Reading Maqbool Bhat through his letters


In this short piece, Yasir Bashir summarizes Maqbool Bhat’s ideas as reflected in the letters he wrote from prison. The letters were later compiled into a  book Shuri Farda (Awareness of Tomorrow).

Three and a half decades after the Indian state hanged Maqbool Bhat in New Delhi’s Tihar Jail and refused to return his mortal remains, he continues to remain a celebrated figure in Kashmir. This short piece is an attempt to bring forth some of his ideas as presented in the book Shuri Farda (Awareness of Tomorrow). It is based on the letters of Maqbool Bhat, compiled and collated by Mr. Muhammad Saeed Asad, the then Director National Institute of Kashmir Studies, Mirpur. The book contains 39 letters by Butt to friends and relatives, and 33 out of the 39 letters were written from Tihar Jail starting from 9 January 1974 to September 8, 1983. The foreword of the book was written by Professor Muhammad Ashraf Qureshi, then Head of the Department of Kashmiriyat in Punjab University, who was a strong admirer and supporter of the personality and philosophy of Maqbool Bhat. The book is a mirror into the life of Maqbool, a patriotic Kashmiri who strived to bring dignity and freedom to the oppressed people of his homeland. These letters provide a great insight into Maqbool’s vision, which is what makes a thorough reading of them important. In fact, Shuri Farda is not just a book but a reflection of Maqbool’s own understanding and an interpretation of the ideas he inherited. The central ideas presented by him in the letters he wrote are hereby summarized.

Cover Page of Shuri Farda

As has been widely written about, Maqbool Bhat always preferred the independence of Jammu and Kashmir. In his own words from one of the letters, he says, “For us, Azaadi (Independence) means not just getting rid of foreign occupation of our beloved motherland but also to remove hunger, poverty, ignorance, and disease and to overcome economic and social deprivation. One day, we shall achieve that azaadi”. He was determined that Kashmir should be an independent nation and sacrificed his life for the idea of freedom when he was sent to gallows by the Indian government on 11 February 1984, thus giving Kashmiris a monument of resistance. Twenty-nine years later when Afzal Guru was hanged in a similar way, the valley reverberated with the slogans of Maqbool hai humko, Azaadi. Afzal, tu Maqbool hai (Paramount to us is Freedom; Afzal, you are Maqbool – paramount – to us), reflecting the importance of the sentiment of freedom, as well as Maqbool Bhat’s position and status in the freedom struggle.

The letters Maqbool sent to his friends and relatives from Tihar can easily be claimed to be an indispensable addition to the resistance and political literature on the Kashmir conflict. He always maintained that one day oppression will be subjected to end and the dawn of freedom shall rise. To quote him, “the candle of freedom struggle that the people lighted with their blood shall spread light even in the tempests”. He was aware of the fact that unfavorable circumstances could affect the struggle’s intensities, but also certain that they cannot put an end to it.

An interesting thing in one of his letters is about the difference in ways in which the children of oppressors and those of freedom fighters perceive the world. The children of the oppressors see oppression and remain indifferent to it whereas the children of freedom fighters do not tolerate oppression and wish to fight it. “The children of the oppressors enjoy all the luxuries and comforts of life and they feel happy but the children of freedom fighters hate the worldly affairs because they know that the structure of oppression and tyranny will tumble down one day and they should struggle for its destruction”, he writes in one of the letters. Children of any oppressed nation not only bear the brunt of oppression but they fight for the freedom struggle along with their elders with firm faith and determination. They know oppression as the deadliest curse that fails to differentiate between right and wrong, young and old. Under an oppressive system where every individual irrespective of his/her age bears hardships and sufferings, the children are getting directly affected as well. This clearly concerned Maqbool. He, through these letters, perhaps wanted to make us understand the fact that only people to take lessons from the stories of oppression are those who have themselves felt the torment of the oppressor or have experience in fighting against the tyrant.

On Pakistan – ideas that have been widely debated among pro-Pakistan and pro-independence circles in Kashmir – Maqbool was clearly not against the state of Pakistan, but against the rulers of that country. He believed that “the citizens of Pakistan are our own friends and supporters and they will keep supporting us in the struggle of freedom. They have courtesy and compassion and will keep supporting Kashmiris at every step and will never leave us isolated”.

He was of the firm belief that the countless sacrifices given by the people of Kashmir will never go waste and the blood of martyrs undoubtedly harvests the spring of freedom. He also laid great stress on education in his letters and suggested that every individual should acquire education to the highest ability. He considered education as real wealth and power. He believed that “education and knowledge is a real treasure which helps an individual at every step and it will never go waste”.

Overall, Maqbool’s letters, much like his life, inspire the oppressed to never surrender or bow before circumstances but to continue fighting the enemy with all might and courage. A reading of his letters reflects three things most clearly: his positive frame of mind and the hope he always held on to, his understanding and immense dedication to the freedom struggle of Kashmir, and his firm faith in religion. The strength of his religious faith can be traced in many letters that he wrote from his death cell. In one of his letters, he wrote that “he is living his days of captivity in patience and thanks to Allah, and notes that a man’s faith and sense of purpose should remain steadfast”. In another letter, Maqbool wrote that “the people should not get disappointed if destiny is not in sight because people who have faith [know] life’s mission is the struggle in itself”.

As Kashmir observed another day in remembrance of Maqbool this year, his ideas continue to reverberate across Kashmir, in the shouts and echoes of Freedom! ♦

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