Ashura Ban

Mercifully, reports of tensions and flare-ups coinciding with Muharram observance in Kashmir have been conspicuous by their absence this year, signifying a defeat for vested interests pursuing divisive and disruptive agenda. Disturbed by unsavoury incidents, mostly incited and engineered, marring this sacred occasion over the past few years, right-thinking and responsible individuals from all sections appear to have played a pro-active and constructive role in ensuring an atmosphere of amity and denying trouble-makers space to make mischief, so far. The administration’s precautionary measures on this front, some of which could be termed a little over-zealous, too are bound to have sent appropriate signals and served as a deterrent.

Encouraging as this is, it cannot but be noted with dismay that the state government has continued with its bar on major Muharram processions, including Ashura, in the heart of Srinagar, having already cracked down violently on a march on Sunday and placed a large swathe of the city under tough restrictions for an entire day. By all indications, the administration has geared itself up to repeat this performance on Ashura, or the tenth of Muharram, on Tuesday and on a much larger scale, to disallow the scared month’s most important event on its decades-old route.

It is now a quarter of a century since the Ashura procession in Srinagar was dislodged from this tract, and confined to a small area downtown, ostensibly for reasons of “security,”  an argument flying in the face of experience with Ashura processions in other parts of Kashmir which pass without incident, a strong testament to the Valley’s essence and ethos.

Given the government’s own favourable appraisals of the “security situation,” and presuming that its claims of striving to maintain Kashmir’s enviable traits of amity and harmony are sincere, it needs to seriously consider whether the ban, and the harsh, restrictive, and often violent, measures it undertakes around Ashura do not, in fact, breed resentment, and sow the seeds of suspicion where none exist.

It would be hard to find societies free of mischievous elements and those ruthless enough to use them for their nefarious designs, but governments and administrations worth the name cannot allow a handful of elements and their patrons become an excuse to persist with policies with a high potential of turning counterproductive in very seminal ways. A government and political establishment swearing by syncretic values should not act to mock and undo that which makes Kashmir unique. Do its duty it must, but with immensely more confidence in, and respect for, the good sense of the Kashmiri people.