India tightens Kashmir lockdown over Muslim processions
Authorities on Sunday tightened a month-long security lockdown in Indian Kashmir's main city of Srinagar after breaking up religious processions by Shia Muslims who defied a ban.
A military clampdown was imposed in Muslim-majority Kashmir from 5 August to prevent unrest as New Delhi revoked the disputed region's autonomy, with mobile phone networks and the Internet still cut off in all but a few pockets.
"Strict action under law would be taken against violators," they added.
Shia Muslims worldwide stage processions and hold rallies during Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar – which started on 1 September this year – to mark the anniversary of the death of a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.
Most such processions have been banned in Indian-administered Kashmir since the outbreak of insurgency against New Delhi's rule in 1989, on grounds that the rituals could be used to stoke anti-India sentiment.
Ashura in Iran
Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar. On the tenth day, Ashura (the number ten in Arabic) will be celebrated to commemorate the massacre of Hussein and 72 of his relatives and companions by the Umayyad Caliphate in Iraq in the 7th century. By Eric Lafforgue
The most impressive Hussainiya can be found in Kashan, a two-hour drive south of Tehran. The “Mad of Hussein" meet there every afternoon during the month of Muharram. At the mention of his death, screams of pain can be heard in the Hussainiya, men start weeping like children and sobbing
Heading up the Ashura parades is the alam – Hussein’s coat of arms. The alam is decorated with feathers, flags and verses of the Koran engraved on the flexible metal blades, which sway like the branches of a tree. The metallic artwork represents the hand of Abbas, flag bearer during the battle of Karbala
The city of Korramabad in western Iran hosts a unique ceremony – the Chehel Manbar or 40 Pulpits – on Tasua (the 9th day and eve of Ashura). Men and women must light 40 candles and place 40 sugar cubes in 40 different locations for their wishes to come true (successful studies, making money, finding a good husband, etc)
An Iranian Shia Muslim couple mourn Imam Hussein on the day of Tasua, their faces covered by a veil. This is unusual in Iran, where women usually just cover their hair with a scarf. On Ashura men also cover their faces to avoid being recognised when making vows. Also, many prefer to remain anonymous out of modesty
The most zealous also make a vow of silence for the day and walk barefoot as a sign of penance. Since they must remain silent, these three Shia women have knotted their chadors together to avoid getting lost
An Iranian woman with green veil covering her face holding a baby doll in her hands. The baby doll represents Ali al-Asghar, Hussein's young son who was killed in Karbala. Many woman carry around baby dolls on Chehel Manbar to demonstrate their wish to bear children soon
An Iranian Shia Muslim man lies in a mud pond as he takes part in the Kharrah Mali ritual during the Ashura ceremony. In the Iranian culture, mourners cover themselves in mud during the burial of a much beloved person. Recreating this gesture for Hussein is a way of showing him devotion
Iranian Shia Muslim men gather around a bonfire after rubbing mud on their bodies to mark the Ashura ceremony. A few mutter prayers as their teeth chatter with cold – it′s freezing at 5 am
An Iranian Shia Muslim woman stands in front a bonfire after rubbing mud on her chador. Women are usually chaperoned by a male relative who smears them with mud before accompanying them to the fire where other men are standing – a rare moment of men and women mixing together
Ashura is an emotional time of year for many religious Iranians: covered in dried cracked mud, this old man looks like a statue in the pale neon lights of the shop fronts. He cries inconsolably, invoking Hussein’s name
This Iranian Shia Muslim woman stands in front of an old wooden door after rubbing mud on her chador during the Kharrah Mali ritual
Guided by the Maddah's voice, circles are formed. Thousands of hands slam chests in perfect synchrony. The temperature rises and easily exceeds 50 degrees. Bodies jump and sway to the hypnotic beat of a chorus whispering "Hussein, Hussein"
In the city of Bijar, which is populated by Iranian Kurds, pilgrims pour mud on their heads during an Ashura procession. The most fervent ones empty a full bucket of mud on their bodies. They bear the symbolic coffin of Hussein aloft
Iranian Shia men covered in mud beat themselves with iron chains during Ashura. They consider the flagellations with zanjirs (steel chains attached to sticks) as a way of sharing Hussein’s suffering
Babies are dressed up like Hussein's dead son, Ali, who was killed when he was 6 months old in Karbala. These clothes have been given out for free by an Iranian charity for more than 15 years. Parents are very proud to show off their children dressed up like this
Journalists saw at least two small protests on Sunday morning by between eight to 10 Shia mourners, who were quickly detained and taken away in police vehicles.
Police were also seen hitting the mourners with bamboo sticks. Witnesses told journalists they saw at least six more similar protests, with police also detaining the participants.
Locals said the processions have taken on a political aspect this year after India's controversial autonomy decision.
Kashmir, split between India and Pakistan since 1947, has been the spark for two major wars and countless clashes between the two nuclear-armed arch-rivals.
Indian-administered Kashmir has seen a decades-old armed rebellion – backed by Pakistan, New Delhi claims – 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. 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 loosened the curfew in parts of Srinagar gradually in recent weeks but began to enforce it again from Friday.
An agency reporter said Sunday's clampdown was one of the tightest since August 5. While barricades had been manned by up to three paramilitary troopers, there were now up to 10.
Tensions could further heighten on Tuesday, which is Ashura, the climactic 10th day of Muharram.
While the rituals are traditionally marked by Shia Muslims in the Sunni-majority valley, Sunnis told journalists they would take part in processions on Tuesday to show solidarity with their fellow Muslims.
The tightened security measures came a day after India's national security advisor said the lifting of communication restrictions in Indian Kashmir depended on Pakistan stopping deploying "terrorists" and fomenting unrest there. (AFP)