Surrogate Custody

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With properties worth thousands of crores at stake a bill handing custodianship of temples and shrines back to Kashmiri Pandits has brought BJP and Congress together in opposition. Shah Abbas reports how stalling of the bill helps politically powerful non local Sadhus and Pujaris to sideline Kashmiri Pandits

Sri-Shankracharya-Temple-(14)The religious shrines and Temples of Kashmiri Hindus (Pandits) is a huge property worth Rs 10,000 crore but it is not under the custody of local Pandits. To enable them with the custodianship of these temples and property affiliated to these temples much awaited ‘Kashmiri Hindu Shrines Religious Bill (KHSB), was opposed by none other than the Congress to get passed in the assembly during recently concluded state legislative session.

The Bill was later referred to the Joint Select Committee (JSC) of both the Houses for further deliberations.

“Introduction of Bill in the Assembly in fact exposed the real thinking of Congress about the Kashmiri Hindus,” Zutshi, a Kashmiri Pandit, who requested to conceal his first name, told Kashmir Life.

Congress joined by Jammu based opposition parties including BJP, NPP and JSM joined hands in the Legislative Assembly to block the passage of the bill to provide better management, protection, administration and governance of Kashmiri Hindu Shrines and Religious Places. The bill was later referred by Speaker Mubarak Gul to the Joint Selection Committee (JSC) for further examination on the motion moved by the Congress MLAs.

But to the President of Kashmiri Pandit Sangarsh Samiti (KPSS), the bill became a victim of Jammu v/s Kashmir politics. “The lawmakers belonging to Jammu opposed the bill because they are not serious in protecting the identity of Kashmiri Pandits,” President KPSS, Sanjay Tikoo, said.

“KPSS has one simple question, when Jammuites had their interests at stake they put larger Hindu section apart, but when it comes to the respect of Kashmiri Pandits identity they raise the hollow slogans of Hindutva.” Tikoo said.

Tikoo also asked, “Why did these Jammu based Hindus not oppose the formation of Shri Shiv Khori Shrine Board (SSKSB) last year.”

Kashmiri Pandits and Congress have a historic affiliation. In fact this affiliation has its roots with Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India. “It is the same Congress to which Kashmiri Hindus have been relying since decades together,” said Zutshi adding “The so called secular face of Congress has once again been unmasked when it joined hands with even BJP against Kashmiri Pandits.”

The Congress leadership was united to send the Bill to the Joint Select Committee. It is widely believed in the Pandit circles that Bill could have been passed with some amendments but Congress members were adamant on sending it to the Joint Select Committee.

The authoritative speech of Congress Minister Sham Lal Sharma on the floor of the Assembly was a clear indication that Congress had decided to oppose passing of the Bill and it succeeded in its aim.

Dy Chief Minister, Tara Chand was even seen giving directions to legislators of his party as well as the MLAs of BJP, NPP and JSM for opposing the Bill. Tara from his place in the House was busy in calling each MLA and was directing them to oppose the passage of the bill.

The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which had pressed for voting on the bill however staged walkout from the House alleging the government of “not being serious on passing the bill and insulting the Hindu community”.

The bill, meant for the better management, protection and administration of the Temples in Kashmir was tabled in 2009. The Kashmiri Hindu Shrines and Religious Places (Management and Regulation) Act, 2009 envisaged setting up of 12-member Kashmiri Hindu Shrine Board (KHSB) for preserving, protecting, administering and using the notified properties. While two members would be appointed by the government, 10 others would be local Hindus who would come to the Board through an electoral process repeated after every three years. All the members have to be Kashmiri Pandits.

State Legislative Council was last year informed that there are 448 temples across Kashmir with nearly 1700 Kanals of land.

The Pandits who did not migrate from Kashmir during early nineties allege that this property has been occupied by the non local Sadhus in the name of protecting it. These Kashmiri Pandits demand that they should be permitted to manage the temples and their assets.

Take the case of Sathu Barbarshah in Srinagar which is under the custody of Gopal Dass, Ram Dass and Jairam Dass since 1988. All the three Pujaris are from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Sathu Barbarshah owned 375 kanals of land across Kashmir. The non-state “care takers” have allegedly leased vast stretches of land to Delhi and local residents in violation of the Article 370.

These non State “care takers” of the Kashmiri Temples are in fact not ordinary Sadhus, but politically very influential people. “Everybody knows the custodian of Chari Mubarak? He is a non state Sadhu, enjoying the patronage of Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB),” Zutshi said adding “And what is this SASB, a political institution to keep Kashmiri Pandits away from the Amarnath matters, the administration of which should have been otherwise under the control of these Kashmiri Pandits as per the norm.”

On the other hand, opposing the Kashmiri Hindu Shrines and Religious Places (Management and Regulation) Act, 2009 the non local Hindu Sadus are united and adamant.

Not only the congress backed non state “care takers” of the Temples but the Trusts and bodies claiming of taking care of the Hindu Shrines in Kashmir, are also contradicting those Kashmiri Hindus who did not leave during early nineties.

“All the Hindu shrines and temples are safe in Kashmir,” Sadhu Dharamasthan Surakshini Samiti (SDSS) said in a statement. According to Kashmiri Pandits, SDSS is comprised of non local Sadhus and Pujaris, who have a strong backing of Congress party.

The working president of the SDSS Mahant Subash Shaw hailed the stand taken by some of the members in State Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council besides political parties against the proposed Kashmiri Hindu Shrine Board (KHSB) bill.

He alleged the parties in support of the bill are in fact trying exodus of Saints and Sadhus from the valley.

“The Bill which is now with the Joint Select Committee is just to divide the Kashmiri Pandits and other Hindus,” he said adding “During militancy, when Kashmiri Pandits left the valley, their temples and shrines remained unattended. However, Sadhus and Saints of different Trusts and temples remained in the valley, performing Pooja and other religious activities.”

“It was Mahants and Sadhus who looked after the religious places without any fear, particularly temples and Shrines are being looked after by the Dharamarth Trust and Dharamdas Ram Jeevan Dass trust,” he said.

Dharamarth Trust, which claims that it is taking care of the Temples in Kashmir is headed by Dr Karan Singh, a Congress leader and the son of state’s last autocratic ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh.

According to sources, Dharamarth Trust and Kashmiri Pandits had reached upon an agreement in 1979 about the look after of the Temples in Valley. The Kashmiri Pandits were then represented by D K Babu, a resident of Barbarshah. Babu now resides in Jammu.

To those Pandits who did not left Kashmir, Dr Karan Singh had involved the Congress High Command to stop the passage of the bill only to save his economic interests. “Karan Singh had threatened his party of a 2008 like situation in Jammu if the bill was left to pass, so Congress opposed and managed to send the same to JSC,” well placed sources told Kashmir Life adding, “The Kashmiri Hindu Temples involves a huge property so everybody is interested in it.”

Pertinently, the Jammu and Kashmir has already Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board (SMVDSB), Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) and Shri Shiv Khori Shrine Board (SSKSB) to look after different Hindu Temples and Shrines. Besides there are Trusts and committees like the Chinar Trust, which take care of the temples at various places.  The state is also set to form Mata Sukhrala Devi and Mata Bala Sundari and Machhail Yatra Boards, probably to “recruit and rehabilitate more non local Sadhus and Pujaris.”

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