Amarnath Yatra: Looking beyond the politics
by Jaibans Singh on 30 Jun 2013 1 Comment

On June 28, amidst great fanfare the annual Amarnath Yatra in Kashmir was declared open. It will conclude, in accordance with tradition, on the day of Raksha Bandhan, August 21, 2013. Within this period, lakhs of pilgrims will visit the holy shrine. The successful conduct of the Yatra with no casualties is something the organisers from the Shrine Board and the State Government would be watching anxiously, as last year the Yatra saw the largest number of fatal casualties ever recorded during the pilgrimage. The figure touched 130 who lost their lives, 88 due to health reasons and 42 due to accidents en route.


Amarnath Yatra is an event that possibly rivals the Kumbh Mela in terms of its sanctity and religious significance. Only the very devout undertake it, for it involves trekking over difficult terrain, often in inclement weather, before one reaches the holy cave where Mahadeo – currently raging in fury on the Himalayan ranges of Uttarakhand – manifests in the form of an ice lingam.


The conduct of the Yatra is far more complex than the pat on the back that the State Government and the Shrine Board tend to give to themselves once it is over. What goes unheralded and unacknowledged is the contribution made by many other agencies that join hands in making the Yatra possible. Indeed, it would not be conceivable without them.


A peaceful and incident free Yatra sends out a message of government and security forces in control of the situation. This does not suit the nefarious designs of terrorist forces entrenched in the valley and on the other side of the border. There is always, therefore, a very real danger of such forces trying to disrupt the Yatra, harm the Yatris, and rupture the fragile peace. That is why the security force – the para-military troops and the Army along with the Jammu and Kashmir Police – have an onerous task to perform, for they literally have to provide safe conduct to each and every pilgrim and porter on the route.


The task of the security forces begins much before the pilgrims arrive. It is Army soldiers who ensure that the entire route is secured against any kind of threat. To do so they go over the entire route of the pilgrimage, at risk of life and limb, to set out the trail that the pilgrims ultimately tread. It is only after the Army gives a go-ahead on the route that the pilgrimage begins. Mostly, it is sheer perseverance of the Army which leads to a timely conduct of the induction run and ensures that the Yatra begins on time; this year was no exception.  


Once the yatra begins, the Army remains alongside the organisers, ready to respond to any exigency in accordance with a mantra of “constant vigil and full preparedness.” Even though its mandate is restricted to the provision of overall security cover, the force provides immense humanitarian aid to the pilgrims.


Besides the arrangements made by the civil administration and other voluntary organisations, the army provides food, refreshment and shelter to thousands of pilgrims throughout the yatra. It helps the aged and the feeble negotiate the adverse terrain, which earns it much goodwill and appreciation. Children who get separated from their parents in the large crowds find friendly guides in the men in olive green who lead them back to their worried parents.


The arduous trek and debilitating weather invariably causes a number of pilgrims to fall ill; the army sets up medical aid posts at various points along the route that remain open all day and night. Thousands are rescued every year from succumbing to adverse weather conditions by this thoughtful gesture. This apart, the army also evacuates serious casualties.


Veterinary camps are also organised to ensure the safety of the ponies, pack mules and other animals used in the Yatra. There are exigency plans to meet any natural calamity which, one fervently hopes, will not be required, particularly this year when we yet to fully evacuate the victims of the Uttarakhand floods, much less begin their rehabilitation.


The mere presence of Indian soldiers gives a sense of security to pilgrims treading the dangerous trail. The alacrity with which the Army responds to emergency, however small, and the integrity with which it performs its duty has always won it much praise and admiration from the pilgrims. This is no way belittles the excellent efforts put in year after year by the Para-military forces and the JK Police. It is a team effort with the local population that supports the yatra.


During the last few days, the Army felt the need to inform the people that in view of the recent terrorist attack in Srinagar, the threat had been sized up and adequate security put in place to counter any misadventure. This was important to ensure that the administration and the pilgrims maintain a high state of awareness and vigilance. It is very unfortunate that this missive, reinforced by the Union Home Minister, was misinterpreted and misrepresented by some and the matter politicised in a manner typical of a section in the Kashmir valley.


Far more important than this mindless debate is the physical well being of the pilgrims. The Supreme Court has pointed to certain administrative lapses that led to an unprecedented number of fatal casualties last year. The State leadership need to focus maximum attention to this aspect. At such an auspicious time, everyone should put his best foot forward to ensure the successful conduct of the Yatra.

User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top