Kashmir crackdown on Shia Muslims reveals long-simmering discontent

August 31, 2020 - 21:38

TEHRAN - Indian police attacked a Muharram procession in India-administered Kashmir on Saturday, injuring dozens of mourners commemorating the martyrdom anniversary of Imam Hussein (AS).

Mohsen Rouhisefat, an India expert, tells the Tehran Times that the attack constitutes a flagrant violation of human rights.

The attack came as the Shiite Muslims in the disputed Himalayan region held mourning rituals to commemorate Ashura, the 10th day of the Muharram month in the Islamic lunar calendar, which marks the martyrdom of Imam Hussein (AS), a grandson of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) who was martyred in the Battle of Karbala on October 10, 680 (Muharram 10, 61 AH).

Government forces, armed with pump-action shotguns, fired shotgun pellets and tear gas to disperse hundreds of mainly Shiite Muslim mourners in the main city of Srinagar. Local authorities made efforts to prevent Muslims from holding mourning processions given the coronavirus-related restrictions. A police officer said that people in Kashmir held processions in parts of Srinagar in violation of the restrictions imposed because of COVID-19.

 However, witnesses said that the Saturday procession was peaceful and didn’t violate health protocols.

“The procession was not just peaceful but was also following health protocols. They (government forces) unleashed such violence and did not spare even women mourners,” the Associated Press quoted witness Sajjad Hussain as saying.

Jafar Ali, another witness, told AFP news agency that the procession started in the Bemina area on the outskirts of Srinagar while government forces were present in heavy numbers. Ali and other people who saw the clashes said security forces fired pellets and tear gas to disperse the mourners.

“The forces fired pellets at the procession that was mainly peaceful and included women,” Iqbal Ahmad, a witness, said.

At least 19 people have been injured during the police attack on the mourners. And according to a Reuters report, at least 50 mourners were detained in Srinagar.
Videos and images circulating on social media showed people who suffered severe injuries to their faces and backs. Some victims had pellets stuck in their eyes and other parts of their bodies.

Recent violence in Kashmir raised concerns over human rights violations in the disputed region, which is claimed by India and Pakistan. The violence also raised questions as to why India brutally quash the Ashura procession while it officially pays homage to Imam Hussein (AS).

“We recall the sacrifice of Imam Hussain (AS). For him, there was nothing more important than the values of truth and justice. His emphasis on equality as well as fairness are noteworthy and give strength to many,” tweeted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 30, the same day the Indian security forces were cracking down on the mourners in Kashmir.

Earlier, Kashmir’s governor, Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, issued a message on the occasion of Ashura saying that Imam Hussain (AS) and his companions sacrificed their lives for upholding the values of truth, justice, and righteousness. He added that their martyrdom “reminds us of the high principles of human dignity and morality.”

“Muharram has deep cultural roots in India and leaders of various sects and ethnicities commemorate it. In New Delhi, a Hindu figure along with a Muslim figure, addresses the mourners. Ashura and Muharram are deeply cherished in the Hindu culture,” said Rouhisefat in response to a question as to why the Indian authorities pay homage to Ashura while suppressing Muharram mourners.  

Tensions in Kashmir have been simmering since last year, when the federal government revoked the region’s semi-autonomous status, causing anger among Kashmiri Muslims.

Indian-controlled Kashmir is home to at least 1.4 million Shiite Muslims, who rarely stage protests against the Indian government, and their relationship with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was good until recent times, according to Rouhisefat.  

“The relationship between the [Indian] Shiite community and the BJP party has been good despite the fact that the party’s relationship with Muslims, in general, wasn’t good,” Rouhisefat told the Tehran Times.

Rouhisefat added, “The day of Ashura is a national holiday in India and Shiites in Indian cities such as Kargil in Kashmir hold massive mourning ceremonies. Authorities prohibited Muharram mourning in Kashmir in 1989 due to the clashes that took place in that year. This prohibition is still in place. However, mourning ceremonies continued to be held in cities such as Budgam, which is home to Shiite Muslims.”

According to the expert, 10 percent of India’s population – about 40 million – are Shiite Muslims.

He went further to say, “Obviously, the [Shiite] people of India are uneasy about what happened in Kashmir over the past year. Human rights have been flagrantly violated there. The Indian government has imposed restrictions on Kashmir. People face difficulty moving in and out of Kashmir. This uneasiness was reflected in Muharram processions.”

Kashmir, a Muslim majority region, is a triangle territory shared by Pakistan, India, and China and it has been the subject of dispute among the three countries since 1947. In a bid to directly control India-administered Kashmir, the Indian government revoked the special status, or the limited autonomy, granted to the region under the Indian constitution, a move that sparked anger among the native people of Kashmir. Since then, tensions have been on the rise in the Indian-controlled Kashmir. The Indian government has been accused of cracking down on Kashmir and violating human rights there.

Analysts and local leaders believe that human rights violations by Indian security forces have fuelled anger among Shiite Muslims in Kashmir.
Rouhisefat said violations of Muslim human rights in India have been condemned by the international community.

According to the Reuters report, protests by Kashmir’s 1.4 million Shiite Muslims are rare. The 31-year revolt against Indian rule in the territory has been led by Sunni Muslim militants. But this year, Shiite youths have been vocal about alleged human rights violations by Indian security forces, said senior Shiite leader Maulana Masroor Abbas Ansari.

“What happened in the valley of Kashmir has something to do with the pressures that the BJP-led government imposed on Indian Muslims. They [Indian authorities] have imposed huge pressures on Muslims to mobilize the Hindu public opinion in support of the BJP party. They do so to strengthen the popularity of their party, especially now that the Indian economy is on a slippery slope since the country’s election. India’s GDP and exports have declined and the Coronavirus pandemic has only worsened the existing economic woes. Furthermore, they want to cover up sectarian conflicts and other problems by cracking down on Muslims,” Rouhisefat pointed out.

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