Kashmiris hesitant to come to Jammu this winter

October 30th, 2008 - 10:11 am ICT by IANS  

Amarnath ShrineJammu, Oct 30 (IANS) This city is busy getting its annual facelift to become the state’s winter capital from November, but unlike other years there is hardly a trickle of Kashmiris coming here to escape the harsh winter of the valley.Ravi Sharma, a property dealer in heart of the city, said, “This year the number of Kashmiris here is far less. I think it is down by 70 percent.”

“The suspicion, scare, lack of confidence and doubts (between the people of the two regions) are because of the deep divide created by protests for and against land allotment to the Amarnath Shrine Board,” he said.

Jammu and Kashmir is India’s only state which has two capitals — cool and mountainous Srinagar for the summers and the relatively less cold Jammu for the winters. Known as the “durbar move”, this has been the practice for over 100 years.

The government offices will close in Srinagar Friday and open in Jammu Nov 10.

Not only do the 10,000 government employees come down to Jammu during the winter months but some 200,000 Kashmiris also move here to get away from the chilling cold of the valley. They usually stay in Jammu for about six months in rented houses, paying guest accommodations and a few have even bought their own houses here.

But the suspicion and divide created by protests in the two regions over land allotment to the Amarnath Shrine Board and its subsequent cancellation earlier this year have taken their toll on this annual movement of people.

“In 2007, by this time of the year I had over 30 Kashmiri guests, but this year it is just seven. I hope the number goes up,” said Ashok Mahajan, who runs a private hostel in this city.

Sheikh Rayees, a scholar from the south Kashmir district of Anantnag, has been staying at the hostel for over six months now. “We don’t see any problem on the ground here. There is no reason to be scared but people in Kashmir think it is not safe.”

“People in either region (Jammu or Kashmir) are not feeling safe in the other region.”

In Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley there were violent protests after the allotment of land to the shrine board in May for erecting temporary facilities for thousands of pilgrims taking part in the annual Amarnath pilgrimage.

Separatist groups opposed it, saying it was a conspiracy to settle non-Kashmiri Hindus in the valley to change Muslim demography.

Once the land allotment was cancelled in July, it was Hindu-dominated Jammu’s turn to erupt in protests, even cutting off supplies of essential commodities to the valley.

Tilak Raj Sharma, spokesman of the Amarnath Yatra Sangharsh Samiti that had spearheaded over two months of protests in Jammu for getting back land for Amarnath shrine pilgrims, still sounded belligerent.

“We neither created this scare nor is it our duty to restore confidence. Kashmiris can come to Jammu and their attitude would be guarantee of their safety here.”

But people on the street here seem to be hoping that the divide will be bridged soon.

As Ravi Sharma said: “This has all been created by politicians, otherwise there is no hostility between Kashmir and Jammu.”

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