Protesters defy curfew as Jammu simmers with anger (Lead)

July 24th, 2008 - 1:28 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Amarnath Shrine

Jammu, July 24 (IANS) Angry protesters defied curfew to block highways and hold demonstrations in this Jammu and Kashmir winter capital Thursday, a day after a man allegedly committed suicide against the cancellation of land allotted to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB). Undeterred by the curfew and agitated over the government’s alleged failure to restore land to the shrine board, people in several parts of the city and its suburbs held protest demonstrations and blocked the Jammu-Pathankote and Jammu-Srinagar national highways.

The protesters were raising slogans against National Conference president Omar Abdullah and Governor N.N. Vohra.

Many areas in Jammu region observed a complete shutdown in response to the general shutdown call given by Amarnath Yatra Samgarash Samiti (AYSS).

Life in many towns of the Hindu-dominated Jammu region came to a halt with all shops, business establishments and educational institutions closed. The roads were deserted.

Divisional Commissioner (Jammu) Sudhanshu Pandey told IANS: “The indefinite curfew was imposed at dawn as a precautionary measure.”

The lull that had descended in Jammu after a 10-day-long spell of shutdowns and curfews was broken Wednesday when Kuldip Kumar Dogra allegedly ended his life to protest against government’s “inaction” on the issue.

Pandey said Dogra, who ended his life over the Amarnath land row, would be cremated Thursday.

Dogra, in his late 20s, appeared at Parade Ground, where activists of the AYSS were on a hunger strike Wednesday. He made an emotional speech to the gathering, saying the revocation of the land transfer order to the shrine board had driven him to desperation. He said he was “sacrificing his life for the cause”, eyewitnesses told reporters.

Dogra, who had allegedly consumed poison before making the speech, fell unconscious. He was taken to a hospital where the doctors declared him dead, police said.

Soon after, AYSS activists brought Dogra’s body to the Parade Ground and refused to let the police conduct a post mortem. Police forcibly took away the body for autopsy but as soon as the procedure was over, the activists again brought back the body to the ground.

After a tug of war, police took it away to Dogra’s native village of Bishnah early Thursday. A curfew was simultaneously imposed in Jammu and surrounding areas of Ranbir Singhpora and Arnia.

“It was an ugly spectacle. The body was being dragged and pulled by several people,” said an eyewitness.

Police said a suicide note was found in Dogra’s pocket. It said he was upset about Omar Abdullah’s remarks in parliament Tuesday that Kashmiris would die but never give up their forest land.

The AYSS is demanding the allocation of nearly 40 hectares of forest land to the Amarnath shrine board. The land was first diverted to the shrine board May 26 for setting up temporary prefabricated structures for pilgrims travelling to the cave shrine of Hindu god Shiva in south Kashmir.

The issue triggered massive protests in the Kashmir Valley. Protesters in the Muslim-majority region alleged that the plot would be used to settle outsiders and change the demographic character of Kashmir.

The government rescinded the order July 1. That silenced the street protests in the Kashmir Valley but ignited a counter agitation in Jammu, where people are still demanding allotment of the plot to the shrine board.

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