Issue date: 10/16/08 (Ka Leo)
Kashmir is a particularly beautiful, yet unstable, region in South Asia that lies between India and Pakistan. Over the past 60 years, both India and Pakistan have fought three wars over this territory. Kashmir has been grappling with incidents of violence since a separatist uprising in 1989 and now the recent spate of protests due to a controversial religious land transfer issue has added fuel to the fire.
On May 26, the Jammu and Kashmir Government, in consultation with the Indian government, reached an agreement to transfer 100 acres of forest land to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board. The board is responsible for the smooth and trouble-free pilgrimage to the holy cave shrine of Amarnath, and the acres were given in order to set up temporary shelters and facilities for Hindu pilgrims.
This evoked a huge controversy; demonstrators from the Kashmir Valley were against the land transfer, while protesters from the Jammu region supported it.At first, the people of Kashmir opposed the land transfer because they feared ecological imbalance in the region. The protesters later claimed that land transfer was an attempt to change the demographics of the valley.But the acre agreement is not the real issue, as far as protesters are concerned.
The people in the region have pent-up emotions and take advantage of any situation that arises. There are already thousands of acres of farmers' land under the occupation of the Indian Army in the valley. While farmers are still optimistic about getting back their land, it seems the Indian government is no longer interested in the reduction or withdrawal of troops from the valley. The land transfer has only helped to spread negative sentiment.Kashmir has been recognized by the U.N. as a disputed territory.
The origin of the problem in the valley is traced back to the non-implementation of the agreement made by the Indian government in 1947 when India and Pakistan won their independence from Britain. According to the agreement, the people of Kashmir were promised the right to self-determination by the first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru.
The various phases of self-determination, however, were always evaded by the Indian government. The valley has since become the bone of contention between the two neighboring countries.
The protesters also said that according to Article 370 of the agreement - which grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir - no non-Kashmiri can own land in the valley.
The recent row is thus a fight of Kashmiris for their rights.Thousands of people took part in the processions in which 40 people, including a separatist leader, were killed and hundreds were injured due to police firing. As the protests turned violent, the Congress-led government in the region came under extreme pressure from its main alliance party, the People's Democratic Party. The party threatened to withdraw support if the government did not revoke the land order.
Though the order was revoked, the Ghulam Nabi Azad government had to step down after the People's Democratic Party didn't lend support to his government and the governor rule was imposed in Jammu and Kashmir.The revocation of the order, on the other hand, provoked widespread protests in Jammu. Several people there were killed and many others injured in demonstrations. The people of Jammu, in support of the land transfer, enforced an economic blockade in the Kashmir Valley by stopping traffic on the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway.
The protest continued for 61 days, and on Aug. 31, a Jammu and Kashmir governor-appointed panel signed an agreement with the Hindu groups, who were leading the agitation in Jammu. According to the agreement, the shrine board would be making temporary use of 40 hectares of land during the "yatra" (pilgrimage) period.Although the new agreement has brought the situation under control in Jammu, it has provoked Muslims in Kashmir.
Though there was a lull in violence in the Kashmir Valley during the holy month of Ramadan, a string of violent incidents have taken place in the past few days. Recently, curfew was imposed in the valley and several separatist leaders were arrested in order to stop them from holding sit-ins in Lal Chowk, the heart of the capital city in Kashmir.The question is how many more lives must be lost before there is a complete end to violence in Kashmir?
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