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Political Unrest Flares In India-Controlled Kashmir


Kashmir, the Himalayan territory in India, a constant subject of dispute, is in turmoil again. Troops are on the streets of the main city Srinagar, enforcing a curfew. Shops, schools, and businesses are shut, and there's also a general strike. Here's NPR's Philip Reeves.

PHILIP REEVES: The wooden houseboats that float motionless on the glassy waters of Dal Lake should be full of tourists. Srinagar, the tumbledown city around the lake shores, should be a hive of activity amid the vast silence of the surrounding Himalayas. That's how it was in the Kashmir Valley a couple of decades ago. A few months ago, it seemed to be going back to that. Not anymore.

Over the last few weeks, Kashmir has seen some of the biggest demonstrations in years. Vast crowds of Muslims who form the majority in the valley have taken to the streets to demand an end to Indian rule. The security forces have shot dead several dozen, including five in the last two days. The dispute over Kashmir lies at the core of more than 60 years of acrimony between India and Pakistan. Each controls part of it.

Now, after four years of trying to make peace, trouble in Kashmir is spoiling relations once again. So what's gone wrong? The story begins in a mountain cave to the south. The cave's worshipped by Hindus as a shine to Lord Shiva. Every year, vast numbers of pilgrims trek up the mountainside to worship there. The shrine's run by a Hindu trust.

Not long ago the state government promised to give that trust some forest land near the cave. Leaders of Kashmir's Muslims were furious. They saw this as an attempted to alter the demographic balance in favor of Hindus. The government changed its mind and took the land back. Then the Hindus were furious.

In Jammu, in the south of the state where Hindus form the majority, crowds attacked trucks on the highway to the Kashmir Valley. The Muslims in the valley saw this as an economic blockade. This relatively obscure dispute has turned into something much bigger. Kashmir's separatist movement has received a huge boost, and a new generation of young Kashmir Muslims has been mobilized.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.