June 2017 News

Kashmir Unrest Sees Thinning Crowds At Mela Kheer Bhawani

2 June 2017
Mufti Islah

Srinagar: One of the most popular religious fair of the Kashmiri Pandits - the Mela Kheer Bhawani - drew a disappointing number of devotees this year. The unrest seems to have a direct bearing on the 'very low' attendance at the revered shrine of Mata Ragnya Devi in Tulmulla village of Ganderbal district. The colourful festival that had slowly started to attract thousands of Kashmiri Hindus post the worst phase of militancy could draw only 500 to 600 devotees this year. Last year 12,000 pilgrims, mostly Kashmiri Hindus, had come down to pray at the scenic pilgrim village dotted by Chinars and a clean stream that flows through the shrine premises. The tension and strife post the killing of local militant commander Burhan is being attributed as the singular reason for the poor attendance. Many intending pilgrims attribute wild rumours and mischievous ranting on sections of media for their apparent reluctance to visit Tulmulla. 'It is for the first time since 1999 that the number of devotees has fallen so much,' Sanjay Tickoo of Kashmir Pandit Sangarsh Simiti told media men. Tickoo, who stayed back in Kashmir despite en masse migration of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990, has fronted a relentless battle seeking control of temple properties be handed over to native Hindus and not to outside religious bodies. 'Even in 2010 unrest, devotees thronged the shrine. Unrest and propaganda both in electronic media and social media has played its part,' he regretted. 'Only 350 Pandits had turned up at the shrine by Thursday night. We were surprised why not many did not come. We had kept buses at Srinagar to ferry devotees,' an official from Ganderbal told News18. Despite the low turnout, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti visited Tulmullah. She was seen greeting the members of Pandit community. 'People in Kashmir eagerly await the return of their Kashmiri brethren. The socio cultural milieu of Valley is incomplete without Kashmiri Pandits,' she told the small gathering. This year too, the local Muslim neighbours had set-up stalls selling puja material to Pandits who had come from far-flung areas. An emotional Mehbooba Mufti appealed to devotees to pray for peace, harmony and brotherhood.