Sinister designs behind Muharram ban in Kashmir: Zafar Mehdi

Guest post by ZAFAR MEHDI

Muharram, the month of epic action, has announced its arrival. Black banners symbolizing grief are fluttering around. A pall of gloom has descended. 1500 years later, the lessons of Karbala continue to be the beacon of inspiration for strugglers of truth and righteousness. Muharram, contrary to perception, is not an event, episode or chapter in history. It is a philosophy, a concept, a movement. As centuries roll by, the great uprising of Husain(as), the beloved grandson of Holy Prophet (saww), continues to drive believers to hurl defiance at the forces of evil. The final call Imam gave to humanity still lingers in the minds of millions of Muslims around the world. It teaches that notwithstanding the inadequacy of numbers, if you run down the gauntlet backed by the staunch faith in the Almighty, triumph will be yours. 

Muharram has been often derided by some hate-mongers as a harmful grief-centric ritual, a political war, and a ritual that lacks a contemporary significance. In contrast, these commemorations are held to help the followers of justice and truth re-organize their life around the pristine principles exemplified by Hussain(as). His supreme sacrifice promotes the enjoining of good for there is no better victory than defeating a tyrant.

You must have heard how a child dies every five minutes in Darfur. You know about the cold-blooded attacks on religious congregations in Pakistan, about the shrieks of wailing mothers in Kashmir. You must also have come across gut-wrenching tales of prisoners lodged in the world’s jails. These are some of the contemporary struggles against injustice and tyranny unleashed on the weak and vulnerable the world over. The threat of injustice will always have a contemporary significance. This explains why Muslims annually commemorate the principles of Hussain as it helps strengthen the ability to stand up against injustice.

For the next few weeks, mourning processions will be carried out and grand congregations will be held in every part of the world, to pay tribute to the Master of Challengers and his fellow martyrs. The situation in Pakistan remains tense, with shoot-at-sight orders being given for Muharram owing to “serious security reasons” in and around Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. But elsewhere, preparations are afoot. Large processions are taken out in London, New York, Toronto, Trinidad. It goes to the credit of the powers-that-be in these places that not only do they allow Muharram processions on busy roads, but ensure their safety as well. But back in Kashmir, it is the same old atrocious story since 1989. Peaceful Muharram processions are attacked by the police; processionists are brutally cane-charged, manhandled and whisked away in police gypsies. Our religious leaders are kept under house arrest, the streets are manned by the Kalashnikov-yielding monsters-in-khakhi. It will be the same this year.

The peaceful processions on 8 and 10 Muharram have been banned in Kashmir since the outbreak of insurgency in 1989. Small mourning rallies and processions are allowed in select areas with sizeable Shia populations. The state authorities say that “emotional religious rituals” could be used by separatists to stoke the anti-India sentiments. Absolutely preposterous. It is like diallowing Guru Purab or Baisakhi in Punjab as Khalistanis might use it to stoke anti-India feelings. The government cannot deny the people their right to peacefully observe religious rituals just because a few senior Shia clerics happen to be heavyweight separatist leaders (Maulana Abbas Ansari is former chairman of Hurriyat Conference and Aga Hasan Mosavi, president of the J&K Anjuman Sharee Shiaan, is an executive member of the Hurriyat Conference. It indeed needs to be highlighted that Tehreek is not a Sunni thing only but Shias play equally catalytic role in it n perhaps thats why State fails to distinguish between Azadi and Azadari processions!

The argument that these processions provoke Sunnis, who may get all riled up and attack Shias, is laughable. There have never been riots in Kashmir between any two communities, so how can the state justify banning Shia processions to prevent riots? I wonder why Ripley’s Believe It Or Not missed it. It is not secret how these processions have become inclusive over the years, with the participation of Sunnis and even Sikhs and Pandits. The Sunnis, in a demographic majority, have been extremely accommodating towards the Shia minority, and both communities have co-existed in harmony and amity for centuries.  In turn, both Shias and Sunnis go out of their way in extending their support to rallies and processions taken out by non-Muslims. In the context of Kashmir, communal riots are out of question.

The truth is that the state is hell-bent on creating fissures among Kashmiri Muslims on sectarian lines. By provoking Shias against Sunnis, and giving this Muharram ban a sectarian and separatist colour, they want to achieve their sinister targets. They hope that the disintegration of Muslims in Kashmir will be a fatal blow to the Tehreek, the movement and that is what these scheming rulers gun for.

The assault on the processionsists, who bring out the processions in defiance of the ban to exercise their religious freedom, by the police is unprovoked and barbaric. Take this:

“Eyewitnesses alleged that as they marched ahead, a CRPF man on guard outside the house of Deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Hussain Beig took aim at the crowd with his rifle. Other policemen, however, put him at ease,” (Indian Express Feb 08 2006).

Need I say more?

Some Shia groups had challenged the ban in court, but as they say, “Mera qatil hi mera munsif nikla!” (My killer turned out to be my judge!) The Shias of Kashmir contest the draconian ban alleging blatant double standards. If the Amarnath yatra, Dushhera or Baisakhi processions don’t pose any “security threat”, why should Muharram processions, carried out in an equally peaceful manner, be subject to such brutality and barbarism?

It won’t be exaggeration to say that we have not helped our cause either. Just recently representatives of all Shia organisations attended a high-level meeting chaired by the District Development Commission in Srinagar to “finalize arrangements for Muharram”. I wonder why didn’t these “representatives” raise the issue of the ban during the meeting. Why didn’t they boycott the meeting in the first place?

It reminds me of how Muslims in Lucknow valiantly confronted the government to protest the ban on Muharram processions in city in Muharram 1997. Women had stormed District Magistrate office and protested there. Shia youth did matam (eulogy) at the Vidhan Sabha (Legislative Assembly). It led to the arrest of Lucknow-based prominent Shia cleric Maulana Kalbe Jawad under National Security Act (NSA) on June 28, 1997. He was sent to Lalitpur Jail while his family was incarcerated with the prisoners of TADA. Word spread like wildfire and soon protests and agitations were reported from the different parts of the country and even from New York, Syria, Pakistan, Iran and other countries. The situation went out of control and the then Mayawati government was left with no other option but to release the cleric and lift the ban on processions.

Now is the time for all of us to stand up to this injustice and demand our rights.

5 thoughts on “Sinister designs behind Muharram ban in Kashmir: Zafar Mehdi”

    1. Mr Dark Lord.
      There is no denying that few odd sectarian clashes have been reported from some remote areas in past, but they had nothing to do with Muharram processions. Most of them were family disputes, disputes over land, or other local issues, which took the shape of sectarian clashes because of two rival parties belonging to two different communities. I don’t remember Sunni Muslims in any part of Kashmir attacking Shia Muslims, who took out processions during Muharram. There have been so such clashes between minority and majority community in the Srinagar city or its adjoining district, Budgam, which is home to majority of Shia Muslims in Kashmir, and home to some of the widely respected Shia clerics from Aga clan. In fact, let me tell you, Muharram is as sacred to Shias as to Sunnis, and anybody who has studied Islamic history and tried to understand Islam will agree. This draconian ban is on the processions in Srinagar city, where Sunni Muslims take the lead in protesting against government ban every year. Actually, by giving it a “sectarian” colour, government wants to create fissures among the Kashmiri Muslims, so that the freedom movement, of which Shia Muslims are an essential part, is jolted. That is the vitriolic truth. So instead of accusing Kafila of “bringing in more religious strife in Kashmir”, you would do better by going to Kashmir next year in Muharram and seeing things for yourself. I will be more than happy to host you.


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