Separatists on Monday decided to call off their scheduled protest and shutdown for Friday because of Sivaratri, an important festival for Kashmiri Pandits.

A joint statement issued by separatist leaders Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and Yasin Malik said: “In view of the Sivaratri festival celebrations in the State, the leadership said it stands for exemplary tradition of mutual brotherhood.”

“Since ages, we are living in harmony. We did not notice the commencing festival, and when members from the Pandit community pointed it out, the joint leadership called off its proposed strike,” the statement said.

On request

Ayaz Akbar, a spokesman for the Hurriyat faction said the decision was taken after many Kashmiri Pandits had requested the separatist leadership to reconsider the strike call in view of the festival on February 24.

Sivaratri is a key festival for the minuscule population of Pandits living in the Kashmir Valley now.

Sanjay Tickoo, chairman of the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS), said around 3,400 Pandits stayed back in Kashmir when the community faced a major migration in the face of raging militancy in the 1990s.

Hundreds of Pandit families left the Valley since then.

“It’s heartening to know that the Hurriyat has cancelled the strike on Sivaratri. This is indeed a welcome step. Unity is our strength,” said National Congress additional spokesman Sarah Hayat Shah.

The separatist leaders have been issuing weekly protest calendars since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani in an encounter with security forces in July last year.

The calls for general strikes have been whittled down to one day per week — Friday — from five days a week in October last year.

(With PTI inputs)