Tampering with nature is sure to bring serious consequences. Nature has no compassion and accepts no excuses. The only punishment it knows is death and devastation. That is how it punished it violators in Uttarakhand some years back. More than 1000 people were reported dead in the nature’s fury in the hill state besides rendering populous and prosperous cities and localities into ruins and wrecks. There is common agreement among all shades of opinion and administration that the worst-ever tragedy was the outcome of man’s fight with nature. There is another fight going on between nature and man in Kashmir as the Himalayan hill state is playing host to lakhs of people for Amarnath pilgrimage. The misplaced religious passion driven by long arm of political and communal considerations has turned this otherwise a low-key religious affair into a great show of state and majoritarian power. Until some years, Amarnath pilgrimage was a monotonous modest religious event, which would last for less than two weeks. But over the years, the event has turned into a political one where the state is using it as a means to demonstrate its power and prowess. People in lakhs are motivated and facilitated to take the pilgrimage to the cave temple in the serene and ecologically fragile mountains through Pahalgam and Sonamarg.
It is quite sad to note that every unique setting—quiet valleys, lush green locales and gushing streams of chaste mineral water all have been put to huge threat of human intervention. Last year around over 3 lakh pilgrims kept on disturbing the ecological balance in the region for 39 days. This year the pilgrimage has been lengthened to two months, and the number of pilgrims is sure to be more by another two to three lakhs. Imagine the spoil and smash, the prolonged and massive human intervention is likely to cause in the sensitive environs. Some years back the state government formed a Board, through legislation, to regulate and discipline the yatra with Governor being the ex-officio chairman of the Board. But it is a grim reality that the Board worked as a state tool to politicize the pilgrimage. Former Governor S K Sinha tried his every nerve to spin the religious affair into a colonial master plan, where political considerations ran supreme with no regard to ecological concerns. Unfortunately, this mindset still persists, and the managers of the pilgrimage are still guided by political considerations. This is bound to have a disastrous effect on the ecological balance in the area. Glaciers in the area are melting. Wild animals have shifted from the habitats and the water resources and the gushing streams have got polluted. Environmental experts have already sounded caution of the looming disaster.
But the politics behind yatra continues to be on the mind of powers that be. It is generally understood that this is an attempt by communal forces to establish their writ on Kashmir, where voices of political dissent are often ardently raised. The way the political and power establishment is trying to meet the Kashmir voices is in all probabilities fraught with serious risks. It appears that a psychological war is being waged against people of Kashmir. Given the fears among people and unnecessary intervention in nature’s set-up, one has every reason to feel frightened. The tragedy in Uttarakhund should serve as a food for thought for the powers that be and instead of moving on the issue politically, they should have taken into consideration, at least, environmental concerns while executing their political plans in Kashmir. It is time to take a politics-free call on this grave issue and instead regulate the Amarnath yatra, and limit the number of yatris and yatra period to safeguard the environment in the best interests of overall humanity.
Tourist Industry at the receiving end
Even as the harsh winter days are over and the spring is dawning in the horizons of Kashmir but its problems continue to haunt the people every moment. The main among these problems is the paucity of power supply—a trouble that touches every individual. Despite the improvement in weather conditions and increase in water flow in the valley’s water bodies, the darkness continue to loom large in Kashmir. It is not difficult to imagine a life with power. But the power woes have affected the tourist industry the most. People associated with tourist trade complain that the lack of electricity in hotels, houseboats and other places of tourist-lodge have a negative effect on the psyche of visiting tourists. All the charm tourists enjoy in the day turns into an ordeal for them in the evening which continues throughout the night. Hundreds of tourists have been thronging daily to witness the snowy scenes in the valley. With the valley having witnessed heavy snowfall this winter, the charm and beauty of Kashmir has gone up beyond bounds. It is after several winters that the valley has witnessed a good snowfall. Last winter went completely dry. The valley is presently host to hundreds of tourists who have come from non-snow zones across India and outside world to enjoy the picturesque snowfields and mountains. Hotels and huts in the land of snow—Gulmarg—are fully occupied. A thick blanket of snow is still covering the Gulmarg bowl and its surroundings making it a great attraction for tourists. Tourists have come from different parts of the country besides from abroad. Tourists are having a good time here. They are enjoying the snow and the snow clad mountains in the backdrop. This is despite the fact that the temperature here runs in sub-zero during the night. But what mars their mood is the lack of electricity. It gives a frightening picture in the evening when the darkness spreads its tentacles around. Most of the hotels have put in place alternate arrangements like diesel generators for lighting. But turning on number of generators simultaneously makes the whole atmosphere earsplitting noisy. It makes a horrible picture of this unparalleled tourist place. The visiting tourists too have on record expressed their displeasure on the poor power supply and the delight and charm one gets in the snow vanishes once one reaches hotel. Frequent and long unscheduled power cuts destroyed the whole mood.
The power scenario is worst of all in the Dal Lake where visitors stay in houseboats. The houseboat owners say that they cannot light on diesel generators as they have very limited space in the houseboats. The generators cause so much noise that the visitors get annoyed. This has a telling effect on the overall tourist industry. In the prevailing tense situation, tourists usually come after hard persuasion by tour and travel agents. It is the word of the mouth that motivates them. But when they confront with issues like no-power in the hotels, they have all the reason to counsel their friends against visiting the valley. The local residents of Kashmir live such a life permanently. While the city population avails the power supply in bits and pieces, most parts of the rural Kashmir have to remain content with sporadic but meagre power supply. Over the past few days, people in several areas protested on the roads against the government failure in providing scheduled power supply to the consumers leading to halt in traffic movement at various places. This scene is repeated every year with no attention from the powers-that-be. The present dispensation headed by Governor Sat Pal Malik has appeared somewhat different. He recently raised a genuine concern of the people of Kashmir over arbitrary rise in airfare with the Prime Minister. One hopes that the Governor would take note of what is happening with the people in these wintery days and deliver in mitigating the problems of immediate nature confronting them.
Shah Faesal’s political launch
Former IAS officer, Shah Faesal, finally came up with his own party. On Sunday, he announced the formation of Jammu and Kashmir Peoples’ Movement as his party at a public function in Srinagar. Around 3000 people, mostly driven from Kupwara district, attended the Shah’s party launch. The only known face accompanying Faesal was former JNU vice president and research scholar Shehla Rashid. Shah Faesal, typical to a standard politician, virtually promised moon to the people once he was voted to power. From resolution of Kashmir issue to restoring Silk Road, Shah Faesal promised to resolve all the issues pertaining to the people of the state. Shah Faesal resigned from government service in January to pursue political career. Initially, it was understood that he would join National Conference but ultimately formed his own party to give what he said “a new politics to the state has seen only miseries in the past 70 years”. It would be quite premature to comment on the future of Shah’s party but it is just another addition to existing political parties. Politics in Kashmir is a tightly controlled market. Opening in the market, no doubt, is free but the sustenance and rise is restricted. It would be quite premature to comment on the success or failure of Shah Faesal and his political venture but in the given political scenario, he could end up as yet another Babar Bader or Imran Rahi. People have already started questioning his intentions as what made him to join politics when he could have delivered better in his previous position. A common perception is that pro India political tribe is facing severe crisis of leadership. Omar Abdullah and Mahbooba, who were projected as future hope when they took plunge in politics, have bitterly failed, both, in and outside the government. When Omar Abdullah was appointed as chief minister of the state in 2009, some news channels addressed him as Barak Obama of Kashmir. The “iconic” image of both Omar and Mahbooba was blown into heaps by the wind in 2010 and 2016. To a many people, Shah Faesal has been brought in to fill the gap that is becoming wider with each passing day.
Faesal is young and has influenced man a young minds when he qualified the prestigious IAS examination in 2009. He was projected as icon of Kashmiri youth. Many young minds were inspired by him and in the process got to the prestigious All India Civil Services. In 2016 when Kashmiri youth overwhelmingly hit streets in protest against the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, many media outlets in India tried to project Shah as the real icon of Kashmiri youth. Hoewever, the youth in Kashmir are on a rebellious path. Right from University scholars to school drop-outs, a rage of sorts is igniting the young minds to defiance. It is not going overboard to say that Burhan Wani, in recent years, came as inspiration. Though militancy in Jammu and Kashmir is around 30 year old but since 2002, it had started a gradual decline. And many areas in the valley, south Kashmir in particular, were declared as militant free. It was against this backdrop that 2008 assembly elections, despite Amarnath Land row, witnessed huge participation of people. The rise of Burhan Wani, however, gave a new direction to the entire political spectrum. Shah Faesal’s joining politics has to be seen in this context. Whatever his aims and objectives, Shah Faecal has an uphill task before him and there are many challenges that he has to face. Would he be able to deliver or not, only time will say.
Christchurch terror strike
New Zealand is deemed as the most peaceful, quiet and secured land with utmost beauty. But on Friday a brute terror attack shook the country to its foundation. Forty-nine people were killed when a gun-wielding white terrorist attacked two mosques at Christchurch when Muslims were offering congregational Friday prayers. Dozens more were left wounded. The horrific events have left the country in mourning and shock. Muslims make up less than 1% of New Zealand’s population and the faith’s most prominent adherent is a rugby player. The attacker, an Australian by birth, proudly live streamed the video of the attack on his face book account. He offered a smile on his arrest by police. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern deserves all the appreciation for condemning the massacre as an act of terrorism. She called it the darkest hour in her country’s history. She also visited the families of the wounded and dead persons which in itself demonstrated the human values in her country are still supreme. But the reaction in other countries was not as strong as it demanded. In fact, an Australian MP justified the carnage of Muslims for their growing population in western countries. In UK, a Muslim man was beaten with a hammer and a batten outside a mosque in east London, hours after 49 people were killed in the terror attack on two mosques in New Zealand. The assaulters shouted abusive words with Islamophobic content as they drove past the mosque and called people attending Friday prayers as terrorists. From the US to France to Australia, Muslims are persistently vilified and attacked, while biases against them are normalized. It is only confirmation of the pernicious spread of Islamophobia spread after 9/11 terror attacks in the United States. Islamophobia or hate-Muslim ideology is undoubtedly real and on the rise and being propagated online. It has become mainstream in almost all the western countries, more particularly, in America, UK, Australia and Franc. The U S President Donald Trump is personally known for spreading bigotry through his hateful rhetoric. It is perhaps for this fact that the West did not evoke the reaction to Muslim killings as it could have evoked for the case being otherwise. There were no candle marches, street demonstrations and mourning functions on the savage killing of New Zealand Muslims the way the world had witnessed in protest against terror strike in France in 2015.
The silence by Indian government and media too is something horrifying. Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended unlimited sympathy to the people and government of France after 2015 terror attack by ISIS but did not utter a word on the aghast killing of Muslims in New Zealand. The so-called media of the world’s largest democracy also followed the foot-steps of the Prime in maintaining silence on the gruesome incident, notwithstanding the fact that India has a population of around 200 million Muslims. Like in the West, Muslims in India too are facing communal wrath at the hands of the Majority community. The rise of BJP to the power with Narendra Modi (with his Gujrat baggage) at the top has normalized anti Muslim outlook in every section of the society. Such people were termed in the beginning as fringe elements but the fringe has become mainstream now. It is dangerous game that is being played in the arena of world politics: Muslims versus the rest. It goes without saying the majority of the people still believe in peaceful co-existence. But they need to come out of the hibernation and take active lead roles. It is their absence in public and political life that gives the unwanted people space. Muslims also need to do some soul-searching and people with self-manufactured far-extremist views need to be through out of the mainstream.