Catholics attend a service Dec. 10 inside the Holy Family Catholic Church in Srinagar, capital of violence-torn Kashmir. Catholics say this Christmas season there will be special prayers for peace in the region. (Photo by Umer Asif)
Christmas this year in India’s strife-torn northern Kashmir valley will feature special prayers for peace.
The region has suffered from three decades of secessionist Islamic violence and counter-insurgency brutality.
The 129-year-old Holy Family Catholic Church in Kashmir’s capital, Srinagar, had a subdued Christmas celebration in 2016 amid an upsurge in killings during the latter part of the year.
But Father Roy Mathew, priest of a parish under the Jammu- Srinagar diocese, said this year the church would hold prayers for an end of "bloodshed and mayhem".
The prayer initiative comes as the federal government seeks dialogue with all stakeholders to bring normalcy to Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state.
At least 343 people were killed in the state this year up until Dec. 10, according to media reports.
Christians are a tiny minority in a population 12 million people, numbering some 33,000, at least half of them Catholic.
Most Christians live in the Jammu area of the state, with the Kashmir valley having only some 7,000 Catholics.
Other churches and mission stations in the Valley are in far flung areas and most Catholics come to the main Holy Family Church for Christmas services.
Peter Soney, a parishioner based in Srinagar, told ucanews.com that the time had come when people of all faiths should pray in unison for peace in Kashmir.
"Uncertainty is going to take us nowhere," Soney, a former government official, told ucanews.com.
"We can at least pray to end it."
Violence began in Kashmir after Islamic groups took up arms in 1988 to free the region from Indian rule.
Militants demanded independence or a merger with neighboring Pakistan.
Rebels argue that Muslim-majority rule should have been established in the region at partition from British India in 1947.