SRINAGAR: Mehbooba Mufti, the chief minister of India-held Kashmir, lays a wreath on a grave at the Martyrs’ Graveyard on Thursday. Kashmiris observe July 13 as Martyrs’ Day to commemorate the execution in 1931 of 20 Muslims on the orders of Maharaja Hari Singh in an attempt to put down an uprising.—AP
SRINAGAR: Mehbooba Mufti, the chief minister of India-held Kashmir, lays a wreath on a grave at the Martyrs’ Graveyard on Thursday. Kashmiris observe July 13 as Martyrs’ Day to commemorate the execution in 1931 of 20 Muslims on the orders of Maharaja Hari Singh in an attempt to put down an uprising.—AP

SRINAGAR: The killing of Amaranth temple pilgrims in held Kashmir has shown that tolerance is still alive in the Valley irrespective of the ongoing political conflict. The public outrage regardless of the victims’ communal identity has terrified hate-mongers into silence.

The killings took place on Monday after a bus carrying 40 passengers from Gujarat state, which was not a part of the Amarnath pilgrims’ convoy, left Srinagar and came under heavy fire in Botengoo village, in southern Kashmir’s Anantnag — 60 kilometres from Srinagar. In the 30 seconds of shooting seven people were killed and 20 injured.

Amarnath Yatra is an annual Hindu pilgrimage, during which thousands of people visit a cave, located at a height of 12,756 feet in the Himalayas, to pay obeisance to Shiva. The pilgrims have to pass through a 30-kilometre trek to reach the cave, which was discovered by a Muslim family.

The pilgrimage, however, has also come under the political radar due to the ongoing conflict in Kashmir. In 2008, when a piece of land was transferred to the Amarnath Shrine Board, an uprising erupted in the Valley. Eighty civilians were killed during clashes with Indian forces. The order was later revoked.

On Monday, when the news of the killings spread across Kashmir, condemnations started pouring in from all sections of society, militant leaders included. The incident united people on an issue that is seen as a blot on the culture and ethos of Kashmiri society.

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti spent Monday-Tuesday night with survivors of the attack at the Anantnag district hospital and apologised for their loss.

Eyewitness accounts and the police statement clarified that the attack was not aimed at the pilgrimage and that the bus came under fire when gunmen were attacking police and a paramilitary party.

Whether it was a targeted attack or not, seven people who were returning from the Amarnath shrine were shot dead.

Security lapse

Questions have been raised about the security lapse as the pilgrimage is a heavily guarded annual event. Jammu and Kashmir’s deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh told NDTV that the attack came as a shock to the nation.

“Yes, definitely this is a big lapse. We have to enquire why the bus left at 5pm, why it was allowed to take to the road after sunset,” he wondered, echoing the feelings of many others.

Questions are also being targeted at the PDP-BJP coalition government, with former chief minister Omar Abdullah saying that New Delhi needed to take a long, hard look at the deterioration in the situation after installation of Mehbooba Mufti as chief minister.

The situation in Kashmir has been extremely volatile since the killing of popular rebel commander Burhan Wani on July 8 last year. In the bloodshed following his killing, at least 100 civilians were shot dead during clashes with Indian forces and 15,000 were injured.

The Monday killings are, however, being seen as isolated and unpremeditated.

The government has stepped up security around Amarnath Yatra, whose one route passes through southern Kashmir — the most volatile areas of the region.

In the Valley, militancy is on the rise and the number of protests has swelled. For the first time in many years, two militants from Srinagar were shot dead on Wednesday night.

The attack on pilgrims has come at a time when the Valley is battling a political crisis, a rage of youth against the government and growing incidents of violence.

While Kashmiris did question whether the attack was on pilgrims or not, they lost no time to come out against the attackers, largely calling it as an act of terror. It shows the political movement in Kashmir has come a long way and religious differences do not play a role.

Although Kashmiris have been able to separate religion from politics, a new wave, led by former Hizbul Mujahideen commander Zakir Musa, has found takers among the youth. His assertion that the ongoing movement is for an “Islamic caliphate”, and not for a nation state, is reverberating in many parts of Kashmir.

It is in this backdrop that the mature response by Kashmiris to the killing of pilgrims is being seen as a positive development. In addition to the widespread condemnation over social media platforms, Kashmiris organised a sit-in on Tuesday evening in which several civil society members, human rights activists, journalists and students, participated.

The Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, a human rights group, has called for a probe by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

There have been major human rights violations in Kashmir over the past 30 years since the armed uprising started in 1989. There has been a persistent demand that Pakistan and India allow the UNHRC to send a fact-finding mission to Kashmir.

The issue of human rights violations in Kashmir has been a major concern for everyone, but hardly any corrective measure has been taken to stop it or an investigation carried out.

The Monday attack should be a starting point for carrying out investigations into all killings and human rights violations.

Kashmir has always welcomed Hindu pilgrims and will not tolerate any act of terror against people of other faith.

The people of Kashmir can understand the feelings of those whose kin were killed this week and how it feels when justice is not delivered in such cases.

Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2017

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