SRINAGAR, India – The government on Tuesday tightened curfew in parts of restive Indian Kashmir to force a blanket ban on annual mourning rituals and processions of Shia Muslims to mark Ashura, one of the holiest days in the Islamic calendar.
The day of Ashura falls on the 10th of the first lunar month of Muharram and is observed to commemorate the death of Imam Hussain, one of the grandsons of the Prophet Mohammad, in the 7th-century battle of Karbala in what is now Iraq.
Shia Muslims around the world take out large mourning processions that also involve bloody self-flagellation or inflicting injuries using sharp blades to express solidarity with the sufferings of Hussain during his struggle against oppression.
The administration in the disputed Kashmir region in the north of India that has a significant Shia Muslim population forced the mourners to stay indoors following orders that no procession will be allowed on main roads and highways.
“Restrictions under Section 144 CrPC (that prohibits gathering of four or more persons) have been imposed in and around Srinagar and some other parts of the valley to safeguard the lives of the people,” an official told EFE.
The move, he said, was “to maintain law and order” in the region that has been on the edge since Aug.5 when the Central government abruptly revoked the semi-autonomous status of Kashmir, a Muslim-majority territory disputed between India and Pakistan.
The Kashmir Valley has been under an unprecedented security lockdown since then and its communication lines snapped.
Authorities have detained tens of hundreds of political, social and religious leaders, including prominent Shia clerics after the abrogation of Article 370.
This is not the first time Muharram processions have been banned in Kashmir. But the prohibitory orders were followed more strictly this year than previously when mourning marches were allowed in Shia neighborhoods.
Ban on such traditional religious gatherings in Kashmir has been in vogue since the eruption of anti-India armed rebellion in 1989.
Academician Raashid Maqbool denounced the ban on religious gatherings as “a moral crime” that “India is committing time and again by not allowing Muharram processions.”
Prominent poet Qateel Mahdi equated the present-day Kashmir situation with what happened in Karbala nearly 1,400 years ago.
“Imam Hussain and his pious companions were besieged in Karbala hundreds of years ago, and today, Imam’s lovers are being imprisoned in their houses and not allowed to mourn his sacrifice,” Qateel told Efe.
Reports from Shia neighborhoods of the valley suggest mourners marked the day silently in their homes amid unprecedented restrictions and massive deployment of forces.
“We did not come out because forces were deployed furiously and curfew strictly imposed,” Tanveer Pathan, an elected member of Srinagar’s Municipal Corporation, told Efe.
Official sources told Efe that restrictions were tightened after a violent clash between security forces and Shia Muslims during a pre-Ashura procession on Saturday.
Several people were reportedly wounded after government forces showered mourners with shotgun pellets.