Killings dampen mood at Hindu festival in India

Killings dampen mood at Hindu festival in India-occupied Kashmir : GANDERBAL The threat of violence that has recently occurred in India-occupied Kashmir has dominated celebrations for an Hindu festival on Wednesday with a smattering of crowds their usual size, despite the heavy security measures to ward off concerns of the possibility of an attack.

The annual event is held on the premises of the Kheer Bhawani Temple which is located just a few kilometers from Srinagar and is an important religious event in the area’s Pandit community.

Hindu devotees gather during the annual ‘Mela Kheer Bhawani’ festival at a temple in Tullamulla village on the outskirts of Srinagar on June 8, 2022. (Photo by Tauseef MUSTAFA / AFP)

Pilgrims and worshippers typically present dairy products and Kheer to the holy spring in the Temple Complex, scattering flower petals, and lighting oil-filled earthen lamps as a symbol of reverence to the Kheer Bhawani goddess.

However, this year many people were at home, with some being worried about the murder by 12 Hindus as well as Sikhs who reside in the Srinagar valley in the past few weeks.

Killings dampen mood at Hindu festival in India

“I see much less crowd here compared to previous years,” said Kirti who traveled for hours to get to the temple with family members.

The route to the shrine was accompanied by soldiers with guns along the highway, while hundreds of paramilitary and police soldiers were stationed at the shrine to check visitors using metal detectors and X-ray machines.

“Obviously, some people are scared because of the recent targeted killings,” Kirti told the media.

“But I am happy we came again and see it’s not that unsafe.”

Tensions are high

The Indian-controlled Kashmir has seen decades of upheaval and turmoil since Kashmiris rebelled against the New Delhi government in 1989.

In the year 2019 Indian PM Narendra Modi overhauled the region’s special constitutional status, and also imposed the security chokehold that some critics believe has severely limited the civic life.

The tension has been high since when, and many have accused India of “settler colonialism” aimed at changing the demographics of the heavily militarized region.

Over the years Kashmir’s Pandits, a minority group, have long questioned their place within the volatile territory , as well as their relations with the Muslim majority, who generally favors the territory’s autonomy or the possibility of a union with Pakistan.

A large number of Pandits fled from occupied Kashmir from 1989 onwards.

The rash of murders that have occurred since the end of May have increased the community’s concerns about its security.

One of the victims included Rahul Bhat who was one of the Pandit who was employed by the government along with 10,000 others to assist with the relocation of residents of the community that have come back to their valley in recent times.

He was killed in his office, triggering massive protests from his colleagues who not returned to their jobs, and demanded relocation in “secure” locations outside the Kashmir valley.

“Boycotted to avoid fear’

Around 2,000 people took the journey for the Kheer Bhawani Shrine on Wednesday, only a tiny fraction of the crowds that were seen in previous years.

Sandeep Raina, a community representative, said that the majority of people who live in Pandit resettlement camps were not present in protest.

“Most boycotted because of fear and the government not meeting our demands,” the official declared.

People who came to the festival , nevertheless, appeared to be with a great attitude. Each year, the majority of the stalls at festivals are run by local Muslims selling gifts and items of worship for Hindu pilgrims. Ghulam Hassan was among several vendors who provided free flowers to people who worship.

“I have been doing it for six years,” he explained. “It’s about maintaining brotherhood and doing it brings me comfort.”

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