Hindu-Muslim Tensions Worsen In Indian Kashmir

4 August 2008

Srinagar: Indian officials pledged Monday to foil attempts by Hindu protesters to impose an economic blockade on the mainly Muslim Kashmir valley as tensions worsened in the region. The unrest was triggered after the state government reneged on a plan to transfer land to a Hindu trust, throwing Kashmir - already in the grips of a separatist Islamic insurgency against New Delhi's rule - into new turmoil. 'We have sought the help of the army in securing the national highway to ensure smooth transportation of supplies to and from the valley,' Kashmir chief secretary S.S. Kapur said, adding the situation was 'under control.' 'We are not going to allow the movement of vehicles to be disrupted along the national highway,' he said in a statement. The 300-kilometer (180-mile) national highway is the only surface transport link between the Kashmir valley and the rest of India. The valley was reported running short of supplies as a result of the attempts by protesters in the mainly Hindu southern Jammu area to stop transport along the highway and impose an economic blockade. Fruit-growers in the valley also complained their produce bound for markets in New Delhi and beyond was rotting as a result of the blockade. Hindu protesters are angered by the state government's decision to back down on its June promise to provide land to a Hindu trust to shelter pilgrims who visit a Kashmir mountain grotto each year. Muslim separatists charged the land transfer was a ploy to settle Hindus in Kashmir. Six died and hundreds were injured in days of furious riots. Last week the Indian army was deployed in Jammu as Hindu protesters went on the rampage, attacking government buildings. Meanwhile, a one-day strike called by hardline separatists to protest attacks on Muslims in Jammu left shops, schools and offices shut in Srinagar and other towns in the Kashmir valley, witnesses said. Radical Hindu groups have told Muslims living in Jammu to leave the region and the houses of some Muslims have been set ablaze, according to reports. The state government collapsed last month after its main ally withdrew support over the land issue, and the scenic region has been put under federal rule. The state is due to go to the polls in September or October.