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 Ummayad tyrant Yazid. 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 companions. These processions are carried out in most major world cities from East to West.
In India, processions are taken out in all small and big cities and those of Hyderabad and Lucknow have an aura of their own. The two major processions taken out in Kashmir on the 8th and the 10th of Muharram, which fall on 19th and 21st September respectively, this year remain banned for last nearly 30 years. This freedom to take out processions on these two days continues to be denied to the people in Kashmir for no apparent reason.
The ban on traditional Muharram processions in Kashmir capital 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 Government on its part cites reasons like apprehension of group clashes or general security concerns. It would be in place here to mention that the Government has left no opportunity to dub the 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 Government 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 residents of Kashmir to organize the Muharram processions, the State Government is indulging in blatant discrimination. When the Government can provide proper security to the Amarnath Yatra, which lasts for around two months and attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all across India, it should not be difficult to provide security to the Muharram processions for two days, given its far smaller size and geographical footprint. This continued ban not only smacks of hypocrisy on part of the Government but also arrogance and indifference to the religious sentiments of Kashmiris.
It is high time that the Government realizes the gravity of the situation and lifts its clampdown on these processions. It cannot make tall claims of democracy 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. Incidentally, on September 9 during a meeting with an NC delegation led by Dr Farooq Abdullah, the new Governor Satya Paul Malik had promised an alternate route and government facilitation for the Muharram procession. But the government has since gone back on the promise and decided to disallow the procession. Albeit late now, the government should revise its security-centric policy on Muharram. This curbs the religious freedom of the people, something that no government has or should have the right to do.