Row Over Land To Hindus Fails To Die Down In Indian Kashmir

29 June 2008

Srinagar: Shops, schools and offices remained shut for the eighth day running Monday in Indian Kashmir as protesters demanded formal revocation of an order to hand over land to a Hindu pilgrim body. The violent protests continued despite Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad declaring Sunday that his cabinet would formally revoke the plan. A prominent separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said protests would not stop until the land transfer had been formally rescinded. 'Until we see a written order from the government that the land transfer order has been revoked we will not call off these protests,' said Farooq. The state government had said Sunday it would take charge of logistics for a major annual Hindu pilgrimage to a mountain grotto, effectively revoking the land transfer. The government's decision to provide land to Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board, a Hindu Trust taking care of pilgrims visiting the Muslim-majority region, provoked huge protests and violent clashes across the Kashmir valley. Four protesters were killed in police firing and more than 300 people injured in clashes that broke out on June 23. The protests have evoked memories of the widespread anti-India protests that swept the region after a separatist insurgency broke out in 1989. On Monday a crippling strike closed down shops, schools, businesses and took most traffic off the streets of Srinagar for the eighth day running. Residents said similar strike was being observed in other towns in the scenic Kashmir valley. Separatists say the land transfer was a ploy to settle Indian Hindus in insurgency-hit Kashmir, which is held in part by nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, but claimed by both in full. Officials dismiss the allegations, saying New Delhi has never tried to encourage Hindu migration to the Himalayan region. The Indian constitution prohibits outsiders from buying land in Kashmir.