Muharram in Skardu, ’75


Reading Murphy’s Where the Indus is Young during the month of Muharram has its own kind of fascination. My Facebook timeline is filled with odes from Shiah friends, hate (or rather judgmental) speech from Sunni friends, and then a few messages from those who are troubled by the stark intolerance of these two groups. Personally, I haven’t yet seen a Shiah friend talking insolently about Sunni followers or their leaders; however, Sunni friends are persistent the former group hates their khalifaas.

A midst all this, Murphy’s book takes us back to Aashuraa of 1975 in the areas of Gilgit/Baltistan, where the situation doesn’t seem any different. She is witnessing a Muharram procession which she finds similar to Irish Good Friday. Murphy talks about how she was switched off by this display of insensate grief. Throughout the book, Murphy has mentioned de Fillipi’s quotes from his journey of this very region back in December 1913. She compares Fillipi’s anecdotes with her own of the day of Aashuraa,

“On 11 December 1913 de Fillipi saw that year’s Muharram procession in Skardu”, “since then there seem to have been three major changes. He mentions a group of women preceding, or leading, the procession, whereas today the women merely watched and lamented on the side-lines.”, “de Fillipi observed no bloody flagellations, which he could scarcely have missed had the custom then been fashionable in Baltistan.”

A few days after Muharram processions were held, she hears about continuous sectarian rioting in Gilgit, where Pakistan army halted some groups to join the mobs. Murphy also talks about her fear of these innocent simple locals being used for political purposes because of religious feelings and differences, worried that like her own region’s unbalanced religious fervour between Catholic and Protestant thugs, religious sentiments and intolerance can bring about the similar tragic results here too.

Which she is actually right about. Today, Karachi is practically in a curfew with police, rangers and army taking control of the city as there are fears of Shiah processions being targeted. This is not restricted to Karachi only; cellular networks have been turned off in major cities with police taking control of security of these processions though out the country. I wonder what it may be like in Skardu today.

There is however some major difference between Skardu of 1975 and Dadu (Northern Sindh) of similar years. My mother has always shown expressions of shock when she hears about minorities being attacked. I personally remember her welcoming groups of Shiah women (complete strangers!) in to our house for watching the proceedings from our rooftop as the procession used to stay for a while on the road in front of our house. Even though she is a Sunni with a rather ahl-e-Hadith tendency, who are considered as religious extremist.

While I am wondering if I have been living in a bubble my entire life, or actually Sindh too is that much extremist religiously; you can read more about Murphy’s account of Muharram procession in 1975 in the images below.

You can check this link for Shah Latif’s take on Muharram in his Sur KedaroKedaro means battleground.

The princes who left Madina, have not come back, 
O brother dyer! dye my clothes black, 
I mourn for those who never did return





One response »

  1. Being from Interior Sindh myself, I have same recollections. It has certainly gone worse than it used to be.
    Religious sectarian was such that people inter-marry without concern. That is not true for Catholics and Protestants. Even now, it will be hard for real believers to inter-marry, but of of course now not many believe in either. Perhaps that’s the solution 🙂

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