Kashmir’s Shia Areas Face Curbs, All Muharram Processions Banned
For the first time in 30 years, even the smaller Muharram processions won’t be allowed this year in Kashmir Valley.
Authorities on Friday, 6 September, imposed a blanket ban on all Muharram processions across the Kashmir Valley, with restrictions on movement and assembly of the mourners of the tragedy of Karbala, in the Shia-dominated areas.
Shia Muslims all over the world commemorate the sacrifices of Prophet Mohammad’s grandson, Imam Hussain, and other martyrs of Karbala, every year during Muharram, the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar.
Highly-placed officials in the Governor’s administration told The Quint that district magistrates in Srinagar, Budgam, Pulwama, Anantnag, Ganderbal, Bandipora and Baramulla districts had been asked not to permit any Muharram gatherings or processions, particularly on the main roads and highways.
Budgam: A Seat of Power for Shia Spiritual Leaders
Deputy Commissioner of Budgam, Tariq Hussain Ganai, confirmed that restrictions under Section 144 Cr PC had been imposed with effect from Friday, 6 September (also coincidentally, the sixth day of the Muharram month), and all Muharram gatherings and processions had been banned in apprehension of disruption by miscreants. “For us, human life is most important. We don’t want any loss of life anywhere”, Mr Ganai asserted. He said that Police and civil authorities had received reports of the possibility of sabotage and disruption by certain miscreants.
With a historic Imambargah at the district headquarters, Budgam has been a seat of power for Shia spiritual leaders belonging to the Aga dynasty — founders of Anjuman-e-Sharayee Shiaa’n.
Alam, Tazia and Zuljanah processions come out in different Shia neighbourhoods across the district every year from the sixth to the fourteenth day of Muharram. Devout Shia Muslims assemble for Marsthiya Majalis (an elegy to remember Karbala) every night at the local Imambargahs and community centres.
Well-attended Alam, Tazia and Zuljanah processions also come out under the auspices of Anjuman-e-Sharayee Shia’an, Jammu and Kashmir Shia Association, and other Shia organisations in the first fortnight of Muharram every year in Srinagar, Pulwama, Anantnag, Ganderbal, Bandipora and Baramulla districts.
Ban on Even the Smaller Muharram Processions
In Srinagar, the traditional eighth day Muharram Alam procession, from Guru Bazar (Shaheed Gunj) to Dalgate, as also the traditional Zuljanah procession of the tenth day of Muharram (Ashoora) have been banned since 1988. Authorities have been quoting security, and law and order reasons for the imposition of the ban on these processions. However, smaller Tazia and Zuljanah processions have been allowed every year in Baagwanpora-Zadibal and other interior areas in downtown Srinagar.
Authorities have invariably allowed Tazia and Zuljanah processions as per tradition in Mirgund-Budgam, Magam, Sonawari, Kamalkot Uri, Dab Ganderbal, Chhatergul Anantnag, Gangua Pulwama and other Shia-dominated areas in the seven districts.
There is only a marginal Shia concentration in Kulgam and Shopian districts in the South, and Kupwara in the North.
Mourners, while performing self-flagellation and reciting Nowha and Marthiya, participate in such assemblies and processions in large numbers.
After the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A, many of the prominent Shia leaders, who also happen to be among the mainstream politicians, were detained in makeshift jails or placed under house arrest by the Centre. J&K Shia Association President and the Peoples Conference leader Imran Raza Ansari has been lodged at Centaur Hotel near Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre. The President of a faction of Anjuman-e-Sharayee Shia’an Aga Syed Hassan and President of Ittihadul Muslimeen Maulvi Abbas Ansari have been detained at their respective residences in Budgam and Srinagar respectively. Efforts to reach them for their comments were unsuccessful.
All Muharram Processions Banned Due to ‘Concerns Over Pakistan’
Even as the annual Muharram processions have remained mostly peaceful and apolitical, motley groups of the followers of Aga Syed Hassan and Maulvi Abbas Ansari have been staging protests against the ban on the main Zuljanah processions, and shouting pro-Azadi slogans on the eighth and tenth Muharram days in Srinagar. In the Muharram processions in 2017 and 2018, some of them were also seen carrying portraits and banners of the Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani along with Alam and Tazia.
A senior official argued that Pakistan — which, according to him, had become ‘desperate’ after 5 August — could make every possible attempt to disrupt a religious procession with violence, so as to blame the government. “That’s why we didn’t permit even the Eid-ul-Azha congregational prayers on 12 August. That’s why we are not allowing any Muharram processions,” he asserted. According to him, for the first time in the last 30 years, even the smaller Muharram processions wouldn’t be allowed this year.
(The writer is a Srinagar-based senior journalist. He can be reached@ahmedalifayyaz.)
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