Land row: Protests continue in curfew-bound Jammu (Lead)

July 3rd, 2008 - 4:45 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Amarnath Shrine

Jammu, July 3 (IANS) Angered by the cancellation of the land allotment order to a Hindu shrine board in Kashmir, some activists of the ruling Congress here Thursday defied curfew orders and took to the streets protesting against their own government’s decision. Earlier, curfew was extended to other parts of the tense Jammu region as angry mobs demanding allotment of the forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) set ablaze a few abandoned houses in a town, forcing the authorities to deploy the army at communally-sensitive places.

Thursday was the fourth day of agitations in Hindu-dominated Jammu, where people continue defying prohibitory orders to take out anti-government processions.

Jai Singh, a Municipal corporator of the ruling Congress, came out with scores of his supporters defying the curfew order. He denounced the government’s decision. Congress activists have also at other places joined the protests, largely sponsored by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

Protests in Jammu were triggered after government Tuesday decided to cancel the land allotment to the SASB, ending a controversy but beginning another over an issue that has gained a communal edge.

Earlier on May 26, the government had allotted 40 hectares of forest land to the SASB, which organises the pilgrimage to the high altitude Amarnath cave shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva. The land, according to officials, was meant to create temporary facilities to the hundreds of thousands of Hindu pilgrims visiting the shrine every year.

The decision quietened the violent protests in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley where five people were killed in alleged police firing last week.

But it led to violent demonstrations in Jammu where at least 80 people, including several police personnel, were injured in unrelenting protests since Monday against the cancellation. The authorities were forced to clamp indefinite curfew on Jammu since Tuesday evening.

Rail traffic was halted at Kathua for sometime Thursday morning, while protesters blocked traffic movement on the national highway near Samba, Udhampur and Nagrota.

Reports from Vijaypur, a town 30 km south of Jammu, where protesters stopped trains Wednesday evening, said an agitated mob set ablaze a few “kullas” (huts) of Gujjars, who are up in the mountains with their cattle these days.

According to a report from Banihal, a town 180 km north of Jammu on the Jammu-Srinagar highway, a few Amarnath pilgrims were allegedly pulled out of their vehicles and beaten by some people, who also misbehaved with women pilgrims.

The BJP and the VHP have called for a nationwide strike Thursday to protest the cancellation order.

Authorities here claim they were trying to bring the situation under control.

“We are trying our best to keep the situation under control,” divisional commissioner, Jammu, the highest civilian officer of the province, told media.

“Every one is concerned over the situation. We are determined to protect the properties and lives of all citizens.”

Even in the few parts of Jammu not under curfew, normal life remained paralysed with people holding protests and demanding restoration of the land to the shrine board.

Some of the BJP leaders have either been held or kept under house arrest to prevent their participation in protests.

BJP’s state unit president Ashok Khajuria is under house arrest, while former president Nirmal Singh, and party spokesperson Romesh Arora were held while marching with protesters.

Women protesters have come out in large numbers in the border towns of Samba, Vijaypur, Bishnah and Ranbirsingh Pora raising religious slogans.

Angry protesters have rejected all appeals from the government to calm down.

“This is a government of Islamic fundamentalists, and we are not going to call off our agitation because (Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi) Azad says so,” said Ramesh Kumar, a student leader who led protests in Jammu’s walled city.

“We will continue with our agitation till the government restores the land to the shrine board.”

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