A Prayer Meet for Amarnath Victims


By Vanshika Vipin Varma

HOUSTON: Scattered fragments of broken glasses are probably the only remains of the terror attack that took away 7 precious lives of Amarnath pilgrims, and injuring 14 others, on July 10. Indian media reports indicated that militants attacked a yatri bus and a police party in Anantnag, along the Jammu-Srinagar Highway in South Kashmir. The bus carrying pilgrims was on its way from Baltal to Jammu when it came under militants’ fire. This attack was the second instance of the terrorists targeting the Hindu pilgrims. There has been a unanimous condemnation of the attack on Amarnath pilgrim and an outpouring of support and solidarity for the victims.  Hindus of Greater Houston (HGH), in support with India House, India Culture Center (ICC) and other Indo American organizations, assembled for a prayer meeting, on July 13, at India House. The objective of this meeting was to convey to the Hindu sisters and brothers in India, in unambiguous terms, that they are not alone in this hour of grief.

From left: Krishan Gupta, Arjun Luthra, Col. Vipin Kumar, Rev. Gregory Han, Sunanda Vashisht, Ramesh Shah, Rahul Pandit, and Dr. Falguni Gandhi.

From left: Krishan Gupta, Arjun Luthra, Col. Vipin Kumar, Rev. Gregory Han, Sunanda Vashisht, Ramesh Shah, Rahul Pandit, and Dr. Falguni Gandhi.

Lord Shiva is extremely popular deity not only amongst Indians but also amongst the people of other nationalities. To pay obeisance to their much-worshipped Lord, who appears on this earth in the unique form of an Ice Lingam, millions of devotees trek through the taxing mountains to Amarnath Cave, a Hindu shrine located in Jammu & Kashmir, each year during summer. This pilgrimage symbolizes the legacy of a composite culture and communal harmony.  Nobody in the Valley expected the attack on yatris, and that too at a spot few miles away from the army sector headquarters and the joint interrogation centre of the police in the Khanabal locality of Anantnag town.

The prayer meet started at 6 pm and Partha Krishnaswamy, President of HGH welcomed everyone. In his emotive speech, he read out the names of the seven victims. He condemned this dastardly attack and expressed the concerns of the Hindus in Houston, on their behalf. He mentioned, “We want to send a strong message across the word that such horrifying acts should not go unpunished and we want to urge all leaders across the world to deal with terrorism seriously.” His statement was followed by a prayer and mantra recitals for the departed souls. This was performed by the head Priest of Gauri Siddhivinayak Temple, Pradip Pandya. This was followed by condolences being offered by the ones present. Ramesh Shah, the ‘Pravasi Bhartiya Samman’ recipient for this year, who has been actively involved in the community and supported many organizations, offered condolences on behalf of the Houston community. In his statement he mentioned,“We should come forward and support the families of the victims and urge the government to take more serious steps to stop this from happening”.

Deputy Consul General Surendra Adhana

Deputy Consul General Surendra Adhana

His fiery speech was followed by the emotional journey of Sunanda Vashisht, a writer, who spoke about the struggles of Kashmiri Pandits. Sunanda also recounted the dark chapter of terror in Kashmir, in the year 1989-90 when hundreds of temples were demolished, and the pandits tortured and killed.  Sunanda, a Kashmiri pandit, narrated how 27 years ago the barbarity started in the beautiful land of Jammu & Kashmir, and tens of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits across the valley had to take a painful decision to flee their homeland to save their lives from rabid jihadis. She shared some horrifying and cruel tales that have been wiped out from public memory. Describing Kashmir as the first laboratory of Islamist terror, she stated that if Islamist terror is defeated in Kashmir it will be defeated across the world.  Her emotional yet powerful speech has already become a viral on YouTube. Following this Pramod Burravali of Indic Book Club, talked about the geopolitical games being persistent in this region, which may be responsible for such terrorist attacks. He implored the Houston Indian community to boycott Pakistani products and services, which would serve as a true tribute to those massacred, and as he said in his words, will be his Shraddanjali.

Rahul Pandit, also a Kashmiri pandit, said that he had to leave Kashmir at the age of 6, and though he would love to see his kids go back to their ancestral home, it does not seem safe. He hoped that the government would take measures for people to visit. Deputy Consul General Surendra Adhana, condemning the attack, mentioned that the Government of India will never bow down to such kind of acts. He applauded the work of Indian American community in getting the US politicians to denounce this act of barbarity. Col. Vipin Kumar, an army veteran, and the Executive Director of India House, offered his condolences and spoke about his experiences in Kashmir, while being posted at Anantnag. He mentioned a very strong point, that these cowardly acts have been occurring since years and they will continue if we remain silent. In a true Gandhian spirit, he urged everyone to join hands and fight against terrorism in every way other than bullets.

Rev. Gregory Han, Director, Interfaith Relations, Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston offered his sympathies to the slain. He stated, “We offer our sympathy and condolences, but let our sympathy be emboldened by the spirit of outrage that these attacks happened, that pilgrims on a spiritual road were targeted. Let our outrage be tempered by compassion, that justice and not violence may be the response. Finally let us remember that we are bound by our common humanity, that though this pilgrimage is not mine, the victims are my spiritual kin.” His note was followed by Dr. Falguni Gandhi, President of ICC, who too condemned the attack. Post her statement, Arjun Luthra came up and read the statements from USA senators and congressmen, as well as the statements of Hindu politicians in USA. Delivering a vote of thanks, Achalesh Amar sent out a strong message of solidarity to Hindu sisters and brothers in this hour of grief. He emphasized that Hindu lives matter and any atrocity committed anywhere in the world on any Hindu would not be tolerated. Finally, he thanked everyone for attending this prayer meet, and also extended his thanks to the supporting organizations. Krishan Gupta concluded this emotional meet with a prayer for peace.

Though the need of the hour is to ensure communal harmony in this region, it is also critical to ensure that ‘Kashmiriyat’ survives in its true essence and does not get sullied by those who seek to stir tension in a state already divided on religious lines. Just eight days after this attack, tragedy struck once again when at least sixteen Amarnath pilgrims were killed and over thirty sustained injuries after the bus they were traveling in skidded off the Jammu-Srinagar national highway and plunged into a gorge, on July 16. But, such is the resilience of the Amarnath pilgrims that within hours of this attack, hundreds of devotees set off for the shrine amid stepped up security. At Indo American News, we hope we can foster peace and dialogue through our medium. We hope and pray for peace and that we can choose love instead of hatred.

Statements from USA senators, congressmen, and Hindu politicians:
Pete Olson: The terrorist attack on #AmarnathYatra is deplorable & must be condemned. Prayers for the families of those killed.

Ted Poe: The terrorist attack on #AmarnathYatra is reprehensible and must be condemned.

Sheila Jackson-Lee: The terrorist attack on #AmarnathPilgrims is outrageous. Religion is a fundamental right and human right #AmarnathYatra #ReligiousFreedom

John Culberson: Our hearts go out to the victims of the terrorist attack on #AmarnathYatra. We must stand united against these deplorable acts of terror.

Al Green: An attack on any religion is an attack on all religions. We must end terrorism against the innocent or it will be our end. #AmarnathPilgrims

Tulsi Gabbard: Hindus & pilgrims of every religion should be able to visit their holy places without fear of attacks by terrorists

Raja Krishnamoorthi: My thoughts and prayers are with the victims in Amarnath and their families. Terrorism has no place in our world.

Ro Khanna: The world must stand united against the heinous terorrist act on Amarnath pilgrims. It’s an attack on the freedom of religious expression.

Pramila Jaypal: Deepest condolences to the victims & families impacted by the Amarnath attack. Violence has no place in our society.