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Saturday, June 30, 2012

MHA official’s wife critical as stone pelters smash her head on highway

Crackdown continues as Srinagar reels under curfew, Valley under shutdown; normalcy in Kashmir to resume today

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Jun 29: With the Valley reeling under shutdown on the 5th consecutive day and curfew remaining in force in half of this capital city after devastation of the revered Dastgeer Saheb shrine in a fire on June 25th, wife of a senior official of the union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) sustained critical injuries today when stone pelters smashed her head on the highway near Fruit Mandi of Parimpora. While proceeding with its crackdown on ‘potential stone pelters’, Police have detained over 30 youngsters in the last two days even as today’s fresh incident of desecration of holy Quran in Lawaypora area subsided into reconciliation.

Informed sources told Early Times that a group of unruly youth surfaced on the national highway bypass between SKIMS Medical College, Bemina, and Fruit Mandi, Parimpora, and began pelting stones on the vehicles in movement after the Friday afternoon prayers concluded in local mosques. They intensified their offensive on sighting a white Ambassador car of the Security Wing of Jammu & Kashmir Police and threw a heavy stone on the vehicle. A middle aged woman in the rear seat was hit in her head and became unconscious. Bleeding profusely, she was rushed to SKIMS Medical College where doctors referred her to SMHS Hospital for specialized treatment.

Doctors treating the patient identified her as Mrs R P Sethi and told Early Times that she was the wife of Mr R P Sethi, Registrar General in MHA. Police sources, however, said that Mr Sethi was holding the rank of an Under Secretary or Deputy Secretary in MHA and claimed that details of the incident were not available immediately. However, doctors on duty said that according to the statement of her husband, driver and PSO, who were all in the car returning to Srinagar from Gulmarg, Mrs Sethi had been hit critically in her head. Her head was smashed by the stone that broke the targeted vehicle’s windscreen. They said that X-Ray and CT scans indicated that she did not require specialized neurosurgery, though she had suffered considerable blood loss and was vomiting.

Sources late this evening said that Mrs Sethi received 11 stitches in her wounds in the head but was discharged as her husband insisted that he would fly to New Delhi and arrange her further treatment in the union capital.

Reports of stray incidents of stone pelting and clashes of thin groups of youngsters with Police poured in from six places in downtown Srinagar and a couple of places more in Baramulla and Anantnag districts. One minor incident was also reported from Sopore.

Sources said that in its continued crackdown on the ‘potential stone pelters’, as many as 30 youngsters had been picked up and detained in Srinagar, Baramulla and Anantnag districts in the last 48 hours. Most of these detainees were reportedly residents of the tense downtown Srinagar.

In apprehension of disturbance on the day of ‘Khanyar Chalo’ call from Saddar Mufti, Mohammad Bashiruddin, and Chairman of Peoples Political Party (PPP), Hilal Ahmad War, authorities today enforced curfew in half of the downtown. Police and CRPF deployments did not permit any civilian movement. While the Police-protected Mufti was not allowed to move out of his residence and most of the separatist leaders continued in ‘house arrest’, War began marching alongwith his party activists from his residential area of Maisuma, Lalchowk, towards the site of the devastated shrine of Khanyar. He was soon captured by Police, beaten up severely and whisked away for detention to his home in Maisuma. Reports said that War, two of his brothers and six other PPP activists sustained injuries in their clash and resistance with Police.

On another call from a newly formed umbrella of Muslim clergymen, Muttahida Ullema-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat-wa-al-Jamaat (MUAS), the capital city of Srinagar and rest of the Valley observed a near-total shutdown. As MUAS had urged the Kashmiri Muslims to remain peaceful all through registering their protest over gutting of the police-protected shrine, there was no major disturbance today. Reports said that almost all the shops, business establishments and many of the private and government offices, banks and petrol pumps remained closed. Transport was almost fully off the road, though a small section of private vehicular traffic plied in several areas.

Officials maintained that there was no curfew in Valley. According to them, only section 144 CrPC was enforced by law and order machinery so as to ensure that the public properties were not damaged and the huge rush of tourists was not disturbed by mischief mongers.

Sources in Department of Tourism, nevertheless, claimed that 4 to 5% decrease had been witnessed in booking of hotels and houseboats as some groups had either postponed or cancelled their scheduled programme of arrival in Srinagar since Monday last. However, there was no report of any tourist fleeing back to New Delhi or other places under fear or apprehension of disturbance.

Even as most of the separatist outfits, including both factions of Hurriyat, JKLF and other groups, did not seem to be proactive in sustaining trouble, authorities have remained tense over the initiative of Sadar Mufti and Hilal War.

 Resume business
In a significant development today, Abdul Hamid Punjabi, President of the leading traders’ organisation, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, appealed its members and the people in general to resume normal business activity from tomorrow. Mufti Bashiruddin too made it clear separately that there would be no shutdown tomorrow onwards on the Khanyar inferno.

In their separate statements, Mufti Bashiruddin and MUAS have called upon the government to release all of Kashmir’s shrines from control of the state-run Wakf Board and give it fully into the custody of Muslim clergymen. Although, Government has not responded to their demand and seems to be in no mood to pass management of the shrines to a non-official body, by all the indications available, commercial traffic, government offices, businesses and educational institutions would function normally from tomorrow.

As the authorities remained encumbered with apprehension of trouble at Khanyar and other places, early morning reports today said that miscreants had barged into a place of worship of Shia Muslims at Gund Hassibhat, near the highway village of Lawaypora, around midnight last and torched an Alam Sharief. Pages of the holy Quran were found torn off and scattered around the mosque. It led to considerable tension in Lawaypora area, close to Srinagar-Muzaffarbad highway, about 10 Kms from Srinagar.

Hundreds of people from both Shia as well as Sunni sects today gathered to condemn the act of desecration. They staged protest and marched to the highway but returned soon after DC Srinagar, Baseer Khan, and SSP Srinagar, Syed Ashiq Bukahri, assured them on the spot that the mischief mongers would be got identified and punished under law. They asserted that a criminal matter had been immediately registered at Police Station of Parimpora.

Late afternoon reports said that members of the both sects resolved to fight jointly all the elements “who are bent upon generating sectarian and communal divide and hatred in Kashmir”.

After similar incident in Bandipore last fortnight and perishing of Dastgeer Saheb shrine at Khanyar in Srinagar, it was third successive attempt to creating trouble and destabilizing 20-month-long peace in the Valley.

High level meeting
Meanwhile, taking serious notice of the repeated incidents of desecration and devastation of shrines and mosques since last fortnight, Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir, Dr Asgar Hassan Samoon, took a high level meeting this evening with Police and civil administration. Sources said that almost all the DCs, SSPs and SPs participated in the meeting. Participants deliberated in detail over the fresh attempts of damaging the Valley’s shrines, mosques and other centers of faith. Sources said that while a comprehensive security and surveillance programme was being chalked out, heads of Police and civil administration at district level were directed to introduce night patrolling around all sensitive spots by Police and security forces.


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