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Religious freedom curtailed

The ban of Muhharrum processions in Kashmir is clear violation of religious rights of common citizens. On a day, observed with great reverence and religious passion, the authorities in Srinagar held people hostage in their houses in and around Lal Chowk on Wednesday. The shops and business establishments are closed and the pedestrian movement completely restricted in Lal Chowk, Abi Guzre, Court Road, Koker Bazar, Maisumma, Bund, Gaw Kadal, Red Cross Road and other surrounding localities. People from outside localities too were not allowed to enter the area. It is completely a curfew-like situation not just around Lal Chowk but in areas coming under seven police stations in uptown. Men in uniform from the police and CRPF have been deployed in large numbers to restrict the peoples’ movement. All these repressive and undemocratic measures are being taken to check Shia mourners from taking out a procession. Members of Shia community used to take out a ritual procession on 8th of Muharrum from Abi Guzre to Dalgate. However, the state government imposed ban on the procession in 1988 following shia-Sunni clash in the wake of Pakistan President Gen Zia-ul-Haque’s death in a plane crash. Though the situation returned normal soon and the Shia-Sunni brotherhood remains the creed of our social fabric, the government continued with the ban over the years. The government used to take refuge in abnormal situation caused due to militancy. Now by government’s own standards the situation has considerably improved and there is no fear of militants mingling with mourners, there is no reason to ban the mourning processions. It is quite unfortunate that while all other religious prilmrimages are allowed with full security of the state, the Muharrum procession is not only banned but Shia members of put to all kinds of severity and repression to remain away from taking out the procession. Militants have never issued any threat to the Shia processions still government keeps a tab on it in the name of security. But that is not the case with Amarnath yatra. Militants have issued threats and even attacked Amarnath yatris on several occasions but government never stopped the yatra under the ruse of security threat. The government rather facilitates the yatra by providing different security covers—army, paramilitary forces and police—at different levels to make the yatra a safe journey. Why the same pattern is not practiced with regard to the Muharrum procession. Practising religion is a fundamental right and it is the state Governments responsibility to facilitate it, but sadly they are doing exactly the opposite. The state Government, in fact, is scared of these processions, as they feel it will be changed into pro freedom demonstration. In January 2008, the Kashmir based Shiite organisation Ittihadul Muslimeen filed a petition in the Jammu Kashmir High Court seeking quashing of the ban clamped by the former Governor but the state government did not respond. In December 2009, J&K high court once again directed the state Government to file the objection, but again did not get a response. It is extremely sad that when whole world promotes freedom of religion, our state Government bans the important religious procession. The procession is taken out to commemorate the martyrdom of Prophet Mohammad’s (s.a.w) grandson Hazrat Imam Hussain (a.s) and his 70 other family members and relatives at Karbala in Iraq at the hands of the tyrant ruler Yazid. It is the most effective psychological weapon and mechanism to mobilize masses against the evil, injustice and repression. What could be it said of when the state plays the oppressor and the subjects as oppressed.