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Business News/ Opinion / Views/  Lucknow's unfortunate Muharram controversy
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Lucknow's unfortunate Muharram controversy

An internal circular about covid curbs issued by UP's police chief has caused offence with its scandalous references to alleged acts of past misconduct during this religious observance. It needs public clarification and we must pay special attention to social harmony as state elections approach

Lucknow, UP, has historically had Shias and Sunnis living side by side (ANI Photo)Premium
Lucknow, UP, has historically had Shias and Sunnis living side by side (ANI Photo)

Every year, Muharram is observed across the world and huge processions are taken out largely by Shia Muslims in memory of the martyrdom of the grandson of Prophet Muhammad along with his 72 companions in Karbala in the year 680 CE. In view of the covid situation, restrictions have been placed on processions this year, but what stirred a controversy in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, was a circular issued by the state's Director-General of Police Mukul Goel. The language of the circular was found to be derogatory by community leaders. Most Shia leaders registered their strong objection to wording of the document, although they maintained that they had no issue with covid curbs on this year's observance.

Offence has been caused by the document's implication that Muharram processions may feature cow slaughter, sexual assault and other doings in purported need of police surveillance. This amounts to allegations of general misconduct by a religious group. So the question arises that if the circular was meant to impose covid restrictions, what was the need to use such offensive language for a religious practice of the community? It is being seen as an attempt to demonize an entire group. Also, considering the fact that Lucknow has a record of Shia-Sunni rifts, and one can easily find cases of sectarian violence between the two groups in police records, such statements only add fuel to such tensions in the state capital. Such unrest, as has been observed before, tends to split Muslim votes.

Amid the outrage in Lucknow, ADGL&O Prashant Kumar said in a media interaction that it was an internal departmental order containing dos and don’ts for Muharram based on events in the past. He further argued that nothing has been mentioned against any community or religion. Rather, it’s an order to take action only against "anti-social elements" who may try to disrupt harmony.

Prominent Shia cleric and General Secretary of Majlis-e-Ulama-e-Hind Maulana Kalbe Jawad initially demanded action against UP's DGP for the language used in the circular, which Jawad said would lead to communal tensions in the state, both Shia-Sunni as well as Hindu-Muslim, though nothing had been said against any community. However, speaking on the issue on the evening of 7 August, Jawad seemed convinced with the DGP’s explanation. Said the cleric, “I spoke to UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on the issue, post which the DGP called me and said that it was an internal document and not meant for the public. It is merely a coincidence that it got released in public. He also assured me that he will make sure that it isn’t repeated and will take care of the language in the future."

Speaking on the same matter, All India Shia Personal Law Board (AISPLB) General Secretary Maulana Yasoob Abbas said that the board doesn’t have any objection to covid restrictions, since they're in the best interest of the state. His only apprehension, he added, was how the circular was framed in terms of language. Said he, “In the para 2, the DGP has alleged that Shias read Tabarra in Muharram gatherings and processions and hurt the sentiments of Sunni Muslims. It is totally incorrect." Tabarra refers to dissociation with those deemed to be on some other path of faith and is seen as playing a role in Shia-Sunni discord. “We just mourn the sacrifice and martyrdom of the grandson of Prophet Muhammad." Shia-Sunni violence took place in 1969, 1974, 1977 and 1984, he added, saying that it must not be sparked again. “Further, the DGP has highlighted cases of sexual assaults in our processions. The allegation is thoroughly baseless. Show us one FIR of any case of sexual assault during a Muharram procession. It is hard to differentiate if it’s the language of UP's DGP or some anti-Shia groups. Muharram is not only observed by Shia Muslims, but also by other communities, including Hindus and Sunnis. [As for cow slaughter allegations], when and where did that happen? In fact, our religious heads in Iraq and Iran have issued a fatwa that slaughtering as well as consumption of animals that hurt the sentiments of any community or might lead to communal tensions is strictly prohibited."

Abbas, on behalf of the AISPLB, thanked the National Commission for Minorities for taking suo moto cognizance of the issue and writing a letter to UP's chief secretary seeking a clarification on the objectionable content of the circular.

There has been a political reaction, too. Congress state president and two-term legislator from Tamkuhi, Raj Ajay Kumar Lallu spoke on the issue and said that people in administrative positions should refrain from making such statements and must maintain the dignity of their administrative position. Samajwadi Party leader and legislative representative of Shahganj, Shailendra Yadav Lalai alleged, “At the time of elections, such a derogatory statement was given by the DGP purely at the behest of the government. Without government consent, people in such positions can’t dare to make such controversial remarks."

Though the DGP might have spoke to Kalbe Jawad, the issue seems far from over. Shia sentiments have been hurt by their portrayal as a group by the police circula. This being the case, does an explanation given to a cleric suffice? Should a public clarification not be issued? Elections in UP are due early next year. As political campaigns begin, harmony must be maintained. This should be the aim.

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Updated: 09 Aug 2021, 11:04 AM IST
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