Muslims demand independent Kashmir as Indian police kill 13

Tension rises as thousands gather for funeral of separatist leader

Indian Kashmir has been convulsed by the biggest pro-independence rallies for two decades, with tensions between Muslims and Hindus spilling over into violence that has so far claimed 13 lives and left more than 100 people injured.

The deaths were a result of Indian police and troops firing on Muslim protesters who were defying a curfew imposed by the authorities following the killing of a high-profile separatist leader. In some of the worst violence in the region in recent years, there were at least a dozen shooting incidents as large numbers of Muslims ignored the curfew and took to the streets.

In Srinagar last night up to 10,000 people defied the curfew to bury the separatist leader, Sheikh Abdul Aziz, whose body had been taken to the city's main mosque.

Mr Aziz, a senior figure within the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a coalition of more than two dozen moderate religious and social groups campaigning for independence for Kashmir, was killed on Monday along with four other people when police fired into a crowd of Muslims protesting against what they said was a Hindu blockade of the road linking the Kashmir Valley to the rest of India. The protesters, up to 100,000 strong, were trying to march to the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir when the shootings took place.

The deaths are the latest violent twist in a summer of increasing tension in Kashmir that was initially sparked by a row over land being donated to a Hindu shrine. In June, faced by protests from Muslims, the state government reversed the decision it had taken to donate 99 acres of land to the Shri Amarnath shrine, a site of pilgrimage that draws thousands of Hindus a year from across India. In turn, the decision to reverse the donation angered Hindus in the state. Since then, tensions between the two communities have worsened, amid evidence that local politicians have sought to use the row to further their own interests.

As a result, not only have there been the largest demonstrations for independence in the past 20 years, but trade between the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley and the Hindu-dominated region around the city of Jammu, has been drastically curtailed. Muslims say the government is behind a blockade of a 185-mile link road that is leaving many communities low on food and medicine. They also complain that hundreds of truckloads of Kashmiri fruit are going to waste because they cannot be delivered and are rotting in the heat. The situation is so bad that producers are now demanding to be allowed to export their crops across the border to Pakistan.

"The first thing is that the whole event is very undesirable in terms of both the domestic situation in Jammu and Kashmir and its linkage with the larger bilateral peace process [between India and Pakistan]," C Uday Bhaskar, a strategic analyst, told Reuters. "I think this will have a bad impact and considering that Pakistan is going through bad turmoil now, the overall impact on the peace process will not be very positive."

Indian-administered Kashmir has long been a flashpoint for religious violence and an estimated 68,000 people have been killed in the past two decades as a multitude of militant groups have fought either for independence or a merger with Pakistan. But in the past couple of years a fragile peace had descended upon the state, to the extent that Indian authorities had begun once again to promote Kashmir as a tourist destination

After Sheikh Aziz was killed in Chehel, about 30 miles from the border between the two portions of Kashmir, the Indian authorities imposed the curfew.

At the burial last night of Mr Aziz and the four other people killed with him, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of Hurriyat and the most powerful separatist leader in Kashmir, told a huge crowd of mourners: "Sheikh Aziz's death is big loss to the Kashmir nation, we will take his mission to its logical end." Another leader of the organisation, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, also attended the funeral, defying both the curfew and house arrest.

As the crowd chanted for independence, Mr Farooq added: "Our struggle for complete independence from India will continue. No power on earth can deter us from achieving this."

Conflicts at the Hindu Shri Amarnath shrine

The Shri Amarnath shrine is located inside a remote mountain cave about 80 miles from Srinagar. The holy site is 12,000ft (3,658m) above sea level and contains a large, phallus-shaped icicle said to represent Lord Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction and rebirth.

Thousands of Hindu pilgrims come each year to pray at the shrine, one of the religion's most important sites, and the number is rising. There was concern last year that the high number of visitors and the impact of global warming were causing the icicle to melt at a faster rate than usual.

The government of Kashmir had intended to hand over about 100 acres of state land to the shrine board so that it could build facilities for the pilgrims, who walk more than 10 miles to worship before the representation of the deity. The government reversed the decision but said it would provide those facilities instead.

The annual pilgrimage to the site, said to be more than 5,000 years old, has been controversial. Many Muslims argue that Indian officials use the event, which lasts for two months, as a political statement to bolster their claim over the Himalayan region, which is divided between Pakistan and India but claimed by both. India denies the claim, saying it has never sought to promote Hindu migration to Jammu and Kashmir state, as it is formally known.

While the site is mentioned in ancient texts, it was lost for hundreds of years. Tradition has it that it was rediscovered about 150 years ago, somewhat ironically, by a Muslim shepherd who lost his sheep and found they had wandered into the cave.

Key events

1989: Armed resistance breaks out in Kashmir, with some groups demanding it joins Pakistan, while others call for independence.

1997: As India and Pakistan both celebrate 50 years of independence, the countries hold a series of diplomatic meetings.

1998: Stakes are raised as India's underground nuclear tests are followed by similar tests by Pakistan.

1999: Fighting breaks out as India launches air strikes against Pakistan-backed troops who enter Indian Kashmir.

2001: An attack by militants on the Kashmiri assembly in Srinagar – the capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir – kills 38. Delhi parliament is attacked and 14 are killed, including attackers. India blames Kashmiri militants backed by Pakistan.

2004: Peace initiative launched.

2008: With peace talks ongoing, more than 60 people are killed in a suicide bomb attack at the Indian embassy in Kabul. India, the US and Afghanistan accuse Pakistan of involvement, which it denies.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss