Hoarding of Ayatollah Khomeini and Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, in Kashmir's Budgam district | Photo: Abhijit Iyer-Mitra | ThePrint
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The most intriguing aspect of Kashmir is the dynamic between the Shia and Sunni communities in the Valley. The Shias live in a state of relief and caution: relief at Article 370 being lifted, and caution that things won’t get any better for them. The Sunnis, on the other hand, nurse the fear that they have decisively lost power and things will never be the same again.

From my early school days in Tyndale Biscoe in Kashmir, I remember the only Muslim classmates who considered themselves “Indian” were the Shias and Noorbakhshias of the Nubra Valley. Of course, at the age of eight, I didn’t know what being a Shia meant.

To understand their lives and aspirations better, 34 years later, I decided it was best to go to the Shia citadel in Kashmir: Budgam. Shias account for 30-40 per cent of the district’s population.

Shia-Sunni divide

Clearly my driver, a Sunni, was not happy with the trip. Our conversation started off with his mild accusation that Shias were disloyal to the Kashmir cause. Then, his tone rapidly started becoming more acrid as I pursued the subject. “Unhone humaare paighambar ko maara (they killed our Prophet),” he said, getting more and more bigoted as he spoke on: “they spit in the food before they offer us anything, which is why we will never eat with them.” Clearly, the fact that Prophet Muhammad died a natural death (and is believed to have been transported to heaven by a mythical winged creature) is something this gentleman has never heard of or doesn’t want to believe.

Photo: Abhijit Iyer-Mitra

It helps to think of Budgam as a fried egg sunny side up. The yolk (city centre) is almost 90 per cent Shia, whereas the Sunnis dominate the rural white albumen. What is remarkable is that throughout this Shia-dominated yolk, not a single CRPF/police picket was spotted that day until 5 pm, which is the time for stone pelting. What you will spot, however, are hoardings of Ayatollahs (Khomeini & Khamenei), Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and, surprisingly, even former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is almost universally reviled in Tehran these days. Some animated conversations include gems like: “Nasrallah doesn’t want a theocratic state in Lebanon; he wants to make the country truly secular”; “Ahmadinejad was the only man the Americans feared so they got rid of him.” 

Photo: Abhijit Iyer-Mitra

In the Sunni albumen, however, these security pickets are regular. Striking up a casual conversation with the CRPF shows they are not worried about the yolk. “These people are very friendly; they talk to us and treat us like humans.”

Is there stone pelting in the Shia centre, then? The question yields a remarkable response: “Yes, there is. We have cooperative stone-pelting here. They tell us the time they will come out to pelt so it never gets serious.”


Also read: I went to meet pellet gun victims in Soura, the new epicentre of Kashmir’s anger


Where ‘Hindus’ protect Shias

I had heard of rumours of major clashes in Budgam a few days prior on Ashura (the 10th day of Muharram), which the local police officers and CRPF personnel confirmed. They also said they fired teargas. So what happened to the “cooperative pelting”?

It turns out, almost all the security forces here were unhappy with the imposition of Section 144 on the Shias, and had advised the powers-that-be that the Muharram procession should be allowed. A high-ranked officer in the security force told me, “I don’t know what they were thinking… (Article) 370 scrapping should have been sold as liberation to the Shias, and yet all you do is double down on them by doing what the Sunnis imposed.” 

While this was strategic even at the soldier level, the decision was unpopular. “Yeh log hamare ko tang nahin karte, to inko juloos nikalne do, rokne me kya faida (the Shias don’t bother us, so why not just let them take out their processions. What will we gain by prohibiting them?)” 

Local advice, however, clearly went unheeded and orders came (from Delhi/Srinagar) to continue with the ban on procession. As expected, the Shias took out the procession and were fired upon with teargas (but not pellets).

However, the villain, as per the Shia narrative, is a local Sunni police officer who was teargassing them from his jeep, while “the Hindus protected us”. The ‘Hindus’ is how the Shias refer to the CRPF troopers. But several CRPF troopers told me that they too had fired teargas (unhappily, they claim, but orders are orders: “Sir, jab order milta hai to karna hi padta hai”). This narrative, whether accurate or not, serves to demonstrate how the Shias of Budgam feel: the Hindus are protective and the Sunnis are tyrants. 


Also read: Srinagar tense ahead of Muharram test as lockdown, pellets leave residents fuming


Change that never came 

The mourning processions on Ashura have been banned in Kashmir since 1990 to avoid clashes between the Shias and the Sunnis that accompanied these processions. Now, many in the Shia community say that a post-Article 370 government in Delhi has bought into this Sunni majoritarian agenda and is following the same pattern. “Humne to socha kuchh badlega, par koi farq nahin pada (we thought things will change but nothing did),” an elderly gentleman told me. 

I raised this sentiment with several others and the general sense was that the Shias saw the abrogation of Article 370 as an opportunity to practise their religion freely again. A young street vendor, for instance, said that he had heard from his parents how the processions used to be open and the first hope that people imagined was “we can do this again”. To be clear, this young vendor was the only person who shared this sentiment so explicitly, but the sense of hurt and disappointment towards India is very clear.

Like everywhere else in Kashmir, the collective response among Shias in Budgam is very different from the individual. Publicly, they are with the struggle for “azadi” but in private conversations, there is a deep and all-pervasive fear of Sunni majoritarianism. The fear is that they have already been labelled “mukhbir” (informants) of the government in Delhi and the fate of Kashmiri Pandits now awaits them as well. The events surrounding the Ashura have only reinforced these fears. And while a “Hindus protected us” belief might work as a placebo for the Shia community in the short term, the continued banning of their religious expression after the abrogation of Article 370 has definitely dampened their hopes.

One can only hope that the Narendra Modi government’s Achilles heel – ignoring second and third order effects of policy – does not end up extracting a heavy price from the Kashmiri Shias.

The author is a senior fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. He tweets @iyervval. Views are personal. 

This is the third part of a series by the author based on his recent Kashmir visit. Read the first part here and the second part here.

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34 Comments Share Your Views

34 COMMENTS

  1. I think the author is putting Shias in danger. Sunni even kill one another ex. Punjabi killing Baloch, Pashtun, Mahazir kaum.
    Not to mention how millions of Bengali muslims were killed and women raped and yet Hindus spared the lives of Punjabi muslim army – no mistake again.!
    Only Shias in Gilgit Baltistan are bit safe for now with more numbers.

  2. It is certainly unfortunate and true that the shia procession of muharram should not have been constrained or disallowed. The shia should be encouraged to convert the sunnis and it is a well known fact that the shia are suffering under sunni majoritarianism in kashmir and in pakistan they have been persecuted by sunnis.
    There is a lot of perception and truth in this article which the authorities should pay close attention to. At the same time they should realize that the shia will out of fear publicly voice the sunni sentiment until and unless this fear is removed, and the voice of the shia changes, this is the litmus test of the success of the indian government.
    other sects of islam should also be encouraged to plant their roots in kashmir, and more and more muslims should also be encouraged to think freely and to question the defects of islam.

    • DIvide and rule. Time to demonstrate we are one..
      An Arabic saying:
      If someone deceives you , curse on him.
      If he does it second time, curse on him. If he deceives you third time, curse on you.

  3. In the name of Allah the merciful the companionate
    India the Tyrant occupier of Kashmir/ After scrapping of Article 370, Shia in Kashmir are in a state of relief and caution
    A mistake was made by Pakistan in 22 October 1947 by invasion to address the accession slogan that served Indian interests all over and same mistake was made by India in 5th August 2019 by scrapping article 370 to address the accession slogan these two negative actions generated a positive action that is cancelation of accession slogan and acceleration of free Kashmir movement this is the sense of relief in Shia Muslims because of their political mass awareness than Sunni Muslims not what writer of article has understood by interacting with some people.
    This is in reference of a fractured and tarnished fact about Muslims [Shia/Sunni] of Kashmir article titled as “After scrapping of Article 370, Shia in Kashmir are in a state of relief and caution” written by ABHIJIT IYER MITRA published Dated 27 September 2019 on a website namely “The Print” which reveals the fact that the writer and the publisher both are living in stone age and know nothing about real Muslim World and its Religio-Political leadership.
    Writer has forgotten that so called Republic of India is a Tyrant occupier for its occupied part of Kashmir which was administered by India since 27 September 1947 up to 05 August 2019 and 5th August 2019 onwards became Tyrant occupier and majority of Muslims [Shia/Sunni] and majority of Non-Muslims [Pandits/Sikhs/Hindus Dogras and Buddhist] of Kashmir believe that between India and Pakistan there is no difference both are using people of Kashmir as tools for their own interests and free Kashmir is only way out.
    Scrapping of Article 370
    India has lost its status on Kashmir by scrapping its constitutions article 370 which was a big hurdle for ongoing freedom movement of Kashmir to justify on international forums. I myself as a Shia religious preacher and cultural activist participated in Indian parliamentary Election of 2014 as an independent candidate of Indian administered Kashmir with a clear agenda; “action against cultural aggression” and election manifesto that we should put forward options for India either implement article 370 in Kashmir in its true sprit to safeguard Kashmir’s political, social, cultural, economic and educational advancement status since 259BC(4000 Years recorded history) or dare to scrap it to prove Kashmir is part of India and my belief was that my “action against cultural aggression” movement will take at least 20 years to force India to decide to scrap the article 370 but I was tagged as stooge of Indian agencies and I decided to leave Kashmir and without any movement India not after 20 years but less than 4 years scrapped article 370 and returned back the people of Kashmir to 1931 position.
    A mistake was made by Pakistan in 22 October 1947 by invasion to address the accession slogan that served Indian interests all over and same mistake was made by India in 5th August 2019 by scrapping article 370 to address the accession slogan these two negative actions generated a positive action that is cancelation of accession slogan and acceleration of free Kashmir movement this is the sense of relief in Shia Muslims because of their political mass awareness than Sunni Muslims not what writer of article has understood by interacting with some people.
    Let world know majority of Muslim activists [Shia/Sunni] are working under the leadership of Imam Khamnaie and Sunni Muslims feel proud to follow a Shia leader like Imam Khamnaie and no one can divide now Muslims in sects. Muslims [Shia/Sunni] have reached this level of understanding that the difference between the Muslim Sects are theological science based not any hate rated sense.
    India has become tyrant occupier of Kashmir after scrapping article 370 and changing Kashmir into open jail and accordingly all Shia Ayatollah’s has condemned India’s Kashmir policy and supported peoples movement of Kashmir for freedom which means every Kashmiri Shia Muslim religiously and politically is bound to be part of free Kashmir movement not pro- India activist.
    Aga Syed Abdulhussain Moosvi
    Qom I.R. Iran
    Email:agaabdulhussain@gmail.com
    Saturday, September 28, 2019

    • You are completely wrong in your comment here. Your reply shows the fear you have from sunnis, this is why you fled kashmir and went to Qom/Iran due to threats from sunni terrorists and you are trying to curry favour with the sunni extremists. As a matter of fact, even Iran has totally failed in winning over the sunnis whether it is jerusalem or anywhere else.
      It is only due to india that shia are able to exist in the pockets in some areas in kashmir. You have a deep fear of sunnis. Now you are welcome to come back and throw off the fear of sunni extremmism.

  4. This is completely a lie,you are lying.
    This is totally baseless and clueless and this (the print) is spreading a fake news.
    I am a shia .and i condemn the indian agreesion ,atrocities on us ( Kashmiris).
    You the are trying create division between us.
    But we are kashmiri proud Muslims.
    We want freedom.

  5. This is exactly what Tariq Hamid Karra told in the recent interview with HuffPost. Indian agencies will be trying to create discord and disharmony among the various communities there. This sinister article proves him correct and the author is being dictated by Biryani Doval about how to start this process of communal divide. But I guarantee you, the Indian state will never succeed in its evil designs. We Kashmiris are one when it comes to resisting the oppressor.

      • Typical nincompoop Bhakt you are. No arguments to counter my assertions, just trolling. How much do you get paid for a comment by the BJP IT cell.

    • Sunnis hate Shias, and they kill Shias in Pakistan whenever they get a chance. This is not only true in Pakistan or in the Islamic countries, but all over the world where there are Muslims. Sunnis also kill Ahmedis in Pakistan. Why do you think Iran is bombing Saudis?

  6. Sometimes it seems to me how moron Shekhar Gupta is, that he allowed to publish this shit.
    Let me tell you Mr. Gupta these tactics of dividing people are now obsolete,please try to find something new.(like you guys are in making of your new father of nation)
    Kashmiri people are much more sane and intelligent people, moreover, they are above all these gimmicks played by you and your new father of nation.

    I would urge you please stop this shit and show some respect to your profession and if possible try to highlight the plight of the people you are trying to malign in the name of sectarian divide,(which you will not) coz your are answerable to father (new father of nation)

  7. The crap of Divide and Rule will never succeed in Kashmir.
    We Kashmiris are Kashmiris first and then Shia or Sunni(by the way we are Brothers in faith ) and our enemy is same.

    Indian fake democrazy doesn’t allow Friday Prayers in Jamia Mosque is not ban on mere Sunnis but all of the Kashmiri Muslims.
    When Shia mourners are tear gassed,bullets and pellets fired onto them,the blood that boils is not just Shia blood but all of the Kashmiri Muslims are angered.

    Last year SHIAS OF KASHMIR punched Indian govt when they came with Posters of Burhan Wani in every Muharram procession and shouted pro freedom slogans openly.

    This year they openly resisted against curfew and protested against Article 370 revocation in Muharram.

    Kashmiris are fully United against INDIAN ZIONIST POLICY.

    SHIAS ARE ENEMIES OF ISRAEL AND ISRAEL IS FRIEND OF INDIA ,SO INDIA IS GREATEST SATAN FOR SHIAS.

    • Few questions
      1. Can you tell me any other country (except Iran Oman Tanzania India ) where Shias were free to mourn/procession on Muharram.
      2. Why is there two blocks fighting in middle East if there no disharmony in the community.
      If your answer is political then what is happening in Oman, Syria, what is boko haram doing in African countries.
      Why the Shias are being killed in Pakistan, Iraq. Where is the harmony in killings Ahmadis.
      3. If you are saying you are Kashmiri first then Muslim, what happened to your kashmiriat when khasmiri Gujars, Bakarwals, Buddhists, Sikhs, Kashmiri pandit were thrown out.
      4. If unity can define by religion then there shouldn’t be 17 middle Eastern state.

      Tell me one country other than India where you can find all religion (all Muslim sect)
      Shouting ranting doesn’t prove points.

      • Too many points, ad hominem etc. This article is artfully and poetically asserting a narrative of the Shia-Sunni divide in the valley, which reeks of petty propaganda. Kindly understand that, it’s a nuanced point of view, but understandable by many.

  8. What rubbish is this article? Shia were not allowed to mourn during Ashura, their basic religious practice was snatched from them, they were tortured and beaten by the police for raising slogans of independence. Yet this stupid author allows himself to write this nonsense just to please his masters in Nagpur.

    What a shame!

  9. As a Kashmiri Sunni, one of my best friends is a Shia, we often visit, stay at each-others homes, eat, drink, pray together. So nobody from Kashmir or even in India (except for diehard Bhakts) is going to believe in your farcical write-ups. Don’t make Kashmir the next Hindutva laboratory by sowing the seeds of discord between various communities. And man, talking to one illiterate driver and two Shias (if for a moment I believe that is true) don’t generalise your observations. Your opinion pieces are dangerous and a fit case for booking your under Article 153-A of IPC. I am wondering how a respectable media outlet like Print publishes these articles.

    • I don’t want to be rude but when u use “Kashmir or even in India” made the author’s point true.
      The first sentence itself (although it might be true) shows there is discontent.
      Eg- To prove a point that if I said “I have many black friends” I may not b racist but that doesn’t mean I leave in a racism free society. Hope you get the point
      You, brother may be live in harmony, but your society doesn’t, neither mine

  10. One does not know what the dynamic between Shias and Sunnis is in Kashmir, or in other parts of the country. However, Divide and Rule dates back to British times.

  11. He is missing the woods for the trees. Its tragic and funny at the same time they way he is trying to justify the grave injustice being done to the kashmiri people.

    • There is a problem it should be attended but why and how the problem arises, is the question. Before 90s there were no issues whats changed, is the answer.
      Decades of wrong that has been happening in valley is not woods its the f jungle.
      Then the question is why should all suffer for few.
      And the answer is _, who are still late to accept or preach or listen to report contradict _ views

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