Church officials condemn killing of Hindu pilgrims

12-07-2017
UCAN

A bus carrying pilgrims travelling in Jammu and Kashmir state’s Anantnag district was caught in a crossfire when suspected Islamic militants July 10 attacked an army patrol there, police chief Muneer Khan told reporters. 

In the same area in 2000, militants deliberately killed 21 people during the annual pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave, located 3,800 meters above sea level, which houses a nine-foot-tall ice sheet considered to be the symbol of lord Shiva.

Khan, however, said the latest attack was aimed at security forces and not pilgrims.

Islamic militants, who work to separate the Muslim-dominated state from Indian rule, have taken up arms against the Indian army working to suppress the movement. Often militant attacks are viewed as an attack by Muslims on Hindus, escalating tension among local people.

The Indian bishops’ conference office in New Delhi condemned the attack.

The latest "attack is another sign of the flames of violence that seem to be unfortunately engulfing the country," said a statement from Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.

The statement said the church is "deeply worried" by the sectarian violence that is being "fanned" over several parts of the country and appealed for "all concerned to restore peace."

"A nation cannot progress if it divides itself on the basis of caste, creed and religion," it said.

Officials in Jammu and Srinagar Diocese that covers the entire state have also termed the incident as an attack on the very idea of a Kashmir known for its hospitality and religious tolerance. Diocesan spokesperson Father Saiju Chacko told ucanews.com that "Kashmiri society does not identify with the militant ideology and hence every effort must be made to diffuse tensions on religious lines."

Kashmir’s chief religious cleric Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and other separatist leaders including Syed Ali Geelani and Yasin Malik have termed the attack "a conspiracy against Kashmir’s freedom movement." 

"This incident goes against the very grain of Kashmiri ethos," the leaders said in a joint statement.

The pilgrimage has been "going on peacefully for centuries and is part of our yearly rhythm and will remain so. Our heart goes out to the families of the bereaved and we express our heartfelt condolences to them," the leadership said.

For more than 60 days each year, between July and August, over half a million Hindus take the perilous five-day trek, known as the Amarnath Yatra, to pay homage to lord Shiva, the destroyer god in the Hindu trinity.

So far, 44 pilgrims have been killed by militant groups during various attacks in Kashmir. Following the killings in 2000, six pilgrims were killed in 2001 and eight pilgrims were killed the year after that.

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