Kash­miris on strike in protest over In­dian pro­gram for Hindu town­ships


Shops and busi­nesses were closed in the dis­puted Hi­malayan re­gion of Kash­mir on Satur­day to protest In­dia’s plan to build town­ships for Hin­dus who fled a re­bel­lion in Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity ar­eas.

Lo­cal po­lit­i­cal lead­ers crit­i­cized the plan to house nearly 200,000 Hin­dus in new town­ships as a con­spir­acy to cre­ate communal di­vi­sion by sep­a­rat­ing the re­gion’s pop­u­la­tion along re­li­gious lines.

The is­sue of re­turn­ing Hin­dus sparks high emo­tion in the mostly Mus­lim re­gion. Many of the Hin­dus, known as Pan­dits, fled af­ter a re­bel­lion erupted in 1989 that they be­lieved was aimed at wip­ing them out.

Mus­lims in the re­gion, long un­happy with In­dian rule, deny that Hin­dus were sys­tem­at­i­cally tar­geted, and say In­dia moved them out while cast­ing Kash­mir’s free­dom strug­gle as Is­lamic ex­trem­ism.

“Kash­miri Pan­dits are part and par­cel of our so­ci­ety. We will live to­gether, but we will not al­low sep­a­rate town­ships for them,” said Mo­hammed Yasin Ma­lik, who leads a po­lit­i­cal group push­ing for in­de­pen­dence from In­dia.

He com­pared the pro­posed town­ships to Is­raeli-type set­tle­ments, and said no one should be al­lowed “to turn Kash­mir into an­other Pales­tine.”

Kash­miri Mus­lims and Hin­dus lived to­gether peace­fully for cen­turies be­fore a 1947 war be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan left Kash­mir di­vided be­tween the two as they gained in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tain. Within a decade, how­ever, di­vi­sions emerged as many Mus­lims be­gan mis­trust­ing In­dian rule and de­mand­ing in­de­pen­dence or a full merger with neigh­bor­ing Pak­istan.

While the 1989 Mus­lim re­bel­lion was largely sup­pressed, at least half a mil­lion In­dian troops re­main sta­tioned in Kash­mir, and an­tiIn­dia sen­ti­ment still runs deep.

This week’s protests erupted af­ter In­dian Home Min­is­ter Ra­j­nath Singh asked the re­gion to set aside land for build­ing new town­ships for Hin­dus mi­grat­ing back to the Kash­mir Val­ley.

On Satur­day, roads were al­most de­serted while busi­nesses and schools shut down. Armed po­lice and para­mil­i­tary sol­diers in riot gear pa­trolled and laid ra­zor wire at ma­jor in­ter­sec­tions.

Clashes broke out Fri­day be­tween stone- hurl­ing anti- In­dia pro­test­ers and gov­ern­ment forces fir­ing tear gas, leav­ing at least 20 peo­ple in­jured, in­clud­ing a pho­to­jour­nal­ist and eight po­lice­men.

Most Pan­dits have spurned pre­vi­ous re­set­tle­ment plans that of­fered jobs and re­lo­ca­tion fund­ing. They de­manded full se­cu­rity mea­sures and a sep­a­rate area set aside for them be­fore they re­turn.

Seek­ing to quell the con­tro­versy, the top elected of­fi­cial in the In­dian por­tion of Kash­mir said Hindu mi­grants would be set­tled where they had lived be­fore. “There will be no Is­rael-type clus­ters,” Mufti Mo­hammed Say­eed said.

The home min­is­ter told re­porters in New Delhi on Thurs­day, how­ever, that the cen­tral gov­ern­ment’s plan re­mained un­changed.

Ex­perts said the gov­ern­ment would be court­ing trou­ble by pur­su­ing any plan to es­tab­lish Hindu en­claves in the moun­tain­ous ter­ri­tory.

The pro­posed set­tle­ments “will be­come walls of in­se­cu­rity and hate,” said po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor Noor Mo­hammed Baba of Kash­mir Uni­ver­sity in Sri­na­gar, adding that any pro-In­dia party in Kash­mir would lose voter sup­port for en­dors­ing such a plan.

“In In­dia, too, it’ll have dan­ger­ously di­vi­sive fall­out,” he said. “There will be de­mands from many per­se­cuted mi­nori­ties such as Chris­tians or Mus­lims for sep­a­rate home­lands and pro­tected en­claves.”


(Top) Dis­placed Kash­miri Hin­dus, known as Pan­dits, burn an ef­figy rep­re­sent­ing Kash­miri sep­a­ratists for op­pos­ing In­dia’s plan to build town­ships for Hin­dus who fled a re­bel­lion in Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity ar­eas in the dis­puted Hi­malayan re­gion of Kash­mir, in New Delhi, Satur­day, April 11. (Above) Kash­miri Mus­lim men sit out­side a shop with shut­ters half closed dur­ing a strike in Sri­na­gar, In­dian con­trolled Kash­mir, Satur­day.

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