Written By: Mushaal Mullick
If anyone asks me what is Kashmir for me? I will seriously fall short of words to express my emotions. Respected readers, it is nothing but all soul for me. Today, for the very first time, I will give my most personal perspective and bond with the journey of freedom struggle of Kashmir.
Kashmir is a calling, a spiritual calling. Kashmir is passion, Kashmir is love, Kashmir is beauty, Kashmir is freedom.
Kashmir is my fairytale.
My own fairytale encounter harks back to June 2005, when I met my knight in shining armour Yasin Malik, the Chairman of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, for the very first time at a high-profile event at the Punjab House in Islamabad organized by the government in honour of the eminent Kashmiri Hurriyat leaders.
Yasin Malik was reciting Iqbal Bano’s ghazal ‘Hum dekhain gay’ when I entered the hall along with my mother. His rendition had a very powerful impact on me and I felt that this man was genuine and true to his cause while reciting these mesmerizing couplets of Faiz Ahmad Faiz.
We shall see
ہم دیکھیں گے
Inevitably, we shall also see the day
that was promised to us, decreed
on the tablet of eternity.
م ہے کہ ہم بھی دیکھیں گے
وہ دن کہ جس کا وعدہ ہے
جو لوحِ ازل پہ لکھا ہے
When dark peaks of torment and tyranny
will be blown away like cotton fluff.
جب ظلم و ستم کے کوہ گراں
روئی کی طرح اُڑ جائیں گے
When the earth's beating , beating heart
will pulsate beneath our broken feet;
ہم محکوموں کے پاؤں تلے
جب دھرٹی دھڑ دھڑ دھڑکے گی
When crackling, crashing lightning
will smite the heads of our tormentors;
اور اہلِ حکم کے سر اُوپر
جب بجلی کڑ کڑ کڑکے گی
We shall see…
ہم دیکھیں گے
The man Muhammad Yasin Malik’s resolute but somber voice surely was a testimonial of Kashmiri sacrifices for freedom and it pierced through many a hearts and souls present in the audience that day, but the enchantment of his voice and flavor of words was destined to change my life for good and forever. His strong advocacy for the rights of Kashmiris that night made me his ardent fan.
He invited me and my mother to his signature campaign exhibition ‘Voices of Kashmir, Voices of Freedom’. This campaign went on to garner two hundred thousand signatures.
Before leaving for Srinagar, Yasin rang up my mother to formally bid adieu, and then he asked to speak to me.
I wished him all the best with his struggle and asked him if he had enjoyed his trip, Yasin said he had indeed enjoyed
his stay in Pakistan, and liked Pakistanis in particular for their unconditional support and love for the Kashmiris. I remember I thanked him for saying that. We were both very formal though, and then he suddenly blurted out ‘I am in love with you!’
Events started crystallizing rapidly over the course of the month and I realized that maybe this was my fate, my calling, that this was meant to be, as I mentioned in the beginning of this article.
After getting married to Yasin Malik on my journey to the Valley I finally embarked on September 6, 2009 when I witnessed the true heaven right before my very eyes. That precious moment is certainly the most unforgettable of my life. I was completely awestruck like any traveler who has caught the first glance of this magical heaven at the initial aerial view before the plane landed at Srinagar airport. My eyes were tirelessly admiring the lofty snow-capped Himalayas which seemed to reverberate the arrival of dreamland. There is a natural loveliness and serenity of the valley which is so picture-perfect, at times it feels quite dreamlike, almost touchable, yet I know that it haunts a deep melancholic inner cry. There’s a famous saying in Kashmiri that even a blind person cannot ignore the beauty of this saintly place called Kashmir.
It is not just in recent times that Kashmiris have suffered because of political struggle, for many centuries the inhabitants of this land have been fighting for freedom, they have reacted against the Sikhs, Dogras. Today in modern times, the occupation of India is being challenged. If you ask ordinary layman Kashmiris what they want, the reply will be loud and clear, 'We want freedom, we want azadi from India.'
It is an echo which has resounded through centuries!
I was a bit nervous and scared when our plane landed at Srinagar airport, part of it was because of my being a newly wedded bride but mainly because I was landing at the most militarized zone in the world. But soon my fear turned into delight as I saw the whole city was out to receive us, the love was overwhelming – it was like a scene from a fairytale, thousands of young and old Kashmiris lined up in rows, with flowers and sheerni (Kashmiri traditional sweets) in their hands and some of them waving Kashmiri and Pakistani flags greeting us at the arrival gate of the airport. I was overwhelmed by the gesture of women who on my arrival at Maisuma locality sung Kashmiri folk songs (wanwun) for me.
Kashmiris have witnessed very few celebrations at such large scale. The usual scenes of Indian Occupied Kashmir are funeral processions, gun shots by Indian Army, blood bath of innocent Kashmiris on every street, and army curfews for Azadi rallies among other horrific scenes. This sight of happiness was indeed one of the rarest to witness in decades!
I still cannot forget those incredible moments when I entered Yasin Malik’s 200 year old mud house that day in the Maisuma locality in Lal Chowk Srinagar which is known as the Gaza Strip of Kashmir. It is an honour for me to live in Yasin’s house because it is the place where he was born and the same place from where the revolution of Kashmiri people started against the Dogra Raj, the house and locality has a history of revolutions to it and I breath an air of revolution through the chapters of history and feel very much attached to it.
It was in Srinagar that I actually realized that I was the wife of a living legend and what an honour it was to be spending my life with such a brave man. It is only in movies and novels that one comes across such heroes who are unheard of in real life and my heart was not only filled with love for him but immense respect.
At Yasin’s home I saw a photograph of him lying on a hospital bed. After enquiring I was told by my mother-in-law that in 1986, the police arrested him and tortured him at Red 16 Interrogation Center. Rigorous Indian torture succeeded in damaging his heart valve but could not break his will. Then came 1988, the spring of revolution in Kashmir, the rebellion pioneered by young Yasin Malik and his four friends of which two, Ishfaq Majeed and Sheikh Abdul Hamid were martyred. Yasin himself has never uttered a word about the hardships that he went through but his family, friends and close associates told me those painful stories he had to face throughout his journey. Many a times during his armed struggled they had to hide in dense forests as his life was always under threat and he along with his associates was forced to spend minus degree temperature cold nights in big sewerage pipes lying at mighty Eidgah grounds. Often, they faced hunger and thirst for several days. In 1990, Yasin was a household name in Kashmir and in one incident he had to jump from a high building to save himself from an Indian raid. He landed on high tension electricity wire shock that threw him further away. He lost hearing in one of his ears and was saved miraculously. The same year he got arrested by Indian border security forces, tortured severely and to inflict more punishment on him, he was shifted to a mental asylum in Agra, India. This continuous severe torture could have shaken anyone but Fidel Castro of Kashmir as he is popularly known in the masses, was not to get startled by oppression.
My father-in-law Ghulam Qadir Malik who had just retired from services shared his heart-wrenching and soul quivering experiences and was shocked to know that Yasin’s voyage for freedom had kept him in cold deserts of Ladakh and was not allowed by the Indian authorities to unite with his family for decades. Yasin, the only son of his parents was hugged by his father almost after two decades of separation that too after his retirement. Imagine a mother traveling thousands of kilometers away from her home to see her ailing son who was kept not in any jail but in a mental asylum for years. Visualize her mental, physical and emotional status when she had to see her chained son being ruthlessly beaten at Agra whose only crime was to stand against oppression, to raise voice for freedom, that too which is legitimate and recognized by the world, the UNSC.
And it is not that only her son was beaten, she too had to face the wrath of Indian soldiers during nocturnal and day raids. She had to protect her three daughters and their small kids from drunkard soldiers and still look firm. I have not come across such a gentle and humble lady in my whole life and I am absolutely astonished that how could she survive all these hardships for decades that too with such level of patience and fortitude. I am astounded to see my younger sister-in-law who used to bear brunt of raids and searches and had to pass through severe torture many a times. The scars of that torture are still very much visible even after so many years.
There are many who have had to bear much more than that but then the story of distress and agony that a leader like Yasin Malik and his family has to bear for freedom is symbolically important as it reveals the ugly face of sham Indian democracy as well as gives us a small account of the miseries people of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir have to face for asking for their birth right of freedom.
At present, India is trying to change the demography of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir by abrogating Article 370, that provides a special status to the people of Jammu and Kashmir as they are constitutionally not a part of India and demand the implementation of the UNSCRs. Besides that India is also conducting farcical elections in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir under the might of the Indian guns to essentially pass draconian laws through the puppet assemblies that provide complete impunity to Indian Occupation Forces. The abysmally low voter turnout of below 6%, the lowest in 30 years, is a tangible indication that the freedom leadership and the people of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir have categorically rejected the sham elections, which cannot be an alternative to the right to self-determination promised to them under numerous UNSC resolutions. In this military exercise under the garb of democracy, the Indian troops in their fresh act of state terrorism have martyred 12 youth and injured over 200 during a violent military operation against peaceful protesters in Indian Occupied Kashmir.
Freedom of expression is reckoned as the basic right of every individual in today’s modern world. To vote or to boycott is the basic right of every person but to inflict torture of worst nature upon the people who boycott fraudulent elections and to restrict their movements is in itself the negation of democratic norms and rights that can only be termed as most undemocratic and uncivilized. Along with my husband the entire Kashmiri leadership has been arrested since July 8, 2016 including senior elderly Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani who has been placed in house arrest for several years; Mirwaiz Umer Farooq has been house arrested; and female Kashmiri leader Asiya Andrabi has also been arrested. Let me add further that none of these leaders are terrorists as they are being treated and punished by the Indian State, in fact they are all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. Every human life is precious and as per the Universal Human Rights Charter, every religion, every human being has right to self determination. This is an absolute truth. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. This is stated in the 1st Article of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. All faiths declare the unity of human beings and freedom for all.
The freedom movement post the brutal killing of Shaheed Burhan Wani, a poster boy and youth icon of the Kashmiri freedom struggle is gaining momentum on a daily basis. The uprising is not an incident based rebellion nor is it because of a sense of alienation, it is in fact a sentiment-based movement based on a decades long struggle. It is a bold expression of political aspiration that the Kashmiri demand is legitimate and is deliberately being criminalized by the Indian State. The home grown narrative of the Kashmiris is being hoodwinked by India’s hyper propagandistic and provocative stance that literally feeds on a daily diet of anti-Pakistan rhetoric.
Kashmiris are challenging India on every front. The indigenous narrative of Kashmir unnerves India the most. The struggle is a diehard romantic rebellion where every stone hurled at the Indian soldiers symbolizes a political expression of Kashmiris challenge to Indian State authorities. This is the battle between the young Kashmiris and the old doctrine of India.
They are killing, blinding, maiming and crippling Kashmir's young generation. In the already bleeding Kashmir, they open fire at the mourners as they don't allow men to lower bodies of their young sons into the grave. They don't allow prayers at Srinagar's historic Jamia Masjid. They don't make distinction between combatants and non-combatants. They fire at babies, kids, girls and boys. This is a war declared on unarmed people.
Indian forces are even attacking hospitals and ambulances. Peaceful protestors, bystanders, children and women are hit by pallets and loose their sight forever. Pellets penetrate the skin’s soft tissues, and eyes being a delicate structure are the most vulnerable to damage. Once a pallet goes inside the eye, it shatters tissues and causes multiple damages to all parts of the eye.
The fact is that in any conflict the first and worst victims are women and children and same is the case in Kashmir; where violence and abuse are used against women as a tool to subdue them by Indian forces to claim their authority and inflict war crimes. Women primarily have been the most terribly injured party in this decades-long conflict. She suffers as a daughter, mother, wife and sister, because most of the times she has to survive alone, after the loss of any support from her male counterpart.
The tales of agony of Kashmiri women do not end here. The unending conflict in Kashmir besides leaving behind widows has also left number of ‘half-widows’. The missing persons in Kashmir have left over thousands of half-widows whose husbands are missing or are in enforced disappearance.
Just imagine a woman who is a wife and a widow at the same time, she does not know where her spouse is: is he dead or alive? Would he ever return home or not? Now a mother, who continuously hopes to hear the footsteps of her son, is stuck in a life of a shuttle cock between hope and fear. A child who is unable to decide if he or she is not fatherless or an orphan, with curious eyes constantly glued to the door and a sister watching outside from her window with never-ending tears in search of her missing brother. These people sadly, have extraordinary titles as they face extraordinary challenges. These are the half-widows, half-mothers, half-orphans and half-siblings of the society. They have little left to say except to keep on searching for the traces of their loved ones who have entirely vanished from the face of earth.
The saying 'hope never dies' fits perfectly with Kashmir’s missing people's saga. In Kashmir people vanish and land in unmarked graves. There is every possible link of unidentified dead bodies being buried in various unmarked graves with the victims of enforced disappearances.
Our family is at the forefront of the freedom struggle. My daughter and I have personally faced Indian Forces' brutality, abuses, and attacks. I know living the life of a revolutionary means I and my family will have to endure this forced separation, torture and threats to represent the suffering people of our nation but I at times am not able to answer little Raziyah Sultana when she asks me about our failure to reach Srinagar and live with her father. During a marriage of more than 7 years, me and my husband have hardly spent 60 days together. How can I tell our little child and how can she understand that Indian democracy has confiscated the passports of her father and denied her visa to Srinagar. It is really hard to bear all this torture but then the conception of keeping ‘hope’ keeps me and my child running alive like the rest of the Kashmiris. I firmly believe that very soon that day will come when these hard times will come to an end; that one day this forced separation of hearts and souls will vanish. And people of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir will walk in liberty and breathe the fresh air of freedom. And that day is not afar, that I promise you.
‘When dark peaks of torment and tyranny will be blown away like cotton fluff; When the earth's beating, beating heart will pulsate beneath our broken feet; When crackling, crashing lightning will smite the heads of our tormentors; We shall see…’