Muharram Ban

POLICE on Tuesday detained several mourners and thrashed journalists as part of its effort to bar the Muharram procession in Srinagar’s civil lines. The attack on the journalists was inexplicable. They were just doing their job. But the police went after them and allegedly broke the camera of one of the journalists. Police had also erected concertina wires and barricades to stop the procession traditionally organized on the eighth of Muharram in the areas around Lal Chowk that would culminate at Dalgate. Ironically, the ban was imposed after the government had earlier decided to allow the processions “as per the past practice.” The government ban and the use of force on mourners and journalists has been condemned widely.

Major Muharram processions continue to be banned in Srinagar since the eruption of militancy in 1989, as authorities maintain that the religious gatherings have been used for propagating separatist politics and that they are a trigger for violence. In Srinagar, all the areas wherefrom traditional  processions, especially those of 8th and 10th Muharram, would commence are placed under tight security restrictions. Government justifies the extreme measures citing the possibility of violence in the city. This has been a stock government explanation for prohibiting the Muharram religious 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 the Valley.

But one misses the basic point about the prevailing normalcy in the state. If Kashmir is normal it is not because of the government, but because people themselves choose to be peaceful. Yes, there is a chance that the situation could deteriorate but that often happens when the government messes things up and uses disproportionately more force than the situation warrants.

Such justifications for strict security curbs are ironically at variance with the otherwise routine parading of peace in the region in government statements. But one misses the basic point about the prevailing normalcy in the state. If Kashmir is normal it is not because of the government, but because people themselves choose to be peaceful. Yes, there is a chance that the situation could deteriorate but that often happens when the government messes things up and uses disproportionately more force than the situation warrants. During the unrest periods of 2010 and 2016, it was the killings of youth on a daily basis that became a distinct factor in keeping the situation on the boil. And it was only when killings stopped that situation slowly returned to normal. Moreover the government arguement flounders on the fact that similar processions in more vulnarable areas of Srinagar pass off peacefully.

The point is not that the government is to blame for everything but that in its obsessive effort to maintain peace it sometimes encourages the trouble. The disruption of religious events like Muharram prevents people in Kashmir from practicing their faith which in turn engenders anger against the government, a source of violence. It is the government's responsibility to allow all major Muharram processions. Of course, there should be adequate security in place but it should not be there to impede but facilitate the occasion.

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