M A I N   N E W S

Srinagar tense as Sufi shrine goes up in flames
Blaze sparks clashes, injuring 20
Relics of Pir Dastageer Sahab safe
Ehsan Fazili & M Aamir Khan/TNS

Srinagar, June 25
A shrine devoted to Sufi saint Shaikh Syed Abdul Qadir Jeelani, known as Pir Dastageer Sahab, in the old city area of Srinagar was damaged in a fire today. The blaze triggered clashes that left 20 persons, including 10 policemen, injured. The cause of the fire was not immediately known.

The original shrine of the 11th century saint revered worldwide is in Baghdad. Pir Dastageer Sahab did not visit the Valley, but his holy relics (a strand of hair from his beard and a skull cap) were brought here by an Afghan traveller in 1806. The relics and a hand-written copy of the Quran were safe, said shrine caretaker Mir Syed Khalid Hassan Jeelani.

The shrine at Khanyar, known as Dastageer Sahab, caught fire around 6.20 am. The traditional architectural structure, made mostly of timber, was engulfed in flames in no time and a part of it was destroyed, sources said. Twenty-five fire tenders were pressed into service, but eyewitnesses alleged that all were not filled with water, which delayed operations and resulted in the shrine being reduced to ashes. Even as authorities were trying to look for causes of the fire, tension gripped the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir.

Blaming the authorities for the "late action" in tackling the fire, angry residents resorted to stone-pelting in the old city areas in the vicinity of the shrine.

A mob tried to attack the Khanyar police station, but police fired tear gas shells and resorted to a cane-charge. The situation was under control, a police spokesman said.

A shutdown was observed to mourn the incident in the old city areas, Lal Chowk and adjoining areas besides Sarai Bala, where another shrine of Dastageer Sahab is located.

Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, Asghar Samoon would probe the fire, while the State Muslim Wakf Board that looks after shrines and mosques would start its reconstruction immediately.

Governor NN Vohra expressed deep sadness over the damage caused by fire to the historical shrine. Expressing relief that the holy relics were safe, he hoped that work would begin soon to restore the revered shrine to its pristine glory.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, also chairman of the State Muslim Wakf Board, expressed grief and sadness over the incident. He appealed to the people to maintain calm.

Minister for Rural Development, Law and Parliamentary Affairs, Ali Mohammad Sagar, who represents Khanyar locality where the shrine is located, termed the fire incident as tragic.

Appealing to people to not pay heed to rumours, he said the shrine was damaged to a great extent, but the holy relics and copy of the Quran were safe as these were kept in a fireproof vault. Sagar said the Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, had been asked to “probe the incident within days”.

On reports of stone-pelting in the area following the incident, Sagar said that sentiments of the people were associated with the shrine. He said 25 fire tenders were pressed into service to douse the flames. “There is a firefighting mechanism… we are trying our best, but there are lapses at places,” Sagar said, in reply to a question on the complaints of “slow pace” of preventive measures.

Several separatist and religious organisations called for a bandh tomorrow to mourn the incident while Karwan-i-Islami, a conglomerate of 42 religious organisations, called for a two-day shutdown.





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