Akbar inched forward with the procession, going from Numaish to Hussainia Iranian Imambargah in Kharadar - on his wheelchair.
The long human phalanx gathered on at Numaish after congregating at Nishtar Park at around 1:30 pm. And then, hours later, it dispersed just as peacefully at the imambargah shortly before Maghrib on Monday.
The Pak Hyderi Scouts led the procession in their crisp light blue uniforms, carrying 30-foot high tazias and alams. They chanted “Labaik, Ya Hussain” (We are here, oh Hussain) as some of the younger ones held steady the Zuljana, named after Hazrat Imam Hussain’s (RA) horse.
Compared to last year, fewer people seemed to have participated in the procession but the azadars or mourners insisted that they would be out in full force on Ashura (Muharram 10), Tuesday, as well. “Usually the procession on the 9th doesn’t have that many people,” said Akbar. “But I think the size of the crowd is about the same as last year. Either way, I came for my Imam and I plan to do the same on Ashura.”
The number of children went down as the procession wound its way to its destination. By the time it reached Kharadar, there appeared to be no more than a dozen of them in the lines. Security was strict and the only entrance point was at Numaish. The mourners could exit from around 300 walk-through exits set up at Tibet Centre, or when the procession dispersed at Hussainia Iranian Imambargah.
The Rangers and police personnel, together with the scouts sweeped and reswept the route beforehand. They ensured that all the shops and business centres were sealed and their locks were not tampered with. According to the police, 90 mobiles, 45 ambulances, 75 security personnel on motorcycles and 15 fire brigade vehicles were on duty. Additionally, nine armoured personnel carriers were also specially deployed.
Many participants were indifferent to the security arrangements. “The security situation doesn’t matter,” said Raza. “We come at our own risk whether the police are present or not.” He attends the processions every year with his four brothers. But he admitted that the women of his house stopped coming three years ago because of security concerns.
Another mourner, M. Raza, and his brothers have also been attending the Muharram processions since they were children. But they find the elaborate security arrangements “a huge waste of money.” “You deploy all the security personnel you want but if their intelligence is poor there is nothing that can protect us,” said Raza, after the procession ended. “The azadars are fearless.” The government takes all of these security measures for themselves, rather than the people, they said. “If they were for us then why did those scouts die?” Raza asked, referring to the attack on Muharram 1 at Numaish Chowrangi.
A man joined the procession at Numaish with his three sons, all younger than 10.
His five-year-old took his first break, when the procession finally finished at Kharadar, and sat down. “Some of my friends tell me I shouldn’t bring my children along,” he said. “I don’t believe in forcing my children. They come every year because they want to.”
Around 3,500 policemen, 500 commandos, 400 Rangers personnel and other volunteers have been deputed to guard the Ashura processions.
About 750 mourning processions and 800 majalis are expected to be organised in the city, and the police have declared 48 of them sensitive. The main procession will cover a distance of 1.5 kilometres, from Station Road to Qadam Gah Mola Ali near Pucca Qila.
The spokesman for the Hyderabad police, Mazhar Shani, said that all of the 58 streets leading to the main procession will be closed. There will be only two entrance and exit points, at Bacha Khan Chowk and Sarfaraz Colony, which are over two kilometres away from each other.
According to Sindh Home Minister Manzoor Wassan, over 100 venues in Karachi, Hyderabad and Khairpur were declared highly sensitive on Ashura.
He was talking to the media at Hyderabad airport. Wassan said that the home ministry received threats and information about possible attacks on Ashura processions. However, the Sindh government deployed around 100,000 security personnel, 80,000 policemen and 20,000 Rangers men. The Frontier Constabulary will also be present at sensitive locations and the army has also been put on alert. “The next 24 hours are very crucial as far as the security is concerned.” The minister said that the law enforcement agencies feel confident since they foiled a terrorist attack last month.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 6th, 2011.
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