Amid calls for maintaining calm by both the mainstream and separatist leaders after the gutting of the revered Pir Dastageer Sahab (RA) shrine at Khanyar, several religious heads have surfaced as the “new leaders” of the people. They have made it a point to go one step ahead of the separatist parties while announcing their protest programmes. When the Sufi shrine was damaged in the fire incident of Monday, Hurriyat Conference (G) chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who is infamous for calling frequent shutdowns, only called for a day long strike the next day. Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik and Grand Mufti Bashiruddin Ahmad, who heads the self-styled Supreme Shariat Court, too called for a day long shutdown.
However, Maulana G R Hami, who heads the Mutahida Ulema Ahl-e-Sunnat (MUAS), a conglomerate of 42 religious organizations, called for a two-day strike. While the separatists desisted from calling yet another strike or any protest programmes, the Grand Mufti extended the strike call by two more days. His “Khanyar chalo” call bore a clear resemblance to similar programmes usually associated with the separatists. And when the people paid heed to the call because of the gravity of the situation and strict restrictions placed by the authorities, these religious heads even issued statements thanking the people for making “their” calls successful. At a time when the Valley is inundated with so many self-styled leaders, the emergence of new lesser known groups, claiming to represent the majority of people, is not a welcome move. Already, there was a lukewarm response call in the civil line areas of Srinagar to Thursday’s shutdown call. The old city was under an undeclared curfew of sorts and therefore gauging the effect of hartal call there makes no sense. But when the government placed curbs everywhere on Friday, thanking people for making the hartal call “successful” makes no sense. Therefore, it is imperative that the groups who have miniscule following among the masses from general refrain from behaving as if they represented the sentiments of entire Valley.
It is unfortunate that when even the separatists have taken a backseat, the religious heads have started playing a “strange” game. Besides using an unfortunate incident like that of gutting of a highly respected Sufi shrine to “get famous”, they have also issuing reckless statements that can fuel sectarian divide. Reports from south Kashmir that the so-called ulema are challenging each other for debates at this juncture is inopportune. It is no secret that many object to the veneration of shrines but this is not the right time to hold these debates. The Valley has seen enough rounds of agitations over human rights violations and now, street protests over varying ideologies is the last thing the people need. Meanwhile, it is also imperative that when the government has put the separatist leaders under house arrest, it makes sure that people, who have got nothing to do with the shrine, too are disallowed from going there.
While the mainstream leaders have been given a free hand to visit the shrine, on Thursday even Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Prakash Javadekar was seen “paying obeisance”. This apparently made chairman of Hurriyat Conference (M) Mirwaiz Umar Farooq to term the government action of imposing undeclared restrictions in the old city areas a “dictatorial” decision.“ The curbs have stopped devotees, ulemma (religious scholars) and commoners from visiting the shrine. Instead, the government is officially facilitating the visit of those people who have not even a distant relation with the revered shrine. This act of government is absolutely shameful and highly regrettable,” Mirwaiz added.