HELD SRINAGAR: At least 16 Hindu pilgrims were killed and many more injured on Sunday in a bus crash in northern India, police said, just days after gunmen shot dead eight worshippers making the same holy visit.
The bus plunged into a gorge in occupied Jammu and Kashmir, the state where hundreds of Hindus make the annual pilgrimage to a Himalayan cave revered as the abode of the god Shiva.
“16 people are now confirmed dead, 19 with serious injuries and eight others with minor injuries,” the state’s police force said in a statement on Sunday. Some of the worst injured are being airlifted to hospital, while others were taken to local clinics for treatment, police said.
For the second time in a week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered his condolences to the pilgrims who died making the holy journey. “Extremely pained by the loss of lives of Amarnath Yatris (pilgrims) due to a bus accident in J&K,” the prime minister said, referring to the state by its initials.
“My thoughts are with the families of the deceased.” The tragedy came as another Hindu pilgrim died Sunday from injuries sustained six days ago when unidentified gunmen opened fire on a bus full of worshippers.
“One lady who was injured in the July 10 attack succumbed to her injuries in hospital,” S. P. Vaid, the state’s director general of police, told AFP. Her death takes the toll from Monday’s attack to eight, with seven women and one man killed in the late-night assault. Most of the victims were from the western state of Gujarat.
It was the worst such attack in the divided Himalayan region since 2000 when gunmen fired on a group of Hindu pilgrims, killing 32 people including two police officers. Indian occupation leaders and Kashmiri freedom fighters united in their condemnation of this latest attack. No group has yet claimed responsibility.
Authorities said the two-month pilgrimage season would continue after the attack on the bus, which was not part of the official convoy carrying pilgrims. Tens of thousands of Hindus from all over India travel to Kashmir every year to visit a phallus-shaped ice formation in the Amarnath caves that is worshipped as a symbol of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction.
The caves, which lie 3,900 metres high and can only be reached on foot or on horseback, are seen as a symbol of religious unity in the volatile region. The ice formation is said to have been discovered in 1850 by a Muslim shepherd who became a custodian of the shrine, along with two Hindu priests.