With violence on the wane in Kashmir, the sound of drums is once again signalling Muslim devotees in Srinagar to wake and eat their pre-dawn meal during Ramadan.
After a hiatus of more than 13 years, Abdul Ahad, 72, has resumed a practice he considers sacred.
Before sunrise during Ramadan, he and others venture out to wake people up for their meal, thus enabling them to fast from dawn to dusk. To rouse them from sleep, the group uses drums and horns.
Ramadan drummers, dubbed "Sehar Khans", are a centuries-old tradition. But it came to a halt after an armed insurgency erupted in Kashmir during the final years of the last century.
Now, with the situation showing signs of improvement, the familiar predawn sound has returned.
"After 13 years … I am again going out," Ahad, who hails from a remote area of northern Kashmir, told Khabar South Asia. "Peace in Kashmir is limping back to normalcy compared with the early 1990s when the situation here was extremely terrible. Now, it is better. There is no fear for life as was earlier the case."
Hajra Begum is happy that Kashmir's lost tradition is back. "For so many years, we could not hear the drum beaters during the Sehri [early morning] time. But it is a great feeling that they are again doing this job," Begum told Khabar, adding that during the holy month she wakes up only after hearing the drums.
"I'm more than 80 years old and I remember the time when there were no watches, and this was the only way that people here used to wake up in the wee hours during Ramadan. Even today people rely on it, whether it is in the city or in the village," she said.
The drum beating is usually done by poor people and serves as a source of income that allows them to celebrate the Muslim holiday Eid in its true spirit. Mohammed Rajab, 51, who beats drums in a dark lane in Srinagar, said that his poor financial condition and his desire to get more rewards from God forced him to leave his home in central Kashmir's Ganderbal district.
"For the whole month, I will do this job as I have some financial issues. At the end of this month, after the Eid prayers, locals will give me some money and I will be able to celebrate Eid with my family," Rajab told Khabar.
"I'm sure Allah will reward me for what I am doing in my old age," he added. "My family members many times tried to stop me out of fear, but I never listened to them, because I knew that I am doing this job for God."
Another drummer, Zaffar Ahmed, beats drums as a volunteer. "I am not doing this job for money. I feel satisfaction and derive an inner peace from this," he told Khabar.
Elimination of night barricades and security checkpoints has also helped these drummers to circulate without hindrances.
"For the last few years, we have removed bunkers and night barricades from many parts of Kashmir, and the process is an ongoing one. Now people can move freely during the night," Public Relations Officer Sudhir Kumar of the largest deployed paramilitary force in Kashmir, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), told Khabar.
"The situation is improving in Kashmir. We have already given instructions to our ground forces not to stop civilians, particularly at night in the holy month of Ramadan," he said.
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