A new train has been inaugurated by the Prime Minister ------ so now pilgrims to the shrine of Vaishno Devi will be able to travel right upto Katra via a train, and not have to face the inconvenience of boarding a bus or taxi at Jammu.
There are hundreds of train links that possess a far greater degree of urgency and should be placed on priority ----- train links that connect people to educational centres, employment centres, medical care centres etc etc. Why are we so obsessed with making pilgrimages as convenient and hassle free as possible?
In the first place, pilgrimages that fall in ecologically sensitive zones should be protected from pilgrim hordes if we are to let the future generations not visit their ruins. Last year's floods in Uttarakhand should have been a lesson quickly learnt and never forgotten about the need to not commercialise pilgrimages to the extent of causing irreparable ecological damage. We seem to have either not learnt our lessons or forgotten them already.
Secondly, pilgrimages by definition involved some degree of hardship, a willing sacrifice of comfort, a readiness to face danger to life and limb ----- in search of spiritual or moral guidance, to express gratitude for bounties received or perform penance for conscious or inadvertent sins. Now, we are slowly bringing pilgrimages at par with a trip to an air conditioned shopping mall. Either we should erase the distinction between "religious" and "secular", and admit that pilgrimages have been converted into sight seeing tours, or, if we do wish to maintain the distinction, then the element of hardship should remain.
What's also rather galling about these pilgrimages-made-easy is that they substitute acts of kindness and compassion and honesty in our daily lives which are far more likely to bring one closer to the Creator than a quick hop and jump pilgrimage. We ignore poverty, we mock at those born in circumstances less fortunate than ours, we sermonise about the need for the "poor" to raise themselves by their own effort ( as if they had the same means and opportunities that we do), we lie, we cheat, and then we perform an act of expiation by a quick and convenient pilgrimage.
Our trains are filthy, as our are railway stations. The drinking water's quality is suspect, as is that of the food available at railway stations. Safety is a neglected aspect, so is timeliness of arrival and departure of trains. There are routes which are so over crowded that not a square inch of unoccupied space is visible in train compartments. There are routes where the dire need for rail links has been ignored for decades. We need to focus attention and resources on these aspects, not pilgrim routes.