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Amarnath pilgrims bank on faith, security forces as they embark on yatra

The spike in violence in Kashmir valley is a cause for concern as the pilgrimage passes through the volatile Anantnag district.

india Updated: Jun 29, 2017 20:05 IST
Ravi Krishnan Khajuria
Ravi Krishnan Khajuria
Hindustan Times, Chann Arorian (Kathua)
Amarnath Yatra,Central Reserve Police Force,CRPF
A security vehicle escorts the first batch of Amarnath pilgrims, on way to the holy shrine, at Jammu-Srinagar national highway near Jammu on June 28, 2017. (PTI)

Pilgrims visiting the Amarnath cave shrine dedicated to Hindu deity Shiva in south Kashmir are worried about security in the strife-hit state but said they would go home only after paying their obeisance.

A group from Punjab and Himachal Pradesh will trek to the shrine, situated at an altitude of 12,756 feet in the Pir Panjal mountains, during the 40-day pilgrimage that began on Wednesday. Intelligence agencies have issued an alert of a possible terror attack on the pilgrimage, which has been targeted in the past.

“We are bit worried and fear psychosis is also there because of the prevailing situation in Kashmir but at the same time, we have an unflinching faith in Lord Shiva. Our army and other security forces are also there 24x7 to protect us. We have full trust in our security forces,” 27-year-old Ishant Singla said.

Pilgrims on way to Amarnath Yatra on their mules, against backdrop of the Himalayas. ( Keshav Singh/HT Photo )

The situation in Kashmir has nosedived since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani in July last year and has turned ugly in the past two months.

This spike in violence in the valley is already a cause for concern for the Jammu and Kashmir government and central security forces over the pilgrimage that passes through the volatile Anantnag district in south Kashmir.

Over 50 pilgrims have been killed in three terror strikes in the last 16 years.

Singla’s cousin Ankit alleged that the vicious cycle of violent street protests and stone-throwing was being done by separatists, who, he said, have been instigating the youth of Kashmir for their secessionist agenda.

“A sting operation has also exposed how separatists have been provoking innocent youth. They (youth) are not throwing stones out of their choice but they are being provoked and paid money by the separatists,” he added.

Community kitchens

The central and the state governments have pressed all their resources into service to provide security to the pilgrims, but community kitchens dotting the Jammu-Pathankot and Jammu-Srinagar highway serve as a lifeline for the pilgrims.

At one such kitchen, Surender Arora said the Baba Barfani Sewa Mandal from Moga has been organising the kitchen for the past 17 years. “We can accommodate 1200 pilgrims at a time. We have food, deserts, tea, bedding, medical aid and all sorts of allied facilities for the visiting pilgrims,” said Arora.

This year the number of pilgrims has come down as compared to last year, he said.

“Though it’s the first day of the 40-day long pilgrimage, the number of pilgrims has gone down to 2000 to 2500 compared to our experience last year in our community kitchen. Earlier, the average figure stood around 5000 a day. We will be getting four buses of pilgrims from Delhi tonight (Wednesday-Thursday),” he said.

“We can say that there is a fear psychosis among the pilgrims due to protracted street violence and a spike in terror attacks,” he added.

“However, our community kitchen is well protected by CRPF, BSF, army and police,” he said, pointing out towards the men on guard.

The kitchen, he said, incurs an expenditure of Rs 1 lakh every day on various facilities for the pilgrims from various parts of the country.

The Centre and state governments have deployed 30,000 paramilitary personnel along the two routes — the traditional 28.2 km long Pahalgam route in Anantnag district and the 9.5 km Baltal track in Ganderbal district — besides those from Jammu and Kashmir police.

A member of the security force stands guard at base camp during the annual Amarnath Yatra, in Jammu. ( HT File Photo )

The paramilitary forces include the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Border Security Force (BSF) and Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB). The Indian Army has also deployed five battalions in the valley.

Thirty-five dog squads of the army, J-K police, BSF and CRPF are deployed along the Pahalgam and the Baltal routes, of which 27 are on the Pahalgam axis and eight on Baltal stretch.

CCTV cameras, jammers, rollover protection structure, dog squads, bullet-proof bunkers, Quick Reaction Teams, satellite tracking and other security gadgets are being used to maintain vigil in view of increased threat perception.

First Published: Jun 29, 2017 14:18 IST