Srinagar: It is not so, today, but Srinagar’s downtown bustled with rallies and public activities on May 21, the death anniversary of Maulana Mohammad Farooq. In massive processions, men, women and children jostled with each other to make way towards the Eidgah martyrs’ graveyard. It has been a decade since that has last happened. Instead, May 21 has become a day for staying indoors, lest the large contingent of government forces outside dislike your presence on the street.
Since 2009, there has been almost no event allowed to mark the death anniversary of Kashmir’s chief priest and the father of Hurriyat (M) chairman and current Mirwaiz, Umar Farooq.
Many elders recall the rally that would result in a festive season with children, women and men on the streets waiting for a glimpse of the young Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. The top religious leader would be carried on top of a vehicle amid a huge caravan of people. Women would shower candies on the procession and the young men carrying Mirwiaz would shout ear-piercing pro-Mirwaiz slogans. Every road, it seemed, led to the Eidgah.
Irrespective of ideology, people would visit the graveyard at Eidgah to offer prayers. A National Conference die-hard supporter in Srinagar’s Eidgah recalls that he participated in the rally because of the religious influence of the Mirwaiz.
The killing of Hurriyat Conference leader Abdul Gani Lone on May 21, 2002, at Eidgah, however, changed the mood. An extreme alert began to be maintained by government forces in the area, but that still couldn’t dampen the spirit of the people who continued to rally towards Eidgah on the anniversary.
But the government’s clampdown slowly and steadily throttled the event, until the day when the entire downtown was put under siege and no rally allowed. People remember that the last public gathering on the occasion was held in 2009. It is a fact corroborated by the Mirwaiz himself.
In the decade that has followed, downtown streets and alleys are all manned by police and paramilitary CRPF, with assault rifles ready to fire in their hands, while razor wires and armoured vehicles are placed across roads to block public movement.
A Kashmir-based journalist who also covered the former Mirwaiz’s funeral vouches that the rallies were peaceful but were stopped sometimes during the ’90s. He said the first rally mass rally was held on the Chahrum of Maulana Farooq. Since then, the practice continued, albeit with restrictions sometimes.
The unprecedented decade-long ban on the rally left the roads towards Eidgah as deserted and bereft this year, while ubiquitous uniformed men surrounded Kashmir’s largest “martyrs’ graveyard”.
The Mirwaiz said he felt pained and sad not only for himself but for all those families which lost their kin and kith but aren’t allowed to visit the graveyard on this day.