Hindus suspend agitation in Indian Kashmir

Other News Materials 31 August 2008 12:53 (UTC +04:00)

Hindus in India-administered Kashmir on Sunday suspended two months of protests after the government agreed to allow them temporary use of land for a popular pilgrimage in the Muslim-majority region.

An agreement was reached with the Jammu and Kashmir government giving a Hindu trust exclusive rights to use 40 hectares of land during the annual pilgrimage for temporary shelters and toilets.

"The core issue has been agreed upon, so we are suspending the agitation for now. The shrine board will exclusively use the land during the Amarnath pilgrimage," said organizer Leela Karan Sharma in the Hindu-majority Jammu region, the dpa reported.

Sharma described the agreement as the "victory of the people of Jammu" as Hindus celebrated by dancing on the streets, distributing sweets and bursting firecrackers.

But soon after the announcement, a curfew was clamped in the Jammu city as authorities feared that Muslim militants could target Hindu groups which planned to stage a "Victory Rally."

Muslims in the upper Kashmir valley where the disputed land is held anti-India demonstrations after the state government announced in June it would transfer the land to the Hindu trust.

The allotment was cancelled in July, in turn angering Hindus in Jammu who blocked a key highway to stop supplies of food and medicine into Kashmir, re-igniting the protests by Muslims.

According to reports in the local media, as many as 42 people died since June, mostly Muslims were killed by police firing on protestors during the clashes in Jammu and Kashmir.

Indian security forces were criticized by Kashmiris and human rights groups for handling of the protests in which locals said many innocents were killed. New Delhi cracked down against separatists and arrested at least five separatist leaders to defuse protests.

The United Nations last week called for a thorough and independent investigation into the killings. But the Indian government dismissed the UN's comments "unwarranted" and "irresponsible."

The crisis also put a strain on the peace process between India and Pakistan, after Pakistani leaders blamed New Delhi for human rights violations and the Pakistani Senate approved a resolution criticizing the "excessive and brutal" use of force during the protests.

The Indian foreign office later asked Pakistan to desist from making such comments, calling them interference in the country's internal affairs.

The disputed Kashmir region is divided into two parts, one administered by India and the other by Pakistan. The South Asian neighbours have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir.