Parasnath hills: A synthesis of peace and violence (Feature)

November 3rd, 2010 - 12:46 pm ICT by IANS  

By Shahnawaz Akhtar
Giridih (Jharkhand), Nov 3 (IANS) They are home to Jain temples where pilgrims come to pay homage, but they are also a safe hideout for Maoist rebels. Jharkhand’s Parasnath hills are home to two contrasting worlds - one that spreads the word of peace and the other that walks the path of violence.

The hills, where 20 Jain ‘tirthankaras’,or holy men, achieved salvation, are considered one of the most sacred places for the community. At an altitude of 4,431 ft, the Parasnath hills fan across Giridih, Dhanbad and Bokaro districts. Archaeologists believe some of the temples were constructed as early as 1765 AD.

Despite the religious relevance, the roads leading to the holy site are not developed. The entire area is covered with dense forests. And that itself has in recent times attracted the attention of Maoists.

“Maoists first set foot in the hills in 1972. But they weren’t successful in their endeavours. Their presence has become stronger since 1976-77,” Kamal Nayan, a senior journalist and a socialist scientist in Giridih, told IANS.

According to police, Parasnath is not just a “base” but also a “safe zone” for the rebels. The hills fall under what is known as the Red Corridor.

On Dec 31, 2008, police forces for the first time came close to flushing the rebels out of the sacred space and reached the hilltop. To their surprise, they found that the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) was preparing to hold an international conference there.

Police recovered Korean blankets and dry fruits packets, among other items. It was then that the stark reality of rebels using the monk’s zone for safe passage struck them.

“After wreaking havoc across Jharkhand and Bihar, it’s here the Naxals (Maoists) take shelter,” said a senior intelligence officer.

In the last 20 years, at least 15 major Maoist attacks have taken place in the region in which over 50 people have lost their lives. And in most cases, police have been at the receiving end.

Despite the strong base, the rebels have so far not targeted any pilgrim or tourist. “There could be instances of theft or loot on way to Parasanth but the Maoists don’t target anyone over here,” says Ashok Jain of Digamber Jain Society.

Strange as it may sound, the hill is occupied by two communities of entirely opposite ideologies.

“Since 1994, I have visited Parasnath 10 times. But I don’t have any fear or insecurity about visiting this place,” says Vidyut Sethi, a pilgrim.

Thanks to such sentiments, Giridih police can heave a sigh of relief.

“As pilgrims and tourists have not been harmed so far, we are calm but we also keep a tab so that no untoward incident takes place,” Superintendent of Police A.V. Homkar said.

Over 100,000 pilgrims and tourists visit the Parasnath hills every year.

(Shahnawaz Akhtar can be contacted at shahnawaz.a@ians.in)

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