Even while a right-wing Hindu nationalist government is ruling India for the past 8 years now, India still professes to be a secular democracy. The constitutional grounds for India’s secularism have been carefully accommodating religious freedom. However, the past 8 years have been witnessing a shrinking of sorts for the religious freedom of Muslims. The Indian government seems to be particularly adamant about curbing the religious freedom of Kashmiri Muslims.
In 2022, the Indian authorities arrested prominent religious clerics across Kashmir under PSA (Public Safety Act). After that, the Indian government banned schools run by FAT (Falah-e-Aam Trust ). FAT is an affiliate of the banned Islamist organization Jama’at-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir (Jama’at). Another incident followed with the circulation of a video of Kashmiri students. The video showed students being forced to chant Hindu hymns sparked controversy over social media. However, these are not isolated incidents that reveal the curbing of religious freedom in Kashmir.
Curbing Religious Freedom in Muharram
Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar is one of the holiest months for Shite Muslims worldwide. During this month, Shia mourners gather together to hold a procession. They recite eulogies, and chant slogans to mourn the martyrdom of the Prophet’s grandson Hussain.
However, since 1989, the Indian government has prohibited some of the major Muharram processions in Kashmir. The government issues an order each year prohibiting Muharram processions due to “security reasons”. Kashmiris claim that the Indian state has been curbing their religious rights on the pretext of “security concerns”. Kashmiri Muslims have a history of raising their voices against the curbing of their religious rights by the Indian government. Nonetheless, this history of resistance against religious inequality has always been violent for the Kashmiris. Every year, Shia mourners face police thrashings, beatings, and arrests while trying to take out Muharram processions.
Since the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019, the police arrested 15 Shia mourners. They also arrested a well-known preacher named Manzoor Ahmed Malik. The police charged them under the stringent anti-terror law UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act). According to the police, they allegedly chanted free Kashmir Slogans during Muharram processions.
While talking to the Wire, Arshid Ahmad, a Shia mourner told The Wire “In contemporary times, the ‘step-motherly’ treatment of Muslims is unacceptable and the government should reconsider the decision on Muharram bans. This minority bears the brunt of the repression, even though other religious pilgrimages are permitted with full security and pomp,”.
“We are protesting and condemning this ban but no one is listening to us. If the government can allow other religions to perform their religious rites, why ban the Muharram procession?” Muzzafar, another mourner asked.
Most mourners who talked with the media brought up the Amarnath Yatra, a 40-day pilgrimage. They questioned why the government couldn’t guarantee protection for the Muharram parade for one day.
Janmashtami Procession held by Kashmiri Pandits Amid Police and Army Security
Days after Muharram, Kashmiri pandits staged processions throughout Srinagar to celebrate the birth of the Hindu god Krishna. The government allowed Hindu devotees to take out the religious procession and provided them with tight police and army security.
Amid massive spectacle and show, the government supervised and safeguarded the religious procession. National news outlets in India were hailing this incident as “signifying a perceptible improvement in the situation in the strife-ridden Valley”. However, none of the Indian media called out the hypocrisy of the Indian government that has been curbing the religious freedom in Kashmir for Muslims for decades.
Read here, Kashmiri Pandits Face Targeted Killings
The Grand Mosque in Kashmir Closed For Friday Prayers For Three Years
The Jamia Masjid or the grand mosque in the heart of Srinagar city is a 600-year-old that has been cherished and venerated by Kashmiris for centuries and is of historic and religious significance. On important religious occasions throughout the year, thousands of Muslim worshippers have been visiting the grand mosque. Friday is considered the holy day of the week for Muslims and congregational prayers are of utmost importance. Yet, Kashmiris haven’t been allowed to offer prayers in Jamia Masjid for three consecutive years now.
Additionally, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Hurriyat leader, and the mosque’s chief preacher has been kept under constant house arrest and is not permitted to give Friday sermons. Recently, the Lieutenant Governor of Kashmir Manoj Sinha disputed reports of Mirwaiz being under house arrest, yet a few days later, the Hurriyat leader was denied permission to deliver the Friday sermon at Jamia Masjid. In attempts to deny the claim of “prolonged closure, of the Jamia Masjid” the LG declared that it had only been in effect on three Fridays this year. However, the mosque’s administration made it explicit that this year, prayers have been prohibited for 14 Fridays so far by the enforced presence of the CRPF and J&K Police.
To Kashmiris, the prolonged closure of the Jamia masjid serves as a bitter reminder of their helplessness. And the attempts of psychological warfare. This is yet another incident that speaks of the curbing of religious freedom in Kashmir.
Read more here, India Bans Falah-e-Aam Trust (FAT) schools in Kashmir
Religious Freedom Vanishing From The Largest Democracy In The World
India prides itself internationally as the world’s largest democracy. According to the Indian constitution, the government “will not discriminate, patronize, or meddle in the exercise of any religion.” Its constitution guarantees religious freedom, which entails that individuals should be able to adhere to and freely practice their religious views. However, the religious freedom and claims of secularism mentioned in the Indian Constitution are utterly absent when it comes to Muslims and particularly when it comes to Kashmir.
Read here, The Case Of The Gyanvapi Mosque Explained