Why Disallowing Muharram processions shatter the illusion of peace in Kashmir?

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On the 8th of Muharram, 1437 AH ( 22 Oct, 2015), Srinagar city was  under ‘restrictions’-the euphemism coined by the State Government for what essentially amounts to a curfew. From the perspective and point of view of the Government, ‘restrictions’ were apparently enforced as a ‘precautionary’ measure. It needs to be pointed out here that Muharram is the first month of the Islamic Calendar. However, its significance lies in its historical antecedents and religious connotations and symbolism. While  Muharram is significant for both Shia and Sunni Muslims for obvious reasons  in terms of the import of the tragedy, it is central to the ethos, emotional and psycho-religious  and spiritual universe of Shia Muslims. Muharram –especially the 8th of Muharram and the 10th of Muharram- are dates resplendent of the ultimate and great sacrifice of Abol Fazl Abbas (AS) and Imam Hussein (AS) respectively. On both dates, Shia Muslims indulge in mourning that corresponds to a passion play and re-enactment of the tragic events of Muharram. Imam Hussein fought for a cause- the cause of Justice- and was martyred for it. Historical records indicate that as he lay –injured badly- and was about to breathe his last, and as his assassin was about to strike the fatal blow, Imam asked him,’ if he had said his prayers’. The assassin was petrified. The significance here is profound: Imam Hussein even cared for the soul of the man who was about to martyr him; the fight was not a personal one for Imam Hussein but a transcendent one- for the cause of Justice. No wonder then the Shia Muslims attach such import to it.

Re-enacting the tragedy of the Karbala and mourning over the events that ultimately led to the martyrdom of Imam Hussein is an indelible part and parcel of the Shia orthodoxy. You are not a Shia if you don’t , in the least, take part in this passion play, re-enactment and mourning. But, alas, the Government of Jammu and  Kashmir chooses to impose restrictions on these days in the name of precautionary measures and security- a clear cut violation of the freedom of religion.

A digression is warranted here: as it transpired, the month of Muharram being contingent on the lunar calendar coincided here with a Hindu festival , Dussehra- a festival which in Hindu mythology signifies the triumph of good over evil. Ram apparently triumphed over and defeated Ravana- held to be a metaphor of evil in Hinduism.

The coincidence of these two religious events is normal in a multi-religious state like Jammu and Kashmir. But what is perplexing and raises questions about the government’s different and differing approaches to both. While those observing Muharram were ruthlessly beaten up and dragged to various police lock ups in the city under the pretext of security, almost the entire paraphernalia of the Government of Jammu and Kashmir including the Chief Minister, watched the spectacle of the re-enactment of Dussehra.  We are not hinting or implying here that the Government should have ignored Dussehra here. In a multi-religious and multicultural state as Jammu and Kashmir, every religion and culture comprising its firmament has to be given its due and sensitivities respected. But this is precisely the point- sensitivities of All have to be respected. Why single out the Muslim event and bar it? The reasons trotted out by the state for this do not hold water. If a parallel may be drawn with the Amarnath Yatra where Government machinery- including the police and paramilitary forces- are activated to secure the 2 month long Yatra and make it happen peacefully, why can’t the same be done for 2 days of 8th and 10th Muharram?  Why is one of the most significant religious events of Muslims-especially Shia Muslims, not allowed to run its course peacefully? Why are not the resources of the state employed to both pre-empt and prevent the possibility of untoward incidents? Why take recourse to an approach that interferes with religious freedom of the Muslim community? Is the state which never ceases to tout and sell the onset of peace in Kashmir to anybody who cares scared of a conflagration in Kashmir? Is peace so fragile in Kashmir? Or is it just an eye wash?

The state of Jammu and Kashmir, to repeat is a multi cultural and multi religious state. Muslims , however, form the single largest group in this diverse firmament.(Ironically, the majority is singled out for discriminatory treatment here.) The point here is not to seek preferential treatment but equal treatment. From a broader perspective, equal treatment,neutrality or equidistance of the state is the sine qua non of liberal democracy. However, in the case of Kashmir, the ideals and principles of democracy are abrogated and suspended in the name of ‘security’. The question here is : security for whom? If it is for the people, then surely the state should do its due diligence and create propitious conditions. But if it is for something else, then we rest our argument.

The Kashmir division of the state of Jammu and Kashmir is a heavily securitized state. Almost all facets of life-religious, political , social and cultural- are securitized here. This is the dominant reality of Kashmir. But , for some reason, the state either chooses to ignore or even obscure this.  In the final analysis, the day when the state does not have the need to obscure this reality will be the day when real peace could be said to have descended on the state. Will that day ever come? The measuring rod for this would be if Muharram processions in Kashmir would be allowed without any interference from the state.

(Tail Piece: Can our political class take a cue from Imam Hussein(AS) and make self transcendence and justice the centre pieces of their politics?) 

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