It is one of the biggest paradoxes in recent times that the Amarnath shrine, which is today a place of pilgrimage of the Hindus, was discovered and tended by none other than the Muslims of the region.
Despite lying in the heart of a Muslim-dominated area and even in the midst of the worst phase of militancy in the region, the Amarnath yatra has been taking place every year, with Muslims living up to their age-old role as its custodians. That spirit has been the beauty - and the symbol of co-existence - in the Kashmir Valley.
Not too long ago, Omar Abdullah had declared in the Lok Sabha that the Amarnath Yatra would continue in Jammu and Kashmir as long as there were Muslims in the Valley. It was not just a statement. It was the very essence of the inter-personal relationship that defines Kashmir as a whole.
But today, all that unfortunately seems set to change. With nearly 21 people killed over 47 days of continuous agitation, the Amarnath shrine issue seems to be polarising the Valley along communal lines, leading to a gaping divide between the two regions. What started as a mere disagreement over the use of about 40 hectares of land, has degenerated into a full-blown crisis, almost taking the shape of a national issue.
The chain of events began on June 23 following the state government's announcement that it was transferring the piece of land to the Amarnath shrine. Amidst protests, the order was revoked by the state government, which led to renewed agitation by people in the Kashmir Valley. And now with the violence spiraling out of control, the biggest cause of concern is that the repercussions will not only affect the Valley but the whole nation, if the Centre does not take matter into its hand and does something about it before the situation deteriorates further. The seriousness of the situation is also compounded by the tragic loss of lives in police firing.
It's obvious that vested forces are trying to foment communal tension in Jammu while extremist forces are flaring up passion in the communally sensitive border region over the land transfer issue. Even though the people of Kashmir are aware that the violence, bloodshed and the economic hardships are not in the interest of the masses, the apparent complacency of the state and Central government to the crisis has left them with no choice. As far as the common man is concerned, it is his day-to-day life that has been hit badly. There are shortages of essential commodities, food, medicines and fuel, besides a complete shutdown in trade activities. There is nothing that he would want better than to have the issue resolved and come back to leading a normal life.
It's therefore crucial that the Union government intervenes immediately and controls the rising passions and violence in the Valley. Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury also underscored the imperative need for reaching an amicable solution to the dispute - and soon. What's beyond doubt is that the dangerous status quo in the Valley must not be allowed to reach an irrevocable stage.
There is a lot more at stake here than meets the eye - the loss of innocent lives for something that can be resolved through dialogues; the loss of faith that people have in their system and their government, the loss of goodwill that inter-region and inter-faith section have had for years, the loss of livelihood and economic hardships, and most important of all, it is the loss of age-old harmony between the two communities and regions of the state, which is not only threatened but it being blown to pieces despite people from both sections wanting otherwise.
In its wake, the Prime Minister and everyone at the Centre must come out of their ostrich-like mentality and face reality in its face. It's the responsibility of all those at the seat of power, to safeguard the sanctity of both the Constitution of Kashmir and the provisions in the Indian Constitution related to Kashmir, at any cost. It's high time they took concrete steps to bring the volatile situation under control and protect the interests of people in Jammu AND Kashmir.