Hin­dus con­tinue pil­grim­age in Kash­mir af­ter at­tack

More se­cu­rity pro­vided for buses car­ry­ing pil­grims

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

As the In­dian govern­ment blamed separatist rebels yes­ter­day for gun­ning down seven Hindu pil­grims and wound­ing 19 more be­fore flee­ing into the night, Kash­miri rebel groups con­demned the rare, deadly at­tack on civil­ians and in­sisted they had no part in it. Mean­while, thou­sands of Hin­dus con­tin­ued a re­li­gious pil­grim­age un­de­terred, as In­dian sol­diers and po­lice in­creased se­cu­rity along the moun­tain route to the Amar­nath cave shrine in the mostly Mus­lim re­gion.

Po­lice said the at­tack Mon­day night be­gan with gun­men un­leash­ing a hail of bul­lets on an ar­mored po­lice ve­hi­cle and a po­lice pa­trol. Po­lice re­turned fire in both in­ci­dents and the gun­men re­sponded, with bul­lets strik­ing a bus car­ry­ing 60 Hin­dus re­turn­ing from pay­ing obei­sance at the shrine. Sev­eral peo­ple who were wounded said the at­tack­ers fired at the bus from three di­rec­tions for nearly five min­utes. They said the driver kept driv­ing the bus as it was be­ing struck with bul­lets near the south­ern town of Anant­nag on the main high­way link­ing Kash­mir with the rest of In­dia.

The an­nual sum­mer pil­grim­age to the Amar­nath cave shrine has been tar­geted in the past and takes place un­der heavy se­cu­rity. Op­po­nents of In­dian rule in Kash­mir ac­cuse Hindu-ma­jor­ity In­dia of us­ing the pil­grim­age as a po­lit­i­cal state­ment to bol­ster its claim to the dis­puted re­gion. Thou­sands of In­dian army and paramil­i­tary sol­diers are de­ployed on the route to the cave shrine high in the Hi­malayas each sum­mer. Of­fi­cials said the bus was vi­o­lat­ing night­time travel re­stric­tions, which are im­posed be­cause se­cu­rity pa­trols are with­drawn af­ter sun­set.

Cow­ardly at­tacks

More se­cu­rity was pro­vided yes­ter­day for the buses that carry pil­grims to base camps where they start walk­ing up a moun­tain path to the Amar­nath cave. Po­lice were still searching for the as­sailants Tues­day. They have blamed Mus­lim mil­i­tants, but no group has claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity. Three top separatist lead­ers in Kash­mir have con­demned the at­tack. Of­fi­cials say most of the wounded pil­grims were re­leased from hos­pi­tals af­ter overnight treat­ment.

The seven bod­ies were air­lifted to New Delhi for the jour­ney to the pil­grims’ home states of Gu­jarat and Ma­ha­rash­tra in western In­dia. Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi tweeted that “In­dia will never get bogged down by such cow­ardly at­tacks and the evil de­signs of hate.” Separatist lead­ers de­manded an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the at­tack on pil­grims, which is rare in the in­sur­gency-wracked re­gion. “This in­ci­dent goes against the very grain of Kash­miri ethos,” three top separatist lead­ers, Syed Ali Gee­lani, Mir­waiz Umar Fa­rooq and Mo­hammed Yasin Ma­lik, said in a joint state­ment in Sri­na­gar, the main city in In­dian-con­trolled Kash­mir. The at­tack sparked ou­trage across much of In­dia. In the Jammu re­gion of Kash­mir, which is dom­i­nated by Hin­dus, hun­dreds of pro­test­ers shouted an­gry slo­gans against the mil­i­tants and burned a face­less ef­figy meant to rep­re­sent both ter­ror­ism and Pak­istan, which In­dia blames for sup­port­ing the rebels. Many shops and busi­nesses were also shut­tered in Jammu, af­ter trade unions and po­lit­i­cal par­ties called for a protest strike.

Mean­while, stu­dents in the Gu­jarati city of Ah­mad­abad gath­ered for a sit-in to protest all re­li­gious vi­o­lence, while peace ac­tivists planned a can­dle­light vigil in New Delhi on Tues­day night. The Press Trust of In­dia news agency said the last ma­jor at­tack on Amar­nath pil­grims oc­curred in 2000 when gun­men struck in the Pa­hal­gam area and killed 30 peo­ple, in­clud­ing some lo­cal porters who carry the bag­gage of pil­grims on the moun­tain path. —AP

AH­MAD­ABAD: In­dian stu­dents hold plac­ards and of­fer trib­utes to the vic­tims of a gun­fire at­tack on a bus car­ry­ing pil­grims, in Ah­mad­abad, In­dia. — AP

SRI­NA­GAR: In­dian paramil­i­tary sol­diers frisk a Kash­miri civil­ian left and an In­dian pilgrim, right, as oth­ers wait for their turn at a tem­po­rary check­point near the pilgrim base camp in Pa­hal­gam, about 100 Kilo­me­ters south of Sri­na­gar, Kash­mir. — AP

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