For some 1.5 million Shia Muslims in Kashmir, their annual Muharram observation this year will go on under severe restrictions as authorities have tightened up an ongoing curfew. Authorities have placed barbed wires and barricades on roads and banned gatherings or processions connected with Muharram in the Shia-majority areas of Jammu and Kashmir, the Muslim-dominated state in northern India, UCA News reports.
Shia Muslims across the globe hold mourning processions during the first 10 days of the Muslim month of Muharram. Sept. 10 commemorates the slaying of Hussain Ibn Ali, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, in 680 A.D. in Karbala by the army of his rival Yazid Bin Mouwiya, a crown prince who declared himself the new caliph of Muslims.
Some 14 percent of Kashmiri Muslims, an estimated 1.5 million people, follow the Shia branch of Islam. But authorities have banned any mourning processions or gatherings to commemorate Karbala, known popularly as Ashura processions.
Police vehicles with loudspeakers have been seen patrolling deserted streets warning of strict action if the curfew is defied. Hamid Abbas, a Shia Muslim youth, said banning Ashura processions will lead to more anger on the ground and could make things worse.
“This is an emotive issue for the Shia Muslims. We will not tolerate such anti-religious measures and will protest against it with all our might,” he said.
Dressed in black attire, youth Samir Ali questioned the logic behind barring the mourning processions.
“This procession has nothing to do with politics. It is religious in nature and people’s emotions are attached to it. I want to ask the government what it wants to prove by barring people from practicing their faith,” Ali told ucanews.com
Molvi Ghulam Ali Gulzar, a prominent Shia scholar and author, termed the restrictions unnatural, undemocratic and unjustified. According to him, the processions do not mourn the martyrdom of Hussain Ibn Ali and his family but celebrate the triumph of truth over falsehood.
“There is no other place in the entire globe where restrictions are placed on Muharram processions. The gag has no justification and no logic at all,” Molvi Gulzar told ucanews.com.
However, a senior police official posted in one of the restricted areas told ucanews.com that the measures are being taken solely to avoid any loss of human life.
“There are criminals who could take advantage of the procession and hold anti-India protests. What if some violence breaks out. All these restrictions have been put in place only after a thorough assessment of the ground situation,” he said.
Local people say the restrictions have been put in place because the administration fears processions could turn into protests against the government’s decision to remove Kashmir’s autonomy. The government imposed a curfew on Aug. 5, after it abrogated the autonomy that Kashmir has enjoyed since India won independence in 1947.
The change now allows people from other parts of India buy land in the region and become its permanent citizens, which local people say was a tactic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pro-Hindu government to change the demography of the Muslim-dominated region.
The clampdown included blocking telephone lines, mobile and internet services, rail and road traffic and closing offices, schools and markets. The curfew was relaxed last week when authorities opened phone landlines, but most other restrictions continue.
The government move was part of its effort to end a three-decade armed insurgency that aims to free the region from Indian rule to make it free or join with neighboring Muslim-majority Pakistan. The conflict dates to 1947 when India and Pakistan become separate states after British rule ended. Both countries claim the entire Kashmir region, which they now partially administer after three wars and countless skirmishes over it.
The Indian-administered part of Kashmir has experienced increased violence since 1989 when militants stepped up armed resistance. Rights groups estimate that 100,000 people have since been killed, but Indian official records put the number at closer to 47,000.