E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: In the unprecedented rain that poured in Uttarakhand last week, pilgrims and the government were caught off-guard, resulting in large-scale death and devastation in the abode of the gods: the temple towns of the Himalayas.
With the rivers in spate, roads and dharamshalas washed off, bridges broken, over 50,000 pilgrims, many of them from the Southern States, are said to be stranded in various places such as Kedarnath, Gauri Kund, Badrinath, Joshimath.
The death toll officially stands at 150, but the casualties may well run into thousands if relief doesn’t reach pilgrims who are stranded. The weather, hilly terrain, official apathy and inadequate infrastructure have all added to the problem and despite the heroic efforts of the Army the toll may rise further.
This brings in its wake the following questions.
# Should the elderly take up such a pilgrimage at all?
I know my question will raise hackles among quite a few. Consider this. In a country, in a culture which doesn’t particularly value human life, especially those of women and elderly, where State governments fight over the most trivial of things, should the weak of limb take up such a pilgrimage at such enormous risk?
The weather is inhospitable, the dizzy terrains can even scare away the boldest of Formula 1 drivers. The rickety private minibuses and state road transport bus services with sometimes cleaners at the wheel are hardly dependable while negotiating ghat sections, even a small variation in weather can cause landslides, affecting food and medical supplies to these temple towns.
Under such harsh conditions is it safe for the elderly to venture into such trips that take anywhere between two and three weeks? How do their families feel when they see on television the heartrending scenes of people being washed away?
True, the pilgrimage is a part and parcel of Hindu psyche and has been handed over from time immemorial. It is the very essence of one’s living, so to say. It brings a sense of completion of one’s worldly life and prepares for moksha.
Still, is it better to introspect in times such as these whether it is is worth the effort?
# Shouldn’t the government fund these visits as they do for visits to Mecca?
If visits to Badri, Kedar are subsidized by the government, the vast majority can take a flight to Delhi and take helicopter rides to the temples and complete the entire trip in a week’s time. Perhaps it is not a pilgrimage in the strictest sense of the word, but surely it is a lot safer for the traveller and for the nerves of those waiting back home.
Shouldn’t the government offer subsidized rates and facilities to Hindus too? Parity demands that Hindus too should be given an equal opportunity like their Muslim brethren.
Considering the strain on the government and defence forces that such disasters and relief and rehabiliation efforts take, isn’t it better to run safer subsidized pilgrimages than incur huge mindboggling costs in relief operations?
If the government can run the Kumbh Mela with pinpoint precision for over a month, complete with food and medical facilities why can’t they think in similar lines?