Muharram Curbs

THis week, the Government forces once again fired shotgun pellets and tear gas in Kashmir, this time to break up mourners participating in Muharram processions, injuring scores, pictures of some of whose pellet-riddled bodies and faces went viral on social media. According to Police the mourners violated prohibitory orders that restrict all religious processions to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. But mourners contend they followed all Standard Operating Procedures in performing their religious obligation. It is also correct that this is not because of the Covid-19 pandemic that the administration didn't allow the Muharram processions to go ahead. Major Muharram processions continue to be banned since the eruption of militancy in 1990, as authorities maintain that such religious gatherings have been used for propagating separatist politics.

In Srinagar, the Shia dominated areas were placed under a tight security restrictions to foil large gathering of people. Government justified the extreme measures citing the possibility of violence in the city. This has been a stock government explanation for prohibiting the Muharram processions over the past three decades. And such explanations are generally independent of the context and the circumstances prevailing at the time. The government always invokes dire prospects of mass disturbance disregarding the calm in Kashmir Valley.

Such justifications for strict security curbs are ironically at variance with the otherwise routine official parading of peace in Kashmir. But one misses the basic point about the prevailing normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir. If Kashmir is normal it is not because of government, but because people themselves choose to be peaceful. Yes, there is a chance that the situation can deteriorate but that often happens when government messes things up and uses disproportionately more force than the situation warrants. During sucessive mass unrests in the recent past like 2010 and even 2016, it were the killings of youth on a daily basis that became a distinct factor in keeping the situation on boil. And it was only when killings stopped that situation slowly returned to normal.

The point is not that government is to blame for everything but that in its obsessive effort to maintain peace it sometimes encourages the trouble. The disruption of the religious events like Muharram prevents people in Kashmir from practising their faith which in turn engenders anger against government, a source of violence. It is Government’s responsibility not only to allow but facilitate religious processions, like Muharram. Of course, there should be adequate security in place but it should not be there to impede but facilitate the occasion as is being done in case of Amarnath Yatra and rightly so.

One more thing, this time around, there have been attempts to instigate sectarian trouble on social media from outside Kashmir too. Among them was a tweet that even blamed J&K Police for acting on sectarian lines but no action has been taken against the culprit. This is ironical, considering the local police is quick to act against social media posts in the Valley, many of them having evidently nothing wrong about them.

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