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Maqbool Bhat- A memoir Featured

February 11

The concerns of Maqbool resound in the poem that he wrote about a widespread anxiety underpinning the Kashmiri people during his incarceration at Srinagar Jail.

Taksuur yeli gasih shesthrwen panjran
Adeh hai nairan saen arman
Baaleh yaar, yeli sheen gali
Adeh hai nairan saen armaan

When the cages will be decimated
Our dreams will come to life
When snow will melt from mountains
Our dreams will come to life.


Writing his story on 12 April 1972 from Camp Prison Lahore in a letter about the initiation of his political career, Maqbool Bhat wrote:

“It was 1945 or 1946 when I was eight or nine years old child. At this time Kashmir was ruled by the Dogra Family and the entire Kashmiri nation was living a life of slavery. One of the many forms of slavery is called feudalism. The Dogra rulers had appointed jagirdars in our country. The peasants did all the labour but the owners of the lands and their produce were these very jagirdars.”

The First Political action of Maqbool Bhat found its genesis in the Marxist Theory, “Social classes and the accompanying class struggles inherently exist in a capitalistic society. In their 1848 political pamphlet ‘The Communist Manifesto’, Marx and Friedrich Engels explained how capitalism creates two classes of people in the society: The proletarians composed of the working class and the bourgeois composed of the capitalists or the owners of the means of production.ean then.”

It was the feudal system in the Maharaja’s Kashmir that forced Maqbool Bhat to participate in the first political action in his life long struggle against suppression, occupation and for equality, freedom and social justice.

Maqbool Bhat commenting on the inequality carried out by wealthy Political assailants wrote, “Therefore when hundreds of children laid themselves down in front of the Jagirdar’s car he was pleaded either to stop the further collection of grains or crush these starved and naked children under his car. I was also amongst these children and remember till this day that great big hue and cry.”

Maqbool Bhat was born on 18th February 1938 to a peasant family in Trehgam village Tehsil Handwara, district Kupwara. His father was called Ghulam Qadir Bhat. Maqbool Bhat was 11 years when his mother died. His father married again to provide mothering for his children. From second wife he had two sons, Manzoor and Zahoor and three daughters. The early years of Maqbool Bhat’s life, like thousands of other Kashmiri children were shaped by the harsh living conditions that characterized the life of peasants at this juncture of Kashmir history.

Maqbool Bhat in his teenage used to gather people from his village and discuss with them the ills of growing capitalism and ‘suppression’ of lower classes of the society. Maqbool during those days was very vocal against the power infested into the hands of wealthy men and his idea of Freedom was where all people be it peasants, Farmers or any class, caste or gender of the society, it should be treated equally.

Recalling his migration from one part of Kashmir to the other in an interview with weekly ‘Zindgi’ (life) after the Ganga Hijacking in 1971, Maqbool Bhat said:

“The arrests of freedom fighters post the arrest of Sher e Kashmir (Sheikh Abdullah) 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.”

Maqbool Continued, 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.”

 In this journey that changed his life course forever Maqbool Bhat was accompanied by his uncle Abdul Aziz Bhat.

To take care of his expenses Maqbool joined ’Injam’, a weekly magazine, as sub-editor and started working life as a journalist. He finished his MA (from Pehswar university) in Urdu literature and worked with ‘Anjam’ till the start of full time politics in 1960. Meanwhile his marriage was arranged by his uncle with a Kashmiri woman Raja Begum in 1961. He had two sons from this wife, Javed Maqbool born in 1962 and Shaukat Maqbool in 1964. In 1966 he married to a school teacher Zakra Begum and had a daughter Lubna Maqbool from her.

Maqbool Bhat contested and won the Kashmiri diaspora seat from Pehsawar in 1961.On 12th May 1963 the middle class Kashmiri activists including journalists, students, businessmen and lawyers began oppose the proposals by the Pakistani and Indian foreign ministers for dividing Kashmir on communal basis. This committee was headed by the Kashmir State Council member GM Lone who few years back Maqbool Bhat had campaigned for him. After the end of India Pakistan talks without any conclusion the committee also became inactive.

In an encounter with the soldiers while crossing the Line of Control for the first time, one of the NLF members Aurganzeb from Gilgit got killed and Kala Khan received injuries. Eventually Maqbool Bhat and two of his comrades, Kala Khan and Amir Ahmed were arrested. The government of Kashmir wanted the case to be dealt in a military court. But the case was heard in civil court for two years. The verdict was given in August 1968. Two among three were given death (Maqbool Bhat and Amir Ahmed) and one (Kala Khan) life sentence. Their members from Kashmir were given from three months to three years which included Nearly three hundred people including students, engineers, teachers, traders and government employees and they belonged to all parties including Plebiscite Front, Congress, and National Conference etc.

But Maqbool Bhat knew more work was to be done so they started planning escape from the prison and within a month and half managed to escape from the prison in Srinagar.It took them 16 days to reach to the first border check post of Azad Kashmir on 25th December where they were interrogated in the interrogation centre of Muzaffarabad till March 1969.

They were released and in November 1969 during the annual convention of Plebiscite Front Maqbool Bhat was elected as its president.

While recognizing the set a back of the premature exposure of NLF in the IOK, Maqbool Bhat was of the opinion that the above incident inspired and motivated more Kashmiris to join the armed struggle. Explaining this point in the above interview he says ‘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 recognize 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. (op. cit.)

After being elected as the president of PF Maqbool Bhat spent next few years in campaigning for the political rights in Gilgit Baltistan and ‘Azad’ Kashmir. The PF launched a week long activities to highlight this situation and announced that next convention of PF will be held in those areas. During this week PF activists including Maqbool Bhat, Khaliq Ansari, Mir Qayyum, Amanullah Khan and GM Mir were arrested and forcefully exiled from the State boundaries.

What brought Maqbool Bhat into limelight was the Ganga, an Indian airliner that was hijacked on 30 January 1971 at 1305 hours while carrying 30 people including four crew members. The Hijackers were two young Kashmiris Hashim and Ashraf Qureshi. They brought the plane to Lahore airport and demanded the release of about two dozen political prisoners of NLF in the Indian prisons. On February the 1st 1971 all the passengers and crew were sent back to India via Amritsar and the ‘Ganga’ was set on fire. This situation later led to the 1971 war between India and Pakistan over the creation of Bangladesh.

The case started in December 1971 against Maqbool Bhat and after a long trial in which  all but Hashim Qureshi were cleared of all charges other than dealing with arms and explosives etc. He was sentenced for fourteen years imprisonment.

Maqbool Bhat was executed in revenge, no one was allowed to see him before execution and he was buried inside the prison premises after execution. Maqbool Bhat’s sister says ‘I wish they let us have some soil from his grave in the prison’

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

“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,” Maqbool had said in a statement to an Indian Court.

If Maqbool’s Political career is deeply studied, he was a follower of the communist ideology and his constant referrals to distribution of capital and poverty is a testimony to the same. His vision regarding the class politics and shaping up of a classless society as foretold was nothing other than Marxism. The shaping of Kashmir political discourse puts him among the great global revolutionists of all time. 

The Only thing that remains to be found out is if Maqbool Bhat ever studied Marx, but surely the ideas and dogmas of the Marxist Political thought were deeply ingrained in him.

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