Land row: Kashmir on boil, protests enter fourth day

June 26th, 2008 - 3:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Srinagar/Jammu, June 26 (IANS) Life remained paralysed for the fourth day Thursday in Jammu and Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar, as protests and demonstrations against the forest land allotment to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) spread to major and minor towns and cities in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley. The Hindu-majority cities and towns of winter capital Jammu also observed a shutdown in protest against the “machinations of (Kashmiri) political groups” to stall the land transfer to SASB.

Slogan-shouting protesters took to the streets in uptown Maisuma locality of Srinagar where pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chairman Yasin Malik led the protests.

Mobs indulged in heavy stone pelting at the police and the paramilitary forces in old city areas of Rajouri Kadal, Fateh Kadal, Safa Kadal, Nawa Bazar and Karan Nagar.

The police lobbed dozens of tear-smoke shells and resorted to baton charge against the protesters who kept on regrouping throughout the day.

Markets, educational institutes and banks remained closed and even the skeletal traffic that had plied Wednesday also remained off the roads.

All the university exams and those scheduled to be conducted by the board of school education have been cancelled, as the situation remains highly tense in Srinagar, Ganderbal, Baramulla, Budgam, Anantnag, Pulwama, Kulgam, Kupwara and Bandipore districts of the valley.

Muslims in the Kashmir Valley are opposed to the allotment of a large tract of forest land, measuring 40 hectares, to the SASB that manages the annual pilgrimage to the south Kashmir Amarnath cave shrine housing a ‘lingam’, or a stalagmite structure, that is seen as an icon of Lord Shiva, one of the Hindu Trinity. They allege that the board would use the land to settle “outsiders” in the area and thus change the region’s demography.

Heavy deployment of the police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) have been made on the Srinagar-Baltal road for the passage of the cave shrine-bound pilgrims, whose vehicles were stoned by protesters Wednesday.

“We have taken extraordinary precautions to address the law and order situation in the valley. Additional deployments have been made to meet any eventuality,” Kashmir Inspector General of Police S.M. Sahai told IANS.

“We are keeping a close watch on the situation so that miscreants are prevented from exploiting the public sentiments.”

During the last four days of violent protests, four people have been killed in alleged firing by the CRPF while more than 200 have been injured in clashes with the police.

Both the groups of the separatist Hurriyat Conference and some mainstream political parties like the National Conference, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) are demanding rescinding of the cabinet order that allotted the forest land in the Baltal forest area to SASB.

The valley’s grand Mufti, Mufti Mohammed Bashir-ud-Din, has also issued a ‘fatwa’ (a religious edict) against the allotment of the land to SASB.

The situation is equally volatile in Jammu, where Hindu groups, the Shiv Sena and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, called for a shutdown Thursday, throwing normal life out of gear.

Several protest demonstrations were held across the winter capital. Hindu activists burnt the effigies of former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig for their opposition to the land transfer.

“This is an attack on our religion and we will not allow it to go unchallenged,” said VHP chief in the state Rama Kant Dubey. He said they would never allow the Amarnath pilgrimage to be subjected to the “whims and fancies and fundamentalist agenda of the PDP or the National Conference. All of them are Islamic fundamentalists and deserve to be banished from the state and the country.”

Meanwhile, tension between ruling coalition partners, the PDP and the Congress, appeared to have reached the point of no return after Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s proposal to convene an all-party meet to sort out the contentious issue was rejected by PDP patron Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, who demanded cancellation of the land allotment order as the first condition for holding any further discussion on the issue.

Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party chairman Bhim Singh has demanded governor’s rule in the state. “It is a complete chaos and the people have lost faith in the government that has communalised the situation. It deserves to be dismissed,” he said in Jammu.

Singh also castigated Baig for his “irresponsible and communal utterances”.

“Baig is an ISI agent who is executing the agenda of Pakistan in dividing the people of the state on communal lines,” he said.

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