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Kashmir: 31 years after Mirwaiz Farooq’s assassination, the wounds refuse to heal

The 45-year-old cleric and President of the Awami Action Committee, Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen at his Nageen residence on May 21, 1990

By any indication or analysis, the killers of Kashmir’s eminent cleric-politician Mirwaiz Maulvi Mohammad Farooq have achieved nothing—none of their perceived goals—in the last 31 years of the bloodshed in the valley. Contrarily, thousands from Kashmir’s host of human genres, including clergymen, politicians and intellectuals, perished in the senseless violence.

The 45-year-old cleric and President of the Awami Action Committee, Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen at his Nageen residence on 21 May 1990. While his followers were carrying the coffin from the Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) to the old Mirwaiz Manzil at Razve Kadal, sentries from pillboxes of CRPF’s 69th battalion at Islamia College, Hawal, opened fire. Around 50 civilians got killed. CRPF maintained that some militants in the funeral procession had fired upon them. The people in the procession denied the allegation.

Later, the then Governor Jagmohan said in his book ‘My Frozen Turbulence’ as well as in his interviews that the Additional Director General of Police, M.N. Sabharwal deserved to be dismissed from service. It went out as Jagmohan’s admission of the failure of the government machinery. According to him, the body should not have been given in the peoples’ possession; and Sabharwal should have personally escorted the procession.

The Mirwaiz was laid to rest at Srinagar’s ‘Mazaar-e-Shuhada’, a cemetery of the militants and the civilians dying at the hands of the security forces.

The Jammu and Kashmir Police as usual filed a murder case. Subsequently an investigation was carried out and a charge sheet was submitted against some militants and their associates. The trial court held the Hizbul Mujahideen militant Mohammad Ayub Dar guilty of the cleric’s murder and awarded a life term to him. Years later, the trial court’s verdict was upheld by the Supreme Court of India.

In days of the cleric’s assassination, the name of a pioneering commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen, Mohammad Abdullah Bangroo aka Khalidul Islam, began circulating in the valley’s social circles as the ‘main assassin’ of the Mirwaiz. In the next few weeks, Bangroo got killed in an encounter with the security forces. His body was buried at six tombs from that of the Mirwaiz. The epitaphs call them both as ‘martyrs of the freedom, Islam and the Ummat’.

Many of the valley’s Muslim cemeteries are similarly dotted with tombstones of the civilians and the militants killed in the firing of the security forces as well as the gunmen suspected and alleged to be the killers of the helpless civilians. Kashmir being a small place and the community being distinctly gregarious, everybody knows who killed who. However, for fear of the gun, which in many cases is as real as it was in 1990, nobody musters courage to write or utter a word that would blame a gunman for the civilian killings.

Mirwaiz, till date, is the most prominent of the clerics who fell to the bullets of the post-1990 insurgency in Kashmir. He first shot into prominence when he led the valley’s mass movement for recovery of the holy relic in 1964 when he was just 19. Politically he was Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s arch rival in the capital. In 1977, he was part of the Janata Party’s Assembly election campaign when Prime Minister Morarji Desai visited his home as an honoured guest at Razve Kadal, in close vicinity of Jamia Masjid of Srinagar.

In a historic volte face, Mirwaiz joined Farooq Abdullah’s and the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s electoral alliance in 1986-87 and he got two of his nominees elected as MLAs. He translated his book ‘Islam Ka Aafaaqui Paigam’ in Hindi and got its foreword written by the President of India. Towards the end of 1989, he assailed Rubaiya Sayeed’s kidnapping by the JKLF militants and maintained a liaison with the Union Minister incharge J&K George Fernandez.

In the first four months of 1990, the Pakistani press carried out a concerted campaign against Mirwaiz, labelling him as an “Indian agent”. This made journalist Ghulam Nabi Khayal visit his home and advise him to accept the offer of the Police protection which he turned down categorically. Within a month, he was gunned down. His assassination shook the world and led to the replacement of Governor Jagmohan.

42-year old Ummat-e-Islami founder-chief and Mirwaiz of South Kashmir, Qazi Nisar Ahmad, was kidnapped and shot dead by unidentified gunmen on 19 June 1994. It was for the first time in Anantnag—rather in entire South Kashmir—that the militants were openly held responsible for the cleric’s assassination and there were anti-Pakistan slogans in the funeral procession.

Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadith is the worst sufferer as three of its top leaders fell to separate terror attacks. The most prominent of them was Maulana Showkat Shah who was killed in a targeted cycle bomb blast at a mosque in Maisuma, Srinagar, on 8 April 2011. Shah had reportedly met with senior functionaries of the UPA government at the Centre as well as the Omar Abdullah government in Jammu and Kashmir.

Even as almost everybody chose to remain politically correct and nobody dared to blame a militant, even in the killings owned by the guerrillas publicly, the whistle-blower sprouted from the separatists’ own camp.

Speaking on “The role of intellectuals in the Kashmir movement” at a conference organised by JKLF’s Yasin Malik at a hotel in Srinagar on 3 January 2011, Hurriyat’s two-time chairman Prof. Bhat said: "(Abdul Gani) Lone sahib, Mirwaiz Farooq and Prof. (Abdul Ahad) Wani were not killed by the Indian army or the police. They were eliminated by our own people. The story is a long one, but we have to tell the truth”. A number of the separatists were in session to pay tributes to the slain Law professor Abdul Ahad Wani’s assassination anniversary.

"If you want to free the people of Kashmir from sentimentalism bordering on insanity, you have to speak the truth. Former Prime Minister of Pakistan Zulfikar Ali Bhutto once said that sometimes truth slips out the mouth. Here I am letting it out”. Prof Gani said. He asserted candidly that Kashmir’s militant movement against India was triggered “with the killing of our own intellectuals".

Bhat added: "Wherever we found an intellectual, we ended up killing him. Let us ask ourselves: Was Prof (Abdul Ahad) Wani a martyr of brilliance or a martyr of rivalry? There was a hartal for five months and 112 people were killed. And at the end of it there is nothing by way of achievement. This is what happens when there is no thinking, no strategy. If you want to rid people of Kashmir of sentimentalism bordering on insanity, you have to speak the truth.”

Bhat has been explicitly vocal in such matters. However, most of the people in the valley’s intelligentsia—particularly in clergy, media and politics—whose parents, children or siblings have been killed, tend to remain selectively hateful towards the Police and security forces and they often praise the militants. Some call it ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ but others attribute it to the fear still lurking large.