Several Shia mourners were detained and journalists allegedly thrashed by the police, as the Jammu and Kashmir administration barred Muharram procession in Srinagar’s Lal Chowk on Tuesday.
Concertina wires and barricades were erected on several stretches to stop Shias, who traditionally organise processions on 8th of Muharram in areas around Lal Chowk that would culminate at Dalgate.
Locals said several mourners were detained when they tried to cross the barricades and converge onto the streets of Lal Chowk. Many were carrying placards with Islamic and ‘free Kashmir’ slogans written on them. The police used tear-smoke shells and resorted to baton charge to disperse the mourners. Many were seen being pushed into police vehicles.
“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 interest who try to disturb peaceful atmosphere,” Inspector General of Police Vijay Kumar said.
The move to ban the procession came weeks after a government order said “the Muharram processions shall be observed as per the past practice”.
Ban in 1989
The practice of taking out Muharram processions at the city centre was banned in 1989 after militancy broke out and such religious processions turned into anti-India protests. However, large processions would be allowed in all Shia majority areas of Srinagar’s Zadibal and Hasnabadh areas and Budgam. Last year, clashes broke out between the mourners and security forces in many areas.
On Tuesday, several photojournalists were allegedly beaten up by the police when they were covering the clash.
“A police officer beat us with a baton without any provocation. One camera was damaged,” a photojournalist said.
National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah said, “Very unfortunate to see J&K police personnel mercilessly thrashing journalists in Srinagar. These people were simply doing their jobs, reporting the news. They don’t make the news and they don’t engineer events to create the story. I hope the L-G will ensure no repeat”.
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti said, “Media is spending hours debating the human tragedy and unfolding crisis in Afghanistan but will they speak up for their own community in Kashmir who were beaten to pulp today by security forces for doing their job’’?
Other political parties, including the Peoples Conference, the Apni Party and the CPI(M), also condemned the use of force against scribes.
The Kashmir Press Club, in a statement, demanded strict action against the policemen involved in the incident and reiterated that forces should respect the freedom of Press under the Constitution by initiating action against those involved in it.