The Most Militarized Pilgrimage: Amarnath Yatra
July 4, 2022
Srinagar, indian-occupied Kashmir
Number of Bunkers, drones, and raids have increased in preparation for the Amarnath Yatra, which started on June 30, 2022
After a gap of two years due to COVID19, the most militarized pilgrimage has begun in Indian-occupied Kashmir. “The 350km (220 mile) trek starting on Thursday to an ice stalagmite in a cave in the Himalayas — representing the Hindu god Shiva — passes through mountains, meadows and forests, and is dotted with sand-bagged security bunkers, sharpshooters and drones.” (Al Jazeera English). Over a million Hindu pilgrims are expected, in a pilgrimage that is increasingly becoming politicized in an attempt to reinforce notions of Muslim-majority Kashmir’s Hindu “belonging” to India.
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‘Before Kashmir became a flashpoint, the annual pilgrimage used to be a low-key affair of a shorter duration.
However, its political significance for the Indian government has grown sharply in the last three decades, with pilgrims often seen making Hindu nationalist slogans during their journey as Indian security forces watch over them.’ (Al Jazeera English)
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Here is what one young Kashmiri who lives on the militarized route had to say:
Past one week has been mentally taxing. Every morning I wake up to hear from my mother that when baba leaves home for Fajr prayers, he opens the gate to an army man standing right there. We have been trying to persuade my baba to pray at home in the morning because we don’t know what they might do someday. I live on ***** road, the road leading to Pahalgam and as the yatra is about to begin from June 30th, new CRPF bunkers have been placed. Around my house are 5. The closest one is right next to my room. My mother often tells me to draw curtains at night first and then switch on the lights. After my *****’s house was raided in the early hours of dawn a few days ago, we somehow know our house would also be raided, if not instantly but sometime soon. Me and my family members have decided to sleep in clothes that would prepare us to move out quickly without having to change if our house is raided anytime soon.
Some details that I have noticed:
- New bunkers have come up on the Srinagar Anantnag Highway. (A police officer told AFP on condition of anonymity that over 400 sandbagged bunkers manned by armed soldiers dot villages and forests around the shrine and the route to the base camp at Chandanwari (via Barron’s).
- From Khanabal to Pahalgam, within 500-meter radius, you would find 5–6 bunkers.
- Army, JK Police, CRPF are manning on roads every evening and somedays on mornings too due to which traffic is often stopped. (This signifies nothing but how occupational forces are trying to intimidate locals).
-Over 50 Shopkeepers in Pantha Chowk have been ordered to close their shops for the duration of the pilgrimage, directly impacting their income and livelihoods (43 days)
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- I recently saw Town Area officials holding flags and placing balloons on Anantnag roads. (I mean to make Kashmiris hold Indian flags signifies what? They make them do it forcefully).
-The traffic is stopped everyday for hours at a time to allow yatris to go to Pahalgam.
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I recently went to my ancestral village, and I saw CRPF personnel at places like orchards, near village streams. This is very weird. My cousin brother then said, they are up to something which is why they are everywhere. I am not sure if the situation is similar in other K districts but whatever it is, I mean if the Yatra is to start, what is the point of intimidating Kashmiri’s? Ofc, the Yatri’s would feel safe as the govt. has been successful in crafting a narrative about how Kashmir is not safe due to the recent killings. But all of this is happening at the expense of treating K locals as if they are aliens. What point is in it to threaten, intimidate, harass one community and protect the other?
Army has been there always. I was born in 1996 and I have grown up seeing occupational forces everywhere but what I see is not how I have seen all of this before. Things are happening rapidly and that scares me. Not being on any social media website is not enough to get away from surveillance. The surveillance is on roads, around houses. When they come and raid your house like they raided my ******’s they knew everything about them. A little example: My ***** is 2-years-old, and he stays with his grandparents during the day as his mother is a teacher. However, the day their house was raided, it was too early for him to be there, and the forces had enquired about him. Like how do they know ?