The blessed month of Ramazan, almost always Kashmir follows the decision of the moon-sighting committee of Pakistan and this year was no exception to that. Kashmir being a Muslim majority state, celebrates Ramazan with much the same religious fervour and gaiety as is the case with other Muslim states of the world. But there are always some local, cultural additions to festivites and religious observances around the world. And who can avoid mentioning the political situation while talking about a nation living under seige.
A few things which are special to Kashmir with respect to Ramazan are worth mentioning here. In Kashmir, people in many areas, particularly urban areas hire the services of a person who goes by the title of Sahar Khwaan. The Sahar Khwaan effectively does the job of an alarm clock and walks around the neighbourhood, beating a drum, around the time of Suhoor, or Sahar as it is locally called, and calls out the faithful to get up and eat the pre-dawn meal before the dawn-to-dusk fast begins. Local newspapers regularly feature different Sahar Khwaans in their features, some of whom have been doing this job as a family tradition.
As is the case with other Muslim nations, Kashmiris also have some special foods and drinks particularly reserved for the month of Ramazan. A drink which forms and integral part of Iftar is the drink formed by mixing Chia seeds with milk and water.The drink is locally known as Babri Treish or Kanne Sharbet. This drink is a hit across rural and urban Kashmir and any Iftar is incomplete without this drink. Another addition to the Iftar menu is the milk pudding, made from Semolina (irmik) seeds, locally known as Phirin which differs from the different dish known by the same name in India and Pakistan. It is mostly used as a dessert.
One more interesting thing I remember is the traditional singing done by women during the month of Ramazan, called Rouff. This involves mostly little girls, mainly in rural areas, who sing while the men are away for the late night prayers – the Taraweeh. This traditional singing form is mostly extinct now mainly due to the effect of heavy militarisation in Kashmir. The Kashmir valley is today one of the most militarised zone in the world. With about 700,000 armed and paramilitary forces stationed there the ratio of civilian to security personnel is about 1:7. In this way, many of the cultural specifics of celebrations in Kashmir have also been subject to the vagaries of occupation. There have been cases when the Indian military/paramilitary has been involved in attacks on civilians even during the month of Ramazan. Only last year, on 18th July, during the month of Ramazan, at least four people were killed and around 50 injured when the Indian Border Security Force fired on a protesting crowd.
This year, on the first Friday of Ramazan, Friday prayers were not allowed in the main mosque of Srinagar, the capital of the Indian-held Kashmir. On this day the newly elected Prime Minister of India visited Northern part of Kashmir to inaugurate a power project with many parts of Srinagar city effectively under seige. Pertinent to mention here that majority of the big power projects in Kashmir do not cater to the electricity needs of Kashmir. On the contrary, the electricity is mostly supplied to North Indian states.
While as the believers across the world welcome Ramazan and live through it, hopefully earning the glad tidings, some people in Kashmir are still waiting for their loved ones to come back. The number of persons subjected by Indian forces into disappearance stands around 10000 which includes people of all ages, fathers, brothers and sons. Some are still waiting for their loved ones, who continue to be behind the bars without a charge, to see the light of day. The number of persons in jail runs in hundreds with some having been in jail for the past 24 years.
– The writer is a freelance columnist based in Lahore.