Traditional Kashmir Muharram procession allowed 1st time in 3 decades

Traditional Kashmir Muharram procession allowed 1st time in 3 decades

Jammu and Kashmir gov’t cited volatile law and order situation for disallowing several religious gatherings in region

By Hilal Mir

SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir (AA) – The Jammu and Kashmir government for the first time in more than three decades on Thursday allowed one of banned religious processions during the ongoing Muslim month of Muharram.

The procession is taken out by Shias on the eight day of Muharram, first month in Islamic calendar.

The procession, one of the smaller pre-Ashura gatherings, starts from the Guru Bazar area of the capital Srinagar, and passes through one of the busiest roads before ending at Dal Gate, a touristy spot near the famous lake, Dal. The procession covers a distance of roughly 3 kilometers (1.86 miles).

Before the anti-India insurgency erupted in 1989, the procession usually started in the afternoon and ended early evening. After 1990, the government wouldn’t allow some of the processions, including the biggest one from the main business center, Lal Chowk, to Alamgari Bazar in Downtown Srinagar, which lasted nearly the entire day.

The region’s volatile law and order situation was cited as the reason for the ban. Since then, any attempt by a small group of Shia mourners to march along this route ended up in protests and clashes with the police.

This year, after discussions with Shia community leaders, the government permitted the procession from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. (0030GMT to 0230GMT) in the morning.

Hundreds of policemen and paramilitary soldiers lined the procession route as a few thousand, mostly black-clad mourners, carrying flags with salutatory slogans in honor of the Karbala martyrs and the Prophet’s family, passed by.

Ajaz Assad, the deputy commissioner of Srinagar, told the media: “It was a historic occasion today. The procession was held after nearly 34 years and I think this is evidence of peace. I thank Shia brethren for cooperating with the administration.”

Emotions ran high among the mourners.

“I feel like crying. Thank Allah for this. An entire generation has missed this procession,” said Showkat Hussain, one of the mourners who had participated in the last gathering before 1990.

It is unclear yet whether the biggest procession from the city center would be allowed on Ashura.

- Disputed region

Kashmir is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of the region is also controlled by China.

Since they were partitioned in 1947, the two countries have fought three wars – in 1948, 1965, and 1971 – two of them over Kashmir.

Some Kashmiri groups have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or unification with neighboring Pakistan.

According to several human rights groups, thousands of people have been killed and tortured in the conflict since 1989.

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