Kashmir shrine land order revoked

1 July 2008

London: The government in Indian-administered Kashmir has formally revoked a plan to give a tract of forest land to a board that manages an important Hindu shrine. The land transfer has provoked more than a week of protests by Muslims in which a fifth person was killed on Tuesday in clashes with police. But the decision to revoke the land has angered Hindus in the Jammu region. More than two dozen people, including five policemen, were injured when Hindu protesters clashed with police. 'Normalcy expected' A meeting of the state cabinet on Tuesday, presided over by Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, decided to revoke the plan to allot land to the Amarnath shrine board. Despite the decision, Muslims have kept up their protests. One man was killed in Kashmir's summer capital, Srinagar, in clashes in which police fired teargas shells to break up a demonstration. The BBC's Altaf Hussain in Srinagar says the cabinet decision is expected to bring life back to normality to the Muslim-majority valley of Kashmir which shut down for the eighth consecutive day on Tuesday. The land row has communally polarised Jammu and Kashmir However, the decision is likely to aggravate the situation in the state's Hindu-majority Jammu region where a three-day strike began on Monday against the government's proposal to cancel the land transfer. Hundreds of protesters from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and hard-line Hindu groups like the Shiv Sena and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, World Hindu Council) have taken to the streets. On Tuesday, a large group of protesters pelted stones at the police in Muthi, on the outskirts of Jammu. Police said they opened fire when a mob assaulted some policemen. Three protesters were wounded, they said. Clashes were reported at a few other places in Jammu and also in the towns of Kathua, Udhampur, Samba, Batote and Kud. About 100 demonstrators have been arrested from across the Jammu region for 'trying to disrupt normalcy', police said. The BBC's Binoo Joshi in Jammu says all businesses have remained closed and public transport is off the roads while attendance in the government and private offices is thin. 'Conspiracy' The Hindu-majority Jammu region and Muslim-majority Kashmir valley are divided over the issue of land allotment to the shrine board which was created eight years ago to organise the annual Hindu pilgrimage to Amarnath in south Kashmir. People in the valley opposed the plan saying 'it was a conspiracy to settle non-Kashmiri Hindus in the region to change the demography of the valley'. The Jammu region favoured the land allotment saying it was required for creating facilities for about 500,000 pilgrims that visit the area every year. The demonstrations in the valley have been among the biggest the disputed Himalayan region has seen for years, and have widened to focus on pro-independence demands. The unrest has brought back memories of widespread protests that swept the region after a separatist insurgency began in 1989.