Kashmir’s unsung hero who will never be forgotten

The modern day Kashmiri calendar is full of remarkable dates.

Each month in Kashmir’s turbulent political history tells us of nerve-racking stories of death and desolation but the month of February has special significance in my motherland. Many important political and non-political events occurred in the month of February.

Some are still remembered and others forgotten with the passage of time but there is one date, which the people of Kashmir are not likely to forget or overlook for centuries to come. It is February 11.

On this day a little known Kashmiri revolutionary was sent to the gallows in India. On this day he became the legend of Kashmir for modern day history. He is now known as the Shaheed-e-Azam, ‘father of the nation’, an icon for every Kashmiri political group in and outside the Valley. His name is Maqbool Butt.

While the political scene in Kashmir changed dramatically after that fateful February day in 1984, his hanging changed Kashmir so much that life will never be the same again. That momentous change is known in many parts of the world as a revolution. Kashmiris are still passing through that phase.

As they lost one precious son of the soil in Delhi’s Tihar jail, they set on a course to lose hundreds and thousands more in following in his footsteps in the name of Azadi (Independence).

It was after this date in February 1984 that desperately passionate and emotionally charged young men began to walk down the endless street of sacrifice - what India calls ‘fanaticism’ - of the kind never witnessed in the recorded history of Kashmir. He is called the architect of this new and dangerous dimension, which was introduced into Kashmiri politics.

Kashmiris call it a freedom fight. Many of them have gone on to make new history. What followed after his martyrdom is a unique era of the uprising in Kashmiri history.

Dozens of books, articles and research papers have been written on the subject but most writers have overlooked the root cause. As further research is completed, the man who is acclaimed to have changed the trail of Kashmir’s destiny into the 21st century shall undoubtedly stand out.

He will remain a symbol of strength and respect in a vigorously changing but divided Kashmir. He was controversial in his time. He died in controversy but I am convinced that one day he will become the Kashmiri symbol of liberty. In his life he was frowned upon with suspicion.

He was often labelled as an enemy agent in Pakistan and regarded as a dreaded terrorist with a mission from Pakistan in India. In Kashmir, no one knew the truth while he was alive.
After his death, everyone in both India and Pakistan as well as in Kashmir, wanted to know the truth about him.

Truth, which had long become a casualty in the India-Pakistan tussle over who should rule the territory, is still fiercely suppressed. Today, many years after his execution at the hands of Mrs Indira Gandhi, Pakistanis write about him in highest regard to portray him as an ‘enemy’ of India.

In India, there is essentially a feeling of guilt, which must be the reason why even the liberal and unorthodox writers have not set out to discover the truth as yet. The few that have taken the trouble to write on the issue of Kashmir post-1990 have simply ignored the whole chapter except for passing references to Maqbool Butt.

Preoccupied with a terrifying ordeal, which the Kashmiri population has been made to go through since his execution, the Kashmiri writers have had little chance to look into his life story.

The newspapers based in Srinagar (and some in Rawalpindi, Pakistan) have been publishing special numbers on his death anniversary but other popular papers in Pakistan are yet to come to terms with the fact that this was an extraordinary man who had a vision for the future of Kashmir.

He wanted independence. He saw independence for Jammu-Kashmir as the only solution. As his ideas clashed with the popularly held views regarding the future of Kashmir in Pakistan, attempts have been made to undermine his personal popularity.

A series of sequences in this regard include the celebration of ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’ in Pakistan, on February 5th - six days before Maqbool Butt’s death anniversary. It has been happening over the last 10 years ever since the JKLF made the Maqbool Butt anniversary into a national day.

Why Pakistan’s Kashmir Committee chose a non-event day to mark a day of solidarity with the Kashmiris when they needed ‘solidarity’ on February 11th is beyond comprehension. One suggestion is that it is deliberately held to undermine the pro-independence forces in Kashmir.

That explains the ban by the Pakistani interior ministry on Shaoor-e-Farda - the book that contains Maqbool Butt’s letters from various prisons, which was published from Mirpur three years ago. Pakistanis still salute the man. Millions of ordinary Indians, though, don’t understand what has gone wrong in Kashmir.

The Pakistani media, on the other hand, knowing fully well that there is no hope in hell in making Kashmir part of their country, don’t accept that anything has gone wrong in Kashmir. Ordinary Kashmiris, who know little about him have gone to grave lengths to follow his footsteps and are likely to continue doing so for a long time.

I have endeavoured to write a book on his life and mission to bring home some truths to the people of India and Pakistan.
The fact that he consciously chose to lead a life on a collision course with death in order to secure an honourable future for those who were to follow him makes him stand above the rest.

This is perhaps the reason why deliberate attempts were made on the part of the Indian (and Pakistani) government agencies to ensure that this chapter of his struggle and the political direction he pursued was marred with suspicion and misgivings. Volumes are required to unearth the whole truth.

Substantial research work is required to reveal the reality behind this man’s mission, which has been overshadowed with murky stories and ruthless propaganda implanted by a well oiled government machine in order to undermine his radical nationalist message.

He is still buried in Tihar jail but continues to command his people in the streets of Srinagar. He has achieved after his death what he was not allowed to achieve during his life.
Despite the wisdom and knowledge he possessed, his approach was complex for the ordinary people, often beyond their comprehension.

The complexity of his approach did not hide his desire for an organized armed resistance. Complicated as it was, for simple-minded Kashmiri patriots, his call was in fact for them to rise. And rise they did. He was not there to see it but the world witnessed how only a few years after his death his people rose in their millions.

To comprehend Maqbool Butt’s vision of a new dawn in Kashmir one has to understand the motive and emotive force behind what it takes for someone like him to sacrifice so much, including personal gains, family life and worldly pleasures, and yet have no serious regrets.

Not only has he, thus, become an icon for the independence movement but he is likely to continue to command respect and prestige in the ranks of Kashmiri freedom fighters and independence campaigners for many years to come. It is a fact that his message grew much faster after his execution than when he was alive.

It reached new heights of popularity by 1990, when the world witnessed a quarter of a million people pouring into the streets of Srinagar. They were waving banners, placards and posters bearing Maqbool Butt’s portrait.

His message, of which he was so sure, was delivered with a convincing blow within five years of his death. That was not the last time Srinagar witnessed a show of defiance. Kashmiris continue to defy force 18 years on.

Many in Azad-Kashmir too have given their lives in following in his footsteps. Two Azad Kashmiri students are entering into the 18th year of custody in UK jails.

Qayuum Raja and Mohammed Riaz, who were alleged to have been involved in a plot to kidnap an Indian diplomat to seek the release of Maqbool Butt, are still awaiting justice from the British officials. So is the Kashmiri nation.

Regrettably, seventeen years on, many of the Kashmiri nationalist groups, which espouse to follow in his name have not been able to put up a united front against the common enemy - the enemy of independence. Some efforts in this regard have been made but a sustained effort is needed to keep up the momentum.

The Kashmiri All Parties Hurriyat Conference also has a duty on its shoulders to carry through a clear message which the world is likely to understand and accept rather than indulge in a dilution exercise, which could prove to be detrimental to the Kashmiri people. (Azmat A Khan, Frontier Post, Feb. 20, 2002)

The Britain-based writer is a former secretary-general of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front.