SRINAGAR, July 21: As soldiers watch from a distance, men beating drums walk the pre-dawn streets of troubled Kashmir to wake up Muslims to eat sohour, the last meal before starting a day of Ramadan fasting.
A centuries old Muslim ritual of human alarm clocks beating drums and bells in the pitch-dark hours of Islam’s holiest month has returned to the strife-torn region.
With a decline in rebel violence the men, known as Sehar Khans, are now among many who venture out at night in Kashmir, where earlier nighttime walkers would run the risk of getting shot by nervous troops.
“I started the job last year, because I do believe that security has improved a lot,” 55-year-old drummer Abdul Khaliq Bhat said.
“I am doing it for Allah and, of course, for some additional money for Eid celebrations,” Bhat added, before starting to beat drums through a dark lane in Srinagar, Kashmir’s summer capital, which is still dotted with security check posts and police bunkers.
“Wakhta-e-Sehar (time to get up),” he shouts, as people wake up and turn on lights in their homes.
Ramadan culminates in the Eid al-Fitr festival when people go to mosques for prayers and visit friends and family to exchange gifts and greetings.
That is also when people tip the drummers for the service they have provided during the fasting month.
Most of the human alarm clocks are poor but some faithful do the job to earn sawab, or heavenly reward, during the sacred month.
“The militancy has disappeared now, that is why I decided to resume this sacred family job. It gives us satisfaction and this is a way you can earn more sawaab,” said another drummer, Mohammad Rafiq.
Now, as night falls,Srinagar no longer shuts down. Shops and restaurants which used to pull down the shutters before sunset stay open until late in the evening.
“It’s an amazing feeling, the return of the Sehar Khan is definitely a harbinger of the future ,” Khalida Begum, a 60-year-old housewife said.