Shiite Mourners Hurt As Clashes Hit Indian Kashmir

26 December 2009

Srinagar: Some 40 people were injured when police fired teargas and used batons Saturday to break up banned religious processions by Shiite Muslims in restive Indian Kashmir. Forty people were also arrested for violating the ban on holding the processions, said police in Srinagar, summer capital of the region where a separatist revolt against Indian rule has been under way for two decades. Shiite Muslims throughout the world stage processions and hold rallies during Muharram, the first month of the Islamic Hijra calendar, to mark the anniversary of the death of a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed. Authorities have forbidden most processions in Kashmir since the outbreak of the revolt on grounds that the emotional religious rituals could be used by separatists to stoke anti-India sentiment. They allow only small mourning rallies and processions in areas with sizeable Shiite populations, leading to annual friction between police and mourners. 'In all, 40 people have been injured in clashes between police and Muharram mourners today (Saturday),' a police spokesman told AFP in Srinagar. The worst clashes took place in downtown Srinagar, police said. The clergy and local political groups in Indian Kashmir have termed the restrictions on the processions 'unwarranted interference in our religious matters'. 'There is no religious freedom in Kashmir. Everyone should condemn this attitude of the government,' said leading Shia cleric Masroor Abbas, who led one of the processions. The processions commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed in the battle of Karbala some 14 centuries ago. The revolt in Indian Kashmir has left more than 47,000 people dead by official count since 1989. Human rights groups put the toll at 70,000 dead and missing.