10 May 2021
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As Ramazan enters the phase of mourning Imam Ali’s martyrdom in India, the organizing committee of the 150-year-old Youm-e-Ali anniversary procession has already announced that they will not be organizing it. The Royal state of Mahmudabad has said that there will no physical majalis and procession due to COVID-19.

The 21st of Ramazan marks the martyrdom of Imam Ali, who was the cousin, companion and son-in-law to Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Attacked during the morning prayers on 19th Ramazan, 40 A.H. in Masjid- e-Kufa (present-day Iraq), he breathed his last two days later on the 21st. His followers, all over the world mourn this period by praying, holding commemorative processions, distributing food, organising majalis, reciting nauhay and performing ziyarat. The night of 19th Ramazan is called Shab-e-Zarbat on which processions are widely held.Long read: Lucknow’s 21st Ramazan Hasan Mirza sahib ka Taboot and lockdown Last year as well, the 21st Ramazan procession in Lucknow was withdrawn over the pandemic. The committee decided against erecting the taboot replica as they felt that once this happened there would be no stopping the followers paying homage. Last year’s decision was strictly controlled by the Lucknow administration and respected by the committee and people.

A year later, the pandemic is engulfing people’s lives but the government is paying no heed and instead is itself organising elections and allowing mass gatherings whether political or religious. During this period of Imam Ali’s martyrdom millions of Indians will mourn and pray to stay safe from the coronavirus. One thing that all of us should take away from this global tragedy is that both Karbala where Imam Hussain sacrificed his life along with his followers for truth and justice and Imam Ali’s martyrdom are not just mourned as a custom. They have been a source of inspiration and human values which have been mannered not only in the lives of the people but turned into a revolution as well.

People who have lost their lives while their relatives and loved ones struggled to arrange basic medical care must not only be mourned but remembered like Karbala so that grief facilitates a movement to stand against the current corrupt and tyrannical regime. Once the pandemic subsides, the same regime will base propaganda on the entire COVID-19 pandemic and urge us to vote for them. That will be the time to take a stand and say no to people and to the system that relegated people to dying in agony, to be buried and be cremated as mere death counts.

Historically the world has witnessed how human civilization has always been crushed and tormented by those seeking power. The same happened in Karbala where a tyrant murdered not just men but a harmless infant. But what happened even after Karbala was a continuation of tyranny and violation of basic human values. For centuries people were imprisoned and murdered for mourning the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. Different rulers continued to flagrantly violate history. A peak example was state palaces were constructed and the plaster was mixed with the blood of the Holy Prophet’s descendants. Even as mourning for Karbala left the Arab region and spread to different parts of the Muslim world, people took the same approach. Mourning in remembrance of what happened in Karbala slowly developed not just as an annual event but as an institution which shaped communities and nations. Censorship developed in parallel as well but only had the effect of cementing the practice. This practice was not limited to mourning but also took shape as a culture of people raising their voice when it came to a matter of conscience. Karbala survived a time when people had to give up their one hand to pay homage to Imam Hussain. Such is the background of the institution of Azadari (mourning). As Frank Korom explains, the Karbala paradigm is ‘’a force as vital and potent today as it was during the first few centuries after the original event; it is one without parallel in history. It serves as a model for appropriate human behaviour as a rhetorical force to oppose tyrannical rulers.’’

What is happening in India today is that people are not just dying from COVID-19 but from a system in which exercising their right to live has failed them. The struggle for oxygen and even a bed to die in will become a potent force in times to come. This double agony is triple mutated by the government who held elections, public rallies, allowed religious mass gatherings and wanted to confiscate possessions and jail people for speaking out when their loved ones were dying. Just as people were prevented from mourning Karbala thousands of years ago, the current Indian government is doing the same by suppressing the voice of people and not addressing the COVID-19 emergency. The seriousness of the situation can be gauged from the scenes of temporary cremation units. All those centuries ago, people were not allowed to weep for the dead. Today we are not even allowed to ask for help for the living. The writer is based in Lucknow and tweets @aounaqvi

Abdul Gh Lone