Muharram Procession is a Symbol of Collective Heritage of Kashmir
Today, when a big segment of media, civil society, the leftists and the opposition is displaying concern over the possible spill-over of the communal tension in the sub-continent, the governments have proved to be immature entities that are unable to provide basic security to the people and frame policies that preach tolerance in the plural society like the South-Asia
Since, the governments have forgotten their basic duties, therefore we see the state function shrinking to fanatics. This is the reason politicisation of religions has become an only tool to grasp the power for the power hungry politicians.
The incidents are taking place one after the another, where people are being polarised and human lives are being squandered away in the name of religion and intolerance. This makes one think that haven’t there been a single case of tolerence between the same people through out centuries? Before politicising religion, did not these people lived in amity without interfering into the religious or other practices of each other?
The South-Asia is a diverse region, the people in the region have to look back and take lessons of tolerance to avoid the conflict. The politics grounded on religious, sectarian and ethnic basis will only consume precious lives of humans and give mileage to the blood thirsty politicians.
When we look at the region, Kashmir seems to be most conflict ridden and no place for peaceful living. However, this has not been the case historically. The history of Kashmir can provide lessons of peaceful-coexistence and tolerance to the region. Though, the month of Muharram of the Hijri calendar is going on and Muharram in Kashmir can prove the argument.
The Muharram in Kashmir, besides being a religious occasion displays the Kashmiri culture to the fullest through the wider usage of Kashmiri poetry and language to communicate the tragedy of Karbala, the wider consumption of Kashmiri cuisine like wazwan and drinks like kahwa and noon-chai in the Majlis Hussainis and the distinct and Kashmiri way of carrying out the rituals. The people across the religions and sects participate in the rituals of Muharram. Therefore, it becomes a cultural heritage of the people of Kashmir.
But the discriminatory and myopic policies of the government have sabotaged this cultural heritage of Kashmir and sowed the seed of discord among the generations in past decades by banning the prime Muharram procession of Kashmir. Consequently, the Muharram has turned to become a sectarian occurrence.
Although, till the year of 1989 the two prime Muharram processions used to be taken out, in which tens of thousands of mourners participated. The one procession of Ashura used to start from Abi Guzar and conclude at Ali Park Zadibal. The route it followed was Abi Guzar- Lal Chowk-Masuma-Gaw Kadal-Habba Kadal-Maharaj Gung-Sazgaripora-Gassiyar-Ali Park at Zadibal.
The then government headed by Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah allotted this route. The Ashura procession was a significant symbols of the Shia-Sunni brotherhood and the Muslim-Pandith harmony, though, the major portion of the procession route descended in the Sunni majority areas and also passed through some Pandith.
The affection and affiliation of all the communities with the procession was ideal example of the tolerance and harmony. The people across the religious and sectarian affiliations used to pay tribute to the procession. For example, the Sabeel Gah for mourners was arranged at various spots on the route by the Sunnis.
No untoward incident has ever been reported during the years procession used to take this route. The eyewitnesses of the procession narrate the story by sharing the events of the harmony and brotherhood. Along with the religious awareness people were being socialised to tolerant and mutual respectful environment, where safety of one community was looked after by the other.
Though, the start of resistance in Kashmir was countered primarily by targeting the tolerant social fabric of Kashmir. The Muharram processions too came under the communal scrutiny of the then governor of the state Mr. Jagmohan Malhotra and the processions were banned from year 1990. Since then nobody dared to lift the ban on the processions.
It is now 26th year of ban on the processions, yet, there has been a continuous resentment on the imposition of the ban on the processions. Despite providing security and creating feasible environment to the people, the government imposes curfew and structurally tries to erase this cultural heritage. Yet, every year the desperate mourners attempt to defy restrictions and curfew. But they are brutally treated and booked in various police stations of the city.
In every meeting regarding arrangements of Muharram with the government, this issue is raised very strongly, but passing buck is a standard modus operandi of the government pertaining to this case. The civil society ignores its importance, as a cement of the society and charm of the heritage. The press ignores its contributing element and remains silent.
Although Anjuman Sharie Shian has expressed concern over the ban through writing letters to the authorities, demonstrating, agitating, appealing and through defying the curfews over a period of time. When a delegation of Anjuman Shaire Shain met Mr. Omer Abdullah, the former Chief Minister of the state assured the revocation of the ban. But unfortunately, communal and sectarian policy being used as a tool of counter-insurgency disapproved the idea of lifting the ban.
However, the chief of People’s Democratic Party and the present ruling party issued statement against using of force on mourners for taking out procession and stated that time has come to allow this procession. But when tables turned and they came to the power the policy of banning the processions remains unchanged.
On 14th October 2015, in a meeting presided over by the CM, I raised the issue with the expectation that since the CM himself has convened a meeting for Muharram arrangements, therefore might have some seriousness towards this issue as well. But the meeting turned to be conventional eyewash and nothing else. My simple question to concerned people is that why only processions of the Muharram. If you can allow Dashera, Janamasthami, Eid Prayers and many others then what is the hesitation with Muharram processions. Why have security agencies proved to be so incompetent to handle it? The Muharram procession does not require as much of energy as is needed for Amarnath Yatra. Why this drama of security, why doesn’t government leave us alone to manage it ourselves? Anjuman Sharie Shia can ensure security and safety of the processions.
There are two models that the government should consider in relation to the procession rather than shying away from the job. Firstly, the government can consider the Lebanon model, where the confessional organisations organise the processions without taking help from the government. Secondly, Pakistan model can be studied, where much lager processions are taken out under graver security threat with the help of government agencies. However, in Kashmir either these processions are looked discriminately at or the government is afraid of being exposed.