SRINAGAR: Authorities on Sunday tightened a month-long security lockdown in occupied Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar after breaking up processions by Shias who defied a ban.
A military clampdown was imposed on the disputed Himalayan region on Aug 5 to prevent unrest as New Delhi revoked its autonomy. On Sunday mobile phone networks and the internet were still cut off in all but a few pockets of the city.
Police drove around the city from early morning, announcing through loudspeakers that “residents are informed not to venture out of their homes”.
Police break up protests, hit mourners with sticks
“Strict action under law would be taken against violators,” they added.
Shias hold processions and rallies across the world during Muharram. But most such processions have been banned in held Kashmir since the outbreak of an armed campaign against New Delhi’s rule in 1989, on grounds that the religious rites could be used to stoke anti-India sentiments.
Correspondents saw at least two small protests on Sunday morning but the Shia protesters were quickly detained and taken away in police vehicles. Police were also seen hitting the mourners with bamboo sticks.
Witnesses said they saw at least six more similar protests, with police also detaining those participants.
Locals said the Muharram processions have taken on a political aspect this year after India’s controversial decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy.
Occupied Kashmir has seen a decades-old armed campaign against Indian rule with tens of thousands, mostly civilians, killed.
On Saturday, four local journalists were injured while covering a protest involving up to 5,000 demonstrators, one of the biggest gatherings since the lockdown was imposed last month.
One journalist said his camera lens was broken and another had visible marks on his body after he was allegedly hit with bamboo sticks by security personnel.
Security forces also fired tear gas and live ammunition in the air.
Authorities had in recent days relaxed some restrictions in parts of Srinagar but began to tighten them again from Friday.
A reporter said Sunday’s clampdown was one of the tightest since Aug 5. While barricades had previously been manned by up to three paramilitary troops, there were now up to 10.
Tensions could further heighten on Tuesday, which is Ashura.
While traditionally the Shias mainly participate in Muharram rituals, Sunnis said they too would take part in the processions on Tuesday to show solidarity with their fellow Muslims.
Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2019