Sunday, June 29, 2008
Land Transfer to Hindu Site Inflames Kashmir’s Muslims
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
SRINAGAR, Kashmir (AP) — Tens of thousands of Muslim demonstrators filled the streets in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Friday, burning flags and effigies of Indian leaders on a fifth day of protests against the transfer of land to a Hindu shrine.
Protesters clashed with riot police officers in several parts of Srinagar, the main city in the region, which has a Muslim majority. The police responded with tear gas, said Prabhakar Tripathi, a spokesman for the Central Reserve Police Force.
Three people have died and dozens of others, including at least 22 police officers, have been wounded since Monday, as the police have struggled to control angry mobs protesting the transfer of 99 acres of land by the state government to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, a trust running the popular Hindu shrine.. Protesters accuse the Indian government of planning to build Hindu settlements in India’s only Muslim-majority state in an effort to change the demographic balance in the region.
Anti-Indian sentiment is strong in Kashmir, where nearly a dozen militant groups have been fighting since 1989 for independence or a merger with neighboring Pakistan. But Kashmiris had been enjoying a period of relative calm until this week’s protests, which rank among the angriest displays in two decades.
In an effort to ease tensions, the chief minister of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, Ghulam Nabi Azad, promised Wednesday that there would be no construction on the transferred land and pledged to meet with local political parties to address the protesters’ grievances.
The Amarnath shrine is a cave that houses a large ice stalagmite revered by Hindus as an incarnation of Siva, the god of destruction and reproduction. Hundreds of thousands of Hindus are descending on the area as part of an annual pilgrimage to the cave.
This year, as in the past, thousands of soldiers are guarding the pilgrims’ route. In previous years, the pilgrims made tempting targets for militant Islamist separatists, who claim that India, which has a Hindu majority, uses the event to bolster its claim over the Kashmir region.