Azadi Slogans During Muharram: Govt Sounds Alert

SRINAGAR —  In a new development, the government of India is reportedly monitoring the speeches delivered by religious leaders at mosques and congregations in Kashmir.

According to a report published in The Hindu, New Delhi has “red-flagged the visit of Iranian clerics” to Jammu and Kashmir amid reports of “fiery speeches” given by them at congregations and mosques.

The report says the immediate trigger for the decision seems to be the posters of slain Kashmiri militant commander Burhan Wani that appeared during a Muharram procession in Srinagar recently.

The report quotes Imran Raza Ansari, dissident PDP leader and former minister, saying that the portrait of Wani was flashed by “two men associated with the Hurriyat Conference”.

“This should not have happened. We were mourning Imam Hussain (as) … this is the first time that such a thing happened. Wani’s posters appeared as there were attempts to politicize the mourning. That is not the mandate,” he is quoted saying.

Governor Satya Pal Mallik is quoted as saying that the “inquiries” have been ordered regarding the visit of the Iranian clerics to Kashmir.

The report also quotes an unnamed senior government official saying that they were “watching the speeches being given by religious leaders including those by Shia leaders”. “Since they come here for religious sermons, they are easily given visas. We are checking if they violated visa provisions,” the official is quoted.

Observers say portraits of Burhan Wani and pro-Azadi slogans during the Muharram processions this year has sparked concern among pro-India circles as they have been projecting minority Shia community along with tribal Gujjars and Pandits as their main supporters.

This Muharram, portraits of Wani had appeared a processions in old Srinagar. The pictures of it were shared widely over social media. Wani, who gave fresh impetus to the armed movement against India in Kashmir, was gunned down in an encounter with Indian forces in July 2016 in Kashmir.

Meanwhile, the news has drawn anger and outrage among Kashmir’s Shia community and clergy, who see it as part of a larger design to intimidate people, according to prominent journalist Syed Zafar Mehdi.

“Iranian clerics come here on invitations and they give speeches but not “fiery speeches”,” said a young cleric based here, wishing anonymity. “It is nothing but an intimidating tactic to bully us, but it won’t work. They have already banned our processions in main city, now they cannot stop our clerics from giving sermons.”

Pertinently, in Srinagar, the government’s ban on Muharram processions (Muharram 8 and 10) is in place since 1990, when the armed rebellion against Indian rule gathered momentum.  Despite repeated pleas by Shia leaders, the ban has not been lifted.

Each year, police impose curfew-like restrictions on Muharram 8 and 10 in parts of Srinagar city, including Lal Chowk, the nerve-center of Srinagar. Iron barricades and spools of concertina wires are put up at every entry point. The fully-armed police personnel do not even allow pedestrian movement as tough restrictions are enforced.

However, as a mark of protest against the ban, mourners take out peaceful mourning procession in the main city every year. Each time, they are intercepted by massive contingents of heavily-armed police and paramilitary personnel. They fire tear smoke canisters, resort to baton charge and brutally manhandle the mourners participating in these processions.

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