India’s lone Muslim majority state of Jammu and Kashmir has decided to showcase pigs at its upcoming zoo – a move that is bound to spark a fresh controversy. Pigs are deemed as unclean animals in Islam and hosting them in a zoo will have political consequences.

The state government has decided to dedicate a special area for pigs at the Jambu Zoo, also known as the Shivalik Biological Park in the Jammu region, on the national highway that connects it to the summer capital of Srinagar in the Kashmir Valley.

The state is currently ruled by a coalition of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), which is believed to be extremely unpopular. The introduction of pigs by this government is fraught with risk in a volatile region.

Under construction at an estimated cost of around Rs 12 billion, the Jambu Zoo is named after the Suryavanshi King Jambu Lochan, who founded Jammu centuries ago. It will be spread over an area of 229.5 hectares of hills in the Khanpur area. The plan to formally introduce and rear pigs at the government-owned facility would be a first for the state. Started in 2016, the project is scheduled to be completed in four years. But its first phase, which will showcase pigs separate from other animals like leopards and deers, is likely to be commissioned by March of 2018.

Official documents reveal a decision to introduce pigs was discussed at a high-level meeting chaired by Minister for Forests, Ecology and Environment Choudhary Lal Singh on November 9. According to these documents, the zoo will have a “Safari park, butterfly garden, insect park, sambar, hogs, spotted deer, blue bull, black buck, goat wild, bear Himalayan black, bear sloth and eagle tawny enclosures.”

Singh described the project as a “big boon for attracting tourists and animal lovers to Jammu” and one that would also help to preserve and protect forestland. Official sources said the PDP–BJP alliance in the state saw the debut of pigs at the zoo as a sign of “good luck.”

“Pigs have been associated with good luck in climatically similar countries like Germany where they are even gifted in the form of a marzipan pig. Many fortune tellers close to the corridors of power had advised them to bank on pigs. So it was decided, why not to give this mascot a try when the state is struggling for peace,” a top official said, on the condition of anonymity.

Regional Wildlife Director Dr Senthil Kumar confirmed that pigs would be introduced at the upcoming zoo, noting that in the initial phase the zoo would host around four to five of the animals. “They are already available – we only have to shift them here,” the official told Asia Times. It would be the first time since Independence that the state government has had pigs in its zoos.

Prior to 1947, the Dogra kings’ that ruled the Valley introduced wild pigs in Kashmir for hunting at Dachigam National Park. At that time, wild boars were considered a better hunt than deer. Sir Walter Lawrence, a historian of note, wrote in his book ‘The Valley of Kashmir’ (1895) that the introduction of pigs took place under Maharaja Gulab Singh, the founder of Dogra rule in Kashmir, after he took over in 1847. But within a decade or so, the pigs were believed to have perished.

The Dogras, incidentally, were much-hated as rulers, which led to the events of 1947 when parts of the state were occupied by Pakistan and the rest became part of the Indian union. Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, who led the National Conference party against Dogra rule, aligned with India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru after the Dogra ruler, Hari Singh, signed the formal instrument of annexation.

However, an armed insurgency has plagued the state since 1990. There has been a major upswing of violence since the PDP-BJP coalition came to power. Struggling to overcome recent spells of deadly violence, the government has sought to use multiple resources to restore peace and prosperity.

A recent move to introduce a liquor shop at the International Airport in Srinagar erupted in controversy, forcing the authorities to back down. Cinema halls have been shut after threat from militants for over two decades, indicating the sensitivity to such issues in the state.

Kashmir has been on edge since the killing of militant commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani on July 8, 2016, with over 100 civilians killed in sporadic protests. While the government has managed to eliminate over 140 militants including 10 top commanders this year, the situation remains uneasy.

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