No Muharram in Kashmir again – 25 years and counting

Published: October 31, 2014

The security establishment is in no mood to lift the ban on the two biggest Muharram processions this time around too. PHOTO: REUTERS

I recall attending a brief lecture on international law vividly. A learned professor was making a point on the integration of minorities and how nation states often misuse tools like assimilation, accommodation, tolerance, pluralism and multiculturalism etcetera to coerce minorities into submission. When everything fails to get the desired results, the law and order argument achieves significance and becomes fashionable.

This brings me to the issue that has had Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir in a stranglehold for nearly two and a half decades now; the blanket ban on the historic Muharram processions. The argument usually put forth by the Indian think-tank, intellectuals and intelligentsia, against the Kashmiri narrative of a right to self-determination, is that India is the world’s largest democracy, which, they claim, has the capacity to accommodate cultural, religious, linguistic, ethnic and other diversities. They often say that Kashmir’s future is bright and secure with the emerging world power and ‘tolerant’ India. India’s oft-repeated symbolic slogan to hoodwink the international community in this respect is “Unity in Diversity”. But reality on the ground is different. This ban has been in place since the past 25 years and ironically, this year the ban completes its silver jubilee.

Soon after the eruption of a popular anti-Indian armed rebellion, the region’s then ruthless governor, Mr Jagmohan Malhotra, imposed a ban on the processions (8th and 10th) in 1989. This unwanted interference in the religious freedom of the Kashmiris, a denial of right to movement and also a brazen violation of international law remains intact despite India’s claim that the ‘democratically’ elected governments run the show in Jammu and Kashmir, not the Indian security establishment.

Before 1989, the two main Muharram processions in Kashmir valley would take place in the city centre, Lal Chowk. The Indian authorities apprehend that such religious assemblies could further alienate the people of Jammu and Kashmir from the Indian Union by stroking anti-India sentiment. However, the resistance and religious leaders of Kashmir argue that the same authorities in Jammu and Kashmir fully expose themselves by allowing and facilitating the environmentally-unfriendly Hindu nationalistic Amaranth yatra pilgrimage in an ecologically fragile zone of Pahalgam and breach the religious freedom of the majority Muslim community. At least half a million Indian Hindu pilgrims visit the holy Amaranth cave in Pahalgam region annually.

Sources in the Jammu Kashmir police confirm that the security establishment is in no mood to lift the ban on the two biggest Muharram processions this time around either. Several prominent Shiite leaders, including Moulana Sibte Muhammad Shabir Qumi of Pairwan-e-Willayat, have urged the state government to put an end to the unjust restrictions placed. But such rational appeals often fall on deaf ears in this disputed Himalayan region.

In January 2008, the Kashmir valley based Shiite organisation named Ittihadul Muslimeen filed a petition in the Jammu Kashmir High Court seeking quashing of the ban clamped by the former governor. The single bench of Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir had directed the then additional advocate general, the financial commissioner, divisional commissioner and district magistrate of Srinagar to file objections within four weeks. But nothing substantial has happened since.

One wonders what the possible reasons behind the government’s decision could be. Why can the people not commemorate the martyrdom of their religious heroes and express their love through religious rituals?

Many intellectuals in Kashmir are of the view that India only treats Kashmir as a security problem and therefore exercises extra caution, thinking that any substantial religious gathering, like in Muharram, could possibly turn into a pro-freedom rally and thus challenge India’s rule in Kashmir.

The Indian state is also wary of the potential of the Muharram processions and may think they will be used as a platform to forge permanent Shiite-Sunni unity, which in effect would dismantle and challenge the facile Indian argument that different religious sects and groups in Jammu and Kashmir profess different ideologies. The other reason perhaps could be that the state does not want to offer any chance on a platter to the resistance leadership in the Kashmir valley to use a religious gathering as a rallying point. Security experts during off-the-record conversations have in fact insisted that they don’t want any possible law and order situations in Kashmir.

Another thought that raised suspicions was that the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, chose Diwali, a festival of lights celebrated by Hindus in mainland India, to visit Kashmir to express solidarity with the flood affectees of Jammu and Kashmir – the only Indian-controlled Muslim majority region. Mr Modi did not choose Eid to announce relief package for the flood victims and even on his Diwali visit to Kashmir, he first met the Indian soldiers stationed at the Siachen glaciers before he moved on to the Muslim affectees.

Meanwhile, in areas that are pre-dominantly Shiite, Muharram preparations have intensified; banners and billboards exhibiting religious messages, the importance of the Battle of Karbala and martyrdom of Imam Hussain (ra), the grandson of the prophet of Islam, Hazrat Muhammad (pbuh) have been displayed everywhere.

Apart from this blatant breach of religious freedom, the authorities in the Kashmir valley arrested at least a dozen resistance leaders, on Thursday, including the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chief, Yasin Malik, chief of a faction of the pro-freedom Hurriyat conference, Shabir Shah, chairman of the National, along with many others. It is unclear whether these leaders have been arrested to thwart the chances of their attempts to organise possible Muharram gatherings or to neutralise their planned election boycott campaigns. The Election Commission of India has already announced dates for the five-phased assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir, beginning November 25. The one thing that is very clear from the picture I have drawn for you is that there is no religious freedom in this part of ‘democratic’ Indian-administered Kashmir.

Gowhar Geelani

Gowhar Geelani

The author is a writer, journalist and political commentator from Srinagar, the South Asian Journalism Programme (SAJP) scholar 2015, the first Kashmiri to be selected as Munich Young Leader 2014. He has also served the Deutsche Welle, in Germany, as an editor. He tweets as @gowhargeelani

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Sane

    Don’t worry soon Indian occupational forces shall retreat and Kashmir shall liberate.Recommend

  • xyz

    I thought Sunni’s didn’t ‘like’ Muharram- which is basically a Shia event.
    Aren’t the muslims in the valley,Sunni ? If yes, it could result in a disturbance…if there are zero security issues,the ban MUST be lifted as our country is supposed to guarantee freedom of religion & the practice of religion.
    Author- I hope you will go & vote in elections. If people there don’t like the bjp govt.,pls vote for whomever you desire. You can vote for anyone & anyone can stand in the elections…so make use of the facility pls.Recommend

  • Rahul

    Talk about religious freedom after you start respecting other peoples beliefsRecommend

  • Rahul

    You are writing about religious freedom in a Pakistani newspaper. Muharram processions are bombed in Pakistan. What Irony. Muharram is observed all over India without any incident.Recommend

  • someone

    A well the Hindus going for Amarnath Yatra do not chant anti India slogans. No where else in India , muharram is banned. Then author must think why is it banned in Kashmir.If you guy turn a religious procession for your political ambitions, then it is not a religious affair any more. It is a political affair and then government is within its right to ban any such rally.Recommend

  • anil

    Mr.Writer , Amarnath cave was discovered by a Muslim man after his enlightenment from God . Am I wrong ? If Indian gov stopped Muharam , then why didn’t stop Eid festival and gatherings ? Why do you distort facts and feed your children false news . It was stopped keeping in view the Shia-Sunni divide and Kashmir has a bad image on that front . Not only Kashmir , it is through out muslim world . Please correct if I am wrong . Even IS flags are being shown in Kashmir . Why Shia residents have formed local militia groups backed by army and why they are interested to live with Indian union ? Why Shias in Kashmir join Indian army ?

    It seems this news is a propaganda . We have no issues with Eid or Moharam or Christmas . We celebrate it all in our country and we get holidays for all the above festivals in gov as well as private organisations.Recommend

  • ani

    67 years has passed … defining the ‘soon’.. how soon is ‘soon’ for kashmir? all kashmiris shall leave kashmir if they don’t want to stay but the land is not going anywhere from india…. not your lifetime .. not your son’s not his children and not their too…Recommend

  • Jor El

    How soon is “soon” ???Recommend

  • Sanjay Jha

    The writer is totally confused about the reason for blanket ban on ashura in valley. Let me clarify a bit

    1. Ashuras are not banned in Shia majority areas

    2. Ban of ashura is to avoid Shia / Sunni sectarian fight.

    There have been a massive increase in wahabi /hardliner sunni ideology in kashmic since 1989 with Pakistan flushing100,000 Jihadi n last 25years.

    These militant regime is hardliner pro Sunni and they have even killed 1000+ shia muslim in valley!Recommend

  • WB

    yes, I call that part as POKRecommend

  • Critical

    ” is that India is the world’s largest democracy, which, they claim, ”

    FYI,The world’s largest democracy is not something u can claim or anoint yourself like “The Land of Pure”,”Land of Rising Sun”..

    Its a recorded fact just like Nile is the longest river or Sahara is the biggest desert…Unless China becomes a democracy overnight or India falls under military dictatorship..India will still remain as the the World’s largest democracy no matter what the haters taunt about it…Recommend

  • JammuShiite

    One wonders what the possible reasons behind the government’s decision
    could be. Why can the people not commemorate the martyrdom of their religious heroes and express their love through religious rituals?Recommend

  • Amit Lunia

    Read the comments , no Sunni Pakistani has supported the right of the minority shias of Kashmir to bring out Musharram processionRecommend

  • Ghulam Lone

    You’re joking, right? 20% of pakistan is Shia. Muharram processions even happen in small villages without problem. It’s not 2010 anymore. Yet BJP wants to win over Shias but restrict their freedom of religion.Recommend

  • Ghulam Lone

    Really? India just voted for the RSS to run the country, and you want to lecture us about tolerance? Even Pakistanis never vote for crazy religious parties on a wide scale. We have extremists who act out of line with the majority opinion, but in India, your people actually vote for intolerance.Recommend

  • Ghulam Lone

    You’re exaggerating the differences between Shia and Sunni. Most Sunnis even in Pakistan have no issue with Shia or their festivals Recommend

  • Ghulam Lone

    Big Shia Sunni issues happened after Iraq invasion, and never in Kashmir. Muharram was banned in 1989. And banned because Shias actually don’t like India. Even prominent Shia like Abbasi are in hurriyet conference. Shias are not patriotic Indians over all.Recommend

  • ab1990

    yaa kashmir is waiting since 1947. They are still waiting even after 67 years. I dont think it will happen for atleast next 1000 years.Recommend

  • Raj – USA

    Saudi Arabia, a muslim country, does not allow Muharram processions even in its oil rich Eastern province where 85% of muslims of muslims in that region are Shias. Other muslims countries like UAE with significant Shia population have also banned Muharram processions.Recommend

  • Vishwaroopam

    Why r u fooling people of Pakistan.There is a local self govt. in J & K and all the ministers including chief ministers of J & K since 1947 have been Muslims.And law and order is a state subject and central govt. has no interference in it .So in this case also decision is of state govt. to prevent shia-sunni riotsRecommend

  • Vishwaroopam

    dreams come for free , so happy dreamingRecommend

  • xyz

    Exaggerating ? My comment says ‘I thought…’ ,not ‘I’m sure’.
    I had Sunni friends,who used criticize my Shia classmates behind their backs-so I was under that impression. Perhaps I was mistaken that its a widespread attitude.Good to know your point of view.Recommend

  • Lalit

    a Country which has named itself an ISLAMIC republic,whose capital happens to be ISLAMabad and ruling Party is MUSLIM league doesn’t need a further more religious party to govern.India have not voted for RSS,but BJP and that is not for first time,and yet no Indian Muslim is queuing up in front of Pak high-commission for refuge.only likes of Dawood seek refuge in Pak and rightly so.Recommend

  • Jor El

    Of the 282 members of the BJP, 86 have served previously in the RSS n now r no longer its members. Including the PM, in a cabinet of 23 who have portfolios, only 10 r RSS members … n FYI, if u consider the BJP/RSS to be intolerant, then u need to know that overall in the 2014 LS elections, the BJP got 31% of the popular vote … meaning 69% of the population voted against “intolerance”(in ur view) … Recommend

  • Jor El

    tell that to a certain Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, a national vice-president of the BJP …
    P.S. “Big Shia Sunni issues happened after Iraq invasion” … u mean throughout history, there was no shia-sunni issue till the iraq invasion ?Recommend

  • Vikrant

    Give your lectures to children of the late Mr. Salman Taseer … and even better, to the “King of Prisons” the Great Pakistani “Hero” Janaab Mumtaz QadriRecommend

  • Vikrant

    Give your such lectures to the Hazara community esp those in Quetta!Recommend

  • Amit Lunia

    Please raise this request to your name sake Mr Syed Gilani who is the leader of such anti Shia protest and his ilk have not allowed Muharram procession to take place, for us Shia, Sunni, Islmaili, Bohras are all Muslims and there is no difference, I have not added ahmadi, other wise Tribune will not publish my commentsRecommend

  • wiserneighbour

    Where do people like kashmir pandits fit in this whole melee.They were looted,raped and chased away from their own homes.When you chase away other religions,naturally you will become majority.Nobody prevented you from settling in Pakistan. Pakistan was created for Muslims. Why you guys chose to stay with India? Many migrated from India and settled in Pakistan and vice versa.People who wants to join their ummah in Pakistan, please leave.Recommend

  • wiserneighbour

    Who said so?The Shia are most happy with India than Pakistan . Are they fools to ignore the genocide happening across the border.I have many Shia business friends.They are extremely happy to live in India whether it is kashmir or Mumbai. Recommend

  • wiserneighbour

    Can you kindly interpret your blasphemy laws to me and tell me why aisabi is sentenced to death and why that insane Oldman was shot? Recommend

  • Abdul
  • pakiyonkimaakaa

    @ET Mods..MY statement is completely changed..u are going for fake journalism..shame on u guys…Recommend

  • hp kumar

    But BJP is die hard patriot..Now you got the point why we have voted them to power..They r given free hand to crush every anti-national element in our country..Recommend

  • Khan

    We Pakistanis see everthing from relegius prism.we should now look to see everyone as human beings first,not,Muslim,Hindu,eid,Diwali.this is narrow minded ness ,after all indian nd Pakistani DNA is same whether you belong to any faith.Recommend

  • Deo

    Then why the minorities in Pakistan is reduced to 3percent from 22 percent.Recommend

  • captain pasha

    But there is no proof that shia sunni live amicably if you oberserve the country like Pakistan hazara shia desperate to move out of Pakistan and deadly Shia sunni divide are well known after the death of the muslim prophet.Recommend

  • adi

    Did you do a survey of all shias in india? Who gave you the right to speak on their behalf?Recommend

  • ravi

    Hope that no one interferes in each others’ religion or festivals.

    The problem only starts when one things he is purer than the other and that only he has right on everything including thoughts and ideas.

    Since you are kashmiri, you are bound to have suspicion about India. But, as in other parts of country, Kashmiris too do not interefere in other religions and same is case of hindus. No one interferes in muslim festivals, rather give wayRecommend

  • Patriot

    The Headline should read – No Muharram in Srinagar! Tazia processions are allowed in all other places where Shia’s live….even in Kashmir.Recommend

  • summit

    Jammu and kashmir has 36% minorities(non muslims) they have different ideologies………….while shias of ladakh and jammu have never supported and will never support any anti-india call……….this is the ground reality in kashmir…….and is different from what geelani saysRecommend

  • summit

    let me tell you one thing, india is the 2nd largest shia muslim inhabitant country in the world after iran……..and they are very happy than any other country in the world. india do not witness organise killings of shias like it occurs in pakistan every week. this year saw some of most brutal attacks and killings of shia hazra…….as much as 100 shia have so far been killed in the hands of extremists in different parts of pakistan.Recommend

  • summit

    even pakistan’s govt put more restrictions during muharram procession. see it ……

  • Prashant

    Do you really have to vote for a religious party in Pakistan when the state itself has a state religion and you have the audacity to talk of Indians voting BJP to power.Recommend

  • Anoop

    Anti-Shia LeJ/SSP was formed in the 1990s.

    Don’t blame Iraq war of 2003 on something happened in 1990s and has been happening for a long time!Recommend

  • Sonny

    When I was growing up in Lucknow in the 1950s and 1960s, Shia-Sunni riots used to erupt quite often during Muharram.Recommend

  • Akbar the Miner

    While you have been whining about Kashmiri “occupation” for the last 67 years, you forget foreign Islamic invaders “occupied” India for 1,000 years, ruling a Hindu majority land until the British defeated them, ruled as colonialists for 200 years, and gave India its Independence in 1947 and left. Kashmir, founded and settled by Hindus, is already liberated. Without Pakistani interference, it would have remained a peaceful paradise for all Kashmiri Indians. Your guys communalized it.Recommend

  • Sid

    Amen my Khan brother…Amen. I wish more of our people speak about this and less about “made up” differences. Peace :)Recommend

  • Sid

    I have faced that too many times. I believe some ET moderators are not liberal or unbiased minded. They love to exercise the right to not print comments even if the comment is related to the topic and not violating it’s prescribed rules.Recommend

  • Gulwant Singh Bedi.

    This is the Indian Section of ET.Recommend

  • Lalit

    i have lost the count of occasions when my comment even though not offensive in any remote sense is unable to see the light of the day….courtesy some trigger happy moderator at ET.Recommend

  • hassan

    India claims to be the largest democracy in the world. You shouldn’t start competing with the Banana monarchies.Recommend

  • wajid

    I am a sunni Muslim and I firmly support the right of shias to bring out Musharram procession.Recommend

  • Lalit

    it is not BJP, rather successive Sunni headed Govts in JK which have blocked Moharram processions in Srinagar.But i Can assure you things are going to change in this regard, as BJP is surely going to form the next govt in J& next year you can expect o fulfill your wish.Recommend

  • Lalit

    see the irony …Moharram processions are banned only in the state of J&K in whole of India,which has traditionally been ruled by a Sunni of the India with Hindu majority observes peaceful Moharram every year.Recommend

  • observer

    This is a very misleading and mischievous article. The truth is that Shia freely practice all aspects of their faith all over India. The situation in Kashmir is restricted to Srinagar and other radical sunni dominated area where mass killing of Shia by sunnis have happened in the past. Any restrictions in these areas are based on the orders of the Kashmiri government. Over 75% of Jammu and Kashmir assembly is made up of Muslim legislators.Recommend

  • Sanjay Jha

    1. Ashuras are not banned in Shia majority areas of valley or Kargil.

    2. Ban of ashura is to avoid Shia / Sunni sectarian fight.

    There have been a massive increase in wahabi /hardliner sunni ideology in kashmic since 1989 with Pakistan flushing100,000 Jihadi n last 25years.

    These militant regime is hardliner pro Sunni and they have even killed 1000+ shia muslim in valley!Recommend

  • BhikhariBasher

    The ruler of Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India as per the terms and conditions of partition. Hence, it is a done deal. What remains now is the rolling back of Pakistani aggression of 1947. In case Mr. Geelani and his likes prefer to join Pakistan, they should do migrate to Pakistan, again as happened after partition. After all millions of muslims who believed in the idea of Pakistan did migrate. Mr. Gilani and his ilk can do the same.Recommend

  • Sandip

    You don’t need to bring in any crazy religious party. Your armed forces are the guardians of your ideological frontiers anyway. And who can be more crazy than them?Recommend

  • Don ho kya ?

    ‘free hand to crush ‘ ? They are not your personal mafia (though they act like it sometimes)
    What’re the police etc. for, then ?Recommend

  • Riaz Ali

    UAE has Muharram activities in Shia mosques in Dubai. And before you see anymore, there are Shia mosques in UAE.Recommend

  • Riaz Ali

    “Mass killings of Shias in Valley”- Another myth from the sangh stable. There has never been any large scale violence against Shias anywhere in kashmir in the last 60 years. The Muharram processions were banned in 1989 when the insurgency broke out in Kashmir.Recommend

  • Hozur

    Like the pandit community shias are unsafe in sunni ares.second shias are unsafe even in Pakistan and it is not that they will be safe in Kashmir.third Amaranth is in Jammu a Hindu majority area . Ladakh is Buddhist and so it cannot be part of Kashmir.Recommend

  • Hozur

    India voted for RRS ideology because the minorities were denigrating the majority and demanding extra constitutional privileges for the sake of vote bank politics .it was time to show who has the whip hand.Recommend

  • hozur

    Read today’s headlines in Pakistan which has cut off cell phones and put the army and police on extra alert.this is from Pakistan papers because it will be an occasion for killing the shias who are treated like


  • Abyss

    The irony is, author can still express his views about this on an Indian TV channel publicly and live to tell his grand kids about it. I really wonder if he will he be able to do this in Pakistan though.Recommend

  • Critical

    As said in the other comment,noone can ‘claim’ to be the ‘world’s largest democracy’…Its a fact whether u like it or not…Recommend

  • Humane

    ‘..whip hand..’
    That’s not ‘extra constitutional’ ,but perfectly constitutional ..? Where is it inspired from..hitlers constitution ?Recommend

  • Humane

    Wait for the next riot or violence the vhp/bajrang dal instigate against minorities in some corner of the country..Recommend

  • rationalist

    Here is some proof.. Read:

  • Lalit

    while India braces for riots instigated by religious nut-jobs of all variations,I have faith in our constitution which works as a lighthouse in the time of a rough weather….India observed a peaceful Moharram yesterday and eagerly waiting for a Guru Nanak B’day tomorrow …the best thing of all is they were both closed Holiday declared by Govt of should thank god for small mercies…sometimes.Recommend

  • loboran tamzi

    The last phrase was a lethal punchline, my friend. …Recommend

  • Lalit

    and as if to counter its effect we have the ‘largest banana democracy’ to our west.Recommend

  • Humane

    ” small mercies…” : )
    Our sterling constitution is my last hope too…(but will it be manipulated someday to facilitate/alter judgements in more anti-sikh,anti-muslim,anti-christian violence…atleast the parsis,jews,buddists & bahais are escaping focus..) Recommend

  • Lalit

    ii see nothing of such sort happening in near future.i would just like to quote one example.during the heat of Lokesabha election campaign,BJP’s PM designate Narendra Modi’s election rally at Patna was bombed killing some BJP supporters.he was addressing the people ,as the bombs were exploding in the gathering.subsequent investigations proved that some Muslim youth were behind the blasts,as one died in a botched blast on Patna Railway station.contrary to all apprehensions Mr Modi didn’t even mention the blast during his address,nor later to extract some mileage from the incident.he gave a gem of a speech exhorting Hindus and Muslims to fight collectively against poverty instead of with each other.he could have easily exploited the issue,as he was accused of doing in Gujarat.
    India is ‘secular’ not because Indira Gandhi inserted this word into our constitution…India is secular(although i feel the word does not do justice with what India is) because the majority of Hindus want it to be so.although poor and marginalized ,irrespective of their religion and caste will continue to be tormented for some more time unless they come out of the quagmire using the weapon of education .situation today in India is far better than yesteryears when religious tensions were a daily norm… economical and financial issues have eclipsed religious discourse to a large extent…but still a lot needs to be done.and thankfully we are on right path.Recommend

  • Humane

    You’re right about us being on the right path..
    When I refered to the constitution being manipulated- I think the first sign of it will be,the new govt. removing the special autonomous status of J&K ..that will be the begining of our doom & in a decade we may find that the current govt.has managed to slowly subvert the constitution,the judiciary & the press.[already,the govt. is starting to subvert the judiciary(by offering plum post-retirement jobs to retd.supreme court judges),subverting the constitution(by intending to change J&k status,making party members make anti-secular statements that,those who slaughter cattle can’ be called indians), appointing tainted criminals as the national party presidents..]God save my beautiful country.Recommend

  • jazzman

    oh come on, you cant observe muharram even in pakistan. ask people of pakistan occupied kashmir. our shia and ahmadi brothers fear for their lives in pakistan and you want shias of kashmir to have the same fate. Recommend