SRINAGAR, India, June 25 Fire gutted one of the
most revered Sufi Muslim shrines in the Indian part of the
divided Kashmir region on Monday sparking clashes between police
and angry Muslim protesters, witnesses said.
Indian Kashmir has long been plagued by violence over a
campaign by some of its mostly Muslim residents, helped by
supporters in neighbouring Pakistan, to break away from India.
Indian authorities say rebel violence has recently fallen to
its lowest level since the anti-India revolt broke out in 1989,
but Monday's clashes will be a reminder of how volatile the
region can be.
At least six people were hurt in Kashmir's main city of
Srinagar when police fired teargas at stone-throwing protesters
enraged over the destruction of the 350-year-old wooden shrine
which housed a relic of Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jeelani, an 11th
century Sufi saint, police said.
Rioters torched a fire engine and threw stones at
firefighters and some members of the media.
"After morning prayers, fire started from the roof top of
the shrine. We're still trying to determine the cause," said
Farooq Ahmad, a police official at the scene.
"The holy relic of the Sufi saint is safe and has been
Police sealed off roads leading to the shrine where hundreds
of men and women had gathered, many of them wailing and crying.
"I feel like I've lost everything," cried a 45-year-old
woman, Shameema Akhtar, tears rolling down her cheeks.
Muslim militants spearheading the anti-India campaign in
Kashmir have in the past tried to enforce a radical form of
Islam, banning beauty parlours, cinemas and liquor shops, as
well as asking women to wear the veil.
But they have had little success in a region where people
mostly follow Sufiism, a gentle, mystic tradition of Islam.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the years of
strife in the region that both of the nuclear-armed rivals,
India and Pakistan, claim. Pakistan controls part of Kashmir in
(Reporting by Sheikh Mushtaq; Editing by Robert Birsel)