As people across Kashmir Valley prepare to commemorate the birth anniversary of Prophet Muhammad on Sunday, the police and civil administration are in a fix.
Every year, thousands assemble at Srinagar’s Hazratbal shrine for a glimpse of a strand of the Prophet’s hair on his birth anniversary. Given the situation in the region, the government is yet to decide on whether to allow such a large congregation or to impose restrictions — both situations have the potential to stir up tensions.
“It is a huge challenge for us,” a senior police officer told The Indian Express. “The situation is tricky both ways. On the one hand, we can’t afford such a huge assembly of people, and on the other hand, it is almost impossible to stop people from visiting Hazratbal shrine that day.”
The Prophet’s birth anniversary is celebrated on the 12th day of the third month of the Islamic calendar — November 10 this year. While thousands stay awake through the night and offer prayers at Hazratbal, huge gatherings are organised at several shrines and mosques across the Valley.
Last week, the government prevented people from offering prayers at the shrine of Naqshband Sahib in Srinagar’s old city, resulting in clashes and stone-pelting. The government’s decision had triggered outrage in the Valley.
Sunday’s congregation at Hazratbal however, poses an even bigger challenge.
“We understand that the people of the Valley are highly emotional about this day and it would be very difficult to prevent them from visiting the shrine. In fact, any attempt to try to stop people can lead to trouble in Valley,” said a senior official of the civil administration.
“On the other hand, police is telling us that allowing over 50,000 people to assemble at a place may have severe law and order consequences.”
If people are not allowed to assemble at the shrine, it would be a first in the Valley. Pilgrims however, are defiant.
“How can anybody stop us from going to Hazratbal. This is not acceptable to us,” said 76-year-old Abdul Gaffar Bhat, who visits the shrine every year. “I would visit the shrine whether the administration allows or not,” he said.