Fewer Kashmiri Pandits Attend Key Festival Kheer Bhawani Amidst Wave of Target Killings
Srinagar: Members of the Kashmiri Pandit community on Wednesday stayed away from the annual Kheer Bhawani Mela festival in protest as the temple in Tulmulla village of Ganderbal witnessed a sombre celebration in the wake of a fresh spate of violence in the region.
The Kheer Bhawani Mela is one of the most revered religious congregations amongst the Hindus of the region held in central Kashmir after the Amarnath Yatra. The festival was being observed after two years of a halt due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the devotees said their spirit was "dampened" due to the series of targeted killings in which a member of the Kashmiri Pandits community, Rahul Bhat, was also killed.
Saddened by the turnover, the devotees at the temple, which is built near a revered spring and under the shade of majestic Chinar trees, also prayed for the well-being of the community and the improvement of the situation in Kashmir valley. The water in the sacred spring has a special significance amongst the devotees, who believe that its changing colour makes indications about the situation in the valley.
“We hope that the situation improves with blessings from Mata. This place is auspicious for people from all beliefs, including Pandits and Muslims. We are incomplete without each other. Kashmir is our birthplace, and it belongs to all of us,” one of the devotees said.
The mela, held around 25 km outside Srinagar city, was attended by senior officials from the administration and various stalls by locals were also installed for the convenience of the devotees.
“Heartiest greetings to the people, especially the Kashmiri Pandit community, on the auspicious occasion of Jyeshtha Ashtami. Let us pray to Mata Kheer Bhawani to guide us in the path of righteousness and blesses our land with peace, happiness and prosperity,” the office of the Lt Governor tweeted.
Despite elaborate arrangements made by the UT administration, however, hundreds of devotees from the Pandit community skipped the congregation as a mark of protest against the authorities.
Residents of the Pandit transition camps in various parts of the valley, including at Vessu and Haal, boycotted the participation, alleging that they have been neglected and such arrangements are merely an "eyewash."
Another devotee, who did not attend this year's congregation, said that the community has continuously attended the mela for the last 12 years but avoided it this time due to apathy from the UT administration.
Sunny Raina, president of the Vessu Welfare Committee, told NewsClick that the residents had been put under a lock while a transport ferry service had been put outside the south Kashmir camp. "This does not make any sense. We have been locked inside the camp due to security reasons, and they have brought buses to take us to the mela. I don't understand the basis of all this," Raina said.
Hundreds of devotees from Jammu, who visit the mela annually, have also joined the local pandits in protest, according to Raina. The residents from local migrant camps wrote letters to the transport authorities to cancel the bus service.
“...it is submitted to your good self that we the inmates/employees of Hawal Migrant Colony Pulwama have decided to boycott the Annual Kheer Bawani Yatra on the pretext that we are being target killed and are not feeling safe in the valley," residents from Pulwama camp said.
Pertinently, since the killing of Rahul, which was followed by the killings of a school teacher, a policeman and a non-local labourer, the members of the minority community are demanding a relocation outside the valley.
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