Words are not enough to condemn the bloodbath in Kashmir — the picturesque Valley, where over a century ago, Buta Malik, a Muslim shepherd is believed to have discovered lord Shiva’s cave shrine, something which paved the way for the revered annual Amarnath Yatra for the Hindu majority community of the country.
On July 10, while returning from darshan at the cave in the treacherous mountains, at least seven yatris from Gujarat were killed and 14 others injured when bike-borne terrorists attacked their bus from all sides in Botengo village near Anantnag, around half-an-hour after sunset.
According to IGP (Kashmir range) Sardar Muneer Ahmed Khan, the terror attack was carried out by the Lashkar-e-Taiba and masterminded by Pakistani terrorist Abu Ismail.
Trying to hide its failure to avert the possible terror attack, the government has gone into face-saving mode through multiple means, including the ridiculous plea that the pilgrims breached the guidelines and SoP (standard operating procedures) and thus their death was certain.
As per the police, the bus was on way to Jammu and was not part of a convoy. Officials say the bus was not registered with the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board and was travelling after permitted hours and, therefore, without adequate security.
If this is to be believed, then how did the government allow the "unregistered" pilgrims to go for darshan and that too when intelligence agencies had already warned of possible terror strike?
What is being seen as 'mere security flaw' by New Delhi is actually a criminal negligence on the part of government.
Was it not a slip up by the government to have let the gates open for trouble? Was the security apparatus so vulnerable that unregistered pilgrims managed to trek the shrine without being intercepted?
And if the intelligence agencies had credible inputs about the presence of militants in the area, why wasn’t the security adequately beefed up well in time?
Is security bandobast solar energy-reliant that pilgrims were bound to be killed while travelling during the dark.
Moreover, let’s assume that the pilgrims were not registered with the shrine board. But does it mean routine tourists visiting Kashmir can be killed in cold-blood and the government will simply shed responsibility for their security citing timings of their movement?
The attack has one simple message. In restive Kashmir, where the situation continues to be uneasy for over a year, it’s unsafe to move around even in the home district of chief minister Mehbooba Mufti.
There was nothing proactive about Mufti's reaction, but more of a "customary response" to the carnage.
“Mehbooba oversees rescue ops throughout night at Anantnag; Visits injured tourists, reassures stranded yatris; Pays floral tributes to slain Yatris,” her Information department said in the first two lines of an official handout.
For the affected pilgrims, Mehbooba through her photo-op meeting with them has simply done what she was best known during her days in the opposition; a "rudali" visiting families of those killed. Life seems to have come a full circle as she is back to mourn killings.
The irony of the festering crisis in Kashmir since Mehbooba took over as CM is that the PDP’s key ally and powerhouse, the BJP government at the Centre, continues to repose faith in her, despite failure after failure, misadventure after misadventure.
What is being seen as “mere security flaw” by New Delhi is actually a criminal negligence on the part of government. But the BJP, it seems, is only concerned to be in power in a state it had never ruled before.
No amount of floral tributes by either Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Mehbooba Mufti can bring the dead back to life. But the ghost of the tragedy may continue to haunt India in the times to come.
The immediate possible fallout of the attack on Hindu yatris in Muslim-dominated Kashmir could be a counter-attack on Kashmiri Muslims living outside the Valley by communal forces. As of now, given the heightened tensions, a communal flare-up is apprehended anytime.
Terror has no religion and terrorists are bound to strike. One wonders if the Union home ministry was expecting them to shower floral petals and not bullets on route to the cave shrine.
In the past three decades of armed insurgency in Kashmir, the Amarnath Yatra continues to get politicised, more and more, at the cost of human life and ecological concerns.
Originally and traditionally, the yatra used to be for 15 days or a month before the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board took over the Purohit Sabha Mattan in 2000.
In 2005, the board decided to extend the pilgrimage to over two months. The extended yatra comes at extended cost, where the government is unable to provide even the basic facilities to pilgrims.
Call it fate or coincidence, a few hours ahead of the attack on pilgrims, governor NN Vohra while reviewing yatra arrangements had expressed serious concern over rising number of deaths during the ongoing pilgrimage.
As per an official handout released by the Raj Bhavan on July 10, governor was told that till date 14 pilgrims had died at various locations on both the routes, upwards of Baltal and Pahalgam, since the yatra began on June 29, 2017.
“Of these 14, two persons died in accidents while the other 12 died due to various health reasons. A pilgrim from Telangana died due to a cylinder blast at Veesu-Mir Bazar, Qazigund,” the handout said.
What had been the blessed result of the discovery by a Muslim shepherd, the pilgrimage to lord Shiva’s cave, is becoming a victim of dirty politics and terror.
The wounds may heal but the blood-soaked tracks will live to tell the tale of a government (that swears by the Hindu cause) shamelessly defended its failure to avert such a brutal attack on those chanting "bam bam bholay".