Covering her mouth with dupatta, 19-year-old Ufra Zainab was a part of a group of women, who had tried to prevent the government forces from going towards a masjid in Saida Kadal area of Srinagar on Saturday midnight. “They [government forces] didn’t listen to us and began to beat and assault everyone randomly,” she said, adding that the procession was not taken out owing to the COVID-19 protocols.
WIthout a Muharram procession, a local resident Sajid Hussain said, in the wee hours of Sunday, the men of the locality were busy in a mourning congregation at the local masjid while the women held their own congregations inside their homes when government forces personnel raided the area.
Muharram processions have been banned across the country but in Kashmir, the police have resorted to firing pellets at mourners who attempted to take out processions in the last few days. However, Mr. Sajid said that residents of Zaildar Mohalla, in Saida Kadal, had “not intended to take out a procession” but still, “the police smashed the masjid’s windows and beat anyone who had come in their way”.
On Sunday morning, with gloomy faces, residents of the small neighborhood dressed in black to mark the solemn month of Muharram marked with mourning the killing of Imam Hussain, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson. However, they were simultaneously mourning the trauma of the government forces’ raid the previous night.
The locality reverberated with nohas, laments to the tragedy of Karbala, played on the masjid’s loudspeakers. On the streets, there was a commotion. Many vehicles parked on the street, littered with broken glass, were damaged and local residents alleged two window panes at the local masjid were also broken.
However, the police denied the allegations by saying that some youth from the area tried to take out a procession. “The windowpanes of vehicles were broken because of the stone-pelting between two groups,” said a police official posted in the area, on request of anonymity, adding that they couldn’t see the miscreants in the dark.
He further added that they didn’t beat anyone in the area but provided all the security to the people of the area. We have filed a first investigation report (FIR) against the youth who vandalized the property, he said.
Post-midnight banging on the tin-walls
A crowd of local residents in one lane was eager to talk about the night’s raid. “They took everybody out [of the masjid] and beat them up,” said Ghulam Hassan, pointing towards the broken windshields of vehicles on the roadside. “Yi gov zulm, this is injustice.” Another man, standing in the crowd, interrupted him and asked: “If India is a secular country, why does their police do this to us?”
At about 1:45 am on Sunday, local residents said, some police and paramilitary personnel–about twenty in number–started banging on the corrugated tin sheets that act as boundary walls to the residential houses in the area.
At this point, the women in their homes came outside, said Ms. Zainab. According to her, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel had told them that “whatever happened to them was done entirely by police and there is no CRPF involvement in the violence.”
“The tragedy of Karbala is not a joke and we were just mourning,” she said angrily. “How can they do this to us?” She added that last night the police officials fired pepper gas shells at the mourners and over an hour the electricity was also cut off in the area.
A few houses down the lane, wearing a dull-colored floral kurta and covering her head with black dupatta, 38-year-old Malla, who only gave her first name, was crying as she was witnessing the commotion. “Last night was sad and we need justice for what they did to us,” she said, wiping her eyes with her dupatta. “What had we done to them?”
During the raid, Ms. Malla said that residents of the locality had either been forced out of the masjid or had come out of their homes to witness the chaos outside and to find their loved ones; she said that they “beat even our kids” and began to weep again.
“We spent the night searching for our children like Imam Hussain’s sister and wife, on the tenth of Muharram, searched for Sakina,” said Ms. Malla, referring to the incident on the tenth day of Muharram, when relatives of Imam Hussain searched for his daughter Bibi Sakina, who had run into the battlefield to find him.
“Sickest thing one could do”
While the local residents in the crowd were narrating the last night’s ordeal, a few meters away, in the masjid, a middle-aged man, who was performing the ablution before noon prayers, shouted: “Police chune kensi hund nati chu mazhab kunui (the police is loyal to no one, otherwise we belong to the same religion).”
A day before on Saturday, in Bemina area of Srinagar also the government forces fired pellets and tear smoke shells to stop a Muharram procession. At least forty people were reported injured, with a few having critical injuries leading to loss of eyesight.
A local resident from Saida Kadal had gone live through his Facebook last night during the raid, showing commotion and sound of tear gas smoke. A siren and people raising slogans of Muharram can also be heard in the video. “They are coming… there is tear smoke… he only threw one…,” a man can be heard telling someone while coughing.
“This was the sickest thing that one could do without any particular reason,” said Mr. Sajid, and added that the government forces vandalizing property in the locality, and beating up mourners could not be tolerated as a recurring feature of Muharram.