Fearing protests, authorities on Sunday disallowed gatherings of the faithful at the Hazratbal Mosque in Srinagar on the occasion of Milad-un-Nabi, the birth anniversary of Prophet Muhammad.
All entry points to the mosque, including Habak area on the outskirts of the city and the Rainawari and Sadrabal areas in the old city, were closed for traffic. The security forces started spreading concertina wires on the streets and used mobile bunkers to block several stretches on Saturday. as part of an exercise to impose restrictions.
This move stopped the worshippers from assembling for the night-long prayers.
“It is first time in my living memory that such a thin attendance of worshippers was observed on the auspicious occasion in Kashmir. Only locals living in nearby areas turned up for the night-long prayers and the daytime customary display of holy relics, which include a strand of hair of the Prophet Muhammad, also saw a thin attendance of the devotees,” said Yaqoob Qureshi, a retired teacher who has been attending the congregational prayers at the shrine since 1990.
Around 2,000 worshippers, including women from nearby places, managed to offer noon prayers inside on the mosque on Sunday. According to the local caretaker, the Hazratbal shrine witnesses a gathering of more than 50,000 devotees on the occasion.
“We were appraised by the security agencies beforehand and cautioned against any major gatherings”, a caretaker said.
The noon prayers on Sunday saw brief sloganeering, including pro-sharia and pro-freedom slogans.
The police there were fears of anti-India elements staging protests and the security arrangement was to maintain order. Meanwhile, smaller gatherings were reported from other major mosques in the Valley on the occasion.
This is for the second time this month that a traditional and centuries-old congregation was not allowed. Earlier, on the occasion of Khawaja Diger, where men and women hold joint prayers at the Naqshband Sahib shrine, the security forces sealed the shrine and disallowed any prayers.
Since the revocation of J&K’s special status on August 5, there is tight security arrangement in Kashmir. Internet and SMS facilities remain barred for nearly 100 days now. The authorities are yet to restore prepaid mobile services for around 35 lakh customers.