base camps. About 12,000 others performed darshan of the Ice Lingam of Lord Shiva at the cave today. Official sources said 3518 pilgrims left for darshan from Baltal base camp while 3197 yatris proceeded to the shrine from Nunwan base camp in Pahalgam. About 2500 yatris left Bhagwati Nagar base camp in Jammu for darshan. Nearly 900 devotees flew to the shrine. The yatra was progressing smoothly from both the tracks, sources said. Meanwhile, two more pilgrims died today of cardiac arrest on the track. Sanjay Tak, 36, son of Hans Raj Tak R-o Karan Nagar, Jammu died of heart attack at cave shrine this morning while Amit Patil, 75, a resident of Madhya Pradesh died at Ramban while returning from the pilgrimage. With this, a total of 33 pilgrims have died during this year’s two month annual pilgrimage. Meanwhile, arrangements for ongoing Shri Amarnathji Yatra were reviewed by Chief Secretary, S S Kapur and Director General of Police, Kuldeep Khoda besides the various concerned civil, police and Tourism Department officers, who visited the base camps and the cave shrine today. The visiting officers interacted with functionaries of Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board, local level representatives of various Government agencies, pilgrims and langerwallas. They also went round the camping sites and reviewed availability of various facilities like drinking water, electricity, medicare etc. During their inspection of pre-fabricated huts and toilet blocs, they expressed satisfaction over present level of arrangements and gave on-the-spot instructions for further improvement. The Chief Secretary and the DGP also reviewed the security arrangements and traffic management on the pilgrimage route from Srinagar to Baltal. During their interaction with pilgrims, the team led by Chief Secretary secured valuable feedback on the available facilities and assured the yatris that every possible effort would be made to make their pilgrimage comfortable for, men and women, old and young, hailing from various parts of the country. The Governor held detailed discussions with the Chief Secretary and later with the Director General of Police to identify issues on which the SASB would focus attention, in close coordination with all concerned agencies.