New Delhi: Ahead of the upcoming assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, the Sufi shrines of the valley are being shadowed by the political decisions which have marred the livelihood of “Muttawils”, locals who have spent their lives serving these shrines.
Most of the shrines house the graves of many great Islamic scholars and preachers that have contributed to the spiritual professing within Kashmir in history. For generations, a few hundred families have been taking care of these shrines or what is locally known as “Astaans”. They have also time and again served as means of social cohesion among various religious communities.
It is not just the Muslims alone that hold faith in the shrines but people from across religions donate and believe in the piousness of these saints.
“It is an inherited responsibility that we’ve got from our forefathers. In times of deceit and violence, these Saints have played a vital role in establishing a harmonious community. Almost everyone, be it a Hindu, Sikh, or Muslim holds great regard for such scholars. Our role has purely been to maintain these shrines and facilitate all these believers. We have been doing it for ages,” says Ali Mohammad adding the political influence has not only marred their livelihood but is a disrespect to their service as well.
Last month the Jammu and Kashmir Waqf Board issued an order banning the collection of donations by the trustees at the shrines and the mosques which come under its ambit. The government said that trustees were using exploitative means and forcibly asking people to donate. This led to the Waqf Board removing all the donation boxes within these shrines.
Every district of Kashmir is home to tens of Sufi shrines which are run by locals who also take care of the maintenance and infrastructure in these places. Islam which is the major religion in Kashmir has come to the valley through these very Sufi saints, many of whom came from Iran to preach the religion and lend livelihood skills to the local people.
Carpet weaving and many other forms of handicrafts in Kashmir are believed to be taught by these very saints. These shrines, however, are looked over by the J&K Waqf Board which for the first time in the history of Kashmir is being headed by a BJP leader, Darakshan Andrabi. Another trustee of a shrine in the Aishmuqam area of South Kashmir said that this has been done to deprive these shrines of the local trustees.
While there has been a backlash by even those labelled as the “B-team of BJP”, the government has maintained that it has been done in the public interest. However, this order is not alone that has been seen as politically motivated.
As elections are upcoming Sufi shrines are a go-to place for local politicians for seeking blessings. Leaders from across the party lines visit the Sufi shrines where they are garlanded and their heads are being tied with turbans as a matter of respect and blessings.
Usually, huge gatherings are witnessed in it and the whole event has good optics and is mostly followed by prayers by priests. Locally, this is known as the Dastar Bandi. Now as the elections unfold, the J&K Waqf Board also banned the Dastar Bandi of the politicians at the shrines.
Not just this, many groups since times immemorial have been into a hair cutting business near these shrines. They are a community named as Hajams. People from across valley would being their new borns to these very shrines for their first hair cut, thinking it as auspicious. The government however has even banned the most Hajams from cutting hair of these children. As per a Hajam at a shrine in Aishmuqam, they cant do it now without paying a fee to the Waqf Board.
One of the barbers who had been working in this shrine for over three decades says government now invites tenders and we now have to take an annual contract which amounts to lacs. Only then we can trim the hair of such children. “We don’t even earn as much as we pay for this contract,” he said.
On this, JKPDP chief Mehbooba Mufti said that “hypocrisy has no limits since BJP themselves leave no opportunity to get turban tying ceremony done whether at a mandir, dargah or gurudwara. They aren’t ready to stop until they dismantle all our religious and Sufi traditions to take control by implementing their divisive agenda”.
“Steamrolling J&Ks cultural & traditional practices – arresting religious leaders, prohibiting Sajad Nasheens from performing their traditional duties & now banning Dastarbandi which is a universal ceremony of giving blessings at religious places,” the PDP leader added.
Speaking to the media, she added that the government was leaving no stone unturned in tormenting the Sufi culture of the Kashmir valley. She added that it was not just in Kashmir valley but across the country and the world that turbans are tied as a blessing. Even the acting governor and our Prime Minister have tied the turbans whenever visiting gurudwara or shrines,” she said adding this ban was part of an agenda under which the BJP government was trying to take control of all the symbols of Islam in the valley.
“Be it the raids on the Falahi Aam Trust or even the arrest of Islamic scholars for their speeches for which they have already served jails,” she said adding that while they appreciate the opening of cinemas but why are children being forced to sing Bhajans in schools.