Concerned over fast vanishing symbol of identity and the rare meeting ground provided by the valley temples, displaced Kashmiri Pandits on Wednesday converged into Srinagar streets to push for the preservation and maintenance of their religious places.
Dozens of protesters assembled at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk and demanded the passage of Kashmir Temples and Shrines Bill pending with the assembly for the past five years.
“Whenever a displaced Kashmiri Pandit visits the Valley, they first pays obeisance at temples.
Unfortunately, several temples are in such a bad shape that the scene instills a sense of fear and accentuates the notion that it is too early for Pandits to return to the valley,” Amit Raina, Delhi co-ordinator of the All Parties Migration Coordination Committee, told the Hindustan Times.
The bill, tabled before the state assembly in 2009, has been sent to a select committee twice for a detailed study.
Ironically, the Congress and the BJP joined hands in the assembly in March this year and blocked the passage of the bill.
Interestingly, the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party showed no opposition.
There are fears in Hindu-majority Jammu that the bill moved by the Kashmiri Pandits, who left the Valley in 1990s after armed rebellion broke out, will divide the temples of the state.
The bill, if passed, will decrease the role of the oldest Hindu body, the Dharmarth Trust J&K, which was founded in 1846 by Maharaja Gulab Singh (1792-1857). The trust is directly run by the Singh’s heir Karan Singh, a Dogra from Jammu.
Most high revenue-generating temples in the valley --- including famous Zeethyar Temple, Shankaracharya Temple and Khir Bhawani Temple --- are run by the Dharmarth Trust, with negligible presence of Kashmiri Pandits.
“The Trust generates revenue every year and the money is only spent to preserve a few temples. Our demand is that these revenue-generating temples should become a part of the new body and the money should also be spent on other dilapidated temples,” said Raina.
According to figures sought under the Right to Information, around 634 temples in the valley needs attention as they are falling apart.
The bill is also aimed at seeking a high-level probe, either by the CBI or the CID, into the illegal sale of temple land and encroachments made in the last 25 years of turmoil.
According to Kashmiri Pandits, land worth Rs 600 crore has been leased out illegally in the past two decades.
“The bill is a real testing ground for the government to prove that it is serious about return of Kashmiri migrants...I'm also hopeful that revival of temples will also address the trust deficit between the two communities,” added Raina.
Hundreds of families of migrant Kashmiri Pandits are settled and scattered in different states of the country.
Kashmiri Pandit Sangarsh Samiti (KPSS), a body of the Valley-based Pandits who never migrated, also demand a overarching body to maintain the Valley temples.
“Rulers in Srinagar as well as Delhi should understand the gravity of the situation, which needs immediate attention. All temples in Kashmir should be handed over to Pandits,” said KPSS chairman Sanjay Tickoo.
The bill, which besides aiming at better management, protection, administration and governance of Kashmiri Hindu shrines and religious places, also demand allowing Hindu pilgrims to visit the Sharda temple in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Wednesday’s rare protest in Srinagar came just weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi put issues of Kashmiri Pandits on the top of its agenda.