Kashmir bans Muslim gatherings, allows Hindu pilgrimage
India bans Kashmir Muslim religious gatherings due to coronavirus but Hindu pilgrimages continue
Officials in the Muslim-majority state banned all gatherings due to Covid-19 concerns but controversially allowed a Hindu pilgrimage to take place.
India has banned all religious gatherings in Kashmir, including Muslim ones, but allowed a Hindu pilgrimage to take place despite rising coronavirus deaths and active lockdown measures.
A government order in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir meant the regional administration prohibited all social and religious gatherings, but a Hindu pilgrimage was reportedly exempt from the ruling.
Hindus will be allowed time to visit a shrine in Amarnath cave at an elevation of 3,888 metres in the Phalgam area of south Kashmir.
The cave houses a Shiva Lingam, a holy symbol for Hindus across the world.
Authorities said the pilgrimage will be done in a "restricted manner" beginning at the end of the month, and they added 500 Hindu pilgrims will be allowed per day.
The region's Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam addressed a meeting in the Indian Supreme Court and insisted Covid-19 restriction measures will be adhered to.
The period of time for the pilgrimage has been reduced from 42 days to 15, but critics have warned people coming from other Indian states with more coronavirus infections will carry the the virus into the region.
Entrants to the region will be sampled, tested, and quarantined.
"Already we have more than 8,000 cases here, and from the last three days, more than 20 deaths have taken place," a resident doctor dealing with Covid-19 cases told Anadolu Agency.
"I ask the government if we can afford this crisis more."
Jammu and Kashmir have been under lockdown for 11 months.
The decision to allow a Hindu pilgrimage only in the Muslim-majority state could cause problems in the region, which has been offset by violence.
Despite the coronavirus outbreak, violence has escalated in Kashmir in recent months as India steps up its counterinsurgency operations.
At least 143 rebels, 54 government troops and 32 civilians have been killed in more than 100 military operations across Kashmir since January, the Jammu-Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, a prominent local rights group, said in a recent report.
India and Pakistan both claim the territory in its entirety. Kashmiris support the rebels' goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the anti-India rebels. Pakistan denies this, saying it offers only moral and diplomatic support to the militants and to Kashmiris who oppose Indian rule.
Rebels have been fighting Indian rule since 1989. About 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.