Authorities suspended the Amarnath Yatra on Saturday morning to avoid any possible tensions in Kashmir Valley following the death of Burhan Wani, a top Hizbul Mujahideen commander killed by security forces a day earlier.
While a new batch of devotees were stopped from making the pilgrimage, curfew was imposed in part of Srinagar as hundreds gathered to attend the funeral procession in Tral, Pulwama, where Wani was from.
Protests had erupted on Friday as news of Wani’s killing spread, with people pelting stones at police men, burning tyres and blocking the Srinagar-Anantnag highway.
On Saturday, authorities closed off the Srinagar-Jammu national highway to traffic, and trains connecting Baramulla in Kashmir region to Banihal town in Jammu were suspended.
“As a precautionary measure, we did not allow any batch from Bhagwati Nagar base camp this morning. Around 1,700 pilgrims are in the base camp,” said Jammu deputy commissioner, Simrandeep Singh, who is also the nodal officer of the Yatra in Jammu.
Considering the restrictions in place, Singh said the new arrivals of pilgrims would be adjusted across other community halls in Jammu. Meanwhile, pilgrims travelling in private vehicles may be stopped at Banihal and Ramban on the Kashmir highway.
“We are monitoring the situation,” he added.
A top official from Kashmir said that nearly 18,000 pilgrims on the twin axis of Pahalgam and Baltal might be kept at the base camps and allowed to move only when the situation is considered safe.
Clampdown in the Valley
With security forces expecting large scale agitation over Wani’s death, restrictions were imposed in the entire district of Pulwama and in the towns of Ananatnag, Shopian, Pulgam and Sopore, officials said.
Further, areas falling under seven police stations in Srinagar, including Nowhatta, Khanyar, Rainawari, MR Gunj, Safakadal, Maisuma and Kralkhud, were put under curfew.
Authorities also suspended mobile internet services in the Valley to check anti-social elements and activity.
Schools were shut down and all school board exams scheduled for the day were postponed.
As crowds swelled at Wani’s funeral, roads leading to his village Sharifabad in Tral (south Kashmir) were blocked, a senior J-K Police officer said.
“But it isn’t only the funeral we need to worry about. He (Wani) fired the imaginations of Kashmiri youth and we will have to watch out for those who might want to step into his shoes,” added the officer.
The 21-year-old militant had become notoriously popular for his social media videos calling on youth in Kashmir to join militancy and the cause of an independent Valley. He was killed in an encounter on Friday after being cornered in Bumdoora village of Kokernag by a joint team of police and army. Two other militants were also killed in the operation.
(With inputs from agencies)