AFTER more than three decades, thousands of Shia Muslims in Kashmir took out a procession to mark the eighth day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar.
Dressed in customary black, the mourners beat their chests and chanted elegies as they walked through the heart of Srinagar city on Thursday morning amid a heavy security arrangement.
Thursday’s procession was held for the first time in 34 years after authorities had banned it in 1989 when armed insurgency aided and abated by Pakistan had erupted in the Kashmir Valley.
Around 40,000 mourners participated in the 5.5 km procession that started from Guru Bazar, passed through the Lal Chowk City Centre and ended at Dal Gate. The LG administration said that the peaceful culmination of the historical procession “simply shows our commitment to a peaceful and prosperous future” of the region.
Earlier, on July 25, LG Manoj Sinha had convened a meeting of the leaders of the Shia community to discuss the restoration of the traditional Muharram procession in Srinagar. The meeting, however, witnessed some sort of disruption because of the exchange of some heated argument between Chief Secretary Arun Kumar Mehta and prominent Shia leader Imran Raza Ansari.
Since 1990, smaller processions were held which were restricted to mainly Shia neighbourhoods of the City. The mourners who defied restrictions were either detained or their procession foiled by the police.
Restoration of Muharram’s eighth procession has been widely appreciated by all the segments of the society. What is even more interesting is the debate over “inability and ill will” of the political leadership of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir for what is being termed as insincerity of the former regimes that could not allow the eighth procession of Muharram for 34 years.
There were occasions when Kashmir was relatively peaceful and the graph of violence had gone down considerably. During those times, the administration could have restored the tradition of the eighth procession but the so-called popular governments simply disallowed the procession which would result in clashes between the mourners and the security forces. Many precious lives were lost in the unfortunate but avoidable situations.
The political leadership, supposedly enjoying the confidence of the general public, could have simply sought assurances from the leaders of the Shia community for peaceful and incident free processions. Certainly it would not had been a big deal to take the leadership of the community into confidence and allow the Muharram processions. The loss of lives and property could have easily been avoided.
However, the so-called popular regimes chose to impose harsh restrictions rather than taking calculated risks to test the waters. This is something synonymous with the political dispensations in Kashmir. They would always try to be safe and or they even had secret pacts with the subversive sections. They would impose curfew on such occasions giving a strong argument for the anti-State narrative.
There is no meaning to the utterances of the political class as far as the permission for taking out the Muharram procession is concerned. The LG administration has rendered them irrelevant. There is no justification for such utterances because on many accounts, the LG administration is doing phenomenally well.
Be it influx of tourists, smooth conduct of Shri Amarnathji Yatra or allowing the Shia community to take out a procession on the designated traditional route from Guru Bazar to Dal Gate via Lal chowk….This route of 5.5 kms has remained a hot belt for stone pelters in the past.
The LG administration was conscious of the vulnerabilities, and yet it went ahead with elaborative security measures, which only reflects on its commitment and resilience to set things right in the Valley which has seen so much bloodshed in the past few decades. The truth is that the political elites were complacent and it is their complacency which didn’t allow peace to prevail.
Going by the assertions of the political elites and their progenies in the media and civil society, Kashmir should have been in complete chaos. The world-famous tourist places of Kashmir should have been wearing a deserted look, violence should have marred the Muharram procession, blood of innocents should have been spilled in the streets.
It is a paradox that despite the peaceful culmination of Muharram eighth procession in which more than 40,000 mourners participated, some overseas media houses were desperate to give it a context that suits their narrative. This simply reflects on their state of mind. The argument of “enforced calm” has fallen flat.
That said, the LG administration need not be overconfident. There will be attempts from the enemies of the State to create nuisance and security agencies shall further strengthen their vigil to foil the anticipated attempts of disruption.
No doubt, the peaceful culmination of Muharram eighth procession has added one more feather to Manoj Sinha’s cap, the administration has to be as vigilant as it has been to keep the enemies of peace at bay.
What, however, goes to the advantage of the LG administration is the yearning for peace by the common masses and disillusionment with the violence and violent political narratives.
It would be appropriate to work towards inclusiveness and improve efficiency, accountability and transparency. Equitable and inclusive development could satisfy the collective conscience of the Kashmir society which could go a long way in addressing the perceived notions of alienation and discrimination. No sections of the Kashmir society should be left out. It would add to the legitimacy and acceptability of the administration.