Srinagar, Feb 11: Protests, clashes, arrests and a shutdown marked the 23rd death anniversary of Muhammad Maqbool Bhat, the founder of pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), in the Kashmir Valley on Sunday.
Police detained about 60 people during protests by two factions of the JKLF in many parts of this capital city. The protesters were demanding the remains of Bhat, who was hanged and buried in New Delhi’s Tihar jail on February 11, 1984 on the charges of murdering an intelligence officer.
Carrying banners and placards stamped with slogans like “Handover the remains of the father of nation Shaheed Maqbool Bhat to Kashmiris,” the protesters led by JKLF vice-chairman Advocate Bashir Ahmed Bhat took to streets at Maisuma, outside the JKLF headquarters. They also carried portraits of Bhat for whose mortal remains a grave has been kept reserved in the Martyrs Graveyard at Eidgah here.
As the protesters tried to march towards the office of United Nations Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) to handover a memorandum, policemen who had been deployed in strength, intercepted them near Budshah Chowk, triggering a clash, witnesses said.
They said the police fired teargas canisters and used batons to disperse the protesters. The clash continued for an hour. Some protesters including the JKLF general secretary Er Ghulam Rasool Dar Eidi sustained injuries.
Police detained about 30 JKLF activists. They included Bhat, Edi, Noor Muhammad Kalwal and Tahir Ahmad Mir.
Activists of the JKLF (Rajbagh faction) also took out a procession at Lal Chowk. But the police stopped them at Moulana Azad road when they were proceeding towards Dalgate. The police took 18 JKLF leaders, including Javed Mir, into custody and lodged them in Kothibagh police station. The protesters were demanding that the remains of Maqbool Bhat be brought to Srinagar.
Reports from downtown city said hundreds of youth gathered outside the historic Grand Mosque, chanting anti-India, pro-freedom and pro-Bhat slogans. As the protesters refused to disperse, police and paramilitary CRPF troops resorted to baton charge and fired teargas canisters.
At least half-a-dozen people, including two cops, sustained injuries in the ding-dong clashes, a Greater Kashmir photojournalist said. He said nearly 15 protesters, including some teenagers, were also taken into custody.
Meanwhile, normal life across the Valley was paralysed in response to a strike called by JKLF, both factions of the Hurriyat Conference, Democratic Freedom Party, and other groups to mark Maqbool Bhat’s execution.
Shops and business establishments were closed in the areas which generally remained open on Sundays. However, in Lal Chowk, Budshah Chowk, other commercial areas shops remain closed every Sunday.
Calling Bhat a torchbearer of Kashmiris’ struggle, the groups, like every year, had appealed the people to observe shutdown “to show to the world that our freedom movement is alive and kicking despite hanging of Bhat and martyrdom of hundreds of thousands of people.”
Meanwhile, in Trehgam village of Kupwara, the native place of Bhat, prayer meetings were held in the memory of Bhat.