When I interviewed him for my Unsung Heroes of Kashmir in March 2007, an old man who had fought the Dogras in the 40s made a startling remark.
“Had we not launched a movement against Dogra rule in 1931,” he said, “we would have been free today.”
I did not agree.
That night I had an encounter with a martyr from July 13, 1931.
Slowly, I walked in the Martyrs’ Graveyard at Naqshband Sahib’s shrine. I stopped near a grave and recited qum bi iznillah (rise, with Allah’s permission). A martyr draped in a shroud stepped out. Blood was still oozing from his wounds. He had been sleeping in his grave for seven decades, but the shroud was neat and clean. “And those who die in the way of Allah, do not consider them dead…” (Al Baqara)
I greeted him, and he greeted me in return. He wanted to go to the Shah-e-Hamadan’s shrine. We got there in no time. He went inside while I waited at the gate.
“I came here with a purpose,” he said on his way back. “I want to convey to the people of Kashmir (through you) that the movement was the struggle of the Muslims in 1931, and it continues to be so. Those who believe that the people of the state are involved in it irrespective of their faith are mistaken.”
The martyr wanted to go around the city. I had no option but to follow. He stopped near Basant Bagh and took a long breath.
“What has happened here?”
I told him 52 persons fell to bullets on January 21, 1990 when they were marching towards Chotta Bazar where some women had been molested during a search operation by troops.
Tears rolled down his cheeks.
“This is a bigger incident than the July 13 massacre,” he said.
The martyr asked questions about leadership, detainees, the judiciary, and martyrs. It took me some time to explain. The Public Safety Act (PSA) also came up. When I told him that it empowered the state to detain a person for two years without trial, he looked up sharply. When I told him about the indiscriminate and reckless use of the draconian legislation, he hung his head for a while.
“There was no such law in Hari Singh’s regime,” he said.
He was all praise for Hari Singh for upholding the supremacy of the judiciary. “We would be produced before a magistrate after arrest. Court orders were always honoured,” he said.
I had many surprises for him. I told him about 10,000 enforced disappearances, about rapes and molestation, fake encounters, custodial killings, forced labour and large-scale destruction of property. I also told him how people were manufacturing excuses to justify their participation in elections despite a boycott call from the leadership. He sighed.
By now, the martyr had started taking pity on me.
At Lal Chowk, he smiled.
“Nothing has changed here except this deformed bridge.”
He was referring to the not-so-new Amira Kadal. He had made a point, about ‘progress’ since 1931.
He showed interest in post-1931 political developments. I did the explaining to the best of my ability and knowledge. I told him about the conversion of the Muslim Conference into the National Conference. I told him about the revival of the Muslim Conference, the visit of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Quit Kashmir Movement, the migration of Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah, the state’s accession to the Indian union, the draconian Defense of India Rules, the Sher-e-Kashmir’s arrest, the Bakhshi takeover, the Plebiscite Front, the theft of the Holy Relic and the 1975 accord. He was shocked. How could Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah have betrayed his people?
I also told him about the Sher-e-Kashmir’s death, the 1987 elections, the start of militancy and the events of the past two decades. He looked disturbed. He wanted to say something, but chose to remain silent.
“Take me to the Martyrs’ Graveyard,” he said.
Soon we were at the sprawling Eidgah grounds. He was stunned at the number of graves. He offered fateha.
The sun was about to set, and he wanted to return to his retreat in heaven before dusk. So we rushed back to Naqshband Sahib’s shrine.
“Sorry for having launched the movement in 1931,” he said, stepping into his grave. “Had we not launched it, Kashmir would have been free today.”
I stood rooted to the spot as he waved me goodbye.
“Do come again.”
He disappeared, and I woke up.