India's Modi leads yoga day celebration in Muslim-majority Kashmir


India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi performs asana on International Day of Yoga in Srinagar. [AFP]

Stretching, arching his back and kneeling on a mat, India's Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi led hundreds of people performing yoga in the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir on Friday.

The exercises in Srinagar, capital of the Indian-administered part of the disputed territory, marked the 10th international yoga day, Modi's own brainchild.

But while yoga is not itself a religious practice, it has its origins in Hindu philosophy -- the god Shiva is said to have been the first yogi -- and many residents of Kashmir are indifferent to the discipline.

Thousands of government employees, schoolteachers and students from all over Kashmir were brought in for the event, although rain forced Modi's performance indoors.

Afterwards, he urged hundreds of people including many police and armed forces personnel on the shores of Dal Lake to make yoga "a part of their daily lives".

"Yoga fosters strength, good health and wellness," he said.

But one Srinagar resident saw the event as a cultural intrusion.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi performs asana on International Day of Yoga in Srinagar. [AFP]

"This yoga is being imposed on our children to culturally change the next generations and control their minds," they told AFP, declining to be identified for fear of reprisal.

"It's an imposition on us."

Rebel groups in Kashmir have waged an insurgency since 1989, demanding independence or a merger with Pakistan.

Tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict, and violence has been largely suppressed since Modi removed the region's limited autonomy in 2019 and imposed a security crackdown.

But his visit came after a series of attacks by suspected rebels opposed to Indian rule, including one that left 10 Hindu pilgrims dead.

Islamabad controls a part of the divided territory and, like India, claims all of Kashmir.

June 21 was declared International Yoga Day a decade ago and Modi has since led events at emblematic locations across India, and last year at the UN headquarters in New York.