SRINAGAR, India – Police on Friday fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of people protesting a government plan to build townships for hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Hindus who fled the Indian portion of Kashmir after the outbreak of insurgency in 1989.
There were no immediate reports of injuries as the protesters chanting pro-independence slogans marched toward the city center, Lalchowk, in Srinagar, the main city in Indian Kashmir.
As government forces dispersed them, scores of youth regrouped and hurled rocks at them, a police officer said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
They oppose the government plan to build new townships in the region for nearly 200,000 Hindus, known as Pandits, who migrated to Hindu-dominated areas in Jammu region and other parts of India in 1990.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and residents in India's portion strongly favor merger with Pakistan or independence.
Separatist leaders called the townships plan "a conspiracy to create settlements on religious lines" and called for protests after Friday prayers and a shutdown on Saturday.
Mohammed Yasin Malik, chairman of the pro-independence Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front, compared the proposed townships with Israeli-type settlements.
He said such a step would only create hatred and disgust between Hindus and Muslims. "We will not allow anybody to turn Kashmir into another Palestine. They (Pandits) are owners of this land as we are, and we welcome them to live in a composite society along with their Muslim brothers."
Malik and at least a dozen other activists were detained while leading the protest demonstration. They are likely to be freed later Friday.
Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, the top elected official of the Indian portion of Kashmir, sought to quell the controversy by saying that the Hindu migrants would be settled in places where they had lived before leaving and "there will be no Israel-type clusters."
India's Home Minister Rajnath Singh met Sayeed in New Delhi on Tuesday and asked him to provide land for townships for the migrants in the Kashmir valley.
On Thursday, Singh said the plan was unchanged.
"I don't want to go into details. Whatever decision was taken by the central (federal) government for the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits ... the decision remains the same," Singh told reporters in New Delhi.
An estimated 68,000 people have died in the insurgency and ensuing crackdown by Indian forces. With the rebellion now largely suppressed, most resentment of Indian rule is expressed through street protests.