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Reason behind flare-up

The anger over the land transfer to the Amarnath board has more politics than religion to it, writes Renuka Narayanan.

india Updated: Aug 05, 2008 01:07 IST
Renuka Narayanan

The anger over the land transfer to the Amarnath board has more politics than religion to it, looking beyond the People’s Democratic Party’s back-pedalling on its initial approval of eight kanals of land for temporary pilgrim facilities during the two peak months of the annual Amarnath Yatra. The basic issue, say local sources, preferring anonymity, is that the state government should manage the facilitation of the Yatra, not the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB). Separatists in the Valley say it is a Hindu conspiracy against Kashmiriyat. However, a point that seems to rankle with Kashmiri Muslims outside the Valley has not been raised by either by the National Conference or the PDP: that the hereditary share of chadhava (pilgrim offering) that went to the (Muslim) Malik family was stopped. The shepherd ancestor of this family, say Kashmiri scholars, guided medieval Hindus to relocate the cave when they returned to the Valley during the rule of Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin Budshah after having fled in disarray years earlier during the rule of his father Sikander Butshikan.

What disgruntled Kashmiri Muslim youth in Delhi do not say, is that hereditary percentages of chadhava rights were withdrawn not just for this Muslim family associated with Amarnath, but for all the hereditary Hindu priests who used to share it, at both Amarnath and the Vaishno Devi shrine. They were given a lump sum amount in settlement instead when government legislated to form sarkari shrine boards in 1986. The Vaishno Devi Shrine Board was set up in 1986 with the Governor of J&K as head to ensure that the 20,000-plus pilgrims who visited the shrine every day had a safe and comfortable yatra: the hereditary priests had not ensured proper facilities, despite the wealth of these shrines.

Another grouse is that the local Muslim muleteers who rent their animals to carry pilgrims up to these mountain shrines were earlier registered free with the local deputy commissioner. Now they are registered with the shrine boards and have to pay a fee. This complaint has been whipped up by separatists as ‘anti-Kashmiriyat’. Another reason for the PDP’s U-turn is of course its only political base — the Valley.