Unjustified Ban

Muharram is here. It is a month which reminds the entire humanity of the supreme sacrifice of Imam Hussain (AS) and his family and followers, in Karbala, at the hands of Yazid’s army. This is an extremely significant event in the Muslim history. It reminds not only Muslims, but the entire humanity of the constant tussle between the forces of truth and falsehood. It reminds us of the essence of humanity and how, despite the heaviest odds, Hussain and all those who stood in Karbala against tyranny, fought for what was right and never gave in to the evil. It is a complete philosophy which, despite a lapse of 15 centuries, has and will always find relevance in human evolution and in its eternal struggle against the forces of deception and falsehood.

Throughout the world, Muslims, especially Shia Muslims carry out processions this month commemorating the supreme sacrifice of Imam Hussain and his followers. These processions are carried out in most major world cities like London, New York, Karachi, Tehran, Baghdad, Beirut etc. In India, processions are taken out in all major cities like Hyderabad, Lucknow, Bangalore, Bhopal etc. The two major processions are taken out on the 8th and the 10th of Muharram, which fall on 13th and 15th November respectively, this year.

But this freedom to take out processions on these two days continues to be denied to the people in Kashmir. The State Govt on Monday, as it has been doing over 23 years since 1990,  decided to impose restrictions on public assembly in scores of areas on November 13 (8th Muharram) and November 15th (Ashura). 

The ban on Muharram processions in Kashmir cannot be viewed in isolation. It should be seen in the wider context where the State has come down heavily on the freedoms of people. It has denied various democratic rights to the people of Kashmir and banning the processions during Muharram represent the same denial. The Govt on its part cites reasons like apprehension of group clashes or general security concerns. It would be in place here to mention that the Govt has left no opportunity to dub the growing number of tourist inflow in the recent years as a symbol of peace in Kashmir. It has gone all out to inform the rest of India and the world that things are back to normal in Kashmir. It is also important to note that despite militancy in Kashmir, which was at its peak in the 1990s, the annual Amarnath Yatra was never stopped. All support was provided by the State Govt and its machinery, and rightly so, for the smooth and safe conduct of the Yatra every year. The local Kashmiri Muslims, on their part, have contributed to a great extent, in making the Yatra a success, despite various odds.

By denying the freedom to organize these processions, the State Govt is indulging in blatant discrimination. When the Govt can provide proper security to the Amarnath Yatra, which lasts for more than a month and attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, it should not be difficult to provide security to the Muharram processions on two days, given its far smaller size and geographical footprint. This continued ban not only smacks of hypocrisy on part of the Govt but also arrogance and indifference to the religious sentiments of Kashmiris.

It is high time that the J & K Govt realizes the gravity of the situation and lifts it’s clampdown on these processions. It cannot make tall claims of normalcy on the one hand and on the other, use the pretext of so called security threats and imagined group clashes to chain a people and deny them their religious freedom.

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