Back in 1987, as a school boy from valley’s Tyndale Biscoe School, I had seen the Muharram procession for the first time in Lalchowk – srinagar’s city centre. It was the 8th Muharram and while rushing to catch my bus from the SRTC bus stand, I made way for a huge procession. I followed thousands of protestors who were led by Maulana Abbas Ansari. The memory is vivid, even now, perhaps because since 1989, no such muharram procession ever passed through the heart of the city.
I would always wonder why the 8th Muharram procession wasn’t allowed. That is until I grew up and found political reasons surrounding it.
Successive governments in J&K had given the impression that if allowed, the procession would lead to law and order problems. Thus, political leadership would always rely on police and security clearance for it. In hindsight, there were indeed challenges for the authorities as they suspected separatist groups could hijack the event. Nonetheless, the governments could have taken up this challenge. For 33 years they were indecisive on it.
Procession passes via Lal Chowk
Now, after a thirty-four-year-long ban, Shia mourners were finally allowed to take out the 8th Muharram procession through the traditional route from Guru Bazaar to Dalgate via MA Road. Due credits need to be given to the J&K administration led by Lt Governor Manoj Sinha for this bold decision.
Until the night of 7th Muharram, there were speculations that the procession may not be allowed, as the walkout of Imran Ansari from the Muharram meeting with LG Manoj Sinha and Chief Secretary had exacerbated the issue. But the last minute change of heart has not only brought great relief to devout Shia Muslims who were craving for this day but also laurels for the LG administration for this bold and historic decision. And that was not all. The decision by Lieutenant Governor to personally participate in the 10th Muharram procession in the old city Srinagar was indeed a bold move. Wearing a black kurta Mr Sinha drove to downtown Srinagar and joined crowds of thousands becoming the first constitutional head to do so. There were also top brass of the government, including Divisional Commissioner, Deputy Commissioners who all wore black.
Symbolism has great value in our part of the world and by this move, LG admin has outsmarted all politicians who had preceded him.
Testimony to Normalcy
LG Manoj Sinha while paying glowing tributes to the Karbala martyrs said:
“I bow to the martyrs of Karbala and recall sacrifices of Hazrat Imam Hussain and his ideals. Today is a historic occasion for Shia brethren in Kashmir valley as after 34 years 8th Muharram procession is taking place on the traditional route”
He further said that it was also a testimony to change and normalcy in Jammu & Kashmir and the entire world was witnessing the commitment and determination of the government to ensure a peaceful environment, freedom, love, compassion and harmony in society.
While giving credit to LG administration for allowing the 8th Muharram procession , former Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir Omar Abdullah and National Conference leader welcomed the decision taken by the administration headed by LG Manoj Sinha. He, however, said that authorities must also take some more steps to restore actual normalcy in J&K. He said there should be no restrictions at the Srinagar Jamia Masjid and Friday and Eid prayers should be allowed. He also appealed to the Govt to lift all the restrictions on Mirwaiz Umar Farooq so that he can fulfil his religious obligations at Jamia Masjid Srinagar by participating in Friday prayers.
Masroor hails LG
Even Maulana Masroor Abbas Ansari, president of Ittehadul Muslimeen, hailed the decision saying that the peaceful 8th Muharram procession had given a lie to all those regimes before him that claimed the procession had the potential to disturb peace. He thanked LG administration for lifting the unjustified ban saying Shias were not an ungrateful community to not thank those who took this decision after 34 years as previous regimes only used force to curb it. He acknowledged the situation in Kashmir has improved.
Addressing 9th Muharram gathering at Alamgiri Bazar, Molvi Masroor Abbas also gave credit of 8th Muharram procession to the youth who struggled all these years and paved the way for its restoration through the traditional route. He said that the Government should not suspect that any sectarian clashes will take place in Srinagar or that anti-national elements will seek political benefits from it. Neither should any political party use it for their own benefits.
The credit of allowing 8th Muharram procession definitely goes to the Govt headed LG Manoj Sinha but this must not stop here. The work towards restoring normalcy and democratic institutions has to continue. People can’t rely on Govt officers all the time to address their grievances. They need their MLAs to speak for them. The Govt of India now needs to focus on holding Assembly elections in Jammu & Kashmir as soon as possible.
Holding 8th Muharram procession through its historical route is the validation of the fact that peace has returned to Jammu & Kashmir and now the Govt must start working on giving the people of J&K an elected Government. The Govt of India also needs to take steps to restore statehood as well.
Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
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