Kashmir's Polite, Mad Revolutionary, India's Bogeyman
By Radha Surya
12 March, 2015
It's worth accessing youtube videos of Mr. Masrat Alam Bhat, Muslim League chairman and general secretary of Hurriyat Conference. You can watch him for instance in a riveting Kashmir Monitor video. The pro-freedom leader sits amidst a circle of friends. It is less than 24 hours since his release after five years of incarceration. The newly liberated leader appears relaxed. The fearful "terrorist" speaks to the media with a certain urgency. His tone of voice is soft, even gentle. Don't watch these videos if you are looking for impassioned denunciation of Indian rule in Kashmir. Although Mr. Masrat Alam wears a bushy beard, this one time science graduate of Sri Pratap College, Srinagar, has no interest in Hafiz Saeed style fulminations against India. The Kashmiri leader tells the media he is thankful to God for the ongoing commotion in the Indian Parliament (and ensuing publicity). A humorous twinkle lights up his eyes.
In another video the so-called threat to the unity and integrity of India throws back his head and laughs uproariously. He appears to be greatly amused by the brouhaha over his release in New Delhi and in India. He asks why make such a big deal out of the freeing of one person when thousands of political prisoners languish in detention. He has been in and out of prison since the age of 21. Arrested in 1991 for joining the armed struggle against Indian rule he spent much of the decade in jail. Since then there have been many periods of incarceration. With political parties and putative deshbakts in India baying for his blood, he confronts the looming prospect of yet another prison term with stoicism. After all he says he has only been transferred from a small prison to a larger one. The large prison of which he speaks is Kashmir.
The political storm that raged in New Delhi on March 9-10 presented a sharp contrast to the calm and steadfast dedication of the pro-freedom Kashmiri leader: "Movement is always there irrespective of whether I am in or out" (Greater Kashmir). The ruling BJP came under fire from both the Opposition and BJP allies. The Lok Sabha witnessed an uproar on two consecutive days. PM Modi was called on to react to the actions of Jammu and Kashmir's newly sworn in Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, the BJP's coalition partner in the J&K government. In recent months the PM became famous for observing a 'main chup rahoonga' (I'll keep silence) policy as the forces of hindu chauvinism and hyper national bigotry ran rampant--spewing anti-minority hate speech, launching anti-minority campaigns, vandalizing Christian places of worship and crediting path breaking inventions to the science and technology of premodern India. But on Monday March 9 he wasted no time in adding his august voice to the so-called aakrosh welling up from the heart of India at the Kashmiri leader's release from illegal incarceration. Momentarily the ruling party and the opposition came together as a single unified entity. Nothing brings about political amity as speedily as real or imagined threats to national security. For political parties of every persuasion it's truly uplifting to hoist the tricolor and rally around the national flag.
India's mainstream news media has not covered itself with glory in its reporting on Mr. Masrat Alam. He is commonly designated as the hardline Hurriyat leader and thereby relegated to the realm of political untouchability. Other instances of loaded language used by the media include "dreaded separatist" and "Hurriyat hawk." In an otherwise sane and commendable editorial on the discharge of Mr. Alam the Hindu has called him a Hurriyat hardliner who showed no remorse. There is really no reason why Mr.Alam should be called on to exhibit remorse. True, the Hurriyat leader spearheaded the pro-azaadi protests of summer 2010. This has been brought out by innumerable news articles that have appeared since March 8. But these articles have omitted to mention that the security forces responded to the protests with disproportionate force and killed over a hundred Kashmiri youngsters. For all purposes the brutality of the security forces has disappeared into the memory hole. By journalistic sleight of hand responsibility for the killings is made to rest with the Hurriyat leader. Here's an example from the Indian Express of March 9, 2015:...he had shot into limelight after he issued calenders for stonepelters resulting in the death of 112 people in 2010. A simple google search will yield tens of articles demonstrating the identical sleight of hand.
There is a further dimension to this story. Strangely enough in the course of the recent furor no one seems to have mentioned just why the "dreaded" Mr. Masrat Alam was spearheading the protests of 2010. Yet another crucial fact has been made to disappear into the memory hole. Consequently the protests end up appearing senseless and motiveless. For all intent and purposes the Kashmiri youngsters were out there protesting for the heck of it. Little wonder the public remains uninformed when the mainstream media does such a shoddy job of presenting the full story. To set the record straight it is worth noting that mass protests began in reaction to the Macchil fake encounter staged in April 2010. The fake encounter entailed the cold blooded murder of three Kashmiri civilians by Army officers and jawans. The victims were passed off as foreign infiltrators. The perpetrators of the heinous deed obtained cash rewards for eliminating foreign militants. The story unraveled a month later when the bodies were exhumed and identified by the parents of the murdered men. The Macchil fake encounter deaths became notorious but there have been innumerable violations of human rights that go unacknowledged. Is it then surprising if there is political alienation among Kashmiris and the aspiration for self-rule?
In a fast changing news environment it was initially thought that the Hurriyat leader's release had been ordered by Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. Later it was found that the release had been approved by the Central Government in the interim period when Jammu and Kashmir came under Governor's rule. With this discovery the crisis in BJP-PDP relations seems to have been defused. Under heavy pressure from the BJP, the PDP has stated that no further release of political prisoners will take place. It's now back to business as usual. It appears that political prisoners who have served their term will remain in captivity. Two cheers for the rule of law and due process. Two cheers for Indian democracy. For now the dust has settled. The Kashmir issue has dropped from the headlines of the Indian news media. The politicians and the deshbakts can return to the self-serving pretence about the decline of pro-azaadi sentiment in Kashmir. It's now back to believing that Kashmir is identical to every other Indian state and that its problems have to do with governance and development. No need to confront the troublesome fact that divided Kashmir lies at the heart of an international dispute.
Meanwhile in Srinagar Mr. Masrat Alam Bhat maintains his composure. He told the Hindu that he plans to return to "normal" life outside prison--resistance politics. In this he is true to character. Back in 2010 an officer of the Counter Insurgency Cell of the Kashmir police told Tehelka that "as soon as Alam is released, he starts from where he had left off. I haven’t seen a separatist leader so completely obsessed as he is" (http://www.tehelka.com/is-this-man-the-heir-to-geelanis-mantle-how-masarat-alam-makes-young-kashmiris-dance/2/).
The Tehelka story (August 14, 2010, Issue 32 Volume 7) shows that the Kashmiri leader joined the political movement at the age of 16. He was a supporter of the Muslim United Front (MUF) which challenged the New Delhi backed National Conference (NC) party. As is well known to observers of Kashmir's history and politics, the elections of 1987 became notable in the annals of infamy because of egregious rigging of the results by New Delhi. The victorious candidates of the MUF were set aside in favor of NC candidates. Foiled in the effort to bring about social and political change via the ballot box, erstwhile MUF candidates and their supporters took to armed struggle. It's unnecessary here to go into details of the brutal counterinsurgency operation launched by India and resultant killing of tens of thousands of Kashmiris. Enough to note that Mr. Masrat Alam joined the militant movement as a commander of Hezbollah. He was in prison through much of the nineties. Perhaps he was set free under the amnesty program of the 2002-2008 PDP-Congress coalition government. At some point in the nineties or oughties he seems to have embraced the politics of peaceful, nonviolent resistance. He has been forged in the red-hot crucible of Kashmir's politics. He has been part of every phase of Kashmir's pro-azaadi movement since the late eighties. He has seen it all. He has witnessed the torture centers run by the Indian army and somehow survived the slaughter in which so many young people of his generation perished in tragic circumstances. Perhaps the trauma of earlier periods of his life explains the moving and impressive calm with which the 44 year old pro-azaadi leader awaits the utmost punishment that India can inflict in the name of national security and national integrity. In the meantime the polite, mad revolutionary (Tehelka) will busy himself with working to release Kashmir from ghulami.
Radha Surya is a freelance writer. Her articles have appeared on Znet and Countercurrents.
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