Remembering Maqbool Bhatt: From Birth to Execution

  • Shams Rehman
  • Publish Date: Feb 13 2017 9:09PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Feb 13 2017 9:21PM
Remembering Maqbool Bhatt: From Birth to Execution

Even 28 years after his execution, Maqbool Bhatt ‘remains in prison’

 

11th February 2017 marks the 33rd year of the execution and ‘post-execution imprisonment’ of Maqbool Bhatt who during the life course of his political struggle was tried, imprisoned and tortured several times as a ‘Pakistani Agent’ by the Indian and as an ‘Indian Agent’ by the Pakistani authorities. He himself stated before the Indian and Pakistani courts that he was not an ‘Agent’ of one or the other occupiers in his countrybut an agent of the freedom of Kashmir and Kashmiri people. Before an Indian court where he was tried under the charges of ‘enemy agent’ he said:

‘‘I have no hesitation in accepting the charges brought against me except with one correction. I am not an enemy agent. I am the enemy. Have a good look at me and recognise me full well, I am the enemy of your illegal rule in Kashmir”.  

Three decades and over one hundred thousand lives after his execution, most of the Kashmiris in and outside of the divided state and of all political persuasions revere him as ‘Father of the Nation’, ‘The Great Martyr’, ‘Kashmiri Che’, symbol of unity and ‘the most inspiring icon of the ‘national liberation movement’.  

Like every year since 1984, Kashmiris across the division line and amongst diaspora are commemorating his martyrdom by organising public gatherings and writing prose and poetry about Maqbool Bhatt despite constant campaigns by the Indian and Pakistani media and intelligentsia to trivialise the struggle he symbolises. In Britain, where a large Kashmiri diaspora is settled, several events have been announced including a public meeting on 5 February in Luton and a protest rally outside of the Indian Embassy in London by JKLF, Public meeting in Bradford on 12 and a range of other activities in other towns by different groups and organisations of British Kashmiris. Several special public meetings are going to be held in different countries across Europe as well as Middle East, USA and Canada where a sizeable Kashmiris are settled. There are surely going to be series of activities held across the ‘Line of Division’ in Kashmir. 

Drawing on the speeches, interviews, letters, and court statements of Maqbool Bhatt compiled in Urdu by Mohammed Rafiq Khwaja and Mohammed Saeed Asad, this essay aims to inform the general English reading readers of the life and struggle of the founding father of national liberation struggle and a catalyst for the post-division history of Kashmiri independence politics. 

 

Birth and Childhood

Maqbool Bhatt was born on 18th February 1938 to a peasant family of Trahagam village Tehsil Handwara, district Kupwara, Kashmir (Indian Occupied). His father was called Ghulam Qadar Bhatt. His mother died when Maqbool Bhatt was 11 years old pupil in the village’s primary (junior) school. He had a younger brother Gulam Nabi Bhatt. Ghulam Qadar had two more sons, Manzoor Ahmed Bhatt and Zahoor Ahmed Bhatt and three daughters from second marriage with Shamali Begum. The early years of Maqbool Bhatt’s life, like thousands of other peasant children, was shaped by the harsh living conditions that characterised the life of peasants at this juncture of Kashmir history.

It was the feudal system in the Maharaja’s Kashmir that forced Maqbool Bhatt to participate in the first political action in his life long struggle against exploitation, suppression and occupation for equality, freedom and social justice. He told this story on 12 April 1972 from Camp Prison Lahore in a letter to Azra Mir, the daughter of veteran Kashmiri political activist and writer, G.M. Mir, a fellow prisoner: 

“It was 1945 or 1946 when I was eight or nine years old child. At this time Kashmir was ruled by a Dogra Family and the entire Kashmiri nation was living a life of slavery. One of the many forms of slavery is called feudalism. The feudalism gets established when the king allocates pieces of land to few people. Because of them being loyal to the king and their help in suppressing and oppressing the riyahaya (subjects), they are made owner of large landholdings for their services. These landholdings are called their jagirs; estates. The Jagirdars; feudals neither plough nor sowthese lands. They inject no labour in the land. Ploughing, sowing and harvesting the crops are the jobs of the kissans; peasant. All Jagirdar does is to appear in the fields at the harvest times and take most of the produce away leaving bare minimum for the kissans. The Dogra rulers also had appointed jagirdars in our country. The peasants did all the labour but the lands and their produce belonged to the jagirdars. The owner of our village land was a Jagirdar called Dewan. Although we never saw him but his agents who were called Kardars (literally mean ‘making others work) used to collect grains and fruits from the peasants. The year this incident happened most of the crops were destroyed due to the bad weather. Therefore the produce was next to nothing. Because of the low produce the peasants were not able to provide the jagirdar as much anaj;grains as they used to provide previously. On this the Kardars of Jagirdar started harassing and beating up the peasants in the entire region. They raided the houses and grain stores of the poor peasants and lashed them (to see if the peasants had hidden any of the produce). But they did not have any to give to Jagirdar. When the required amount of grains could not be collected the Jagirdar himself came to our village in his motorcar. This was the first time that a motorcar came to our village and we were really excited to see it. The peasants of our village got together and pleaded before the jagirdar for mercy and concessions. They told him in details the reasons for low yields. But he was not prepared to believe the peasants. He was persistent that no matter what his share must be arranged even if the children of peasants had to go hungry. He ordered his agents, kardars to complete the collection at any cost. The Kardars knew well that peasants did not have anything left to give to Jagirdar but how could they disobey the orders? So, they made a plan. At the time when Jagirdar was about to get in his car after issuing the instructions, all the village children were told to lie down in front of the jagirdar’s motorcar.With hundreds of children laying in front of the car he was pleaded either to write off the collections or drive over these starved and naked children under. I was also amongst these children and have memories still fresh in my mind, the images and sounds and massive hue and cry of that day. The children as well as elders, all were crying knowing that once the jagirdar left the village without waiving off the collections, peasants will have to face the qiyamat; the day of judgement like situation. At last the jagirdar gave in to the screaming shrieking of the naked and hunger worn yellowish children agreed to make some concessions.” 

Not too long after this incident Maqbool Bhatt found himself at the centre of another ‘political’ action against the institutionalised inequality. As narrated by one of his sons, while the land was granted to the tiller soon after the rise of Sheikh Abdullah to power in 1949, many practices of inequality carried on. One of the most explicit manifestations of the class and status based inequalities was observed in the annual award ceremonies in schools. Here the rich children and their parents sat on one side and poor on the other side of the hall. One year, when Maqbool Bhatt was also amongst the high achievers, he refused to receive the award unless the seating arrangement was changed. He said that all the children should sit together on one side and all the parents on the other. Subsequently, the suggestion was accepted and since then it was made a norm in this village school. While still in school, Maqbool Bhatt also successfully led the campaign for promoting this school from primary to secondary status. 

​Maqbool BHatt with Ganga Hijackers (Hashim &Ashraf) and NLF activists in 1971 ​

 

Further Education 

After his secondary school certificate, Maqbool Bhatt moved to St. Joseph College in Baramula, set up by British missionaries during the colonial rule.. Here he gained his first degree (BA) in history and political science.

Answering to a question about his college days from 1954 to 1958, in an interview with weekly ‘Zindgi’ (life) following the Ganga Hijacking in 1971, Maqbool Bhatt said: 

“I was a good speaker. Used to do lots of strikes. Like most of Kashmiri citizens we also had great interest in Plebiscite Front. From the start we had a clear aim before us. One benefit of our strikes in college was that the college was taken into government control”. 

Khawaja Rafiq in his ‘Safeer e Hurriyat’ (the ambassador of liberation) writes that listening to the passionate and fiery speeches of Maqbool Bhatt, the college principle Father George Shanks said: 

“This Youngman, if managed to pass through the hardships, will become a legend. But people of his tendencies usually face extreme difficulties in the society. For the type of freedom they dream of is extremely hard to achieve. Subsequently, they get crucified on their way to freedom”. 

 

Crossing the Divide

The journey on that road to great sacrifices for Maqbool Bhatt began while still at St. Joseph College. Responding to a question about crossing over to Pakistan in the above interview that was recorded in Room, 26, Mujahid Hotel Rwalpindi, Pakistan, Maqbool Bhatt said: 

In December 1957 the release of the lion of Kashmir (Sheikh Abdullah) was responded with  series of protest activities. I had my B.A exams in March/April that year. The examination centre was in Srinagar. The arrests of freedom fighters were also started at the same time. My last exam was on 2nd of April and Sheikh was rearrested on 27th. Student activists were chased and arrested. I was also an obvious target. Therefore, I went underground. After three months when the result came, I asked my father to go and bring the ‘temporary certificate’. Then we came to Pakistan in August 1958 .First we came to Lahore but then in September 1958 settled in Peshawar.

According to Khawaja, R. (1997), on this journey that changed his life course forever Maqbool Bhatt was accompanied by his uncle Abdul Aziz Bhatt. 

 

In Pakistan

First and foremost problem before Maqbool Bhatt in Pakistan was to continue his education and at the same time find a job to meet the expenses. For without that, 

“it was hard to live in Pakistan’. Therefore, I joined ’Injam’, a weekly magazine, as sub-editor and started my working life as a journalist.I did my MA (from Pehswar university) in Urdu literature and worked with ‘Anjam’ till the start of full time politics in 1965(Khawaja, 1997). 

Meanwhile his marriage was arranged by his uncle with a Kashmiri woman Raja Begum in 1961. He had two sons from her, Javed Maqbool born in 1962 and Shaukat Maqbool in 1964. In 1966, he married to his second wife, Zakra Begum, a school teacher and had a daughter, Lubna Maqbool, by her. 

 

 

Maqbool Bhatt (NLF) at Mangla Fort with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Abdul Hafiz Peerzada (PPP) Ch Noor Hussain (Azad Muslim Conference )  Hassan Shah Gardezi (Liberation League)  and Sheikh Mohyudin (the Deputy Commissioner Bagh District)

 

 

Politics 

In 1961 Maqbool Bhatt contested the Kashmiri diaspora seat from Pehsawar, Pakistan in the ‘Basic Democracy’ elections introduced by the then president of ‘Azad’ Kashmir, Khurshid Hassan Khurshid, commonly known as K.H. Khurshid. Soon after that he campaigned for K.H. Khurshid in presidential elections and for GM. Lone in the Kashmir State council elections. Both of the candidates came out victorious on their respective seats. Soon after that Pakistan started sending militants across the Indian occupied Kashmir to capture Kashmir, ‘Operation Gibraltar’, Maqbool Bhatt said farewell to the ‘election’ politics and offered his services to fight along with the Pakistani forces but his offer was rejected. This incident had profound impact on the political approach of Maqbool Bhatt. 

At this point there existed in Pakistan a ‘Kashmir Independence Committee’ (KIC) formed on 12th May 1963 by Amanulla Khan along with some middle class Kashmiri diaspora activists including journalists, students, businessmen and lawyers in reactions to the rumours that the Pakistani and Indian foreign ministers were to agree on dividing Kashmir on communal basis. The committee was headed by the Kashmir State Council member GM Lone who few years ago Maqbool Bhatt campaigned for. After the end of India Pakistan talks without any conclusion, the committee also became inactive.

Meanwhile inside ‘Azad’ Kashmir a ‘United Front’ of various political groups, voluntary organisations, shopkeepers associations and intellectuals got together to resist the construction of Mangla Dam paved the way for pro-independence politics to come out of marginalisation to mainstream of Mirpur. In April 1965 the political activists from ‘Azad’ Kashmir, members of KIC and some Kashmiri students in Pakistan got together and crossed into Suchetgarh, a Kashmiri village inside the Indian occupied areas of Kashmir near the Pakistani city of Sialkot, and formed the ‘Jammu Kashmir Plebiscite Front, the PF. Maqbool Bhatt was elected as Publicity Secretary for this first pro-independence political organisation of some significance in ‘Azad Kashmir’ that later gave birth to most of the pro-independence groups including Jammu Kashmir National Liberation Front (NLF) headed by Maqbool Bhatt and Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (Britain) led first by Abdul Jabbar Bhatt and later by Amanullah Khan and Yasin Malik. Mr Abdul Khaliq Ansari, the veteran pro independence voice in ‘Azad’ Kashmir, and Amanullah Khan were elected president and general secretary of PF respectively. 

This was the time when several national liberation struggles were echoed across the world. It appeared from the available information that Maqbool Bhatt along with many PF Kashmiris was also very much inspired by these struggles, particularly those in Algeria, Palestine and Vietnam. According to Amanullah Khan, a proposal to adopt armed struggle as an objective of Plebiscite Front was presented before the working party meeting of PF on 12th July 1965 in Mirpur but was out-voted. However, Maqbool Bhatt, Amanullah Khan, Mir Abudl Qayyum, a Kashmiri migrant settled in Pakistan running a successful carpet business, and Major (R)Amanullah from Highhama town of Kashmir who fought in the world war and served in the Indian National Army (INA) of Subash Chandar Bose and as well as in the Azad Kashmir war of 1947, secretly formed ‘The Jammu Kashmir National Liberation Front’ (NLF) on 13th August 1965 at the residence of Major Amanullah in Peshawar. The aim of this organisation was written down as engaging in:

“all forms of struggle including armed struggle to enable the people of Jammu Kashmir State to determine the future of the State as the sole owners of their motherland” (Khan, 1992, p.112). 

 

Crossing Back 

For the next ten months the group of four recruited more people into the ranks of NLF including GM Lone (the vice president of PF) and on 10th June 1966 the first group of NLF members secretly crossed over to the Indian occupied Kashmir. Maqbool Bhatt, Aurangzeb, a student from Gilgit, Amir Ahmed and Kala Khan, a retired subedar (non-commissioned officer from AJK force) went deep into the Valley of Kashmir while Major Amanullah and Subedar Habibullah remained near to the division (aka Control) line. The former were to recruit Kashmiris in the IOK into NLF while the later were responsible for training and weapon supply. Maqbool Bhatt along with three of his group members worked underground for three months and established several NLF cells in IOK. 

However, after about three months the Indian intelligence services found out about the underground activities and started a big operation to capture these activists. In an encounter with the soldiers, one of the NLF members Aurganzeb from Gilgit got killed and Kala Khan received injuries. Eventually Maqbool Bhatt and two of his comrades, Kala Khan and Amir Ahmed were arrested. They were tried as enemy agents. Commenting on this incident later Maqbool Bhatt said that this was not a staged operation. 

“We were still in organisational phase and were not fully prepared to clash with authorities. The risk of clash with occupying authorities should only be taken when you are able to invite the enemy for that. We were arrested and tried. The government of the occupied Kashmir wanted the case to be dealt in a military court and finish us off. But the case was heard in civil court for two years. The verdict was given in August 1968. We were three people in total. Two were given death (Amir Ahmed and I) and one (Kala Khan) life sentences. Our comrades from the occupied Kashmir were given from three months to three years. Nearly three hundred people were arrested including students, engineers, teachers, contractors, shopkeepers and government employees. They belonged to all parties including Plebiscite Front, Congress, and National Conference etc. (Khawaja op. cit. p.248).

 

Escape from Prison

Soon they started planning escape from the prison and within a month and half managed to dig a tunnel and escape from Srinagar prison. Maqbool Bhatt later wrote details about this great escape for the Special Trial Court in Pakistant where he was tried along with other NLF members for ‘Ganga’ hijacking. Only a brief account is included here from one of his interviews: 

“On 22nd October 1968 we started planning to escape from the prison and after one and a half month of intense planning we were able to execute the plan and on8th December 1968 at 2:10 am we jumped out from the prison wall. Two of us were on death sentence and the third one with us was a prisoner from Azad Kashmir. It took us 16 days to reach to the first border check post of Azad Kashmir. We reached to Muzaffarabad on 25th December and were interrogated in the interrogation centre of Muzaffarabad till March 1969”. 

 

Answering a question about their arrest in Azad Kashmir, Maqbool Bhatt said: 

“What can I say about that? It was the government of Ayub Khan (in Pakistan) and what can I say about Ayub Khan. This man neither had the welfare of the Pakistani people at his heart nor of the Kashmiris. His government been very cruel to us.  I was severely tortured while in the concentration camp. The pain increased with the knowledge that it was inflicted upon us by our own (Khawaja op. cit. p249).

They were released on 8th March 1969 when PF, NLF and National Students Federation (NSF) activists staged series of demonstrations in Islamabad. In November 1969 the annual convention of Plebiscite Front was held in Muzaffarabad where Maqbool Bhatt was elected its president. 

While recognising the setback caused by the premature exposure of NLF in the IOK, Maqbool Bhatt was of the opinion that it inspired and motivated more Kashmiris to join the armed struggle:

“Now we have entered in a new phase. Not only are we able to speak in the language of power that is the only language India understands but also are able to make the world community, which has ignored our existence, to recognise us. In this world you have to have your existence recognised. We have our existence recognised and we will rest only when the existence of whole of the Kashmir is recognised, Inshallah” (op. cit.) 

After being elected as the president of PF, Maqbool Bhatt spent next few years in campaigning for the political rights in Gilgit Baltistan and ‘Azad’ Kashmir. The focus of campaign on this side was against the puppet status of Azad Kashmir and such controlling institutions as the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Chief Secretary Office. With Gilgit Baltistan, the situation was even worse. These parts of the State were directly controlled by Pakistan through a political agent. The PF launched a week long activities to highlight this situation and announced that next convention of PF will be held in G&B. During this week PF activists including Maqbool Bhatt, Khaliq Ansari, Mir Qayyum, Amanullah Khan and GM Mir were arrested and forcefully exiled from the State boundaries. 

 

The Ganga Hijacking 

The event that brought Kashmir Issue to the attention of the world and Maqbool Bhatt to limelight was the hijacking of an Indian Fokker plane ‘Ganga’. There are several official and common theories about the background and impacts of this hijacking. However, only a brief account can be included in the scope of this article.

Ganga was hijacked on 30January 1971 at 1305 hours while on its routine flight from Srinagar to Jammu. In total it was carrying 30 people including four crew members. The Hijackers were two Sringar boys Hashim and Ashraf Qureshi, both in their late teens. They brought the plane to Lahore airport and demanded the release of about two dozen political prisoners of NLF in the Indian prisons. On 1stFebruary 1971, all the passengers and crew were released and sent back to India via Amritsar and ‘Ganga’ was set on fire. This incident was later used by India to suspend the overflights to East Pakistan of Pakistani aircrafts over Indian Territory (Lamb, 1991, p.289).  The situation later led to the 1971 war between India and Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh. The hijackers and Maqbool Bhatt under whose instructions hijackers said the hijacking was carried out were initially praised as heroes but then suddenly they along with hundreds of NLF activists were arrested and interrogated in notorious ShaheeQila (Royal Forte) Lahore and ‘Dulahee Camp’ Muzafrabad. Details of the interrogation can be found in the recently published book by the Institute of Kashmir Studies Mirpur, ‘Devwanoon Pe Kiya Guazari’ (What the Devotees been through). 

Six of the prisoners including Maqbool Bhatt, G.M. Lone, Mir Abdul Qayyum, Mir Abdul Manan and the two hijackers Hashim Qureshi and Ashraf Qureshi were later tried in a Special Court of Pakistan under the charges of collaboration with the Indian intelligence services. 

According to Khawaja (p.132) Maqbool Bhatt was charged under the ‘Enemy Act 1943’ of the Indian Penal Code. Only a few years earlier he was tried under the same colonial Act by the Indian Government in the Indian Occupied Kashmir. The case started in December 1971 and after a long trial in which 1984 prosecuting and 1942 defence witnessed were called in was concluded in May 1973. All but Hashim Qureshi were cleared of all charges other than dealing with arms and explosives etc. Hashmim Qureshi was sentenced for fourteen years’ imprisonment but was quitted following an appeal that took nine years to be heard. 

The long statement Maqbool Bhatt submitted for this case is perhaps the most detailed reflection on his political ideology. While it cannot be incorporated in full, a brief quote from this statement would not be out of place here: 

“I can say without any hesitation that I have not designed any conspiracy nor have I been a part of any group of conspirers. My character has always been transparent and unambiguous. However, what I have done is the rebellion against ignorance, exploitation, oppression, slavery, hypocrisy and greed of wealth. If the ruling class of Pakistan that is a product of imperialism, and represented by the bureaucracy and military dictatorship of this country, views this as conspiracy then I have no hesitation in accepting the charge”. 

It will be interesting to note here that Ganga Case was carried out under special presidential orders of the then president of Pakistan YahaYaha Khan according to which the accused were denied the right to appeal against the decision of this Special Court. Despite many requests and protests in Azad Kashmir and Pakistan, the right to appeal for Ganga accused was not accepted. According to Mir Qayyum, in a conversation with the founding president of PF and veteran Kashmiri independence activist Abdul Khaliq Ansari who is also a renowned lawyer in ‘Azad Kashmir’, the then law minister of Pakistan Mehmood Ali Qasuri said:

‘Where in the world do you have the right to appeal against the Supreme Court decision?’

 In response, Khaliq Ansari asked:

‘And where in the world the Supreme Court has ever been used as ‘Trial Court’? 

According to Mir Abdul Qayyum, the right to appeal was restored only after the British Kashmiris warned several Pakistani ministers visiting Britain that their unlawful tactics against Kashmiris will be exposed (Mir Qayyum, unpublished documents of NLF). Using this right, the NLF filed an appeal against the Special Court’s decision about Hashim Quereshi. But it took seven years before this appeal was heard at Supreme Court where Hashim was also cleared (Khawaja op. cit. p.151).

In terms of Kashmir, the ‘Ganga’ trial had many far reaching affects on the NLF and on the wider independence politics. Firstly,it affectively paralysed NLF that lost many members due to physical torture, psychological pressure and financial losses. Many also became disillusioned and disappointed due to various misunderstandings that were developed between the leadership during the course of trial. Maqbool Bhatt, however, continued his efforts to reorganise the struggle in both the armed and political fields. In 1975, the PF decided to participate in the elections held under the Bhutto’s Peoples Party Government. Maqbool Bhatt, who at this point had no office responsibility in PF, also contested the election. All PF candidates, including Maqbool Bhatt, lost to PPP candidates. The PF commentators claim that the result had a lot to do with massive vote riggings in favour of PPP candidates. 

 

The Last Crossing 

With NLF dismantled and PF demoralised, Maqbool Bhatt once again crossed over to the Indian occupied Kashmir against the advice of many of his friends and comrades in May 1976. This time he went with Abdul Hamid Bhatt and Riaz Dar. Within few days of crossing, they were spotted and arrested by the Indian forces. In 1978, the Indian Supreme Court restored the death sentence on Maqbool Bhatt and transferred him to Delhi’s Tihaar Prison. After eight long years in prison, Maqbool Bhatt was hanged on 11th February 1984 while the legal team was optimistically waiting for the case to be reopened on the grounds of flaws in the original trial which convicted him of murder during his previous trip. 

Suddenly he was executed on 11th February 1984 in haste to avenge the killing of an Indian diplomat in Birmingham by an unknown group ‘Kashmir Liberation Army’. Rovendra Mahatre was kidnapped in the first week of February 1984 from his Birmingham office by KLA who demanded, among other things, the release of Maqbool Bhatt. Thus was ended the life of one of the greatest revolutionaries of modern Kashmiri history and was born what Kashmiris remember as Shaheed e Azam (the greatest martyr). Ironically, death warrants of Maqbool Bhatt were signed by Dr Farooq Abdullah, the then Chief Minister of IOK and head of National Conference, who spent several days with Maqbool Bhatt in ‘Azad’ Kashmir and Pakistan in 1974 and who said later that ‘I have found Maqbool Bhatt a very romantic man, just like Che Guevara’. He could have added ‘like Shiekh Abdullah, father of Farooq Abdullah who rose to popularity in 1930s popular uprising against autocratic rule’ and whose politics initially inspired Maqbool Bhatt as a student at St Joseph College in 1950s. 

An Imprisoned Martyr in the world’s largest democracy

The democratic world praises India as the largest democracy on earth. While there is no doubt that democratic traditions and institutions in India are far more established, when it comes to Kashmir, India is no more than an occupier and oppressive state that rules Kashmir through colonial like structures and authoritarian means with little regards for the democratic values, human rights and civil liberties. This neo-colonial face of Indian rule in Kashmir was demonstrated in its worst form in the way Maqbool Bhatt was hanged and what followed. 

Not only Maqbool Bhatt was executed in revenge, no one, and not even the family members were allowed to see him before execution and after execution he was buried inside the prison premises. Maqbool Bhatt’s sister says:

‘we went to Srinagar airport to catch flight for Delhi but the police did not let us go’. His niece tells ‘they did not return any of his belongings from Thiar’. I wish they let us have some soil from his grave in the prison’.(Rediff) 

Mohammed Yasin Bhatt, another Kashmiri who was imprisoned in Tihar for his involvement in freedom struggle, wrote in ‘Kashmir Times’ Britain in 1995 that during his time in Tihar prison he spoke to several prisoners and prison staff about Maqbool Bhatt. They all remember him with great respect for his dignified behaviour and for his struggle in prison for the rights of prisoners and the lower rank prison staff. He further wrote: 

“Maqbool Sahib’s grave is the only one in Tihar prison which has a wall built around it by the prisoners. Every month prison staff cleans it and prisoners light fragrant candles on it and pray for him according to their own faiths”. 

Despite the confidence building measures and ceasefire between the Indian and Pakistani armies in Kashmir, the repeated demands by Kashmiris for the return of Maqbool Bhatt’s remains are not responded to and this icon of Kashmiri liberation struggle is kept in prison even 28 years after his execution. The only other example of this kind of disregard for human rights of political activists comes to mind is that of Baghat Singh, Sukh Dev and Raj Guru whose bodies were also not returned to their families by the British colonial authorities after execution in 1930s. 

IftikharGilani, a Delhi based Kashmiri journalist who spent ten months in Tihar orison in 2004, wrote in his book that Maqbool Bhatt’s grave in prison has been built over. However, a campaign for the release of Maqboll Bhatt’s mortal remains is gradually growing. There are two graves waiting for the body of Maqbool Bhatt. One in the martyrs’ cemetery in Srinagar’s old Eidgah district, where its tombstone has inscription in green Urdu letters that reads “this is where Shaeed e Azam[ (the greatest martyr) Maqbool Bhatt will one day be laid to rest’. Another grave for Maqbool Bhatt is between the graves of his brothers in the courtyard of the house where he was born in Trehgam. 

Recently Mabool Bhatt’s mother has joined the campaign for the release of Maqbool Bhatt’s remains from Tihar Prison. 

This unique situation about the burial of Maqbool Bhatt was nicely depicted by Mohammed Yamin, a Kashmiri poet from Kotli, ‘Azad’ Kashmir in his poem ‘Roashni Ka Shaeed e Awal’ (the first martyr of the light) that is now juxtaposed on a large portrait of Maqbool Bhatt and can be seen hanging in front room walls of many pro-independence Kashmiris across AJK and diaspora from this part of Kashmir. 


KahaanTu Soya Khabar Nahee

Khabar Nahee Qabar Nahee

Magar yeh bandey nisar terey

Karror dil hein mazar terey


Many do not know where you are buried

There is no news, there is no grave

But for the millions youinspired 

You live in their hearts and minds

(Khawaja, 1997, p.6)

 

(The author, originally from Mirpur in ‘Pakistan occupied Kashmir’, is Settled in Britain since 1988. He’s the member of JKLF, UK zone and author of the book, “Azad Kashmir and British Kashmiris: History, Politics, Community and Identity”)