Since 1850, when a Kashmiri shepherd, Buta Malik, discovered the cave-shrine at Amarnath, it has been a powerful symbol of the syncretic culture in the region. That Monday evening’s attack is a rare direct assault on pilgrims to the Shiva shrine in nearly three decades of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir is evidence of the yatra’s importance, and the wide acknowledgement of it in Kashmir. In this context, there should be no doubt that the terror strike, which left seven dead and 15 injured, is a frontal, grave assault on that ethos. In tragedy’s aftermath lies a fragile moment, containing both a challenge and a responsibility — for the political class and civil society in Kashmir, and in the country.
In Kashmir, actors across a political and social spectrum riven by bitter disagreements have been unequivocal in their shared condemnation of the killings. On Monday night, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti rushed to Anantnag to meet the survivors of the terrorist ambush and spent the night there, calling the attack a blot on Kashmir. Opposition leader Omar Abdullah used #NotInMyName — the hashtag used to protest incidents of lynching of minorities and Dalits across states earlier this month — in his denunciation of the attack.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq of the separatist Hurriyat Conference also made his abhorrence clear. In Srinagar, traders, students and civil society groups took to the streets on Tuesday to protest the attack and stand in solidarity with the victims. The latter is a particularly heartening development amid growing apprehensions about the increasingly polarised climate in the state, in the aftermath of Burhan Wani’s death and the rise of Islamist figures like Zakir Musa. For the BJP-PDP government, therefore, which has seemed overtaken and beseiged in the new phase of unrest in the Valley, the broad revulsion the attack has sparked carries a message — it must live up to the promise it had held up when it took office in 2015, to bridge the chasms in the state, between its regions, communities and aspirations. It is also imperative for the BJP to show restraint in this moment. Of the seven people who died in the attack, five hailed from BJP-ruled Gujarat, which goes to the polls later this year.
The decision to continue the yatra till August 4 sends an important message: The people will not give in to terror. For the BJP-led government at the Centre, the first priority must be to ensure the security of pilgrims. On the political and ideological front, the party and government could heed the wise response of Rajnath Singh. On Twitter, Singh welcomed the widespread condemnation of terror by the people of Kashmir. It showed that the spirit of kashmiriyat is alive, the Union home minister said.