Budgam district in central Kashmir was tense on Monday after a mosque caught fire on Sunday night. It is the fifth incident of mysterious fire gutting a religious place since June 25 when a 245-year-old shrine caught fire in Srinagar.
"The mosque caught fire around 11.30pm on Sunday. Prayers were over when fire emerged from the mosque. The incident sparked protests in the morning. We were able to disperse the protesters," Budgam superintendent of police Uttam Chand said.
The fire damaged wooden frames, doors and windows on the second floor of the mosque, which is located in Ohangam village near Beerwah town in Budgam, 30 km away from Srinagar.
A complete shutdown was observed in the town. Hundreds of people from adjacent villages converged on Magam town on the Srinagar-Gulmarg highway, to protest against the incident. Tempers ran high as the incident occurred in the holy month of Ramzan.
"We have lodged an FIR and an inquiry is on to ascertain the cause of fire. We are looking into both aspects of accident as well as sabotage," said Singh.
The fresh incident has come just five days after a shrine was damaged by miscreants in the Tral area of south Kashmir. Five religious places have witnessed mysterious fire and desecration in the Valley since June 25 when the revered shrine of Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jeelani was gutted mysteriously in Srinagar.
Separatists see a pattern in it and accuse the state government of failure to provide security to religious places.
"Attempts of damage to revered Sufi shrines, like that of Tral, are part of a pattern. It seems sacred places are being deliberately targeted under a conspiracy. Such incidents highlighted the recklessness of the government towards protecting these sacred structures," said moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.
The Mirwaiz, who is also Kashmir's head priest, has asked people in general and mohalla committees in particular "to wake up to the situation."
Hardline Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani accuses the government of stoking a sectarian divide.
"These incidents are linked with the conspiracies to divide the Muslims and sabotage the ongoing freedom struggle in Kashmir," said Geelani.
He appealed to people to be ready to protect shrines, mosques and relics. "Carry out night patrolling wherever it is necessary," said Geelani.
Home minister Nasir Aslam Wani and state law minister Ali Muhammad Sagar were not available for their comments despite repeated attempts.
Mysterious fire incidents
June 25 Mysterious fire engulfed 249-year-old shrine of saint Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jeelani in Srinagar
June 29 Shrine belonging to Shia sect was damaged in a mysterious fire incident in Mirgund area of Baramulla district in north Kashmir.
July 15 Centuries-old Sufi shrine was damaged in mysterious fire at Ratsuna village in Budgam district of Central Kashmir.
July 19 Sufi shrine was attacked by miscreants in Tral area of in south Kashmir
July 23 Mosque belonging to Hanifiya sect damaged in mysterious fire in Budgam district