Amarnath Yatra: Trouble Brewing In Jammu And Kashmir8 June 2011
Srinagar: The Omar Abdullah administration in Jammu and Kashmir is facing a serious crisis after saffron groups decided to start the annual Amarnath Yatra on their own by sending 40,000 pilgrims to the holy cave shrine from June 14, 15 days ahead of the official commencement. Two organizations - Shri Baba Amaranth & Shri Baba Buda Amaranth Yatri Niyas - that have been spearheading the campaign, while rejecting the government decision to start the yatra on June 29 said they would start the yatra from Jammu on Jesth Purnima on June 14 at any cost. “Around 40,000 pilgrims have registered themselves with Niyas so far. We will start the yatra on Jesth Purnima according to Hindu calendar and first dharshan will take place on June 15”, said Surinder Mohan Agarwal, president of Niyas. The annual Amarnath yatra officially starts on June 29 and concludes on August 13, 15 days less than the last year’s pilgrimage of two months. More than two lakh pilgrims from all over the country are registered for the pilgrimage. Over 4.5 lakh pilgrims visited the cave shrine in 2010 despite unrest in the valley that left 112 people dead mostly in the security force firing on the stone pelting mobs. “Shiv worshipers grow every year,” said Agarwal. “Instead of extending the yatra period given the huge rush of devotees, the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board has curtailed it by 15 days. There is no logic behind it. And that is why we are starting our yatra ahead of the official date. If government will not allow us, we are ready to be arrested.” The government, however, is adamant that the yatra will start from June 29. An SASB official said the decision was taken after considering all factors important for ensuring the safe, secure and smooth conduct of the annual pilgrimage to the holy cave at 13,500 feet. The yatra's duration is a touchy issue in the state. While saffron groups want an extended duration, separatists want it to be 15 days. The 2008 Amarnath land agitation had polarized Jammu and Kashmir on religious and regional lines with people in both Jammu and valley launching agitations for and against the transfer of 39.88 hectares of forestland to SASB. Police figures reveal the 2008 Amarnath land agitation claimed 51 civilians in Kashmir and nine in Jammu. More than 979 people were injured in Kashmir and 494 in Jammu. As many as 333 policemen and paramilitary soldiers were also injured during the agitation across the state in 2008. More than 700 police personnel, 36 comapines of CRPF and BSF will be deployed for the yatra starting June 29. Volunteers from the Civil Defence Organization will assist yatries.