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Kashmir: Clashes Erupt After Authorities Thwart Mirwaiz Umar’s Friday Address

Anees Zargar |
Police and paramilitary forces resorted to heavy tear-gas shelling and pellet firing, injuring many. This is the first major Friday protest since the August 5 move in which scores of youth pelted stones at government forces.
Kashmir: Clashes Erupt after Authorities Thwart Mirwaiz Umar’s Friday Address

Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir authorities again detained senior separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq at his residence on Friday, thwarting his address at the Jama Masjid in Srinagar.

The All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) leader was confined to his residence after the UT administration had earlier released him from a 20-month long arrest followinng the abrogation of Article 370 and the subsequent bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories.

Reports of the release of a separatist leader like Mirwaiz had led to noises that the Central Government was loosening the noose around local political players in what was seen as a thaw amidst the political hostility which was heightened following the events of August 5, 2019.

According to a statement by the APHC, the Jammu and Kashmir police had earlier informed Mirwaiz that he could attend the Friday congregational prayers at Jama Masjid. “Late last night (Thursday) police officials visited the Mirwaiz’s residence to convey to him that he continues to be under house arrest and will not be allowed to go to Jama Masjid for Friday prayers...,” a party spokesperson said.

Since morning on March 5 an additional contingent of armed forced was deployed around his house to secure the area and thwart his movement. The APHC added that the authorities have “hurt the sentiments of the people and further aggrieved them.”

The position of a Mirwaiz is unique to Muslims in Kashmir, where they have been traditionally appointed since the Afghan rule (1752-1819), for sermons. Mirwaiz Umar was appointed after his father’s assassination in 1990 by unidentified gunmen, suspected to be militants. He has been leading tens of thousands during the weekly congregations since. Thousands had gathered to attend the congregational prayers around Jama Masjid, the central mosque in Srinagar,

Forces deployed outside Jamia mosque in old city Srinagar on Friday

Forces deployed outside Jamia mosque in old city Srinagar on Friday 

The crowd, which included women and children, were carrying sweets and garlands to welcome Mirwaiz Umar, who had been away for over 80 Fridays.

However, as Mirwaiz was confined to his residence, the crowd expressed disappointment over the government’s revised decision. “I came a long way to attend the prayers today but seems like the government is confused about their plans. One day they will have to release Mirwaiz and I am waiting for that day,” Zahid Ahmad, a local of uptown Srinagar, said.

Clashes broke out between government forces and protesters in the area following which the police and paramilitary forces resorted to heavy tear-gas shelling and pellet firing, injuring many. This is the first major Friday protest since the August 5 move in which scores of youth pelted stones at government forces.

Two journalists including Shafat Farooq and Saqib Majeed were physically assaulted by the police while they were covering the protests, according to eye-witnesses.

There has been a relative political lull since the revocation of Article 370 and Mirwaiz Umar is expected to walk out in a changed political landscape. “His political stance has not changed, or his resolve weakened. Whenever he comes out he will speak about other political prisoners and the resolution of Kashmir,” a party insider said.

The Hurriyat functions in a separate framework which is meant for the larger issue of a resolution for Kashmir unlike the mainstream who are trying to save and live by their own ideas, commitments and allies,” the insider said, wishing anonymity.

Political commentator Professor Sheikh Showkat Hussain told Newsclick that the developments have exposed the claims of “normalcy” in the region. “It was announced on the floor of the Parliament that nobody is under house arrest and it was publicised that the Mirwaiz will be allowed to lead Friday prayers but at the eleventh hour he is stopped; it is reflective of a lack of normalcy in Kashmir,” he said.

Many privy to the developments within the administration, however, are of the opinion that the political prisoners will heave a “sigh of relief” soon. That in the backdrop of recent Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) talks between India and Pakistan and further dialogue between the two hostile neighbours.

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