Restrictions on civilian traffic to facilitate the movement of Amarnath pilgrims are brewing anger in Kashmir and a disdain for the annual yatra that people in the Valley have traditionally welcomed.
The curbs include shutting a 97 km-stretch of the Srinagar-Jammu national highway for civilian traffic five hours every day, halting a train on the Banihal-Srinagar stretch for five hours, and halting the movement of civilians traffic and pedestrians for hours on the Anantnag-Pahalgam stretch of the highway.
“Look at how the youth are thinking about this ban… By these senseless decisions, they are pushing the Kashmiris further away,” said a Srinagar resident, referring to a Facebook post — now deleted — in which a youngster alleged that he was “stopped and harassed” while travelling from Srinagar to Anantnag. In his post, he also claimed that the journey, which usually takes one hour, took him three hours.
“They (security forces) stop every civilian vehicle when the Amarnath pilgrim vehicles move on the road. This has not only led to immense difficulty to the people but is also severely affecting the business,” a resident of Anantnag town said. “For about an hour, the traffic is completely halted and even the pedestrians aren’t allowed to move”. The residents say that since there is no specific timing for the movement of the pilgrim vehicles and that they can pass any time during the day, the villagers are unable to plan their movement.
Political parties too have raised their voice against the ban. The National Conference, and the Peoples United Forum (PUF) – an alliance of Shah Faesal’s Peoples Movement and Engineer Rashid’s Awami Ittihad – took to streets to protest. “Today, we see how miserably the common population is being treated. The disdain with which the people are being treated speaks volumes about the contempt the incumbent governor administration has for the local population,” said National Conference president Farooq Abdullah.
“On one hand honourable governor says that the Yatra would not have been possible without the active support of the local population but on the other hand the same lot of people is being subjected to collective detention through highway curbs.”
Rashid called the ban a “gross violation of the fundamental rights” of the people of Kashmir. “Who does not know that more than security agencies, Kashmiris make the yatra a success…,” Rashid said while leading a protest in Srinagar. “It is unfortunate that the yatra is being communalised for political gains and New Delhi is giving notion that Kashmiris are anti-Hindu.”
Separatist leaders have called the ban order “despotic” and called for its immediate revocation.
“The (Amarnath) pilgrims have always been welcomed by the people of Kashmir, who have always facilitated its smooth conduct and lent support to it,” the Mirwaiz Umar Farooq-led Hurriyat Conference said.
“However time and again Kashmiris are subject to harassment and inconvenience as the highway is shut down for them on one pretext or other. If those in power claim that the situation has greatly ‘improved’, why are such extreme and unprecedented measures being used that were never used during the last three decades…”