Police fire tear gas to break up Muharram procession in Indian occupied Kashmir

A Kashmiri Shia mourner kicks an exploded tear gas canister during a procession in central Srinagar area of Indian occupied Kashmir on Tuesday. — AP

Police in Indian occupied Kashmir (IoK) fired tear gas and warning shots on Tuesday to disperse members of the Shia Muslims community who attempted to participate in processions marking the month of Muharram. Dozens of people were detained.

Hundreds of Muslims chanting religious and pro-freedom slogans took to the streets in the main city of Srinagar despite security restrictions banning the traditional procession.

Government forces used batons to beat journalists covering the procession, according to a local reporter. Authorities erected steel barricades and barbed wire to block the crowds.

“We respect the religious sentiments and practices of all, but at the same time, it is also our joint responsibility to defeat the ill designs of vested interests who try to disturb the peaceful atmosphere,” Inspector General of Polce Vijay Kumar said on Twitter.

Muharram is among the holiest months for Shia Muslims across the world and includes large processions in which people recite elegies to mourn the death of Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) grandson. The mourning reaches its peak on Ashura, the 10th day of the month in the Islamic lunar calendar. Tuesday’s procession marked the eighth day on the calendar.

The traditional religious procession turned violent last year as Indian forces fired shotgun pellets to disperse crowds, injuring dozens.

Some main Muharram processions have been banned in Indian occupied Kashmir since 1989 when the locals demanded the region’s independence from India or its merger with Pakistan.

Kashmiri Muslims have long complained that the government is curbing their religious freedom on the pretext of maintaining law and order while promoting an annual Hindu pilgrimage to the Himalayan Amarnath Shrine in Kashmir that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors. The pilgrimage has been cancelled for the last two years because of the coronavirus.

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