The month of February is important in Kashmir for a variety of reasons. In 1975, the fatigued Plebiscite Front leadership prostrated itself before the Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, and surrendered its 22-year-long struggle, terming it as “political waywardness.”
On February 16, the Plebiscite Front ratified the Indira-Abullah Accord, and on February 25, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah took oath as the Chief Minister of the state, with Congress support. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto called for a general strike in Kashmir on February 28 against the sell-out.
The People’s League had come into being by now to fill the political vacuum the Accord had created, and its young activists vowed to make Bhutto’s call a success. Posters were pasted on electric poles and walls, banners hoisted across streets, especially in the Sopore town, urging people to strike work and keep shop and businesses closed.
On February 11, when People’s League activists Abdul Razaq Sopori, Ghulam Hassan, alias Kranti, and Ghulam Muhammad Kar, alias Bulla, were hoisting a banner in a Sopore locality, the police swung into action and arrested the latter two. Sopori managed to get away.
According to Ghulam Hassan:
“We were taken into custody and shifted to Srinagar immediately. Bulla suffered an attack of epilepsy. I requested the police to give him a tablet. My request was rudely turned down. I was taken to the Hari Nivas torture centre and Bulla was shifted to the Central Jail.”
Bulla’s woes did not end even in jail. He received no medication, and continued to be subjected to torture, and finally succumbed on February 15.
That very night, the police came calling on Bulla’s father, Ghulam Rasool Kar, forcing the scared family into a vehicle carrying his son’s dead body, which had been washed in jail and lay wrapped in a shroud. They were not allowed a last look of his face.
The police allowed eleven members of the family to take the body to a cemetery near the Government Degree College in Sopore where a grave had been dug in advance. When they sought permission to bury Bulla in their ancestral graveyard, the police silenced them with rifle-butts. People in Nau Hammam protested, but authorities imposed curfew in the area, preventing them from coming out, and the burial was carried out under strict curbs.
The next morning, the news spread like wild fire in Sopore, and the entire town came out in protest, demanding an impartial probe. The government was forced to appoint Mohan Singh, the then sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) in Srinagar, as inquiry officer, but the police prevented people from appearing before the investigation.
The scores of ‘witnesses’ the station house officer (SHO) at Handwara produced during the inquiry all sought to bail out the police. (The findings of the inquiry have not been made public till date). Sometime later, the deputy commissioner concerned, Abdul Hamid Banihali, called on Bulla’s family and offered (monetary) relief, but it declined.
The Valley observed an ‘unprecedented’ strike on February 28 in response to Bhutto’s call, but just a few days later, when Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah arrived in Srinagar, he was accorded an ‘unprecedented’ reception.
On February 11, 1984, the JKLF ideologue, Muhammad Maqbool Bhat walked to the gallows in Delhi’s Tihar Jail, and was laid to rest in the prison grounds. The execution was bad in law.
Noted lawyer and former Finance Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Muzaffar Husain Beig drafted an SLP on the issue, and Kapil Sibal, Advocate, appeared in the Supreme Court.
According to Beig:
“No one can be hanged until the concerned High Court confirms the death sentence awarded by the sessions court. I annexed a certificate from the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir stating that Maqbool’s death sentence had not been confirmed. Despite that, the petition was rejected the day it was filed, by a Special Bench of the Supreme Court headed by Justice Chandrachud who was the Chief Justice of India then.
“The Attorney General of India, who represented the Union of India, took out an unsigned piece of paper, claiming it to be the High Court’s confirmation of the death sentence. The Hon’ble (Supreme) Court took cognizance of the Attorney General’s paper, and dismissed the petition without any further argument.”
The document produced by the Attorney General, Beig believes, was just a piece of paper:
“Though neatly typed, it bore no signature, no seal, nothing. I was amazed how this paper, unsigned, unauthenticated, could override the otherwise properly-certified document issued by none else than the Registrar of the High Court, who is supposed to have complete knowledge of the court records. But the court was satisfied with this, and accepted the Attorney General’s plea.”