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Tension high as protests called off

Text by Nandita VIJ

Latest update : 2009-08-07

Muslim separatists in Indian-controlled Kashmir have called off protests until Friday but tensions remained high as thousands of Hindu protesters took to the streets in the state's Hindu dominated Jammu region.


Calm returned to the Indian-administered Kashmir after two weeks of separatists’ protests and communal violence.


The All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference (APHC), the main separatist alliance in the state fighting for Kashmiri independence, has suspended strikes until Friday to allow people to resume daily life.


Residents in the state’s summer capital of Srinagar rushed out to buy supplies when shops and business establishments opened for the first time in two weeks.


“We have been confined to the house for the past 17 days without any supplies. There was no milk, no vegetables,” Autar Krishan Motan, a resident in Srinagar told FRANCE 24. “With the schools shut, our children’s education is also suffering, but we have no choice. There is some respite for two or three days but it’s of no help,” Motan added.


The separatist party said the future course of action will be decided on Friday after prayers.


“We have no choice but to continue protests until Kashmir wins its autonomy,” Ghulam Hassan Majrooh, spokesperson for the APHC told France 24 in a telephone interview. “Our demands are clear; we want a trade road link between Srinagar and Pakistan’s Muzaffarabad and the withdrawal of Indian troops from the valley,” said Majrooh.


The Muslim separatists launched protests earlier this month, demanding access to Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir for trade. Protesters in Kashmir have been demanding independence from India or that the Muslim dominated valley become part of Pakistan.



"We are part of Pakistan"


On Monday, hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani called for Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan at a rally where thousands of protesters gathered to call for the United Nations’ intervention.


“We are Pakistanis,” Geelani told the large crowds chanting anti-India and pro-Pakistan slogans, according to the local media. “There is no other solution to the Kashmir issue other than merger with Pakistan,” he said.


Tens of thousands of people led by Muslim separatist leaders gathered in a rare rally in Srinagar to submit a petition against Indian rule at the local UN office. But the leaders failed to submit their memorandum when security forces blocked access to the office.


The protest march, one of the largest since 1989, was organized to urge the UN to intervene and recognize the State’s right to autonomy.


“The situation is tense,” says Sajjad Lone, a separatist leader from the People’s conference party (part of the APHC alliance). “The only way out is to restore the trade route in question and the government needs to launch a structured dialogue process. The situation is beyond the control of politicians, Kashmiris are calling the shots now,” Lone told FRANCE 24.


Communal tension flared two months ago after the state government allocated land to a trust managing a Hindu shrine in Kashmir, provoking anger among the Muslim residents.


The government then reversed its decision, which enraged Hindus in the Hindu-dominated Jammu region in Kashmir.


“The Muslim population doesn’t care about the shrine issue anymore,” according to Lone. “The ongoing protests are mainly for Kashmir’s independence.”  


Marches last week led to police killing at least 22 Muslim demonstrators, including a senior separatist leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz, who was hit by police gunfire after he tried to lead a march across the Line of Control with Pakistan.


His death led to one of the biggest separatist protests since a revolt against Indian rule broke out two decades ago.



Hindu protesters court arrest


On Tuesday, one day after the massive Muslim rally, thousands of angry Hindu protesters, including women, gathered outside various police stations across the Jammu region.  Demonstrators offered to be arrested in protest to the state government’s decision not to grant a tract of land to the Hindu shrine.


Police detained thousands of protesters and drove them to jail after they crammed police station buildings. People pelted stones and clashed with police who used batons and fired tear gas to break up the crowd.


“The situation is obviously undesirable,” says Indian analyst Uday Bhaskar from the Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. “The government is trying to cool things down but a certain amount of damage has been done. It’s like resurrecting the past we thought had been buried,” he said.


“What’s surprising this time is the intensity of response, huge crowds of people have responded to this fight for independence,” Bhaskar added.

Date created : 2008-08-19