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Photograph by Umer Asif for The Kashmir Walla

The usual hustle and bustle in the run up to Eid is missing in Kashmir. Flocks of sheep blocking the roads in Srinagar and the rush of buyers, intent on performing the ritual sacrifice on Eid-ul-azha, were conspicuously absent. Instead, small flocks and a handful of buyers gather at few street corners in the city.

The administration has also ordered that no congregational prayers would be held in the masjids or eidgahs in an attempt to prevent large gatherings. Besides the sale of livestock for the ritual sacrifice, the markets are also closed as a lockdown has been reimposed.

The fresh lockdown is likely to dampen the festivities and mood in Kashmir that has observed the past three Eid under lockdowns, the two occasions of Eid last year were observed under a strict lockdown enforced by the administration in the wake of the abrogation of J-K’s special status. 

With the coronavirus still spreading and claiming more victims each day, an uncertain Eid approaches in Kashmir. 

Ritual in doldrums

The continued spread of the pandemic has come as a cause of concern for many who now have to choose between personal safety over the annual ritual that is obligatory to Muslims who can afford it.

There is a visible decline in the enthusiasm for buying livestock ahead of the Eid. For Dua Tariq, a resident of Kakapora in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, performing the ritual sacrifice this year seemed unsafe. “We are not sacrificing [a lamb] this year,” she said. “We used to sacrifice sheep every year but this year we decided not to do it.”

This Eid, Ms. Tariq has planned to give to charity an amount equivalent to the cost of the animal they would have otherwise sacrificed. “There are people who need money and are suffering financially because of the constant lockdowns,” she said

But Ms. Tariq’s worry doesn’t end with her family’s decision of not going ahead with the ritual. For those in her village, who intend to perform the sacrifice, another associated aspect of the ritual is the distribution of the meat and therefore coming in proximity of several others.

Dr. Aijaz Nabi Koul, senior doctor at the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), believes that the public must be careful and be sensitized about the spread of disease. “If we follow proper protocols, I don’t think that there should be any issue,” he said, adding that the actual risks are in the distribution of meat. “They should wear gloves. I don’t think there is a big issue about it if guidelines are followed.”

According to Dr. Koul: “The virus cannot get transmitted through the animals, so there is no issue for the sacrifice to take place. It only transmits from human to human. So if we maintain social distancing in a proper way. We can prevent it.”

Srinagar resident Aaqid Ashraf is intent on carrying out the ritual as usual. For him, the fear of contracting COVID-19 was overshadowed by his belief in religious obligations–even though he has planned to scale down the ritual. “We used to sacrifice two sheep every year and this year we will go with one only,” he said.

Owing to the perceived shortage of live animals this year, Mr. Ashraf has arranged for a sheep to be delivered to his home through a butcher in his neighbourhood, minimising the need to wander the city in search.

Mr. Ashraf said that his family will distribute meat only to their neighbours and close relatives living in the vicinity of their home, adding that “we will be maintaining social distance and wearing masks.”

A safe Eid?

Masroor Abbas Ansari, prominent Muslim cleric and head of the religious-political group, Ittehadul Muslimeen, said that even though “there is a risk associated with [the sacrifice ritual] as we are already buying meat and following [precautionary protocol].”

Mr. Ansari said that the ritual of sacrifice can be easily and safely performed if healthcare guidelines are followed but in his opinion, when animals are not easily available and there are certain difficulties due to pandemic, people should compensate it by giving charity. “It’s not mandatory.”

On 22 July, the J-K administration issued an advisory for arrangements ahead of Eid. It states that the markets would be allowed to open for three days, between 28 and 30 July, for buyers to make purchases. However, it adds that District Magistrates “shall locally take calls on the issue with regard to [the] pattern of opening market” keeping the precautionary guidelines in mind.

The administration has urged the public to take precautionary measures while distributing sacrificial meat and during Eid related gatherings–even as it has ordered shut the Valley’s masjids and shrines. There is also no confirmation, so far, on whether the lockdown will be extended further.

Dr. Koul says that prevention should be done collectively on a societal level. “I don’t think only doctors or administration can help until and unless everyone becomes aware about it and starts taking precautions,” he said.

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