By: Syed Zafar Mehdi

Indian govt ‘red-flags’ visit of Iranian clerics to Kashmir: Report

October 3, 2018

TEHRAN - In a startling development, the government of India is reportedly monitoring the speeches delivered by religious leaders at mosques and congregations in Kashmir.

According to a report published in The Hindu, New Delhi has “red-flagged the visit of Iranian clerics” to Jammu and Kashmir amid reports of “fiery speeches” given by them at congregations and mosques.

The report says the immediate trigger for the decision seems to be the posters of slain Kashmiri militant commander Burhan Wani that appeared during a Muharram procession in Kashmir recently.

The report quotes Imran Raza Ansari, an influential Shia cleric and politician based in Kashmir, saying that the poster of Wani was flashed by “two men associated with the Hurriyat Conference”, referring to the conglomerate of separatist organizations in the Kashmir valley.

“This should not have happened. We were mourning Imam Hussain (as) … this is the first time that such a thing happened. Wani’s posters appeared as there were attempts to politicize the mourning. That is not the mandate,” he is quoted saying.

Ansari further says that the clerics from Iran “regularly visit Kashmir valley” but no cleric gave any “fiery speech” during the month of Muharram. “They have schools in Kashmir and Kargil … the Iranian clerics do come. But this Muharram, no one came … the posters of Burhan Wani were flashed in one of the daayras (rally). There were 48 others,” he says.

J&K Governor Satya Pal Mallik is quoting saying that the “inquiries” have been ordered regarding the visit of the Iranian clerics to Kashmir.

The report also quotes an unnamed senior government official saying that they were “watching the speeches being given by religious leaders including those by Shia leaders”. “Since they come here for religious sermons, they are easily given visas. We are checking if they violated visa provisions,” the official is quoted.

This Muharram, a poster of Wani had appeared in one of the processions in interior areas of Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir. The pictures of it were shared widely over social media. Wani, who gave fresh impetus to the armed movement against India in Kashmir, was gunned down in an encounter with Indian forces in July 2016 in Kashmir.

Meanwhile, the news has drawn anger and outrage among Kashmir’s Shia community and clergy, who see it as part of a larger design to intimidate people.

“Iranian clerics come here on invitations and they give speeches but not “fiery speeches”,” said a young cleric based in Kashmir, wishing anonymity. “It is nothing but an intimidating tactic to bully us, but it won’t work. They have already banned our processions in main city, now they cannot stop our clerics from giving sermons.”

Pertinently, in Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, the government’s ban on Muharram processions (Muharram 8 and 10) is in place since 1990, when the armed rebellion against Indian rule gathered momentum.  Despite repeated pleas by Shia leaders, the ban has not been lifted.

Each year, police impose curfew-like restrictions on Muharram 8 and 10 in parts of Srinagar city, including Lal Chowk, the nerve-center of Srinagar. Iron barricades and spools of concertina wires are put up at every entry point. The fully-armed police personnel do not even allow pedestrian movement as tough restrictions are enforced.

However, as a mark of protest against the ban, mourners take out peaceful mourning procession in the main city every year. Each time, they are intercepted by massive contingents of heavily-armed police and paramilitary personnel. They fire tear smoke canisters, resort to baton charge and brutally manhandle the mourners participating in these processions.

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