The Palitana town in Bhavnagar observed a bandh on Friday in protests of barricades that have been erected at the foot-hills of the holy Shatrunjaya hill with some organisations alleging that the barriers were causing discomfort to pilgrims and palanquin-bearers.
Led by Vishva Hindu Parishad, 27 organisations of Palitana town joined the bandh on Friday. They later took out a rally from Taleti—the foothill of holy Shatrunjaya — to Palitana municipality headquarters and submitted a protest application to the municipality president against the entrance barricades. The application demanded that the barricades be removed. “A number of religious places are there on the Holy Shatrunjaya and there is the only way leading to all of them. But people of Palitana are unhappy because an organisation, by thinking in mind only one community and by making false representations to government, has got permission and set up arbitrarily barricades which are causing discomfort,” read the application signed by Bharat Rathod, vice-president of Bhavnagar district unit of VHP.
VHP is the Hindu-right wing group. Representatives of a number of Hindu and Muslim religious places and some sitting councillors of Palitana municipality as well as of Palitana taluka panchayat are co-signatories of the protest application.
The protest comes around a week after Sheth Anandji Kalyanji Dharmik Dharmada Trust, an Ahmedabad-registered religious trust of Jains erected the barricades at the starting point of the stairway leading up to the top of the Holy Hill on May 26. The barricades created separate entry lines for men and women pilgrims and separate passage for palanquin bearers. But Palitana Taluka Doli Kamdar Union (PTDKU) or Palitana taluka palanquin-bearers union protested against it saying the barricades were hampering their movement and therefore should be removed. The union, which represents around 1200 palanquin-bearers moved the Gujarat High Court against the barricades and the court ordered status quo on May 31.
“The barricades reduce our passage to just five feet. It is narrower—only around two feet for women palanquin-bearers. This space is not sufficient for movement of palanquins and poses risk forbearers as well as pilgrims who are carried in palanquins,” Mana Rathod, president of PTDKU told The Sunday Express.
On the other hand, Bharat Rathod claimed people were unhappy as Holy Shetrunjaya was not only about Jainism. “There are Hindu temples on the hill. There is the temple of Lord Shiva, Hanuman, Goddess Sarasvati etc. There is also dargah of Angarshah Pir, a place of pilgrimage for Muslims. All these places can be reached by the stairway leading up the hill. So, one organisation cannot act arbitrarily and place barricades at its entrance,” he said.
The VHP leader further said that palanquin-bearers are also not allowed to carry their meal in plastic bags and that it is causing a lot of discomfort for the workers.
But Sheth Anandji Kalyanji said they were merely trying to beef up security measures. “We have erected the barricades merely for the safety of the pilgrims and temples atop the hills. The barricades will help maintain the flow of pilgrims and will also enhance the safety of women as there will be separate passages for them. We have due permission for the barricades from Gujarat Pavitra Yatradham Vikas Board and the Palitana municipality. Similar arrangements are there in places like Chotila also. But after the High Court order, we have postponed the plan to install metal detectors. We are open to talking with those who have the objection to the arrangement,” said Manu Shah, senior manager of Sheth Ananji Kalyanji posted in Palitana.
Shah added that district Collector of Bhavnagar had declared the Holy Shetrunjaya Hill a plastic-free zone. “We are merely adhering to laws and helping the Swachh Bharat campaign by not allowing pilgrims to carry plastic bags on the hill. We have distributed tiffin boxes free of cost among the palanquin bearers as well so that they can carry their meals,” added Sheth.
Incidentally, the Gujarat Pavitra Yatradham Vikas Board (GPYVB), a state government body working for the development of major places of pilgrimage had included Palitana on its list around six months ago. GPYVB vice president Raju Dhruv said that he will seek details of the issue and will try to resolve it.