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Kashmir violence over shrine land

By Altaf Hussain
BBC News, Srinagar

Protests in Kashmir against transfer of land for a pilgrimage
The separatist groups say the decision to transfer land is a 'conspiracy'

One person has died after police fired on a group of protesters in Srinagar, capital of Indian-administered Kashmir.

The capital was rocked by protests on Monday evening over the controversial transfer of forest land for a popular Hindu pilgrimage.

Two civilians were injured when police fired to disperse the demonstrators. One of them died in the hospital.

Every year, thousands of Hindus flock to Amarnath cave, considered one of the holiest shrines of the Hindu faith.

Srinagar is tense after Monday's police firing. Protesters have closed down markets and also stopped vehicular traffic in several areas of the city.

The protests began after the state government transferred 40 hectares of forest land to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board - the organisation which organises the pilgrimage.

'Conspiracy'

The government said the land was needed for construction of pre-fabricated huts and toilets for the pilgrims.

Local environmentalists protested against the decision and local politicians joined issue.

Pro-India political parties like the opposition National Conference and constituents of the governing coalition - the People's Democratic Party (PDP) and the Communist Party-Marxist (CPI-M) - have also opposed the transfer of land.

The PDP patron and former state chief minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayed, has said the government should revoke the land transfer by the end of the month.

The separatist groups say the transfer of land to the Shrine Board is part of a "conspiracy to settle non-local Hindus in the valley with a view to reducing the Muslims to a minority".

Pilgrims on the way to Amarnath
Amarnath cave is considered one of the holiest shrines of the Hindu faith

Much of the controversy is being blamed on the outgoing governor of the state, Lieutenant-General (retired) SK Sinha.

The governor is the ex-officio head of the Shrine Board.

Gen Sinha has said the Shrine Board is not answerable to the state's law-making assembly.

He has refused to answer questions posed to the Shrine Board by the law-makers.

The controversy has led to unity among the separatists - the hardline and the moderate factions of the All Party Hurriyat Conference (Aphc) - have decided to carry out a joint campaign against the land transfer.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has threatened to block supplies of essential commodities to the valley of Kashmir if the campaign against the land transfer does not stop.




SEE ALSO
Police stop Hindu pilgrim march
01 Jul 04 |  South Asia
Indian pilgrimage dates extended
29 Jun 04 |  South Asia
The pilgrimage to Amarnath
06 Aug 02 |  South Asia

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