Muslims vow protests as Hindus clinch Kashmir land accord

31 August 2008
The Dawn

Srinagar: Hindus in occupied Kashmir ended two months of demonstrations on Sunday after the state government agreed to allow pilgrims temporary use of land near an important Hindu temple, an issue that triggered the worst protests in the region in a decade. Muslim leaders immediately rejected the government’s accord with Hindus and said their protests would continue. “Our goal is complete independence from India,” said Masarat Aalam, chief spokesman for the Jammu-Kashmir Coordination Committee, which comprised Kashmiri leaders and representatives of businesses, lawyers and government employees. Muslims were angered by an earlier government plan to give the land to the temple. Hindus called off their demonstrations after Jammu-Kashmir state government agreed to allow about 99 acres (40 hectares) of land to be used by Hindu pilgrims for accommodation when hundreds of thousands flock each year to the Amarnath temple. The title of the land would remain with the state government, said S.S. Bloeria, a government negotiator. The crisis began in June when Muslims launched protests over the government’s plan to transfer ownership of the land to the Hindu temple. The proposal was quickly scrapped, prompting protests by Hindus. Unrest has roiled the disputed Himalayan region since then, leaving more than 40 people dead, many killed by soldiers who opened fire on Muslim protesters who began demanding an end to Indian rule over the region. “We have suspended our agitation,” said Leela Karan Sharma, a leader of the Shri Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti, a group that spearheaded the Hindu protests, after signing the agreement with state government officials. The land near the temple will be set aside for exclusive use by Hindu pilgrims. Authorities at the shrine will be allowed to build facilities to house Hindus during the annual pilgrimage that lasts up to three months, Karan said. Hindus danced jubilantly in the streets of Jammu, a Hindu-majority city, after the decision was announced. Authorities imposed a curfew in Jammu and other Hindu-majority areas, apparently to prevent any Hindu-Muslim clashes in response to the government’s move. Farooq Abdullah, a leader of the pro-India National Conference, welcomed the agreement. “The people of Jammu and Kashmir will live together in happiness,” he said. However, protests continued in Muslim-majority areas of the state as authorities relaxed an indefinite curfew there for six hours on Sunday. Thousands of people took to the streets in Srinagar, chanting “We want freedom” and “Release the leaders” during the break in the curfew. Protesters hurled rocks at police, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets at them, said Prabhakar Tripathi, a spokesman for the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force. Nazir Ahmed, a doctor at Srinagar’s main hospital, said three injured people, one with bullet wounds, were being treated there. Mehbooba Mufti, leader of the People’s Democratic Party, which until recently was part of the state’s ruling coalition, criticised the government for not consulting leaders and other Kashmiri representatives before reaching the agreement with Hindu leaders. The accord could have dangerous consequences because it “is a move to disrespect popular sentiment in Kashmir,” she said.-AP