Police break up Muslim gatherings in Indian-held Kashmir

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Police in Indian-controlled Kashmir fired tear gas and used batons on Wednesday to break up religious processions marking the Muslim month of Muharram.

Authorities imposed a curfew in Lalchowk, the commercial hub of disputed Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar, fearing that the religious processions could morph into anti-India protests.

Clashes erupted when police attempted to stop groups of Muslims who were trying to break the curfew and hold processions at several places in the city.

Muharram, one of the most important holy days for Shiite Muslims, marks the death of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Hussein, in the battle of Karbala on Ashura.

Police detained over a hundred mourners, who were expected to be released later in the day.

Indian authorities “provide state facilities and protection to facilitate the annual Hindu pilgrimage in Kashmir but ban our traditional religious processions,” said Hakim Adil, a participant in Wednesday’s processions.

Officials say the processions are only banned in Srinagar’s main commercial hub to avoid a “law and order situation,” a euphemism for anti-India protests.

Residents of Indian-controlled Kashmir have often defied bans on large public gatherings since the outbreak of an armed insurgency in 1989 demanding the Himalayan region’s independence from India, or its merger with neighboring Pakistan.

Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim it in its entirety. Most Kashmiris support the rebel cause.

Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.