A perfect ending to a historic struggle

via Courtesy: AADI published on September 2, 2008

If you believe in yourself dreams do come true. One can’t think of any other expression that can aptly sum up the mood of the people in the Jammu region today. Their demand has finally been met. The Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) will be allotted land for raising temporary facilities for the duration of the annual pilgrimage in the south of the Kashmir region. It has taken the people more than two months of constant protests and 40 days of bandh to make them heard in the corridors of power.

 Indeed, their movement has been historic. Never before has such solidarity been seen on this side of the Pir Panjal. Tens of thousands of people have staged demonstrations in every nook and corner. What is equally significant is that they have been tireless in their pursuit. Every day they have been on the streets regardless of whether or not there is curfew. They have walked long distances. Women have played an important part. So have children. They have faced the rough end of the police stick. They have been made to stand face to face with the Army, of all forces, and encounter its bullets. It is not easy for the people to survive when they shut down all their activities in quest of a single goal. Every person actually tends to suffer. There is no milk, no bread, no salt and no sugar for days together. Travel to and from hospitals and the city’s main railway station is adversely hit. Ceremonies in connection with marriages and deaths are deprived of their usual adjuncts.

This province has seen all this and even more. Yet, nobody has made an exhibition of his or her distress. They have not rushed to television channels to shed tears. Instead, they have taken their pain in stride. Not only that. Ten of them have sacrificed their lives for a cause. Of them two have taken their own lives bewitched by a common ambition. Although their acts have been of exceptional courage the suicides in any form should not take place in any age. Still these instances have occurred. How does one explain them? On the whole it is remarkable that the people have shown tremendous patience. They have been made to live with several innuendos like “vandals”, “criminals”, “communal” and “partisan”. To their credit they have ignored them. They have known all along that they are on the right course and have been vindicated in the end.

Why has Jammu erupted like it has done never before? There is only one logical explanation. Instead of getting a sympathetic hearing it had salt rubbed into its wounds by “political leaders” including those who ought to have taken a state-wide perspective. Tragically even New Delhi initially showed an extremely poor understanding of the ground reality. The poser was simple. Why could the people of one part of the State not have amenities to exercise their right to worship in the other part under a dispensation devised by the legislature? The separatists replied by saying that the pilgrimage had been going on for decades and the local Muslims had been facilitators. This was beating about the bush because that was not something in dispute.

The stupendous success of the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board (SMVDSB) has changed the entire perception about how to manage shrines in the State. The number of pilgrims has skyrocketed. Why should they have to wait for hours together in long queues in their cars especially on the Baltal side? Why could not they have a place to relax for some time? Why should not their offerings be utilised for their welfare and for serving humanity as a whole? There was no answer to these questions. Instead, a controversy was raised even though there was no scope for it with the State Legislature and the High Court having already settled the matter. It is being trumpeted up that a record number of devotees have turned up this year. What is being ignored is that an overwhelming number of them had paid obeisance at the cave shrine before the eruption of the secessionist violence in the Valley. Amazingly it was suggested by a section that the task should be left to the State Government. Why could the job not be executed by the SASB headed by no less a person than the Governor?

The grim truth is that separatists whipped up misplaced notions of a “Hindu invasion” of a “Muslim” region and articulated it in terms of the emergence of “Israeli-type settlements.” They gained strength because the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) exposed itself to the charge of behaving like an accomplice and the National Conference caved in momentarily. The activities across the Pir Panjal fuelled Jammu’s apprehensions that that it was being denied its due once again. As a consequence this province’s deep wounds of discrimination against it by the Kashmir-based leaders who claimed themselves to the “State” leaders were reopened. It was further infuriated by open display of the Pakistani flags and chanting of pro-Pakistan slogans. The reaction to this was that everyone in this region took national tricolour in his hands and waved it with pride. The actions and utterances of “Kashmiri” leaders are on record. The response to them is now part of the moving local folklore.

The result is that the issues that the Jammu agitation has brought before the nation are clear. What should be the future of Jammu and Kashmir with the “State” leaders refusing to look beyond their narrow constituencies? How long can New Delhi be soft towards the anti-national elements? Why should the minorities in the country’s only Muslim-majority State be asked to play a second fiddle even in a matter like worship in a country that has chosen secularism as its creed? Why should there be blatant regional discrimination in the State just because a section threatens secession? Why should the separatists and their patrons not be treated in the fashion the United States had done centuries ago during its evolution as a democracy and as Pakistan, ironically though, is doing presently in its tribal areas? The success of the Jammu agitation is that it has brought these queries to the fore.

The Shri Amarnath Yatra Sangarsh Samiti (SAYSS) has done a commendable job. It has carried great credibility among the masses because its leaders have been sincere and have resisted attempts to toe the ideology of one party or the other. That it has stuck to its one-point plank is praiseworthy. If the other issues have surfaced one has to thank those in the Valley who preached “freedom for Islam” equating it with “freedom for Pakistan.” Looking ahead we can only hope that the turmoil on either side of the Jawahar Tunnel throws up a leader who is truly secular and believes in the State as one entity integrated with the rest of the country.

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