Each year, police imposes curfew-like restrictions on 8th and 10th Muharram to prevent traditional processions in Srinagar city. Iron barricades and spools of concertina wires are put up at almost every entry point across the routes of these two once magnificent processions. The cops do not even allow pedestrian movement on these routes. Senior leaders are put under house arrest to prevent them from leading the processions.
However, despite the clampdown, thousands of mourners defy the police restrictions on Muharram 8th and 10th every year and take out peaceful mourning processions in the main city. Each time, they are intercepted by massive contingents of fully-armed police and paramilitary personnel. The cops lob tear smoke shells, resort to baton charge and brutally manhandle the mourners who participate in these processions.
It is our right and duty to protest against the draconian ban in peaceful manner, but that does not mean it will become a law and order problem, so brute police action is unwarranted. It is not merely hypocritical but perverse, given that the state itself, appropriating July 13, 1931, a historic moment of resistance against the tyranny of Dogra rule, commemorates the day with official pomp while keeping the people of Kashmir under virtual siege each year. When the state bans Muharram it ensures Amarnath Yatra gets bigger every year and even refuses to regulate the ever increasing flow of Yatris despite adverse situation obtaining in Kashmir.
When government speaks in a language of conquest the message is not lost on the people of Kashmir. They see it as an imperial dictat.
As rightly pointed out by Mohammad Junaid, a Kashmiri scholar at City University of New York, the government bans Muharram processions because of old colonialist aspersions that such moments of solemn mourning would turn into occasions of political critique and subversion. Remember that Muharram is observed in memory of those who spoke back to power and refused to submit. Muharram processions illuminate the utter incommensurability of power and truth, and this is precisely what those governments whose foundations are based on deception and manipulation absolutely fear, Junaid was quoted by this newspaper some time back.
The official version that these processions stoke anti-national sentiments and pose security threat finds few takers. It is hogwash, far from reality. It only suggests that the tall claims of government about normalcy and peace are false.
Govt claims are frivolous because Muharram teaches us to be tolerant and steadfast in the face of adversities, and it also teaches us to rise against injustice. Government cannot deny us our right to organise religious activities on such hollow and baseless pretexts.