Photo Essay: Clock Reversed as Muharram Procession Returns to Lal Chowk after Three Decades

Srinagar, July 27: As sun rose on Thursday morning, scores of Shia mourners started their journey from Guru Bazar and moved towards Dal Gate in Kashmir’s largest city Srinagar. The Muharram procession along this traditional route was allowed today after over three decades. 

Owing to unfavourable law-and-order situation, Muharram processions along this route were prohibited in 1989. Since then, every year on 8th-Muharram there would be mild and sometimes intense confrontation between security forces and Shia mourners as the latter tried to break the restrictions. 

However, the scenes were completely opposite this time, as women, children and men of all ages, donning black clothes, were seen walking and mourning and intermittently resting along the way. 

As the first procession started moving at around 5:40 am, sanitizing vans of the SMC, ambulances and police cars were seen leading the way as few elders and strongmen guided the swarm of people while maintaining discipline and ensuring organisation of their particular groups.

And as the procession continued to grow in numbers and crossed Budshah Bridge, leaders of groups rapidly ensured that mourners walk on one side of the road only, while servicemen and their vehicles used the other lane and media persons used the divider to cover the historic event. 

Heavy presence of security personnel including police, SOG commandos and CRPF was witnessed as administration vowed to keep the security of the mourners and law-and-order situation in-check. 

Kashmir’s top cop ADGP Vijay Kumar also visited the Lal Chowk around 6:00 am to take stock of the situation while expressing his contentment over the arrangements by his men and the cooperation by the mourners. 

About the estimated numbers of the people present in the procession, Kumar said it was too early to guess it and that they are “using drones to count the mourners.” 

“The total number will be shared later in the day,” Kumar said as he smiled at the peaceful and extraordinary atmosphere.

As overnight rains had cleared the sky, direct sunlight imposed a mild heat, making mourners sit and rest on the footpaths along the road while other members of the procession provided drinks, keeping people including health workers, cops and other commuters hydrated.   

SMC workers were seen collecting garbage while groups of young boys accompanying the procession picked up empty water bottles, making sure that in the aftermath, the place wasn’t littered. 

Traffic cops, who reported to duty at 5:00 am in the morning said, they didn’t witness any flow of traffic while they were in constant communication over radio with their comrades, updating them about the routes and directions actively.

And as Shia mourners kept coming in groups, reaching M.A Bridge at Dalgate in intervals, over half-a-dozen young boys watching the scenes from above a hill-top adjacent to Takhtesulaiman were enthralled. 

“It feels like people are walking in Karbala, I have never seen this my entire life,” said 25-years-old Shahnawaz. A resident of HMT on Srinagar outskirts, Shahnawaz along with his friends had left their places at 4:00 am today to join the procession. 

“Yeha chu wariya boad (This is too big)” marked 27-year-old Imran Abbas as he marvelled at the masses.

Abbas recalled how he and other mourners used to gather in a circle and mourn in the Dalgate chowk while simultaneously running and dodging the security forces implementing the restrictions. 

And as they tell their anecdotes, they express their happiness about the administration’s decision to allow this religious procession after 34 years. 

But as the young were bewildered by the occasion, the older ones in the procession were overwhelmed with emotions. 

“Waariya Kaeyl patte haez wuch yi maahol (we saw this atmosphere after a fairly long time),” expressed 76-years-old Mohammad Abdullah Khan. 

Donning black Kurta and waist coat, both stripped white, Khan, a resident of central Kashmir’s Budgam says he left his house after offering Fajr prayers and reached Guru Bazar-the starting point of the procession- at 5:45 am.

“Thanks to the administration for all the facilities they are providing,” the septuagenarian said as he commended the cooperation of his fellow Shias. 

However, he said, he might have reached earlier but some main roads leading to Srinagar were barricaded, forcing them to take a detour to reach the capital. 

His claim was seconded by another middle-aged man from south Kashmir’s Khanabal, who refused to identify himself and said that the authorities had blocked the main road near Pohar, making him and his fellow mourners to reach Srinagar using inner lanes. 

Resting on the lane divider near Dalgate’s main market, 59-year-old Wali Mohammad of Pulwama could hardly believe his eyesight. 

“It’s like the clock is reversed and I have travelled in a time-machine,” Mohammad remarked as he closed his eyes “to feel the moment.”

He says they would try every year to persuade authorities to allow this procession but to no avail, however, he says he is jubilant as the “forgotten dream has now been fulfilled.”

Flashback to 34-years, Mohammad says in those days, processions were usually taken out in the afternoon, lasting till late evening. “Although the time-slot provided by the admin is very short, it’s a lot after so many years,” he acknowledges and stands up again after hydrating himself. 

In those days, mourners came in multitudes, but not everyone was sure of the situation, so many have decided to stay back, he explains. 

While administration had given only two-hours-from 6:00am to 8:00am for the procession to be held, the last of mourners crossed the Moulana Azad Road around 10:00 am.

Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Traffic (City), Muzaffar Ahmad Shah said they have been releasing traffic as the last group clears the main intersections along the Jehangir Chowk- Dal Gate route.

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