Protests in curfew-bound Jammu, leaders arrested

July 27th, 2008 - 7:39 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Amarnath Shrine

Jammu, July 27 (IANS) Despite a curfew, people in Jammu held protests against the government and raised slogans demanding return of a piece of land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB). Leaders of various organisations, including BJP’s state unit president, were arrested, the police said. The police swooped down on leaders of the Bharatiya Janta Party, the Amarnath Yatra Sangarsh Samiti (AYSS) and the Jammu Bar Association to foil their attempt to hold a ceremony at Parade Ground here to pay tribute to Kuldip Kumar Dogra who committed suicide demanding the return of the land to SASB.

Those arrested by the police include BJP’s state unit president Ashok Khajuria, former minister of state for defence Chaman Lal Gupta, Sangarsh samiti convenor Leela Karan Sharma and Jammu Bar Association president Baldev Singh Salathia, the police said.

However, protesters managed to make it to the site and fought a pitched battle with the police.

Baton charge and teargas shells did not deter the protesters, who threw bottles and rocks at the police.

BJP’s spokesperson Hari Om said arrests and “other measures of suppression” adopted by the authorities would not deter the course of agitation. “Our agitation will continue till our objective of land restoration to the shrine board is achieved,” he told newspersons.

Elsewhere in Jammu region, a general shutdown was observed for the fourth day Sunday.

Curfew was re-imposed in Jammu district Sunday morning, a day after violent protests over the Amarnath land transfer revocation left 50 injured, the police said.

“Over 50 people were injured, at least a dozen of them policemen (during the Saturday clashes),” a police official said.

The authorities feared a violent outbreak during a tribute paying ceremony Saturday for Dogra who allegedly committed suicide here Wednesday in protest against the land row, a police official said.

The city was under curfew Thursday but the restrictions were lifted Friday even as a shutdown called by the Amarnath Yatra Sangarsh Samiti (AYSS) continued.

The AYSS, a conglomerate of some Hindu groups spearheading the agitation, said its activists would hold a tribute paying ceremony for Dogra, hailed as a “martyr for the cause of the land restoration” to the SASB.

AYSS convenor Leela Karan said that “tens of thousands of people” were expected to take part in the ceremony.

But the ceremony did not take place.

A police officer said: “We had reports that the mob would turn violent during the tribute ceremony (for Dogra). To avert this, it was decided to re-impose curfew (in Jammu).”

Dogra’s death re-ignited protests in Jammu. His cremation fuelled the agitation as some people, claiming to be eyewitnesses, alleged that the police Wednesday night tried to cremate Dogra’s body by throwing kerosene and liquor on his pyre, instead of using the traditional ghee or butter to light the pyre.

The half burnt body was later taken away by the people to be cremated with “honour and as per the traditional rituals”, said an eyewitness.

Jammu has been reeling under a spell of shutdowns and curfews since July 1 when the government cancelled its May 26 order of allocating nearly 40 hectares of forest land to the SASB.

The shrine board manages the annual Himalayan pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave shrine in south Kashmir, at an altitude of 3,888 metres, dedicated to lord Shiva, one of the Hindu trinity.

The government was forced to cancel the order following massive protests in the Kashmir Valley, which were triggered by fear and widespread perception that the land would be used for settling non-locals to change the Muslim-majority character of the valley.

The government’s reversal of the decision helped the Valley protests die down but Jammu erupted.

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