On September 4, a separatist group called for a strike against the construction of concrete road for Amarnath pilgrims, which goes to the holy cave of Hindus. The strike was called “against the politicization of Amarnath Yatra”. In 2008, it was the same pilgrimage which sparked the mass protests in valley after a piece of land was transferred to the Amarnath Shrine Board. But this year the issue has been brewing at low intensity.
The state government has said they didn’t receive any directions from the apex court to construct any road for the pilgrimage. On August 13, the Supreme Court asked the state government to finish construction of roads and widening of passage to the Amarnath cave before snowfall. A Bench of Justices B S Chauhan and Swatanter Kumar passed the order after taking suo moto note of media reports of pilgrims’ deaths allegedly due to lack of proper facilities and medical care for them. It is an issue which can make governments fall in Jammu and Kashmir like it did in 2008. But the pro-freedom groups have not been united to oppose the move. There have been statements coming in from different quarters of the separatist block with different focuses.
In a press conference, the Minister for Finance Abdul Rahim Rather said that many leaders and civil society members have also voiced their concern over these reports of road construction. “Attempts are being made to vitiate peaceful atmosphere in the state on a non-existent issue. I want to clarify that the state Government has no plans to construct the road to Amarnath Cave or any big infrastructure in Baltal or Pahalgam which could be detrimental to the eco-system,” the minister added.
The government calls it a non-existent issue but the issue is much bigger than they seem to look at it. It can sweep their rule which has been of arrests and killings mostly. There is no peaceful atmosphere in valley as the minister claims. Last month, a 12 year old boy, Faizan Sofi was arrested and was slapped with draconian Public safety act. It was continuous campaign of many civil society members, journalists, and activists which forced the government to release him.
Kashmir, which is the most unpredictable region in the sub-continent, has seen many situations of such “peaceful atmosphere” in past too but then a single spark makes people to come on streets and youth throw stones.
Stone throwing has declined in most parts of the valley after the continuous crackdown on these youth by the local police. Most of these youth are either in jail or feel scared to talk about it or come out on the streets again.
What needs to be seen is how much this issue of road construction will grow and where will it lead Kashmir towards. Whether it is a mere road or a building, anything which is planned by the central or state government faces strong resistance from most of the quarters of the valley. That shows the denial of accepting the government’s rule.
The civil society members and the separatist leaders need to make a proper strategy of alternatives for the safety of pilgrims and also to other environmental issues. Calling a strike or protesting on streets might turn the tables but mostly at such circumstances this also leads to a “no-solution’ situation often. The form of dissent and its shape, in conflict regions, changes with time.