Clashes In Srinagar After Ashura Procession Met With Force

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Small groups soon turned into a major procession in Zadibal. Photo Ubaid Mukhtar

SRINAGAR: Dozens of mourners were injured on Sunday and many others detained as government forces used force, including shot gun pellets to break-up Ashura procession in the old quarter of the Srinagar city.

The police action in Zadibal came a day after nearly thirty mourners were injured in teargas shelling and pellet firing in Bemina area of the city outskirts triggering widespread outrage among the people. Two days earlier on Wednesday Muharram processions turned into pro-Azadi rallies, after police used tear smoke shells and fired in the air to disperse them in Budgam and Srinagar.

Officials had claimed that the force was used as the people had violated SOPs and taken out the Muharram processions in violation of the ban.

Police has already arrested several youth for their allegedly raising pro-Azadi slogans during a Muharram procession. At least two were arrested from the Hokersar area of the city outskirts.

On Thursday last, the Divisional Commissioner Kashmir Pandurang K Pole said that restrictions shall continue on all religious processions and gatherings in all districts in wake of Covid-19 pandemic.

City Under Siege

Since early morning, eyewitnesses said hundreds of police and CRPF personnel were deployed by the authorities to prevent people from assembling and taking out traditional Ashura procession, marking the martyrdom anniversary of the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh), Imam Hussain (AS) and his companions in the plains of Karbala. Wearing full battle gear, the forces had sealed all lanes and bylanes connecting interior parts of Zadibal with the main road.

The forces, eyewitnesses said, had also placed under siege the other side of the area, including Mohalla Syed Afzal, Madin Sahab, Gulshan Bagh and other localities to foil the Ashura procession. However, as the day passed, mourners began reaching Zadibal taking longer routes.

Curbs were also imposed in Lal Chowk here and Budgam in central Kashmir to thwart any move of people to take out Ashura Procession.

‘War Zone’ Zadibal

Till 2:30 pm, an eerie silence prevailed in Zadibal area of the Old City. The congested area was wrapped under a thick blanket of security. Gun toting cops and paramilitary personnel were keeping a close watch on the alleys they had blocked with razor wire.

Around 15 minutes later, mourners started converging at a small park in Donipora locality. The numbers started swelling as ‘Labaik Ya Hussain’ chants resonated in the air. By 3:00, the small group had turned  into a big procession. As the procession moved a few hundred metres towards the shrine of Mir Shams-ud-din Araki, the cops intercepted it.

“Everything was going well. The mourners in the procession were peaceful. Cops deployed at an intersection in Alalmgiri Bazar fired pellets and lobbed pepper shells towards the procession without any reason or rhyme,” Shabir Hussain, an eyewitness told Kashmir Observer.

The police action, Hussain said infuriated the mourners, mostly youth, who engaged the policemen in pitched battles.

“The clashes spread like wildfire. Groups of youth fought ding-dong battles with police near Baba Mazar and Gasiyar Chowk. Cops burst teargas canisters, fired pellets to disperse the mourners. However, the mourners didn’t relent and continued to march,” Hussain said.

The police, he said also fired warning shots after failing to scare away the angry mourners.

According to Hussain, nearly 20 youth were injured in the clashes that continued till late evening.

According to official sources, three youth suffered serious pellet injuries in eyes during the clashes. They have been identified as Tawheed Ali, Abrar Ahmad Baba and Abid Ahmad.

Ali and Baba, they said, were hit by pellets in the right eye, while Ahmad was hit by pellets in both eyes.

Bashir Ahmad, a resident of Kathmaidan claimed that the cops turned Zadibal into a ‘war zone’ after attacking peaceful procession without any provocation.

“Some tear smoke shells landed in Muharram processions and some in residential houses. The cops had gone berserk,” Ahmad alleged.

However, fearing arrests, many of the injured persons were not taken to hospitals, but treated locally.

“I have lost the count of injured,” said a resident of Zadibal. 

It is for the first time since the major Muharram processions in Srinagar were banned in 1989 following the outbreak of militancy that authorities disallowed Ashura procession in Zadibal, a Shia dominated area of the city.

‘Crackdown’ After Clashes

As the procession concluded amid loud thuds of teargas shells and pellet firing, the mourners from other areas of the city started walking back to their homes. However, the cops deployed near Gasiyar chowk started rounding up youth and whisking them away in police vans. Eyewitnesses told Kashmir Observer that nearly a dozen youth were detained by police in the follow up action after the day-long clashes in the area.

“I am stranded at a relative’s place because the police has launched a crackdown. They are grabbing every boy, who passes through Gasiyar Chowk,” Hakeem Rashid, an eyewitness said.

However, official sources told Kashmir Observer only six youth were arrested for their alleged involvement in stone pelting at the deployments.

Midnight ‘Horror’ In Dal

Before Zadibal, the cops allegedly flexed muscles while dispersing peaceful mourners in several parts of Dal interiors, including Zaildar Mohalla, Sultan Mohalla, Ranger Stop and Ashai Bagh, witnesses said. The police, they said without any provocation went on rampage damaging cars and bikes parked in the lanes. They also alleged window panes of several houses were damaged by the police.

“Around midnight, we took out a Muharram procession in our locality. It was moving peacefully until cops came in charging and lobbed pepper shells,” Manzoor Ahmad, an eyewitness said.

He said the cops ran amok beating whosoever they came by. “Even women and children were not spared. It was a horrible night,” he alleged.

“My baby was struggling to breath. The cops turned the air poisonous with massive use of tear smoke and pepper shells,” he added.

Used Mild Force Despite Provocation: Police

For the first time in these ten days, police came out with a statement claiming that mild force was used to disperse Muharram processions after some mourners’ pelted stones on the policemen, injuring dozens.

In a statement issued here, a police spokesperson said that Muharram processions were taken out at dozen places and at some places stone pelting happened when the mourners were told that processions were not allowed in wake of Covid-19 pandemic.

“During intense stone pelting more than 15 police personnel were grievously injured, who were immediately hospitalised. The police have exercised maximum restraint despite grave provocation by the miscreants,” the police spokesperson claimed.

He said despite violating the COVID-19 protocols and government advisories, the mourners assembled in processions at dozens of places across Srinagar.

The police spokesperson further said that the cops have been guarding Imam Baras for around 10 days now and making round the clock deployments to ensure peaceful conduct of Majalis.

“But despite all that Police was made to face violence and stone pelting. Under these testing times also Police has used only mild force to ensure their dispersal, showing maximum restraint,” the police spokesperson said.

He said a case FIR 58/2020 under relevant sections of law stands registered in PS Zadibal and investigation taken up.

Interestingly authorities allowed Muharram processions in some areas of the Valley on Ashura.

A Muharram procession was taken out in Pandrethan area in Srinagar outskirts. The procession culminated peacefully at Imambargah. The mourners followed the proper SOPs, residents said.

Similarly, processions were taken out in several areas of central Kashmir, including one major procession which started from Mirgund and culminated at Budgam Imambargah. 

Small processions were also taken out at Chadoora, Wanihama, Hayatpora, Khanpora and Ichgam.

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Izhar Nazir Ali

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