Chronicle of a crisis that divided Jammu and Kashmir

August 13th, 2008 - 6:30 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Bharatiya Janata Party
By Sarwar Kashani
Srinagar, Aug 13 (IANS) The genesis of the crisis that has seen Jammu ranged against Kashmir lies in what appeared to be a routine order May 26 allotting 40 hectares of land in the valley to create shelters for pilgrims going to Amarnath. It has been a steady slide toward chaos since. The ambiguity over whether the shelters would be temporary — as in the past — or permanent as claimed by a senior government officer triggered a fury that still rages.

About 40 people have been killed and curfews and shutdowns have become routine with the valley against the move and Jammu for it — a row that has snowballed into the worst communal crisis since armed uprising erupted in the state in 1989.

According to the government order, the land in north Kashmir was allotted to the Amarnath board that manages the annual pilgrimage to the high altitude shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Initially, environmentalists in the valley expressed concern over the decision. Within a few weeks, by late June, there were widespread protests in the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley.

Politicians, separatist and mainstream, objected on the grounds that the land would be used to settle outsiders to change the demography of the valley.

On June 28, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a key ally of the Congress-led ruling coalition and also a signatory to the order, withdrew its support to then chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad — reducing the government to a minority in the 87-member state assembly.

Three days later, on July 1, Azad revoked the land allotment order following widespread violence that saw at least eight people killed in the valley.

This silenced protests in the Kashmir Valley but sparked a counter violent campaign in the Hindu-dominated Jammu region.

On July 9, Azad was forced to quit office after he withdrew his motion of trust in the assembly.

On July 11, Jammu and Kashmir came under governor’s rule with the state assembly dissolved.

While Srinagar saw relative quiet in the days to follow, Jammu burnt. Hindu groups in Jammu, some allied to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal, demanded the return of the land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB). The issue assumed a dangerous communal edge.

For more than six weeks, Jammu witnessed a series of curfews and shutdowns that left at least eight people dead.

Protesters in Jammu also blocked traffic on the 300-km Jammu-Srinagar National Highway - the only motorable road link to the valley, obstructing the supply of essential commodities like medicines.

The valley reacted with politicians, particularly separatist leaders, alleging that Hindu groups in Jammu had forced an “economic blockade”.

Fruit growers in Kashmir who were waiting to transfer their ripe produce to other states said the protesters had also attacked their trucks and didn’t allow them to move.

Fearing the perishable crop would rot, if not moved quickly to Indian markets, fruit merchants in Kashmir threatened to cross over to Pakistan through what was known as Jhelum valley road in the pre-independence era.

On Aug 9, an 18-member all-party delegation led by Home Minister Shivraj Patil arrived in Jammu to review the situation following violent protests. But the Shri Amarnath Sangarsh Samiti (SASS), leading the agitation, refused to talk.

On Aug 10, Patil chaired an all-party meeting on the land issue in Srinagar but to no avail.

On Aug 11, the fruit growers began a march to Pakistan-administered Kashmir supported by the separatists and also by the PDP.

It was a day fraught with tension. With authorities unable to foresee the crisis, thousands of Kashmiris marched towards the Line of Control (LoC) - the de facto India-Pakistan border. Security forces opened fire killing at least five people, including a senior separatist leader. Curfew was imposed in Srinagar and in almost all other districts of the valley.

On Aug 12, the situation took a turn for the worse. Police and the army again opened fire on protesters who defied curfew across Kashmir killing 12. The same day, two people were killed in Jammu’s Kishtwar town where communal clashes flared up.

On Aug 13, three more succumbed to their injuries in a Srinagar hospital — taking the number of those killed in the firing in the valley the day before to 15.

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