Srinagar: A revered 200-year-old shrine of Dastageer Sahib in the old city was destroyed on Monday in a devastating fire, triggering protests and clashes that left 50 people including 11 policemen injured.

The relics of the 11th century Muslim preacher, known as Ghaus-ul-Azam among the locals and revered worldwide, were however safe as these were retrieved from the fire-proof vault of the wooden shrine which was reduced to ashes. The relics contained a strand of hair from his beard and a skull cap.

The Jammu and Kashmir government ordered a probe into the fire incident by the Divisional Commissioner who has been asked to submit a report within a few days.
An official of the Disaster Management Cell said the fire broke out in the shrine of Syed Abdul Qadir Jeelani at Khanyar at around 6.30 AM and engulfed the entire complex within no time.

"The shrine was made of wood ... the fire spread quickly and the complex has been gutted," the official said.  The official said the relics of the preacher as also the hand written copies of holy Quran are safe.

Fire tenders were rushed to the spot but the blaze spread very fast and engulfed the shrine. The cause of the fire was not immediately known but police is investigating the possibility of sabotage.

Tension gripped the city following the fire and subsequent clashes as shopkeepers in several parts including Lal Chowk downed their shutters. The fire in the shrine triggered protests by locals.

Groups of protestors started pelting stones at fire tenders for their alleged "slow response" in controlling the blaze. The protestors later attacked the nearby Khanyar police station by pelting stones at it.

Police fired several rounds of tear smoke shells to disperse the protestors, an official said, adding over 50 people including 11 cops were injured in the clashes.

Several separatist groups called for a general strike from Tuesday over the incident.

Farooq Abdullah expresses shock

National Conference President and Union Minister Farooq Abdullah expressed shock over the fire and appealed to people to remain calm.

"Farooq Abdullah is deeply hurt by the devastating fire at the Dastageer Sahib Shrine but thanked God that the relics of the preacher, known as Ghaus-ul-Azam, including hand written copies of the Holy Quran are safe", a spokesman of National Conference said in a statement here.

The protestors also pelted stone at the motorcade of National Conference leader and Law Minister Ali Mohammad Sagar, who is a local MLA, when he tried to visit the spot soon after the fire broke out. However, there was no damage.

They also seized a fire tender but released it an hour later following an appeal by local elders, sources said.

Sagar said the Muslim Waqf Board will soon start reconstruction of the shrine and the mosque as per the old design. "The digital images of the design (of the shrine) are available with the Waqf Board and the work will start soon on it," he said.

Additional police personnel have been deployed in sensitive localities as a precautionary measure to maintain law and order, they said.

"Divisional Commissioner Kashmir (Asgar Samoon) will hold a probe into the unfortunate fire incident and submit a report to the government within a few days," Sagar told reporters.

The minister appealed to the people to cooperate with the government in maintaining peace in the area. "People should not pay any heed to rumours and maintain peace," he said.

He said the anger of the residents was justifiable to some extent which resulted in clashes, adding the situation was under control.

Several separatist groups called for a general strike even as two separatist leaders were roughed up by protestors during their visit to the scene.

Moderate Hurriyat Conference leaders Shabir Ahmad Shah and Nayeem Ahmad Khan were roughed up by protestors at Khanyar as they headed towards the gutted shrine complex.

The separatist leaders had to beat a hasty retreat from the spot.

J&K Governor expresses grief

"Governor Vohra was deeply saddened to learn about the serious damage caused by fire to the historical shrine of Dastgeer Sahib", an official spokesman said.

The spokesman said the Governor expressed "relief that the holy relics kept in this shrine are safe and secure".

State Finance Minister Abdul Rahim Rather and Agriculture Minister Ghulam Hassan Mir also expressed their "grief and shock" over the fire incident.

Both the ministers expressed "great satisfaction" that the "holy relics" and rare Quranic manuscripts have been saved.

CPI(M) state secretary and MLA Kulgam M Y Tarigami also expressed his "profound shock and grief" over the fire incident, the spokesman said.

J&K CM expresses sorrow

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has also expressed grief and sorrow over the fire incident at the revered shrine of Dastgeer Sahib at Khanyar.

"I am deeply saddened by this unfortunate incident and share the grief of the people", Omar said in a statement.

Opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has also expressed grief over the incident.

"The shrine represented the best of Kashmir’s value system and it was a focus of reverence for all residents of Kashmir, irrespective of religious or other considerations.

'The feeling of mourning and outrage at the loss among people is understandable and has to be respected", the party said in a statement after a meeting chaired by PDP patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.

The party said it was unfortunate that force was used against the "deeply hurt" people who were apparently outraged at the lack of prevention and firefighting arrangements at this priceless spiritual and heritage centre.


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