Kashmiri Shia leaders demand admin to clear policy on Muharram processions

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Several key leaders of Kashmir’s Shia community on Tuesday asked the government to come clear about its policies regarding the Muharram processions, during which members of the community hold mourning rallies to commemorate the martyrdom of Prophet Mohammad’s grandson Imam Hussain.

The government has rescinded its first order, which had mentioned that dates and routes of processions including the procession from Gulshan Bagh to Zadibal on 6 Muharam, Kathi Darwaza to Hassanabad on 7 Muharam, Guru Bazar to Dalgate on 8 Muharam, Mandible to Zadibal on 9 Muharram, Abi Guzar to Lal Chowk on 10 Muharam and Rainawari to Hassanbad on 11 Muharam in Srinagar district and Mirgund to Budgam on 25 Muharam.

However, the order was “modified” weeks later as the Divisional Commissioner’s officer said its earlier directions with regard to “conduction processions / gathering and management of law and order etc are modified”. 

“Appropriate decisions for suitable actions will be taken by the District Magistrate concerned in consultation with police, health and other stakeholders so as to comply with the COVID norms and maintain the smooth law and order,” read the modified order issued last week. 

Ruhullah Mehdi, a major political leader from the Shia community who had first raised the objection over selectively allowing mourning processions, said that allowing only 25 people to carry out processions “is a mockery”.

“We didn’t expect this government to allow the Muharram procession in isolation and keep the bans on the other religious functions. Therefore, we questioned that decision of isolation. Now their designs are exposed, they have changed their entire scheme and plan,” Mehdi said.

Some of the procession routes mentioned in the order, like Abi Guzar to Lal Chowk on 10 Muharam, were being allowed after a gap of 30 years, which some Shia leaders objected was aimed at causing a divide. 

Mehdi also questioned the administration for easing COVID19 restrictions on 15 August, the day of India’s independence. “How can you differentiate one gathering from the other? How can one gathering be a factor contributing to COVID and the other gathering of the same nature involving humans not be effective in contributing to Covid spread,” he said. 

“It’s a mockery, a naive decision. They have made a mockery of this system, this doesn’t make any sense,” Mehdi said.

The two orders seeded confusion among the Shia community and its leaders are now seeking clarity from the administration and also questioning the bar, which due to COVID19 restriction allows a gathering of only 25 people.

“They should be clear about their policies regarding the processions whether we can take them out or not. So that when people will take out processions they shouldn’t face shelling or lathi charge,” said Masroor Abass Ansari, an influential Shia leader in Srinagar’s old city areas. 

“If they will say right now that it’s allowed or not, that will be better. Because it’s a matter of faith,” he said.

Masroor questioned the administration for being “lenient with the protocols” on 15 August, when the administration announced there will be no restriction on the gatherings.

He said that the community will try to follow the guidelines during the processions “but it’s impossible to take out processions with 25 people only”. 

Imran Ansari, another prominent Shia leader and a senior leader of a political party People’s Conference, said that “the government has not yet called any meeting with us on this. We are waiting for them to reach out”.

He added that they can’t issue any instructions to their people unless they themselves get to know what is to be done.

Aga Muntazir, a Shia leader in central Kashmir’s Budgam district, said they have told the administration that “it’s not possible to take out processions with just 25 people”. “We have told them in clear terms,” he said.

“We will follow SOPS and go ahead with processions,” he said. “We suggested downscaling of the participation, if you put a complete ban it will be counter productive and there will be confrontation,” he said.

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