Passion crime is nothing new in the country. But, in Kashmir, the increasing number of cases involving imams -- priests who lead prayers in mosques -- in crimes of passion and elopements has posed a fresh challenge to the Muslim-majority and traditionally god-fearing society.
"There are a number of cases of murder and elopement, of late, where imams were found responsible," said senior superintendent of police, Srinagar, Syed Ashiq Bukhari.
The society's spotlight is on imams after a sensational disclosure by the police last week. An imam of a Srinagar mosque was arrested on October 21 for pushing a youth to death in Jhelum river. The imam, according to the police, was having illicit relations with the victim's wife.
"His late-night phone calls were analysed and it was found that the imam was constantly in touch with the victim's wife," said SSP Bukhari.
"Most imams are not from the city localities. Some would come from remote villages with little exposure. Once exposed to the city life, they fall prey to the temptations," said the SSP.
In the recent times, the Srinagar police have registered at least two cases where imams from local mosques eloped with women from Soura and Lal Bazaar areas. Last year, an imam murdered a person after he developed illicit relations with a woman in the Batamaloo area.
The growing incidents have the state's largest socio-religious group, Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), concerned. "In our upcoming religious programmes, we will sensitise people on the character of an imam. Ideally, an imam should be a role model and a very serious person. He has to be a respectable person of society," said JeI spokesman Zahid Ali.
The Jamaat has asked people to verify antecedents and character of an imam before asking him to lead prayers in a mosque.
"It is necessary to know the background and social conduct of a person before having him in the mosque," said Ali.
Traditionally, prayers at the Valley mosques would be led by a local respectable person only. Of late, with the mushrooming of Darul Alooms (seminaries), most imams come from there.
"Three decades ago, only those from Peer or Syed dynasties would lead prayers in a mosque.
Thereafter, many non-Peer and non-Syed dynasties with a hold on religion and Islamic jurisprudence would lead the prayers. There was no tradition of imams being supplied from seminaries as most would be from the locality itself. People would only allow a person to lead prayers once he has earned the community's respect," said Zahid G Muhammad, well-known columnist and author of 'My city, My dreamland'.
While SSP Bukhari advised people "to produce credible imams locally", Muhammad sees necessity to introduce vocational training in the Kashmir seminaries.
"Let's make priests self-sufficient and progressive. Hopefully, it will reduce the chances of criminal tendencies creeping in," said Muhammad.