As the number of pilgrims visiting the Amarnath shrine crossed the 3 lakh mark on Sunday, separatists on Monday made an attempt to approach pilgrims for separatist propaganda by "sensitizing them about the Kashmir problem".
Senior moderate separatist leader Shabir Ahmad Shah, who heads the Democratic Freedom Party, along with other separatist leaders visited pilgrims' camps in south Kashmir's Pahalgam area, one of the two major routes to reach the cave shrine housing an ice stalagmite at the height of 3,880 metres.
"Kashmir's present struggle is a political struggle. We demand the same rights from India, which she demanded from the British rulers when colonized," Shah told pilgrims camping inside tents at the major stopover at Pahalgam, 100 km south of Srinagar.
Shah reached Pahalgam around 1 pm and talked to the pilgrims for three hours in several camps.
Recalling history, Shah reiterated the promises made by former Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru to people of Kashmir.
"Pandit Nehru was first Indian prime minister who promised people here that they will be provided with a chance to decide their future. With the passage of time, India did not provide that chance and when demanded by people of Kashmir, she unleashed brutal force on them," alleged Shah.
This is first ever move by separatists to use pilgrimage as a tool to spread separatism. Shah was detained by the police on previous Saturday after the army disallowed him to go to the camps.
The separatist leader told the Hindustan Times that the yatra "provides a golden opportunity to apprise people of India about Kashmir problem."
"There are sensitive people who will go to their states with the message of real ground situation of Kashmir," said Shah, who, at the same time, appealed to Muslims to provide all necessary help to the visiting pilgrims. "This is necessary to have Indian public's opinion in our favour," he added.
Shah, who has served 11 years of jail for his separatist politics, assured the pilgrims about safety and communal harmony.
"It was under a conspiracy that Pandits of Kashmir were forced to flee to malign the Kashmiri movement. But those who stayed back, their property and life was protected by Muslims only," said Shah, who skipped the executive meeting called by Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq in Srinagar to meet pilgrims on Monday.
Expressing his gratitude to people of India, Shah said, "Our struggle is not against any Indian by the establishment."
Shah recalled for pilgrims that said it was a Muslim family that located the cave shrine of Amarnath in the mountains.
"I appeal to pilgrims that on their return they tell Indian government that people of Kashmir are peace loving and visitors are respected irrespective of their religion or caste. The pilgrims should also convey the message that people of Kashmir wants a peaceful resolution to the problem," said Shah.
The yatra, which started on June 23 this year, will culminate on August 2, which is Rakshabandan. Last year, 4.5 pilgrims visited the shrine.