Let Mourners Cry!

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Honourable and Respected Chief Minister 

“In the ritualistic moment, serial time becomes the bridge connecting primordial time and its special history with the timeless eternity of the future. The eternal fulfilment of time becomes the goal of human time and history” —Mahmoud Ayoub. 

Muharram-ul-Harram, first month of the Islamic calendar – the month of mourning and remembrance is here. The month in which Imam Hussain (AS) — the beloved grandson of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was martyred along with his family and friends in the deserts of Karbala in Iraq. Every year, people globally commemorate the tragedy with the participation in majalis.  Massive mourning processions are taken out across the world to pay rich tributes to the martyrs of Karbala. Reciting Soul-stirring elegies and hymns about Imam Hussain (AS), mourners wear black dresses and badges. They march with Taziyas (Replicas of tombs of al-Husain), Zuljana (his favourite horse) and Alams and march through the streets. Huge banners and hoardings are put up on most of the streets, alleys and pathways in Muslim majority areas. Globally, every Muslim home turns into an “Azakhana”.

Muharram, contrary to the popular perception, is not merely a grief-centric ritual. It is a philosophy, a concept, and a movement, that will always have contemporary significance. Even 1400 years on, these annual commemorations have not lost their significance, but on the contrary have become even more highly disciplined and powerful. These annual commemorations help the campaigners of justice and truth re-organise their life around the principles exemplified by Imam Hussain (AS). It strengthens their ability and resolve to rise up against autocracy, despotism and treachery.

In the next few weeks these processions would be carried out in all parts of the world. Biggest processions are taken out in Karbala, Najaf, Mashhad, Qum, Tehran, Beirut, Kabul, Istanbul, Karachi, Lucknow and even in the West like London, Sydney, New York and Toronto.  

In London, thousands of mourners assemble in Central London’s Marble Arch and culminate the procession at famous Hyde Park. In Toronto, the procession is allowed from Queen’s Park to High Court entrance. In Iran, millions participate in Muharram processions in all major cities like holy cities of Mashhad and Qum, Tehran and Isfahan. In Katsina, Nigeria, Trinidad and Tobago the mourners in these processions include people of other religious and ethnic beliefs. In Indian sub-continent major processions are taken out in Karachi, Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Lucknow and Kargil. Even in the conflict zones of Middle East and Afghanistan, mourning processions are taken out every Muharram in general and on the day of Aashura in particular.  

In Kashmir, the story is unfortunately different and grim for the last two and half decades. Since 1990 the successive governments have not been allowing mourning processions of 8th and 10th Muharram in Srinagar city. My grandparents and parents while telling about their nostalgic Kashmir share their memories of the processions of Abi Guzar, Guru Bazar and Shaheed Gunj. They would tell us as kids that how the processions used to pass peacefully through what we call the “Old Heritage Srinagar”. These processions would include people of other religious and ethnic beliefs and how people of the “Shahre Khass”, through which mourners would march, would facilitate and help keep everything well organized on Aashura. The memories would tell us how Aashura procession would culminate at Ali Park, Zadibal after passing the “architecturally rich narrow lanes” of Gaw Kadal, Fateh Kadal, Khanqah e Maula, Nalamar, Qamangarpur, Rajouri Kadal and Sazgaripur. At several places women exclusive “Sabeelgahs” were a soothing sight.  The women would also keenly sit in the “Takhche of the windows the old mud and Maharaja Brick houses” and watch the processions keenly. When we see the old pictures of those processions one gets to know about how changes have taken place in the way of commemorating Martyrdom of Imam Hussain (AS). One could feel it not limit to religious ritual only, but the socio-cultural event that could unite whole Kashmiri society in the time of grief of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (AS) and connect each other spiritually as well.   We, the growing toddlers to a grown-ups and old aged generation that is passing by, are missing such occasions of rich cultural and highly spiritual value in the contemporary Kashmir.  

 But, we have been observing how all attempts to commemorate the martyrdom of the grandson of the most revered Prophet Muhammad (SAW) have been disallowed or have been dispersed by brute use of force. Despite the clampdown and curfew imposed by authorities, thousands of young mourners carry out mourning processions and are subjected to brutal police action. The mourners are even booked under the Unlawful Activities Act. Unfortunately the state government believes that commemorating mourning ceremonies are threat to state security and thus unlawful. Notwithstanding the compulsions of the government, the constitution has conferred the right to freedom of professing and propagating a faith one chooses. This is a fundamental right and cannot be infringed the way it is done in this neglected land. This includes right to take out processions on important occasions like mourning processions on funerals and burials. However, these processions should not create any law and order problem. The past experiences have shown that the mourning processions of Muharram have always been peaceful. The mourners recite Soul-stirring Marsiyas and Nouhas and march peacefully. Therefore, the action on the mourners is unwarranted, unjustified and uncalled for. It is not good on part of state government not to allow the processions to be carried from Abi Guzar, Guru Bazar and Shaheed Gunj on 8th and 10th Muharram. As the mourners of the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), one doesn’t understand, why the mourners who assemble every year to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (AS) are mercilessly beaten, though there has been no report till now of any violation of law and order by the mourners. As the state government reiterates that the situation in Kashmir is ‘normal’, one fails to understand why the administration, whose duty is to maintain law and order, cannot allow these processions under security which it provides to the other socio-religious events like annual Amarnathji Yatra.  At a time when the government is keen in the “Revival of Heritage” of the old city of Srinagar, the revival of these processions would help in restoration of the Old City Pathways through which the mourners would march. It may be noted that thousands of people living in this “Old Heritage Srinagar” have emotions related to it these processions. 

Hope the government sits with all stakeholders – social, religious and other important people in administration, above all civil society, and takes immediate step in the revival of the Muharram processions for which, we common Kashmiris in general and as mourners in particular, cry every year. At last, we hope to participate, if allowed, in these processions that we have only heard of from the elders. I conclude here with Qaani’s elegy:                                                                                                          

“What is Raining? Blood! Who? The Eyes! How? From Grief! Grief for Whom? Grief for the King Of Karbala . . .

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