The Kashmir state government has revoked a controversial order transferring land to a Hindu shrine. This was after Muslim protestors accused the government of trying to dilute the Muslim majority in the state.
Hindu pilgrims have begun the yearly Amarnath trek in Kashmir
Thousands of Hindu pilgrims have begun their arduous trek to the sacred Himalayan shrine of Amarnath in Kashmir, which is opened to devotees for two months every year in summer. But this year, violent communal protests have cast a shadow over the pilgrimage. They are against the government’s decision to grant 40 hectares of forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, the Hindu institution that organises the pilgrimage.
At least four people have been killed in the protests, and hundreds injured in clashes with police and paramilitary forces. In a meeting on Tuesday, the Cabinet led by Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has decided to revoke the order.
‘Order would change the demography of the state’
The Kashmir state government had ordered the land to be transferred to the Shrine Board in order to build temporary shelters for pilgrims visiting the shrine. However, Muslim protestors claimed that this was a move to bring in more non-Kashmiri Hindus into Kashmir and reduce the Muslim majority.
Advocate Mian Abdul Qayoom, of the recently constituted Action Committee against the Land Transfer, says that the Amarnath Shrine Board has already begun constructing insulated concrete huts with modern sanitation and health care facilities. These, he says, will become permanent residences for Hindus from other parts of India.
‘’The purpose was to change the demography of the state. After some time they would say that the entire area is now in our possession and they will bring people from outside who cannot otherwise live in those areas because they are non state subjects,’’ says Qayoom. Moreover, because of the extreme cold and difficult terrain in winter, Qayoom claims that no one will supervise them and ask them to leave once the pilgrimage is over.
"Situation exploited by communal forces"
The state government has denied this, saying that the situation is being exploited by communal forces for political purposes ahead of the elections. Kashmir Social Welfare Minister Abdul Ghani Vakil said that the transfer is merely for constructing temporary facilities for pilgrims and does not involve granting property rights to the Shrine Board.
‘’It is all the propaganda of communal forces, separatists and regional forces. There was no transfer of land at all, it was only for three months temporary purpose. Under the law we cannot transfer the land. That is not possible,’’ insists Vakil.
However, despite assurances from the government that the land transfer would not involve giving the land in non-state hands, the violence continued in Srinagar, with protestors closing down shops and schools, and shouting slogans like ‘Indians leave Kashmir’.
Cabinet revokes decision
The ruling Congress-led coalition in the state also faced a crisis from within, with members of its coalition partner People’s Democratic Party or PDP resigning in protest against the land transfer. This is despite the fact that the proposal had been mooted by two PDP ministers.
In a meeting on Tuesday, the Cabinet led by Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad decided to revoke the controversial order with a view to maintain communal harmony. The protestor groups have called off their agitation. "We have said that people should now celebrate this decision by the government,’’ says Qayoom.
Despite this, the situation in Srinagar continues to be tense. Protests by some Muslim separatist groups are still continuing, with the demand for an independent Kashmir. The state government’s decision to revoke the land transfer also sparked fresh protests by Hindu nationalist groups.