Four Amarnath pilgrims injured as Kashmir protests land transfer


Srinagar : Four Hindu pilgrims were wounded in stone pelting by an irate mob here Wednesday, as violence and protests against the controversial allotment of forest land to the Sri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) spread to other parts of the Kashmir Valley, forcing the authorities to suspend the annual Hindu pilgrimage.

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The police here said four pilgrims returning from the Amarnath Cave shrine via the north Kashmir Baltal route were injured when a mob started throwing stones at their vehicle near Nishat Garden, seven km from the city centre Lal Chowk.

“The injured pilgrims were taken to the Hazratbal sub-district hospital where doctors gave them first aid. All the injured pilgrims are out of danger,” said superintendent of police Javaid Koul.

The pilgrimage to the shrine was suspended as the police and paramilitary were engaged in unending clashes with protesters all along the north Kashmir route to the shrine in Ganderbal district.

Muslims in the Kashmir Valley are opposed to the allotment of a large tract of forest land to the management of the south Kashmir Amarnath cave shrine, which houses a ‘lingam’, or a stalagmite structure that is seen as an icon of Lord Shiva, one of the Hindu Trinity. They allege that the board would use the land to settle “outsiders” in the area and thus change the region’s demography.

The police and paramilitary forces were dispatched to major and minor towns as the protests enveloped Budgam, Pulwama, Anantnag, Baramulla and Bandipore districts. A spontaneous strike crippled life in the valley.

The police said 20 people, including five policemen, were injured Wednesday in the street clashes.

In Srinagar, slogan-shouting young men took to the streets in several localities and stoned the police and paramilitary personnel. The city has been witnessing protests since Monday.

Security forces used batons and tear smoke in Rajbagh, Nowhatta, Nawakadal, Jamalatta, Hazratbal, Lal Bazzar, Parimpora, Ali Kadal and other localities in Srinagar to disperse the mobs.

The police fired warning shots at Jamalatta.

The situation in the north Kashmir district of Ganderbal remained volatile as protesters again blocked the Srinagar-Baltal cave shrine route for the second consecutive day.

The mobs stoned police personnel and vehicles carrying Hindu pilgrims to the Amarnath shrine.

A police officer said window panes of several vehicles were smashed.

The police and demonstrators were locked in clashes at Nunar, Duderhama, Saloora, Theru, Barsoo and Kurhama in Ganderbal district. Several people were reportedly injured.

A report from south Kashmir’s Anantnag district said nearly 500 people took out a procession in the town Wednesday morning. They threw stones at passing vehicles.

Security has been beefed up along the Srinagar-Pahalgam route leading to the cave shrine.

Hundreds of locals also marched through south Kashmir’s Pulwama town. They forced the closure of shops and businesses. Reports from adjacent areas said the situation was tense.

Students of schools and a college in north Kashmir’s Baramulla town took out a procession, leading to the closure of shops. The streets were deserted, according to police sources.

The joint action committee comprising bar associations, chambers of commerce and industry and trader groups Wednesday staged a sit-in against the controversial land allotment order here.

Shops and business were shut in Pattan and Bandipore towns in north Kashmir.

“The situation is highly tense. We have made adequate security arrangements to maintain law and order,” said a senior police officer.