It was 11 am on Tuesday at the Batangoo area in Khannabal of south Kashmir where an attack on the Amarnath yatris had occurred a night before. The area was buzzing with security forces. Online broadcasting vans of news channels were parked on the roadside. Many shops were shut in the area and journalists were sitting on the shop fronts, possibly waiting for their editors' directions from newsrooms. Amid all this, traffic movement was normal. Everybody was aware of what had happened on Monday night. The local passengers were seen gazing at journalists or security forces in desperation to find out the status of the situation.
Militants killed seven pilgrims and injured 19 others. While many argue that the attack was directed against the pilgrims, the police version suggests that the bus carrying pilgrims was caught in the cross firing between the militants and police party. But in the times of tragedy like this, no one has time for nuances. Victims were pilgrims, and that's what matters.
This year's Amarnath yatra had begun under the highest-ever security deployment as intelligence agencies had warned of an attack on police personnel and pilgrims of Amarnath yatra. A few reports had earlier said that IGP from Kashmir Zone Munir Khan had written a letter to the Indian Army, CRPF and range DIGs stating, "Intelligence input received from SSP Anantnag reveals that terrorists have been directed to eliminate 100 to 150 pilgrims and about 100 police officers and officials."
There are many versions floating on social media and among the locals in Kashmir about the attack. However, everyone has come forward in support of the pilgrims, who came from all across the country to perform the annual pilgrimage. Mainstream political leaders and separatists in Kashmir condemned the attack that could have potentially flared-up communal tensions. On Tuesday, members of the Kashmiri civil society, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries and Kashmir Tours and Travels staged a protest against the attack in Srinagar's Lal Chowk area.
Basharat Ahmad, a local from Anantnag told Firstpost, "Whosoever did it, is inhuman and should be condemned by all the quarters."
The outrage from Kashmiris against the attack and efforts by some right-wing elements to stir up trouble prompted Union home minister Rajnath Singh, to tweet, "The people of Kashmir have strongly condemned the terror attack on Amarnath yatris. It shows the spirit of Kashmiriyat is very much alive."
In Anantnag town, there was a heavy deployment of security forces on Tuesday to ensure the safety of pilgrims in the backdrop of Monday's attack. The security forces personnel were seen escorting the yatra vehicles. Army jeeps could be seen patrolling on the Khannabal-Pahalgam road that leads to Chandanwari, where the pilgrims started their journey on foot. The holy cave is around 30 kilometers from Chandanwari and it takes around two days to reach the cave.
For many in the tourism industry, the success of Amarnath Yatra this year, before Monday's attack,was to herald a tourist influx in Kashmir. In fact, in the last two weeks after the Eid, tourists too had begun making a beeline to Srinagar.
While there were apprehensions of large-scale protests on the first death anniversary of BurhanWani, a mature handling of the situation by the local authorities saved the Valley from any further violence. This also acted as a booster for the local tourism industry. A day before the attack, Mohammad Yousuf, a local from south Kashmir who earns his livelihood by selling handicraft items to the tourists, told this reporter that he is satisfied with the flow of tourists and pilgrims this year. "Last year around this time, Pahalgam looked deserted. But this year, we are optimistic of sound business," he said.
Monday's attack, however, creates a major challenge for the locals in the tourism and hospitality sector. A hotel owner, speaking to Firstpost, said, "Monday's attack is condemnable. It will not only affect the communal harmony, but it could mark a new low for the tourism industry."
On Tuesday afternoon, groups of yatris were having meal in a restaurant in Mattan area of Anantnag. They were reluctant to talk but only after ascertaining the identity of this reporter one of the pilgrims began talking. Ram Prakash had come with family from Delhi for the Amarnath Yatra. "I believe that if all of us remain united, no one can tear us apart. I have come for the first time to Kashmir and I hope it will be a safe journey ahead."
Many in Kashmir are hoping that Ram Prakash's optimism will echo by every yatri and tourists in the Valley. Many locals are also hoping that this doesn't adversely affect their struggle for azaadi. The killing of the pilgrims has come as a shock for them, who despite their avowed struggle for secession from India, had never shown any hostility to the pilgrims.
"Locals have always been always very nice to pilgrims. After Wani's killing last year when Kashmir was simmering with anger, there was no instance of violence against pilgrims, rather people have helped the pilgrims in trouble," Ishaq Beigh, from Anantnag told Firstpost.
Now, however, everyone is hoping for a peaceful conduct of the rest of the yatra which ends on 7 August. Many locals have extended a helping hand, some even rushed to the hospital in Anantnag to donate blood to the injured pilgrims. They are determined that this attack remains an isolated incident and doesn't become a blot on Kashmir's legendary hospitality and locals' warmth.
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Updated Date: Jul 12, 2017 13:46:29 IST