At least eight mourners and two policemen were injured on Wednesday as police foiled Muharram processions across Srinagar, throwing the capital city into chaos with mourners offering stiff resistance and fighting pitched battles with the uniformed personnel.
Several mourners were bundled into police vehicles and lodged in various police stations were they remained in preventive custody.
Before 1990, on the 8th day of Muharram, Ashura procession would commence from ShaheedGunj area, pass through MA Road and later culminate at Imam Bara Dalgate. However, during the past 28 years, authorities have not allowed the Ashura processions, citing security reasons.
This year, at various places in Srinagar, mourners were seen carrying the portrait of slain HizbulMujahideen commander BurhanWani in the Muharram processions.
The Muharram processions are taken out across Kashmir in the first 10 days of the Islamic calendar to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (AS), the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), who was martyred along with his family members, some 1400 years ago in Karbala, Iraq.
Authorities in Srinagar imposed stringent curbs in areas falling under eight police stations—Batamaloo, ShaheedGunj, Karanagar, Maisuma, Kothibagh, Shergrahi, Kralkhud and Ram Munshibagh.
Rolls of concertina wire were laid to block some arterial roads in Batamaloo, Residency Road, Dalgate, Ram Munishbagh and Maisuma to prevent mourners from assembling in large numbers. Most of the shops in the commercial hub of LalChowk remained shut due to the curbs.
A witness said that mourners reached Batamaloo at around 11 am and tried to proceed towards LalChowk.
"However, they were intercepted by the police. The mourners amid thumping of their chest were raising slogans like YaHussain (AS). Many of them were pushed back by police resorting to cane-charge while a few were taken into preventive custody," the witness said.
Folowing afternoon prayers, another group of mourners showed up at JehangirChowk. Clad in black dresses, the mourners were chanting pro-Islam and pro-Imam Hussain (AS) slogans.
"They were stopped by the police that fired a few tear gas shells to push them back. Dozens were bundled into police vehicle and lodged in police station ShaheedGunj," a police officer said.
Another group that came from Guru Bazar, tried to march from JehangirChowk towards LalChowk. However, a heavy contingent of police deployed there intercepted them, detaining many.
Witnesses said a massive procession was taken out from Dalgate area where police resorted to firing of dozens of tear gas shells to push the mourners back.
"Three mourners suffered minor injuries in the police action," said a witness. "They were removed to SMHS hospital for the first aid."
The mourners fought pitched battles with the police at Dalgate fighting tear gas and swinging batons.
"The mourners later started pelting stones on the policemen. Clashes were going on in the area till late evening," the witness said.
A police officer said that two policemen also sustained injuries due to stone pelting at Dalgate.
Yet another procession was taken out from AbiGuzar in LalChowk, which tried to proceed towards Dalgate, but was stopped also by police, detaining more mourners.
"The mourners had parked their vehicles near Mamta hotel, Dalgate and later tried to march towards Imam Bara. Policemen who were deployed in huge numbers fired tear gas shells and even lathi-charged the mourners to push them back," the witness said.
The mourners, however, refused to budge and clashed with the government forces.
A senior police officer, who was monitoring the events throughout the day, said not more than ten people including two cops, sustained injuries.
"Not more than 50 persons were detained. All of them were taken into preventive custody and released later," he said.
MoulanaMasroor Abbas Ansari, president of ItehadulMuslimeen strongly denounced the curbs on mourners and ban on Muharram procession.
"I want to ask the administration and the police if they can facilitate two month long Amarnath pilgrimage, JanamasthamiYatra through the roads of LalChowk, why are Muharram procession banned and mourners thrashed," he said.
"This is total interference into the religious affairs and deserves all forms of condemnation."
Ansari, who is also the Huriyat (M) executive member, said tall claims of government and police that peace was prevailing fall flat when "peaceful procession is disallowed."
Hurriyat Conference (G) chairman Syed Ali Geelani, Hurriyat Conference (M) Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and JKLF chief Muhammad Yasin Malik strongly condemned the use of force against the Muharam procession in different parts of Kashmir.
"The police action is a sheer interference in the religious matters of the Muslims," Geelani said in a statement issued here, castigating the police and administration for imposing "undeclared curfew" in Srinagar city.
"Use of excessive force against the Muslims participating in the peaceful religious processions has exposed the fascist and biased mentality of the occupation authorities towards the Muslims," the statement quoting Geelani as having said.
Hurriyat Conference (M) chief, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq also condemned imposition of curfew-like curbs in majority of Srinagar areas and termed the barring of Muharram procession as direct interference into religious affairs.
"Srinagar held hostage by rulers to disallow Muharram procession! Curbs and restrictions on people's movement everywhere. Roads and alleys leading to hospitals especially SMHS also blocked..sick being made to suffer! Harassment of people keeps getting worse by the day," Mirwaiz wrote on his twitter handle.
"It has been the age old practice across Kashmir that on 8th and 10th of Muharram, huge processions used to take out from various parts of Srinagar and other parts of the valley to pay rich tributes to Hazrat Imam Hussain (AS) and his companions who were martyred in Karbala," a Hurriyat statement said.
"However over the past three decades, the rulers have been disallowing these processions and using brute force against the mourners which is highly condemnable."
In a statement issued here, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chairman Muhammad Yasin Malik also condemned the use of force against the mourners.
"Srinagar was sealed with barricades and strict restrictions were in place. When mourners defied these barricades they were showered with tear smoke shells and bamboos resulting in injuries to many mourners," Malik said.
He also condemned the arrest of hundreds of mourners and termed it as "highhandedness and direct interference into the religious affairs."