Feb 10, 2009

Kashmir sees worst communal tension in decades

Occupied Kashmir is facing a shortage of food, fuel and medicine as the violence-hit region is gripped by the worst Hindu-Muslim tensions in decades, locals say.Angry protesters in Hindu-dominated Jammu have been attacking trucks ferrying food, drugs and other essential supplies to the Muslim-majority valley, seeking to impose an economic blockade and defying a curfew.Radical Hindu groups have told Muslims living in Jammu to leave and the latter’s houses have been set ablaze.Meanwhile in Srinagar, urban hub of a 19-year movement against New Delhi’s occupation of the disputed region, brick-hurling Muslims have been staging running battles with police and the city has been paralysed by strikes.Some residents say they have never seen the region so divided.“Even at the insurgency’s peak we never faced such a grim situation. These religious riots are the worst I remember,” said shopkeeper Manzoor Ahmed, 50.“They’ve driven a wedge between Hindus and Muslims who were living as brothers.”The latest turmoil in which three Hindus have been killed in the past week erupted after authorities reneged on a plan to transfer land to a Hindu trust.The government backed down on the plan after days of protests by Muslims who charged it was the start of “Hindu colonisation” left six dead and hundreds injured. The Congress-led regional regime said it devised the plan to transfer land to the shrine trust as pilgrim numbers were rising and more shelters were needed.The state government collapsed over the issue last month after its main ally withdrew support and the scenic region has been put under federal rule.The row has given new life to the freedom struggle and stoked divisions in Kashmir which was enjoying a lull in violence against the backdrop of India’s peace process with Pakistan to settle the region’s future.“This is the most polarised situation I’ve seen in a generation,” said Omar Abdullah, head of the Kashmir-based National Conference Party.India’s Premier Manmohan Singh held an all-party meeting late Wednesday in a bid to defuse the tensions but there was no concrete progress.Hospitals in the Kashmir valley say they are running out of medicine due to the blockade and fear a rise in deaths of children and elderly. Kashmiri farmers are complaining their produce is rotting as they cannot transport it to New Delhi and beyond. Despite army efforts to clear the road, hundreds of trucks are stranded on the 300km highway to the valley that is the only surface link between occupied Kashmir and the rest of India, traders say.

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