Cut Amarnath pilgrimage to 15 days, says Geelani

Srinagar, June 18 (Calcutta Tube) Hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani Friday said the annual Hindu pilgrimage to the Amarnath shrine in Jammu and Kashmir should be curtailed to 15 days from the present two months.

Addressing a Friday gathering at a mosque here, Geelani insisted that separatists seeking to end Indian rule in Jammu and Kashmir were not opposed to the Hindu pilgrimage per se.

‘We are not against the annual Hindu yatra to the Amarnath cave, but want its duration to be curtailed to the original 15 days,’ he said.

‘Extending the yatra to two months has threatened our ecology and environment. If the yatra to Gangotri can be completed in 15 days, why can’t the Amarnath yatra be completed in the same period?’ he asked.

This year’s pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave shrine in the Himalayas is set to begin July 5. More than 135,000 people have already registered for the ‘yatra’ from all over India but primarily from the northern states.

Geelani, who favours Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan, warned of unspecified consequences if his appeal was ignored.

‘If the government does not take steps to restore the yatra to its original 15 days, we will deliberate on the future course of action in the ‘Majlis-e-Shoura’ (advisory council of his Hurriyat),’ he said.

Geelani heads the hardline Hurriyat Conference that is opposed to any negotiation with the Indian government.

He denied that he withdrew the mass protests in the Kashmir Valley against the allotment of forest land to the Amarnath Shrine Board in 2008, an event that led to serious Hindu-Muslim tensions in the state.

‘The decision to withdraw the agitation was taken by the co-ordination committee, it was not my decision,’ he said.

Geelani also asked the government to release by Monday all youths in Srinagar arrested on charges of pelting stones at security forces. ‘If they are not released by Monday, we will launch an agitation for their release,’ he said.

Geelani hit out at the Jammu and Kashmir government for what he said were continuing human rights violations and asked parents of the arrested youth not to approach anyone to secure the release of their wards.

‘This is part of the ongoing freedom struggle, and it is our duty to fight for the release of the arrested youths,’ he said.

Geelani’s comments came days after he called upon young men to stop throwing stones at passing vehicles during street protests aimed against police and paramilitary forces.

Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Friday criticised the Jammu and Kashmir government for deciding to charge Rs.2,000 on every vehicle entering the state for Amarnath and Vaishno Devi pilgrimages.

‘The decision … is reminiscent of ‘jaziya’ (tax) imposed during Mughal period that was forcefully imposed on Hindu pilgrims,’ BJP national general secretary Vijay Goel said in New Delhi.

The Rs.2,000 entry fee would be valid for seven days. A similar amount would be charged every day if the vehicle remains in the state for over a week.

‘The Jammu and Kashmir government is playing with the sentiments of Hindu pilgrims. Instead of providing better amenities to the pilgrims, the state government is making attempts to disturb the (pilgrimage),’ he said.

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