Tuesday February 20, 2018
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Amarnath Shivling stands at 13 ft this year due to heavy snow

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Srinagar: With just a few days left for the annual Amarnath pilgrimage to commence, the sacred Shivling in the cave shrine, located at a height of 3,888 metres in south Kashmir, is  now higher- thanks to heavy snowfall in the region, but snow clearance along the traditional route the pilgrims take is proving to be a challenge, officials said.

The annual pilgrimage begins on July 2, and the holy Shivling (the traditional icon of Lord Shiva believed to have been formed through natural formation) is already at 13 feet, against an average of 10-11 feet in the past few years.

“This year, the Valley has witnessed heavy snowfall and the temperature remained low, which helped the formation of the holy ling, which at this point of time is in better form,” Chief Yatra officer, Basheer Ahmad Khan, told a media outlet.

“This year, it is likely to remain for long, which will attract more than expected pilgrims,” he added.

The Amarnath yatra will be of 59 days’ duration this year, a long-pending demand of the Sangh Parivar organisations. A decision on this was taken earlier this year at a meeting of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, chaired by Jammu and Kashmir Governor, N.N. Vohra.

But the heavy snowfall also has its downside.

“The track opening is always a challenge for Amarnath Yatra, that too, when weather does not cooperate with you. But we are sure we will restore the track and the snow will be cleared from the track before the commencement of pilgrimage,” Reyaz Ahmad Wani, chief executive, Pahalgam Development Authority, told the media outlet.

Authorities faced hardships during the clearance and other arrangements due to fresh snowfall on the 32-km-long track, from Chandanwari to the cave, which was comparatively heavier than previous years.

But the authorities assured that arrangements are being made to ensure the track is opened in time.

“Every arrangement for the Shri Amarnath Ji yatra is in place. Even tent suppliers and langarwalas have installed their tents and langars at different padaws (spots) of the track up to the cave in Himalayas,” Khan said.

“There are specific arrangements for electricity, water and medicine. The departments concerned have strict orders to follow the Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) of the yatra and every yatri will be facilitated in every respect,” he added.

Security has always remained a challenge to tackle any kind of situation. The Indian Army has launched “Operation Shiva” along the Baltal and Pahalgam routes to ensure better coordination between its troops, the paramilitary CRPF and the local police.

This had led to a strong security grid being put in place along both routes to prevent any untoward incidents during the pilgrimage.

All arrangements are in place to ensure the security of the pilgrims, Inspector General of Police (Kashmir Division), S.J.M. Geelani, had said earlier this week, adding that security has been strengthened at all sensitive places, including railway stations and bus stands. (IANS)

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BJP Offers Christians a Pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Is Religious Pilgrimage A New Playground For The Political Parties?

This would not be the first time that India has bankrolled pilgrimages for the Christians. Before this, the government had subsidized the Haj pilgrimage for the Muslim community

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In a country like India, such miscalculated steps could backfire in form of communal rights and the results could be unprecedented. Wikimedia Commons
In a country like India, such miscalculated steps could backfire in form of communal rights and the results could be unprecedented. Wikimedia Commons
  • The political parties (BJP and Congress ) are promising a free trip to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage in the coming local elections of the eastern states of India
  • The Christian population in Meghalaya and Nagaland is almost 75 percent and 88 percent respectively
  • After the Supreme Court’s intervention, the government had drafted the policy to abolish the Haj subsidy in a phased manner by 2022

The Campaign promises during the elections times are quite bizarre nowadays, from “I’ll cut your taxes,” to “vote for me, and I’ll set you free.”

In the coming local elections in the Christian- majority state of Nagaland in India the agenda by the rival BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and Congress parties are unique: “Vote for us and get either a free or a heavily subsidized pilgrimage to Jerusalem.”

Yes, you read it right. The political parties are promising a free trip to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage. The offer has been put up by the Prime Minister Modi- led BJP for the upcoming elections. Even the local partners of the Congress party are treading up the same path.

Recently, the central government decided to withdraw subsidy given to hundreds and thousands of Muslims for the annual Haj pilgrimage. Wikimedia Commons
Recently, the central government decided to withdraw subsidy given to hundreds and thousands of Muslims for the annual Haj pilgrimage. Wikimedia Commons

The BJP has not made it clear yet if it is offering the scheme to all of India’s Christians, or only to Christians in the northeast, or only to Christians in Nagaland. The Christian population in Meghalaya and Nagaland is almost 75 percent and 88 percent respectively. Nagaland is one of smallest states of India, with the population of just under two million people.

Also Read: Muslim women can now travel for Haj without Mahram

As per the Tourism Ministry figures, around 58,000 Indian tourists came to Israel in 2017, a 47% increase from 2015.

The elections are scheduled for the February 27 in three northeastern states – Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura – later this month.

The AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi also tweeted on the double standard of the government and lashed out at the government for its discriminatory decision, ending Haj subsidy but allowing subsidies to continue for Hindu pilgrimages like the Mansarovar Yatra.

This would not be the first time that India has bankrolled pilgrimages for the Christians. Before this, the government had subsidized the Haj pilgrimage for the Muslim community. But recently, the central government decided to withdraw subsidy given to hundreds and thousands of Muslims for the annual Haj pilgrimage. The government cited the reason for the subsidy withdrawal as they wanted to utilise the funds saved from withdrawing the subsidy for the education of minorities, particularly girls. After the Supreme Court’s intervention, the government had drafted the policy to abolish the Haj subsidy in a phased manner by 2022.

Also Read: Government ends Haj subsidy as part of a new policy

The scheme is a clear cut example of hypocrisy and opportunism, especially considering the cancellation of Haj subsidies. It seems quite contrary, on the one hand, the government is cutting down the benefit scheme for one section of the society and on the other hand, some other community is been offered the same thing. Such moves bring out the double standards of the political parties just for the sake of vote bank. In a country like India, such miscalculated steps could backfire in form of communal rights and the results could be unprecedented.

In 2011, Nigeria also did something same as that of India. For many years, their government financed a trip to Mecca for Muslims, leading to some 42,000 Nigerians visiting the country. But with the change in the government, subsidies have been cut considerably and now a 12-day pilgrimage costs around 2000 dollars. The change in stance has resulted in 78% decrease from 2011.