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J&K yatra aborted

Srinagar, July 31: The Omar Abdullah government today prevented a pilgrimage to the Kausarnaag lake by a group of Kashmiri Pandits, withdrawing permission at the last moment as parts of south Kashmir erupted in violent protests.

The Jammu-based All Kashmir Migrants Coordination Committee had announced the yatra two weeks ago claiming it was part of the traditional pilgrimage calendar till the outbreak of militancy.

Civil society and separatist groups deny the yatra’s historicity, allege it’s part of a Centre-backed ploy to “saffronise” Kashmir through spurious pilgrimages, and fear its likely effect on the ecology.

Kausarnaag lake, on the higher reaches of Kulgam, is a day’s trek from Aharbal, 75km from Srinagar and the last village accessible by road. The lake is a two-day trek from Jammu’s Reasi district, from where a yatra to it was started four years ago.

But the planned yatra from the Valley side prompted protests, with Hurriyat hawk Syed Ali Shah Geelani calling a Kashmir bandh today.

Several people were injured in clashes with security forces after residents tried to organise a parallel march to the lake to prevent the yatra. Kulgam and Shopian districts witnessed a shutdown.

Officials said some 40 Pandits, including women, were asked to return from Kulgam from where they planned to start the pilgrimage today.

“They were told the government had withdrawn permission,” an official said.

“The government has bowed before pressure from the separatists,” rued Vinod Pandit, president of the migrants’ committee that has claimed to “revive” several yatras in the past few years.

“This is shameful. We were not allowed to perform our religious duty.”

Officials said 600 pilgrims had left on the yatra from the Jammu side on Tuesday.