Two thirds in Indian Kashmir want independence: poll

Nov 30, -0001
SRINAGAR: About two thirds of residents in India-administered Kashmir want independence for their region, with less than one in ten seeking a merger with Pakistan, a survey showed Sunday.

The Kashmiri region is administered separately by India and Pakistan, with the Indian part subject to an insurgency and violent separatist movement for the last 20 years that has claimed an estimated 47,000 lives.

The poll, conducted for the Sunday Hindustan Times newspaper, showed that 66 percent of respondents in the Kashmir valley wanted "complete freedom to entire Jammu and Kashmir as a new country".

Jammu and Kashmir is the far northwestern state of India that includes the violence-wracked Muslim-majority Kashmir valley, the Hindu-majority region of Jammu and the mostly Buddhist Ladakh area.

Only six percent in Kashmir wanted a "complete merger of the entire Jammu and Kashmir in Pakistan."

The desire for independence for the state is not shared in the Jammu and Ladakh parts however, where 76 percent and 70 percent wanted a "complete merger" of the state into India.

Kashmir has a special status under the Indian constitution and was initially autonomous after partition of the subcontinent in 1947, though much of its autonomy has slowly been eroded.

Respondents were also asked who was to blame for a current wave of unrest in the Kashmir area where young stone-throwers have clashed with security forces for the last three months.

Seventy protesters and bystanders -- some children -- have been killed, mostly by security forces who have fired on demonstrations.

In Kashmir, 56 percent blamed India for the unrest, while 44 percent of those asked in the "rest of India" thought neighbour and implacable foe Pakistan was responsible for stirring up trouble.

Majorities in all areas concurred that Indian forces should not use bullets against protesters, with 96 percent saying it was wrong in Kashmir, and 85 percent in the rest of India.

Two thirds thought it was wrong in Jammu, while 31 percent said it was acceptable.

The poll was conducted by Team CVoter and canvassed 2,369 people.

On Sunday, Indian security forces enforced a strict curfew in much of Kashmir, a day after prayers marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan erupted into protests.

Thousands, including women and children, marched through the city and held demonstrations at its historic business centre.

Protesters hoisted green Islamic and Pakistani flags atop a clock tower and later police blamed them for setting fire to a government building that housed the offices of the force's crime branch and power development department.

Separatists, who led Saturday's protests, blamed "anti-movement elements" for setting fire to the building and called for a probe into the arson.

Police said they had imposed a curfew on Sunday to prevent further violence.

The Muslim-majority Kashmir region has been fought over by India and Pakistan since the partition of British-ruled India in 1947, with the region now cut in two along a UN-monitored line of control. AGENCIES




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