India has ordered a crackdown on the religious sacrifice of animals in Kashmir, appearing to invite spiking tensions in the majority-Muslim region just days before one of the Islamic world’s largest holidays.

Animal welfare officials released an order calling for the stopping of the “illegal killing/sacrifice of cows/calves, camels and other animals”.

The directive to the Indian-administered part of the disputed territory came less than a week before Muslims mark Eid ul-Adha by offering prayers and slaughtering livestock, usually a goat, sheep, a cow or a camel.

Religious leaders in the region condemned the order and residents predicted large protests.

Sentiment against Indian rule has run deep in the contested Himalayan region for decades. Many Muslim residents either seek independence, or unification with Pakistan, which controls the other part of the region. Both nuclear-armed rivals claim the territory in its entirety.

Tensions increased in August 2019 after Delhi revoked the region’s semi-autonomy. Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, has been accused of trying to alter the region’s demographics by increasing the proportion of Hindus. Elsewhere in India, his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party has been accused of pushing anti-Muslim policies and whipping up mob violence on minority groups.

“New Delhi is interfering in our religion,” said a local called Bashir Ahmad Thoker of north Kashmir’s Baramulla district.

“Sacrificing animals is mandatory for Muslims on Eid, but New Delhi wants to implement a Hindu nationalist agenda in Kashmir which we will resist at any cost."

“When we don’t interfere in the religion of other communities how can the Hindu government of Modi stop us from sacrificing animals?”

Eid al-Adha is a religious festival celebrated by Muslims worldwide to commemorate the willingness of Prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God

Credit: Dar Yasin
/AP

Another local, called Abdul Razaq, of Srinagar said: “The government should not force us to come to streets. We would prefer to die defending our religion, rather than accepting this diktat which is to deny us freedom of practising our religion.”

A statement by the Muttahida Majlis-e-Ulema group of clerics urged Delhi to “immediately revoke this arbitrary and discriminatory order and let the people of Kashmir celebrate Eid in keeping with its religious obligations and the spirit of the festival”.

This year’s Muslim holiday falls on July 21-23 in the region.

Generally, cows are considered sacred in Hindu-majority India, and slaughtering them or eating beef is illegal or restricted across much of the country, but the meat is widely available in Muslim-majority areas.

There have been several clashes with Indian forces in recent days

Credit: Dar Yasin
/AP

Since Mr Modi took power in 2014, India has seen a series of mob attacks on minority groups. Most have involved so-called cow vigilantes from extremist Hindu groups. They have usually targeted Muslims, who make up 14 per cent of India’s nearly 1.4 billion people. Hindus make up about 80 per cent of the population.

The victims have been accused of either smuggling cows for slaughter or carrying beef. At least two dozen people have died in such attacks.

One political analyst, who declined to be named for fear of government reprisal, suggested the BJP wanted to deliberately inflame Muslim violence in Kashmir so the party could capitalise on communal tensions to bring out the Hindu vote in upcoming state elections.

Another political analyst, Gowhar Geelani, said: “Banning the sacrifice of animals on Eid-ul-Adha is a message that neither the sentiments nor the religious freedoms of the Muslim community in Kashmir matters. What matters is the dictatorial diktat of the powerful politicians and bureaucrats of a particular faith.”

Indian troops said they had killed five suspected militants in two separate incidents earlier this week. In one incident, three suspected militants were killed in a shootout, triggering anti-India protests and clashes between troops and residents.

The Indian military said militants opened fire at soldiers and police as counterinsurgency troops surrounded a neighbourhood in the southern town of Pulwama on a tip that militants were hiding.