Muharram (especially days preceding Ashura) when Imam Hussein (AS) attained martyrdom is a significant and holy day for all Muslims. While the nature of Ashura is significant for all Muslims, it is form in which the day is commemorated that differs.
Shia Muslims commemorate the day by enacting an elegiac passion play along the lines of Imam Hussein’s martyrdom. This is a moral and tragic passion play aimed at both remembering tragedy and also put into perspective and contrast worldly with God’s justice. In short, the significance of Ashura is enormous.
There are slight cultural variations in which Ashura is commemorated across the Muslim world; in Kashmir Shia Muslims take out processions especially across the length and breadth of the state including Srinagar. However, over the past two decades, it has been state policy to disallow the key Muharram processions. The reasons and grounds trotted out by the state are the usual “security” ones. While the theory that large gatherings of people in a place like Kashmir might turn into violence might hold under certain circumstances, but given the developments over the years, this theory does not appear to hold water. We might draw a parallel here to illustrate this point.
Every year, the state does its best to ensure the safety and security of the Amarnath Yatra in Kashmir. By and large, given the activation and employment of state resources towards ensuring the Yatra, it passes off peacefully despite the fact that the Yatra takes place in a Muslim majority state which is held to be “disturbed” by powers that be. The Yatra is a holy journey for the Hindus and the Muharram a sacred commemoration for/of Muslims- especially Shia Muslims. The issue or the question is: If the Yatra , spread over nearly two months, is allowed despite the disturbed nature of Kashmir, why are the two Muharram processions on 8th and 10th disallowed? Is not this an infringement of religious liberty? And are there not double standards at work?
It may also be stated here that last year when Mufti Sayyed was alive the Dussehra coincided with the 8th day Muharram commemoration; the government ensured that Dussehra festivities went ahead and the political class attended the festivities. This is not to say that the Dussehra festivities should have been abandoned; it was and is a festival but at the same time why does not the state allow Muharram processions? Is not there a dichotomy and double standards at work here? If there are security reasons, should not the same hold for Yatra?
What could be inferred from the state’s decision to debar Muharram processions over a period of time is that there is an element of paranoia involved on part of the state. Paranoia coupled with worst case scenarios precludes the state from devising mechanisms wherein Muharram processions can take place peacefully. But who pays the price is the Shia community whose sacred and sacrosanct commitments to Ashura are not allowed. This along with other lacunae in Kashmir can only breed resentment and call into question the secular and plural nature of the state.
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