Jammu: Another batch of over 2,200 Amarnath pilgrims left from here on Sunday for the Himalayan cave shrine in the Kashmir Valley.
“The fourth batch of 2,219 yatris left Bhagwati Nagar Yatri Niwas in Jammu at 4.50 a.m. today (Sunday) in an escorted convoy,” a senior police officer told IANS here.
Over 480 women and 27 children are part of the convoy.
The annual Hindu pilgrimage to the Himalayan cave shrine of Amarnath started on July 2 and will end on August 29 coinciding with Shravan Purnima and Raksha Bandhan festivals.
“The yatra has been going on smoothly and the issues of security and logistics are being efficiently addressed,” said another senior officer in south Kashmir Anantnag district where the shrine is located.
The cave shrine houses an ice stalagmite structure that waxes and wanes with the phases of the Moon.
Devotees call the stalagmite structure the ‘Holy Lingam’ and believe it symbolizes mystical powers of Lord Shiva.
The pilgrims reach the cave shrine situated 14,500 feet above the sea level through the traditional south Kashmir Pahalgam and the relatively modern north Kashmir Baltal base camp routes.
Helicopter services are available at Baltal and at Chandanwari (Pahalgam).
Besides, local Muslim potters and ponywallahs help by carrying the weak and infirm pilgrims on horseback or even on their shoulders all along the treacherous mountain trek that is 14-km long via Baltal and 46-km long via Pahalgam route.
With nationalist sentiments on a high after the suicide attack that left 40 CRPF troopers dead, it is the Kashmiris around the country who have felt the heat. Post-February 14 Pulwama attack, a helpline for students from the state in the NCR area received over 500 calls — more than 25 calls a day.
Vidushi Kapoor, Jammu and Kashmir’s Liaison Officer in-charge of Delhi-NCR area, told IANS that although no major incident was reported, she received around 500-600 calls, especially from Dehradun, from Kashmiri students saying that they are “feeling insecure”.
“Police and college authorities were very helpful. Full security and support was provided to the students at all times,” she said. However, the charged-up environment and reports from other areas has prompted many Kashmiri students to return home, she added.
“The environment has cooled down now, but two weeks were quite upsetting… the students were really scared.”
Kapoor is one of the seven Liaison Officers appointed around the country by the state government in November 2018 for support of students from the state. After the attack, their contacts were published in newspapers and social media to enable students to contact them.
More worryingly, the situation also shows that the rift between the state’s three major regions – Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh – extends to influence the perception of their people around India.Kapoor noted that the helpline had not got a single call from any students from the Jammu region.
Meanwhile, it is those from the Kashmir Valley who are squeezed between the terror outfits and the security forces.
Noting how all this takes a mental toll on its residents, Mehr (name changed), a 21-year-old living in the Kashmir Valley, said: “We are in repressive conditions. Being surrounded by security men is normal for us…livelihood, schools being suspended is normal.”
About the Pulwama attack, she said: “Violence wouldn’t solve the issue. The attack was not a good thing” but noted that people joined militancy because of “excesses”.
Taniya Tikoo, a Kashmiri Pandit living in Delhi, said it is best for both India and Pakistan if Kashmiris are allowed to have a dialogue among themselves. “It will be a win-win situation for everyone,” she said.
People from Jammu region have a different take.
Citing the recent grenade attack in Jammu bus stand, Delhi University student Saloni, who hails from Kathua, said, “A lot of violence has shifted to Jammu (region).”
She demanded greater linkage between the state and India. “India has been investing so much… we should be integrated with the rest of the country and Articles 370, 35A (of the Constitution) should be scrapped – they have done no good so far.”
Hitu, another girl from Jammu region studying in Delhi, however, said whenever any violence takes place in Kashmir, it affects everyone including “our schools, banks, highways also close”.
She also said that people from Jammu and Ladakh region “have a general feeling of being ignored by the leaders”.
Jigmat Paljor, President of the Ladakh Student Welfare Society in Delhi, is in agreement with his Jammu counterparts – but to a point.
Paljor told IANS how his people feel alienated because with all focus on Kashmir, issues of Ladakh, which is the state’s biggest region but sparsely populated, get overlooked.
About the challenges Ladakh faces after a Pulwama-type attack, he said its economy suffers since it is almost fully dependent on tourism.
“And since Ladakh has a border with both Pakistan and China, there is always fear of tensions escalating….”
While Paljor maintains Kashmir is an integral part of the country, he wants Articles 370 and 35A to stay as his region “is very fragile and susceptible in terms of economy, culture, language, environment, from outside influence”. (IANS)