Tokhsur yelli gase shethrwen panjran
Adeh hai neran saen arman
Baaleh yar yelli sheen gali
Adeh hai neran saen arman
When the cages will be decimated
Our dreams will come to life
When snow will melt from mountains
Our dreams will come to life
– Maqbool Bhatt (prison song)
February 18 this year, Maqbool Bhat would have been 80. He was born in a peasant family in Trehgam village of Tehsil Handwara, District Kupwara. His father’s name was Ghulam Qadir Bhatt. His mother died when he was an 11 year old student in the village’s primary school. He had a younger brother Ghulam Nabi Bhatt. After the death of his first wife, Ghulam Qadir married Shahmali Begum from whom he had two sons, Manzoor Ahmad and Zahoor Ahmad and three daughters.
The early years of Maqbool Bhatt’s life, like thousands of other Kashmiris was shaped by the harsh living conditions under the Dogra regime. It was the feudal system under Dogra regime in Kashmir that forced Maqbool Bhatt to participate in the first political action against suppression, occupation and the fight for equality, freedom and social justice. An insight into his childhood was provided by him on 12th April 1972 from Camp Prison Lahore in a letter written in reply to Azra Mir, the daughter of veteran Kashmiri political activist and intellectual, G.M. Mir who was in prison with Maqbool Bhatt in relation to the Ganga hijacking case.
The incident is of 1945 or 1946 when he was eight or nine years old and Kashmir was ruled by the Dogra family. The Jagirdars; feudals neither ploughed the land nor put any labour but only collected annual revenue. Ploughing, sowing and harvesting the crops was done by peasants. In the year this incident happened, most of the crops were destroyed due to bad weather. Therefore the produce was next to nothing. As a result, the peasants were not able to provide the jagirdar as much grains as they used to. 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.
When the required amount of grains could not be collected, the jagirdar himself arrived in the village in his motorcar. The peasants of Maqbool Bhatt’s village got together and pleaded before the jagirdar for some concessions. They told him in details the reasons for low production. But he was not prepared to yield. At the exact point, when jagirdar was about to get into his car after issuing coercive instructions, all the village children were told to lie down in front of the motorcar. He was pleaded either to stop the further collection of grains or crush the starved and naked children under his car. Maqbool Bhatt was also among those children that day.
Another incident which is narrated by his younger son Shaukat Maqbool also helps throw light on Maqbool Bhatt’s childhood. This was in the village primary school where it was an established tradition that, on award ceremonies, parents of the affluent children and that of poor children were seated separately. One year when Maqbool Bhatt was also one of the awardees, he refused to receive the award until that “class segregation” was not scrapped. The tradition was thence changed.
Maqbool Bhatt was later admitted to St. Joseph’s College Baramulla from where he got his BA degree in History and Political Science. It was during these days that he was involved in politics of agitation including rallies and delivering fiery speeches. Listening to the passionate and enthusiastic speeches of Maqbool Bhatt, the college principal Father George Shanks said, “This young man, if managed to pass through the hardships, will become a great person. But these types of people usually face extreme difficulties in the society. The kind of freedom this type of youngsters demand is very hard to achieve. Subsequently, they get sacrificed on their way to freedom.”
He was heading the student activists of Plebiscite Front (PF). In December, 1957, Sheikh Abdullah was released which led to a chain of agitation activities. Sheikh was arrested again on 27th April 1958. The student activists of Plebiscite Front were also targeted. It was in the same year that Maqbool Bhatt completed his BA and in order to escape arrest went to Pakistan with his father in August 1958.
In Pakistan, they first went to Lahore and tried to get admission in the Punjab University but of no avail. So they left for Peshawar in September 1958 where Maqbool Bhatt got admission in Peshawar University for Urdu Literature and joined a local newspaper ‘Anjam’ to earn his living. Meanwhile he was married to Raja Begum, a Kashmiri woman, in 1961. He had two sons from his wife, Javed Maqbool born in 1962 and Showkat Maqbool born in 1964. In 1966, he married a school teacher Zakria Begum and had a daughter Lubna Maqbool from her, in 1961.
Maqbool Bhatt successfully contested the Kashmiri diaspora seat from Peshawar, Pakistan in the ‘Basic Democracy’ elections introduced by the then president of PoK, Ayub Khan. In April 1965, the political activists from Azad Kashmir and members of Kashmir Independence Committee 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 (JKPF). 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 on the Pakistani side of LoC. Abdul Khaliq Ansari, the veteran pro-independence voice in Azad Kashmir, and Amanullah Khan, the head of JKLF (A), were elected president and general secretary of JKPF respectively.
JKNLF AND ARMED STRUGGLE
Maqbool Bhatt, along with many Kashmiris in JKPF, was also very much inspired by the national liberation struggles happening simultaneously in the world 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 JKPF on 12th July 1965 in Mirpur. The proposal was defeated. However Maqbool Bhatt, Amanullah Khan, Mir Abdul Qayyum, a Kashmiri migrant from Jammu settled in Pakistan and a middle class businessman, and Major (R) Amanullah from Hyhama, Kupwara who fought in the world war and served in the Indian National Army of Subash Chandra Bose and also participated 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 in just one sentence,“including armed struggle, using all forms of struggle to enable the people of Jammu Kashmir State to determine the future of the State as sole owners of their motherland.” (Khawaja p112).
For the next ten months, this group of four men recruited more people into the ranks of NLF including GM Lone (the vice president of JKPF) and on 10th June 1966, the first group of NLF members secretly crossed over to Indian occupied Kashmir. Maqbool Bhatt, Aurangzeb, a student from Gilgit, Amir Ahmed and Kala Khan, a retired subedar, dropped deep in the valley while Major Amanullah and subedar Habibullah remained near the division line. The former were to recruit Kashmiris in IoK for NLF while the latter were responsible for training and weapon supply. Maqbool Bhatt, along with three of his group members, worked underground for three months and established several guerrilla cells in IoK.
After about three months, the Indian intelligence services found out about the underground activities and started a massive operation to capture these activists. In an encounter with soldiers, one of the NLF members Aurangzeb from Gilgit was killed and Kala Khan received injuries. Eventually Maqbool Bhatt and two of his comrades, Kala Khan and Amir Ahmed were arrested. 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 for taking the risk of clashing with authorities. The risk of clash 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 a civil court for two years.” (Khawaja p248)
ESCAPE HERE – REARREST THERE
The verdict was given in August 1968. Two were given death (Maqbool Bhatt and Amir Ahmed) and one (Kala Khan) got life sentence. Nearly three hundred people were arrested including students, engineers, teachers, contractors, shopkeepers and government employees. Soon they started planning escape from the prison and, within a month and half, managed to escape from the prison in Srinagar. Maqbool Bhatt later wrote in great detail about the escape and submitted that before the Special Trial Court in Pakistan where he was tried along with other NLF members for ‘Ganga’ hijacking. However, only a brief account of the escape 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 managed to put this plan to practice on 8th December 1968 at 2:10 am by breaking the prison wall. It took us 16 days to reach to the first border check post of Azad Kashmir. We reached 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 has been very cruel to us. I was severely tortured while in the concentration camp. The pain increased with the thoughts that this was inflicted by our own.” (Khawaja p249)
They were released on 8th March 1969 after strong protests. Maqbool Bhatt was of the opinion that the exposure of NLF will inspire and motivate more Kashmiris to join the armed struggle
He said, “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 the entire Kashmiri nation is recognised, Inshallah”.
After being elected as the president of JKPF, 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 the Azad Kashmir Act 1970 that turned Azad Kashmir into a colony of Pakistan, ruled through the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and the Chief Secretary. This Act also reduced ‘Azad Kashmir’ to 4500 square miles and separated it from rest of the state of Kashmir. With Gilgit Baltistan, the situation was even worse. These parts were directly controlled by Pakistan through a political agent. The JKPF launched a week long activities to highlight this situation and announced that next convention of JKPF will be held there. During this week JKPF activists including Maqbool Bhatt, Khaliq Ansari, Mir Qayyum, Amanullah Khan and GM Mir were arrested and forcefully exiled from the state.
Hashim Qureshi met Maqbool Bhatt during his trip to Peshawar for his sister’s wedding in 1969 and joined his JKNLF. Maqbool soon became his mentor. One day, on the dinner table, there was a news flash about Eriterian commandos firing on an Ethiopian plane in Karachi. Maqbool Bhatt turned to Hashim and said, “Why don’t we do something like this so that we can introduce our independence struggle to the world?” and thus began planning for an event that would truly bring Kashmir conflict on the global platform.
The hijackers were Hashim and Ashraf Qureshi, both in their late teens. Hashim was taught to use compass, maps and other navigation devices so that the pilots could not fool him. He was also given arms traing before going back to IoK with a pistol and a grenade to train his cousin, Ashraf. But he was arrested at Jammu border. Hashim did as he was told by Maqbool Bhatt to do in a situation like such. He confessed that he was on his way to hijack a plane but tricked them by saying that more people from IoK were involved in the plan. India, in its desperation, asked Hashim to work for them and Hashim agreed (as planned). They gave him a fake appointment letter that said he was a sub-inspector in BSF battalion 102, based in Bangalore.
Hashim Qureshi, for the next 3 months used to visit the airport every day to get maximum information on it. Soon after, Ashraf and Hashim brought air tickets with fake names (as they were on No Fly list) for January 30, 1971. After getting aboard, when the plane was about to reach its destination, they got up and announced that the plane had been “hijacked”.
Hashim Qureshi later described the situation in an interview as; “Ashraf had a briefcase, with a dummy grenade, which we had made ourselves, and a 22mm pistol. There was an army major on the plane who never recognized it was a dummy. On the plane Ashraf and I sat together. When the air hostess announced that we are reaching Jammu, I got up and went straight to the cockpit. I put the gun on the pilot’s neck. I told him to go straight. We were on the Wazirabad border. He was very worried. I told him, I will not harm you or the passengers. There was an [army] captain. He asked Ashraf, what kind of grenade is this? Ashraf gestured as if to throw and told him, I will throw it and you can see. He put up his hands and said sorry.”
The plane was detoured and landed at Lahore airport and demand of release of about two dozen political prisoners of NLF in the Indian prisons was announced. On February 1, 1971 all the passengers and crew were sent back to India via Amritsar and the ‘Ganga’ was set on fire. This incident was later used by India to suspend the flights of Pakistani aircrafts to East Pakistan over Indian territory. (Lamb p289). This situation also led to the 1971 war between India and Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh. The hijackers and Maqbool were initially praised as heroes but then they and hundreds of other members of NLF were arrested, interrogated in Shahi Qila (Royal Fort) Lahore and Dulahee Camp, Muzaffarabad.
During their time at Kot Lakhpat Prison, Maqbool Bhatt, Ashraf Qureshi and Hashim Qureshi were put together in a cell. It was December-January of 1972, Ashraf and Hashim had requested the jail authorities several times to provide them with more blankets but to no avail. Once Maqbool Bhatt happened to meet the Deputy Superintendent of the jail on the gate. He said, “Don’t you think that we are human beings? Don’t you think that we the prisoners also feel cold or hunger or heat? For three days we have been asking you for blankets to save ourselves from cold but our request have fallen on deaf ears. I have two young boys with me”. Maqbool Bhatt’s face had reddened with anger. Talking to the jailor he had thundered, “Don’t think that by putting us in the jail you have made us prisoners. Remember that wherever we are standing, that place and that land gets liberated.” Soon they found that fifteen blankets were placed in their cell. Maqbool Bhatt distributed extra blankets among other prisoners.
In another incident, the jail superintendent made a complaint in the court stating that Maqbool Bhatt buys sugar, onions and fruit for the prisoners. On hearing this, he stood up in the court and said that he was not bringing any drugs or intoxicants. He said that he neither hatched any conspiracy nor participated in the group of conspirators. He asserted that his character was transparent. He said that of course he was revolting against corruption, money-mindedness, exploitation, oppression, slavery and faithlessness.
“If the ruling clique of Pakistan, which has grown under the shadow of exploitative system, and which in turn is represented by the state bureaucracy and military dominance, consider my stand a conspiracy, it is no surprise to me.”
Maqbool Bhatt, G.M. Lone, Mir Abdul Qayyum, Mir Abdul Manan and the two hijackers Hashim Qureshi and Ashraf Qureshi were 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 Ordinance Act 1943. He was tried under the same colonial act that the Indian government had tried him with, a few years before.
“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, I have done one thing and that is the rebellion against ignorance, greed of wealth, exploitation oppression, slavery and hypocrisy. 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 is interesting to note here that Ganga Case was carried out under special Presidential Orders of the then president of Pakistan, Yahya Khan, according to which the accused were denied the right to appeal against the decision of the Special Court but soon all except Hashim Qureshi were released.
The ‘Ganga’ trial had many far reaching effects on the NLF, it 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, JKPF decided to participate in the elections held under Bhutto’s Peoples Party. Maqbool Bhatt, who at this point had no office responsibility in JKPF, also contested the elections. All JKPF candidates, including Maqbool Bhatt, lost to PPP candidates. The JKPF commentators claim that the result had a lot to do with massive vote riggings in favour of PPP candidates.
FINAL CROSSING OVER
With NLF in chaos and JKPF demoralised, Maqbool Bhatt once again crossed over to IoK, against the advice of many of his friends and comrades in May 1976, knowing well that he carried a death sentence on his head and if apprehended, would be sent to gallows. This time he was accompanied by Abdul Hameed Butt and Riyaz Dar. Within few days of crossing, they were arrested by the Indian forces. In 1978, the Indian Supreme Court restored death sentence on Maqbool Bhatt and he was transferred to Delhi’s Tihar prison by Sheikh Abdullah on the advice of his security advisors, who reminded him about Bhatt’s dramatic escape from Srinagar jail in 1969.
In their last bid to save Maqbool Bhatt, Mian Sarwar, Zafar Mehraj, Muzaffar Beigh and Kapil Sibal set up a case and pleaded that the execution of Maqbool Bhatt was in gross violation of all prescribed laws and norms as High Court had not confirmed the death sentence passed by the Sessions Court, which was mandatory and without which none can be hanged. Muzaffar Beigh had managed to obtain a certified copy, attested by Malik Sharifudin, who then happened to be the Registrar of High Court. Kapil Sibal produced the document before the court but the Attorney General of India, who represented Union of India, took out a piece of an “unsigned paper”, claiming that it was a confirmation of death sentence by the State High Court. The court took cognizance and dismissed the petition without any further argument.
Muzaffar Beigh later said in an interview, “The document produced by the Attorney General was just a piece of paper. Though neatly typed, it bore no signature, no seal, nothing. I was amazed how could this paper, unsigned, unauthenticated, override the otherwise properly certified document issued by none else than the Registrar of High Court, who is supposed to have complete knowledge of the court records.”
The court granted the legal team a meeting with Maqbool Bhatt before he was to be hanged. Muzaffar Beigh, accompanied by Raja Tufail and RS Pathak (Beigh’s colleagues), immediately left for Tihar to meet Maqbool Bhatt for one last time. However, the jail superintendent made them to stay in his room till sunset, after which no such meetings are allowed. After a heated discussion, he allowed only Pathak to see Bhatt, that too for ‘five minutes only’ and told Beigh and Tufail that he had been ordered from above to not let them in.
Maqbool Bhatt already knew that the last attempt to save him had failed and there was no other chance left now. However, he was very calm. He thanked them and asked them to convey his gratitude to all those who attempted against heavy odds to save him.
Next morning, on February 11, Muzaffar Beigh managed to jump into the vehicle of BBC’s Satish Jacob, who was to report the hanging story. Within minutes of their reaching, an official came out through the prison gate and informed them about Maqbool Bhatt’s hanging. Beigh approached the official with the authority of Bhatt’s family (as given to him by Maqbool Bhatt’s brother) and claimed his body for performing last rites at his native place. The request was denied and he was informed that the body had already been buried. “There were orders from above to do such.”
Beigh then asked for Maqbool Bhatt’s belongings and writings, because the latter was known to be writing a diary while in solitary confinement. However, the jail official again expressed inability. He denied existence of anything related to Maqbool Bhatt with them.
Soon after his hanging, Indian forces began to harass Maqbool Bhatt’s family. Young and old were interrogated. Maqbool Bhatt’s brother, Manzoor Ahmad Bhatt was killed in a fake gunfight after his arrest by Army in Trehgam, which is also believed to be the first custodial killing in Kashmir.
There are still two graves awaiting his mortal remains, one in Trehgam between the graves of his two bothers and other at Martyr’s Graveyard, Srinagar.
“I will be hanged tomorrow and I have no remorse. I love my people. I am confident that tomorrow my People of Kashmir will realise the truth and legitimacy of what I stood for all these years and for what I am today sacrificing my life.”
His first and last love was Kashmir.