Kashmiri Hindus hold festival for first time in 18 years

October 23, 2007

Kashmir policeman guards Hindu religious festival in SrinagarSome international crises drag on so long that outsiders can forget what life in the area was like before the unrest began. Look at Kashmir, the beautiful mountain region split by war between India and Pakistan at Partition in 1947. The Muslim separatist unrest in Indian Kashmir flared up again in 1989 and led to clashes 10 years later that threatened to spark a full war between the two nuclear states. These years of unrest have fanned tension and suspicion between the majority Muslim population and the minority Hindus and Sikhs. But peace efforts in recent years have brought the violence down to the point where the Hindus could revive a religious tradition they dared not celebrate publicly for 18 years. The violence is not over, as our photo of the police protection for the ceremony vividly shows, but progress is being made.

As our Srinagar correspondent Sheikh Mushtaq wrote,

Hundreds of chanting Hindus burnt a huge effigy of a demon king to mark one of their biggest festivals for the first time in Kashmir since Muslim militants launched a revolt 18 years ago.

The celebrations late on Sunday came at the end of the nine-day Dusshera festival, which celebrates god-king Ram’s victory over the mythological king Ravana, symbolising the triumph of good over evil.

Although the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley is home to about 10,000 Hindus, they had stopped celebrating Dusshera in the open due to fear of Islamist militants who targeted the community after the anti-India insurgency erupted in 1989.

But with militant violence falling to an all-time low this year, more than 400 Hindus, known as Kashmiri Pandits, marched through the streets of Srinagar, Kashmir’s summer capital, and burned Ravana’s effigy in a highly guarded cricket stadium.

Read the full story here.

This doesn’t mean fighting is not continuing out in the hills. As our colleagues in India reported on October 8, more than 26 separatist guerrillas and seven soldiers were killed in fierce firefights in the first eight days of the month before the Pakistan-based United Jihad Council declared a three-day truce to celebrate the end of Ramadan.

Tourism, which would be a valuable moneyspinner for the region if public safety were better assured, has also suffered badly. Check out a video by our television producer Stefanie McIntyre:

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