SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Police in Indian-controlled Kashmir fired tear gas and warning shots Tuesday to disperse Shiite Muslims who attempted to participate in processions marking the Muslim month of Muharram. Dozens of people were detained.
Hundreds of Muslims chanting religious and pro-freedom slogans took to the streets in the main city of Srinagar despite security restrictions banning the traditional procession.
Government forces used batons to beat journalists covering the procession, according to a local reporter. Authorities erected steel barricades and barbed wire to block the crowds.
“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 interests who try to disturb the peaceful atmosphere,” police Inspector-General Vijay Kumar said on Twitter.
Muharram is among the holiest months for Shiite Muslims across the world and includes large processions of people beating their chests while reciting elegies to mourn the death of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson. The mourning reaches its peak on Ashura, the 10th day of the month in the Islamic lunar calendar. Tuesday’s procession marked the eighth day on the calendar.
The traditional religious procession turned violent last year as Indian forces fired shotgun pellets to disperse crowds, injuring dozens.
Some main Muharram processions have been banned in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir since an armed insurgency broke out in 1989 demanding the region’s independence from India or its merger with neighboring Pakistan. Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict.
Kashmiri Muslims have long complained that the government is curbing their religious freedom on the pretext of maintaining law and order while promoting an annual Hindu pilgrimage to the Himalayan Amarnath Shrine in Kashmir that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors. The pilgrimage has been canceled for the last two years because of the coronavirus.