I was at the Muharram processions in Kashmir that the Indian army fired upon. Here’s what I saw.

A mourner was detained by Indian forces in Lal Chowk, Srinagar, during Muharram processions. Photo by Zia Shakeel.

Srinagar, Indian-Occupied Kashmir

On Saturday August 29th, Indian forces targeted hundreds of Shia Muslim mourners with pellet shotguns and tear-gas shells, hitting their eyes, face, arms and other parts of their bodies for taking out a religious procession on Ashura, a holy day for Shia Muslims around the world. The pictures and videos of people with blood oozing from their eyes and faces shared on social media depicted the brutality of the action by Indian forces in the Bemina and Zadibal locality of Srinagar on Saturday. According to AP, “Officials said at least 200 people were detained in Srinagar this week for participating in Muharram processions, and at least seven were arrested under an anti-terror law for raising anti-India slogans.”

SWK talked to two eyewitnesses — one a high-school student and another, a 25-year old youth, who were part of the religious processions. The high-school student was hit with pellets in his left eye, arms and face and fears he will lose his eyesight. He has already undergone his first surgery at a government hospital in Srinagar and is awaiting further treatment.

Witness One:

Ali*, 25-year-old youth from Old Srinagar

“Everyone knows the importance of Ashura for our community. This is not something that the [Indian] administration is not aware of. From the 8th day of Muharram on Friday there have been strict curbs in all localities with Shia-majority populations and the strictness by military had been everywhere else as well. We had gathered near Ali Park in Zadibal — in the interiors — and the police used force on all of us and they did not allow people to gather. I was hurt while running and my father also suffered injuries when tear gas shelling and pellets were used on the people. More than 100 people suffered injuries and many could not get treatment in the hospital due to the fear of police. For us, it’s now important to claim our religion because it’s under a threat. Then, they will never allow us to come out and silence us forever. This kind of brute force has never been used on a Muharram procession before so it’s a clear attack on our religion.

International laws ensure religious freedom to everyone but in Kashmir the repressive government has choked all religious freedom in Kashmir whatever was left. It is evident from the use of force on mourners. Even women and children were not spared. The government now wants to change everything Kashmir has been. During the days of mourning or procession we were following standard operating procedures and social distancing and were wearing masks as advised by the authorities due to COVID-19 pandemic, but still we were showered with pellets. What was our fault?

They attacked and turned a peaceful religious gathering into clashes because they always want to show Kashmiris as violent. Religious freedom is nowhere in Kashmir. Eid prayers were not allowed in Kashmir for more than a year due to one or the other reason. But surprisingly, the BJP people are gathering anywhere in the region when they want to. They are allowed to gather, they are holding their political and religious rallies but when Kashmir’s Muslim-majority has a religious ceremony the government is banning us and torturing us. They are hurting our religious sentiment. All of this looks deliberate and planned. This is a kind of torture and all of our freedom to our identity is being robbed slowly. And if this torture on us continues the consequences would be very bad. We will not be able to see our religion being taken away from us. The police on Saturday and Sunday even attacked women, abused them, and threatened them with the guns. They thrashed us like animals used pellets on women, children and old men. No one was spared. What kind of democracy is this?

This is against basic humanity, this is our basic right to practice our religion. The situation in Kashmir has turned suffocating. The government is also trying to divide us (Sunnis and Shia) and provoke us against each other but the truth is oppression on all Muslims is same in Kashmir and this state brutality has united us more than ever. We know who is oppressing us. Their pellets do not differentiate. We are Kashmiris and that’s enough reason for them to silence us. They have crossed all limits of injustice with all of us here. It was a peaceful Muharram procession, and even we are not allowed to hold it. They cannot silence us forever. We will raise our voice and we will continue to practice religious obligations. The unfortunate part is no one is talking about it and the world is silent. The government is making our lives violent and not letting us to live even one peaceful day.”

Witness Two:

Haider*, 20-year-old high-school student, Srinagar

“On Saturday, hundreds of people gathered and we were peacefully taking out the mourning procession to observe the martyrdom of Hussain (AS), (the grandson of the prophet Muhammad SAW). The police were already present there, and initially they told us we can do it. It was all peaceful and a purely religious gathering. We were walking and the police were ahead of us in their vehicles. When we covered some distance, they started teargas shelling and targeting all of us with pellets. They turned towards us and we were shocked. I remember I saw a dozen people falling down, I too fell down as pellets hit my left eye and face. Blood oozed out of my eye and face. In the incident, more than 70 people were wounded and many were hit with scores of pellets on their face, eyes, chest, back and arms. It was mayhem.

I was taken to a hospital in an ambulance as there was chaos all around. It was a completely unprovoked action. Even when people fell on the ground after being hit with the iron pellets the policemen started beating all of us. Everything was deliberate. I have already undergone a surgery which took two hours and it’s very painful. I have six-seven pellets inside my eye and doctors are saying that they cannot say anything yet as the eye is cloudy inside and they cannot give any guarantee about how my eyesight would be or how the future treatment can be done. I am waiting for some kind of hope as I fear losing my sight. My family is in shock and I am now concerned about my future knowing how difficult the life of a pellet victim becomes in Kashmir.

The police didn’t care that it was a religious event: there were children, young and old and no one was spared. This was the Karbala repeated in Kashmir.”

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the two young men.

Indian authorities placed curbs throughout Shia-majority areas during Muharram. Photo by Zia Shakeel.

SWK is a Kashmiri diaspora-led international solidarity movement that seeks to end the Indian occupation and support the right to self-determination.

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