India Permits Muslim Procession in Kashmir For the First Time in 34 Years

For the first time since the outbreak of an antigovernment rebellion in the disputed Indian territory of Kashmir, thousands of Shiite Muslims were permitted to conduct a religious procession commemorating the Islamic holy month of Muharram.

Commemoration of Muharram in Delhi, India (Creative Commons)
November 2013 commemoration of Muharram in Delhi, India (Creative Commons)

Muharram holds profound significance for Shiite Muslims. It is considered one of Islam’s holiest months, marking the beginning of the new Islamic year. Warfare is strictly prohibited during Muharram and its significance is evident in its name—“Muharram” means “forbidden.”

The procession commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussein—grandson of the Prophet Muhammad—and his 72 companions during the Battle of Karbala in seventh-century Iraq. The pinnacle of mourning is Ashura, the 10th day of Muharram.

Clad predominantly in black, mourners gathered July 27 in Srinagar, the region’s capital, expressing their grief by beating their chests and reciting elegies.

Following the eruption of an armed insurgency in 1989, advocating independence from India or merger with neighboring Pakistan, major Muharram gatherings were prohibited from passing through the center of Srinagar, the focal point of the conflict blamed for the deaths or disappearances of tens of thousands of civilians. Muharram processions have nevertheless persisted in other areas within the Indian-controlled region.

In 2019, India’s Hindu nationalist government revoked the region’s partial autonomy and placed it directly under federal control. An unparalleled security clampdown was then implemented, leading to the imprisonment of thousands of Kashmiris and the curtailment of civil rights.

In past years, numerous mourners attempted to defy the ban, resulting in clashes with police who used tear gas to disperse the crowds. However, authorities have now decided to end the ban, citing an improvement in the security situation in the region.

The lifting of the ban followed a series of discussions between Shiite leaders and government officials, but the decision came with certain conditions imposed by authorities, including a prohibition of the use of “anti-national slogans or propaganda” and any acts that might “disrespect any national symbol.” 


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Religious freedom Shiite Muslims Kashmir Muharram