SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – A Kashmiri separatist leader was among two people killed on Monday as police fired to stop traders from crossing into Pakistan to protest what they said was an economic blockade by Hindus, police said.
A land dispute has polarized Indian Kashmir, split between the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley and the Hindu-dominated region around Jammu city, severely curbing trade between the two areas.
As a result, traders are trying to sell their goods in neighboring Pakistan.
Sheikh Aziz, a senior separatist leader, was shot dead when he tried to lead thousands of traders into Pakistan, a Reuters photographer said.
Authorities imposed an indefinite curfew in Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir, to thwart further violence.
More than 100 protesters were also wounded as police fired at them and also closed a highway to Pakistan which the traders tried to use to ferry farm products they said were rotting because of the disruption of trade with the rest of India.
Police also detained more than 100 fruit growers and shut markets in Srinagar, where schools have been closed for the past eight days, a senior police officer said.
Hindus in Kashmir’s winter capital of Jammu, demanding the state government transfer forest land to a Hindu shrine trust, have attacked lorries carrying supplies to the Kashmir valley.
The land row has sparked some of Kashmir’s worst religious riots since a separatist Muslim revolt against New Delhi broke out in 1989. At least eight people have died and hundreds have been injured in protests.
On Monday, police fired tear gas shells and rubber bullets to stop thousands of protesters near Baramulla town, 70 km (44 miles) from the de facto border with Pakistan.
“We erected barricades at several places on the Srinagar- Muzaffarabad road,” said Sajjad Ahmad, a senior police officer, adding that as a precautionary measure police were not allowing any vehicles to use the road.
The dispute began after the Kashmir government promised to give forest land to the trust that runs Amarnath, a cave shrine visited by Hindu pilgrims. Many Muslims were enraged.
The government then backed down from its decision, which in turn angered many Hindus in Jammu, which is under curfew for most of past week.
In Jammu, shops were shut down by Hindus, as the protests entered the 42nd day on Monday. A nation-wide protest called by India’s main Hindu-nationalist opposition didn’t evoke any response in the rest of the country.
Muslim traders say the Kashmir valley was running short of essentials, including fuel and medicine while fruit-growers say their produce bound for markets in Indian cities was rotting.
“We have suffered a loss of at least 20 million rupees (about $475,000) since this agitation began,” said Mohammad Yousuf, president of Kashmir Fruit Growers Association. “And if the blockade continues it will be a disaster for us.”
Police also put top hardline Kashmiri leaders under house arrest from Sunday evening to stop them from leading the traders.
($1 = 42 rupees)