Srinagar: The assault on a pony owner by the members of a non-local community kitchen sparked fierce clashes on Friday in Baltal base camp for Amarnath Yatra in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district. At least two dozen people, including troopers and policemen, were injured and scores of tents torched even as forces burst teargas canisters and fired warning shots to contain the situation. Meanwhile, the Yatra has been suspended.
The trouble started at the Baltal base camp in the wee hours Friday when a ponywalla owner identified as Naib Khan of Gutli Bagh was stabbed by two non-locals of a community kitchen after he refused to take a pilgrim to Amarnath cave, eyewitnesses told Kashmir Reader.
They said Khan was beaten up and stabbed with a knife by Rahul Kumar and Rohit Sharma, both residents of Sirhand, Punjab, who work as volunteers with Shri Amarnath Barfani Seva Dal, a community kitchen run for the pilgrims.
Khan was removed to the base camp hospital. However, the doctors there referred him to Srinagar for specialized treatment.
“When the word about the assault spread at the base camp, scores of local tent owners, ponywallas and vendors staged protests demanding the arrest of the accused. Angry protesters also pelted stones on the community kitchen. This led to intense clashes between the two sides,” Nisar Ahmad of Kangan, who runs a tent service at Baltal, told Kashmir Reader.
He said the situation took an ugly turn when paramilitary CRPF troopers joined the members of the non-local community kitchen and went on a rampage. “The rampaging troopers thrashed the locals and also set scores of tents on fire,” Ahmad said.
“The locals couldn’t see their tents on fire. They got furious and in retaliation torched six non-local community kitchens. The loud explosions of LPG cylinders lying at the kitchens triggered panic at the base camp,” Ahmad said.
He said the troopers used batons, burst numerous teargases and fired scores of shots in the air while chasing the protesters. He said the policemen who were trying to diffuse the tension had also to bear the brunt of troopers.
Besides the base camp, protests against the CRPF high handedness were also held along the Srinagar-Leh highway. The highway was blocked by protesters demanding the arrest of the accused who stabbed the pony owner, reports said.
Eyewitnesses said that at least two dozen people, half of them troopers and policemen were injured in the violent protests. The authorities had to press 18 fire tenders into service to douse the flames that covered the base camp in black smoke.
Meanwhile, a spontaneous shutdown was observed in Sonmarg, Kangan, Gagangeer and Kulan when the news of alleged CRPF high handedness spread. At Kulan, forces lobbed teargas canisters and fired warning shots to disperse the people, who were protesting against the arson at Baltal.
Soon after the incident, a high level delegation led by Minister for PHE, Irrigation and Flood Control, Sham Lal Sharma, Principal Secretary to Governor (CEO SASB), Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, reached the spot to assess the situation.
“The minister also directed the administration to enquire into the matter and take stern action against the culprits as per the law,” an official spokesman said.
A local news agency quoting eyewitnesses said that CRPF men fired warning shots when angry protesters hurled stones at the chopper carrying Inspector General of Police (IGP) Kashmir, Abdul Gani Mir, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) central Kashmir, Afhad-ul Mujtaba, and Inspector General of CRPF.
Meanwhile, CRPF refuted the allegations that its men went amok setting on fire tents and thrashing the locals.
“I have no information about the Baltal incident. CRPF is posted there to maintain law and order situation. Why would they indulge in arson? Why would they set tents on fire,” CRPF spokesman, Kishore Prasad, told Kashmir Reader.
Meanwhile, six persons, including two troopers, two officials of the Amarnath Shrine Board and the two Punjab residents, accused of stabbing the pony owner have been arrested by police for indulging and instigating violence.
“Some of them were caught red handed in putting tents on fire,” a local news gathering agency quoting a top police official said.
A police spokesman in a statement said that a “law and order situation had aroused because of some minor squabble between some people in Baltal Yatra camp.”
“The situation was brought under control without any injuries to anyone. However some tents and a few langars have caught fire. Police and fire service departments are on job to control the fire,” the spokesman said, adding that “nobody was seriously injured. All have been provided first aid. Most of them have been discharged.”