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J&K: When Muslims fed Hindus

Source: PTI
July 02, 2008 12:30 IST
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The Amarnath pilgrims who passed through the Kashmir Valley in the past 10 days will remember it not for the violent protests on the land transfer row, but for the warm hospitality of the Muslims.

Although hotels and eateries were closed on account of the violence, they didn't have to look far to find food and shelter with the Muslims opening community kitchens and making arrangements for their overnight's stay in the Valley.

The police, who had stopped 'yatris' returning from the cave shrine at Nunwan and Baltal base camps, also eased restrictions after seeing 'langars' at various places like Dalgate and Boulevard.

The people's gesture of communal harmony and brotherhood apart, hardline separatist leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani had appealed to the protesters not to "harm the pilgrims as it will be against the teachings of Islam."

"We found the pilgrims, men, women and children, stranded here and decided to arrange free food and shelter for them," Mohammad Saleem, a volunteer from Gagribal, told PTI.

They started the 'langars' on the fifth day of the stir and provided food to around 2,000 pilgrims a day. "We have fed thousands of Hindu devotees, mostly returning from the Amarnath cave, so far," he said.

75-year-old Shantibai, a 'yatri' from Gujarat, who was accompanied by her husband and two sons, recalls being helped by the locals twice.

"A Muslim youth helped us reach the cave shrine of Lord Shiva and again a Muslim provided us food and shelter when we returned. We offered them money but they politely refused," Shantibai said.

For Anand Jain of Delhi, the Valley turned out to be an oasis after the gruelling journey to the 12,750-ft-high Amarnath cave in Udhampur district.

"I am very grateful to the Kashmiri Muslims who saved me and my family from starvation. We had our first proper meal in three days at the 'langar' run by them at Dalgate," he said.

Pawan Sharma, another 'yatri' from Delhi, was all praise for the hospitality shown by the people of the Valley and said the problems were not created by them but the politicians that they had elected.

Moved by the plight of the pilgrims and tourists, those running the community kitchens even supplied food to hotels where tourists had been putting up, Osman, a volunteer said.

Besides Dalgate and Boulevard, the volunteers set up food camps at the Tourist Reception Centre and places on the way to Pahalgam and Baltal, the base camps for the yatra.

The volunteers also distributed fresh vegetables, bread and milk in the areas which were the nerve centre of the protests.

In a major operation by the people, several truckloads of food items, fresh vegetables, bread and milk were on Monday supplied in areas which witnessed heavy violence and were cut off during the shutdowns.

Barring an isolated incident of brickbatting of a vehicle carrying pilgrims to Baltal, the 'yatris' were not touched during the 10-day protests over transfer of forest land at Baltal to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board.

The common refrain among the separatists on the issue is "we are not against the Hindu religion or the Amarnath yatra. We are fighting for our rights."


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