Slavery is such an evil where no discrimination is made between children, young and old: Maqbool Bhat

Picture: Roshni Ka Shaheed Awwal / First Martyr of the Light / (Maqbool Bhat Monograph)

Muhammad Maqbool Bhat was born on 18 February 1938 into a peasant family of Trehgam village in district Kupwara. Maqbool was born and brought up in a tumultuous era of Kashmir’s history, when old vanguards of feudalism and slavery were challenged and resisted by Kashmiri people, paving way for a short but definitive period of people’s movement. Maqbool was the product of this people’s movement and what he saw, felt and thought enabled him to envision a dream which still remains unfulfilled to millions of Kashmiris around the world: the dream of an independent and prosperous Jammu and Kashmir.

The seeds of independence were sown in Maqbool through the treatment he and lakhs of Kashmiris faced, first by the Dogra regime, and then by actions of the twin dispensation of newly Independent states of India and Pakistan. He, till his last breath, believed that Kashmir should be free from the yoke of slavery, oppression and injustice and thus Independent.

What is known of Maqbool and whatever exists in public memory of Kashmiris is that he was a martyr for the cause of Azadi (freedom). Indian government hanged Maqbool Bhat on 11 February, 1984 and to this day the hanging and the resultant armed political movement in Kashmir vows by Maqbool’s vision and sacrifice. Every year, the anniversary of his hanging in Kashmir is commemorated by a state-wide shutdown. Somehow, the shutdown limits the remembrance of this great man to his hanging alone.

What is little known and debated in Kashmir is what Maqbool thought, his ideas and inspirations, his vision for the future of Kashmir. Wande Magazine reproduces below a letter from Maqbool Bhat to the daughter of G.M Mir, a former president of National Liberation Front (NLF), a pro-Independence political organization formed in Pakistan administered Kashmir in 1960s. The letter, illuminating at many places, is political education from an imprisoned man whose mind and spirit remained free, while his body was in chains. The letter is a political commentary on slavery and what it does to a people. Maqbool Bhat’s reference point for his political vision can be gleaned from this letter to be a life of dignity, a life without fear and subjugation for the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

To Azra Mir (daughter of G.M. Mir, the former president of National Liberation Front), from Camp Prison, Lahore Pakistan, dated 2nd April, 1973

In the name of ALLAH, Most gracious, Most merciful

Dear Azra,

May God always protect you

Assalam u Alaikum.

Your younger sister Rubina visited me on 26th March with your auntie (Maqbool Bhat's wife) and gave me your letter. As we were transferred from Kamel Pur Prison to Camp Prison Lahore, it took me a little longer to write back to you. Although we were imprisoned here on a previous occasion but still the change caused various problems which kept me from writing to you earlier. Having read your views, I cannot explain in words how admirable and esteemed they were. Your letter shows that God has gifted you with the wealth of sensitivity at this young age. This is a great gift. After reading your letter, I could not help thinking how sensitive you are and how much you are alert about the difficulty we are currently going through. I pray to God that he increases your power of imagination and understanding and enrich the strength of feelings you have about our enslaved nation. May Allah enable you to become a daughter of Kashmir we could take pride in?

Dear Azra, I am aware that the problems we are experiencing have hurt you. I know that you have directly felt the pain and torture of imprisonment we experienced because your father (Ghulam Mohammed Mir) was with us during the stormy period. Your father's imprisonment brought the innocent faces of you and Rubina before my eyes, like two flower buds. I did fear that the wave of torture and oppression brought upon us may depress you two. I remember the days when you and Rubina used to play with Papu (Javed Maqbool Bhat) and Kaku (Shaukat Maqbool Bhat) in the pleasant environment of Abbottabad, unaware about all the issues around you. Who else can bear the sight of tears in the beautiful eyes of innocent children like you, but those heartless enemies of our movement? The helplessness you felt out there kept us restless here inside the prison walls. But we faced every form of torture with the belief that this (new) challenge we are facing may temporarily deprive you of the love and affection you need but it will ultimately bring revolution to your thinking. That is exactly what has happened. Your letter has strengthened this belief of mine. Now, let me explain to you how oppression affects the children of those who fight against it as opposed to those who are the oppressors. The children of the oppressors see the oppression around them but remain indifferent, whereas the children of Mujahids (freedom fighters) do not tolerate oppression. They feel the pain and wish to fight against oppression. The children of oppressors are provided with all the luxuries and comfort of the world, they have plenty to eat, (wear) expensive clothes and live in luxury houses but the children of Mujahids are not attracted to these kinds of luxuries and comfort. They get satisfaction from struggling against the system of oppression.

That gratification and satisfaction cannot be experienced with worldly wealth, expensive clothes or luxurious houses. That is why Mujahedeen children prefer a day of freedom to a life of luxuries without any freedom.

My dear child, the children of all the enslaved nations in the world not only have to suffer the oppression and suppression by tyrants, but also have to fight shoulder to shoulder, with their elders for freedom (from tyranny). Slavery is such an evil where no discrimination is made between children, young and old. In slavery (situations) children are also affected by the torture and misery endured by their elders. I will tell you a few incidents from history, which spells out the hardship some children in our country had to suffer because of forced subjugation.

It was around 1945 or 1946 when I was 8 or 9 years old. At that time the Dogras ruled Kashmir, and the whole of Kashmiri nation was living under conditions of slavery. One of the cruel forms of slavery is the feudal system. In this system the ruler or the king distributes land amongst his loyalists, who in turn become an instrument in carrying out the oppressive measure against ordinary people for the ruler. It is this service which is awarded by the rulers through land distribution. These lands or fields are called Jagirs.

The Jagirdars, the owners, do not offer any labour or till the fields. The work of tilling, seeding, growing the crops is done by the local peasants. All a Jagirdar does is to appear at the harvest time and take all the produce leaving a minute quantity for the peasants to live on. This Jagirdari system existed in our country during the Dogra rule too. The poor peasants had to do all the hard work but the landowner would take all the produce. The landowner in our area was called Divan, whom we had seldom seen. There were his agents called kardaar, whose job it was to collect grain and fruits etc once produced by the farmers. The year I am talking about had poor crops due to bad weather. This left the farming families with very little to give to the Divan. Having given away all the produce it did not mount up to the usual season's quantity, which brought the whole area under the wrath of his agents. They started a series of crackdowns on the houses and stores of the poor peasants and many were whipped. When it did not produce results the Divan himself came to our village in a motorcade. This was the first time ever a motorcade came to our village. We were all amazed to see it. All the farmers in our village got together and pleaded before him for concession. They told him in detail the reasons for the low harvest but he did not believe them. He insisted upon having his usual share of the crops even if it meant that the children of the peasants had to starve to death. He also expressed his anger towards his agents and strictly instructed them to extract the full share. These agents knew very well that the peasants were left with nothing to be given to the Divan. But they had no courage to argue with their master. As the Jagirdar went to his car after giving instructions – all  the children of the village were told to lie down on the road in front of the car by their elders. The kardaar was also part of this plan. Hundreds of village children lied down in front of the Jagirdar's car and pleaded for concession and to write off the extra share or drive over them. I was one of those children and remember to this day the fear and chaos that ruled us. Everyone, young and old was in tears. They knew that if Jagirdar left without giving concessions their lives would be made hell. Eventually, the Jagirdar agreed to some amendments to his final decision.

This is just one incident that can give you some idea of the miserable conditions we the children of the poor Kashmiri peasants suffered during that period of slavery. Majority of our people were and still are peasants who suffer similar situations all around. They were forced to leave the country in search for work in the plains of Pakistan and India mainly in Punjab where they were referred to as Hattoos (luggage carriers). They used to work there for six months in a year and make small money to support their children and families. The other manual artisans and small vendors were also forced to leave their homes for various towns and cities across the subcontinent to sell their products. While they were away, their children longed for the love and affection of their fathers. When this reality of slavery was realized by our nation (people), it was clearly thought that the only way to emancipate from the exploitation of the feudal system and to live an honourable life is to fight for freedom.

The fight initially began in 1931. In this fight there were two camps. In the one camp were the subjugated and wretched peoples of Kashmir and in the other were the rulers and their puppet officials, feudal lords and capitalists. The first phase of this battle was concluded in 1947. Scores of poor children had to sacrifice their parents and families who were killed in this battle. Thousands of young girls like yourself had to live away from their fathers who were locked up behind the bars by those who defended slavery and exploitation.

Then came the ugly year of 1947. During these stormy periods the situation took such a turn that we entered from one phase of slavery to another. Dogra-rule came to an end but in the process our country was divided. One part went under occupation of Indian army while the other though called Azad (free) has none of the features of a free place. During this chaos hundreds of thousands of old and young as well as children were martyred. The blood of those unaccountable children along with the older members of our nation flows into the plains of Jammu and Valley, in the hills of Poonch, Muzaffarabad and in the mountains of Mirpur and of Kargil and Ladakh. No monuments of these children can be found but these anonymous martyrs are the pride of our nation. To be able to tell all the stories of these young martyred boys and girls of our freedom struggle it requires a complete book. Here I want to tell you only one fact that the invaders murdered countless children similar to those merciless hunters who kill the sprinkling sparrows on trees during spring. Some of these children were killed with spears and swords by the communalists intoxicated with the influence of sectarianism as herds of sheep are torn apart by the bloodthirsty wolves.

My dear child, 1947 was not the end of that era of sacrifices by the children of our nation. It is continuing even today and may (well) continue till the whole nation is liberated. Our people are continuously making sacrifices both in the occupied Kashmir (IOK) as well as in Azad Kashmir (POK). On both sides children are growing under the horrifying shadows of slavery. Countless Kashmiri children have become orphans (without any one to care for them) because the destruction and killings inflicted upon us by the enemies of our freedom. Consequently they have been deprived of the essential provisions for the (good) growth and upbringing of children. The details of these past events are too long to be told here. Recently, two young boys were killed in London. They too were the flowers of our nations. Basharat and Hanif of Mirpur who sacrificed their youthful lives not only remind us of our history and tradition but also set an example for the future. Every child of our nation should be proud on them.

Dear Azra, I have written all that to clarify what agony children of slave nations have to go through. It is also important that you know these details because you have a great passion for the freedom of our country, which is obvious from your quoting the couplet in your letter, which states [Kudda Ney Aaj Takk Uss Qaoum Ki Haalat Nahin Badlee Naa Ho Jiss Ko Khayal Aap Appni Hallat Kay Badal Ney Ka] God may never help any nation which does not realize its own slavery. Also, your determination is praiseworthy because you have expressed in your letter "We will not refrain from giving the last drop of our blood for the freedom, sovereignty and prosperity of our beloved Kashmir." I am greatly impressed by this passion in you. May Allah keep you on the right path, enhance your mind and fulfil your aspirations.

Now let me comment on some of your other views, which you have described in your letter. You say that you know the details of difficulties and oppression we went through, which makes one’s heart sink but there are such stone-hearted and ignorant people who enjoy and make fun of such stories. We must remember that only those people feel the pain in stories of repression that have themselves suffered or fought against it. The hard-hearted people or those who have not suffered would not understand such stories. They neither enjoy nor are saddened. However, there is a class of people who take pleasure in such stories. This is the (class of) repressors. If people laugh at the torture and oppression we suffered for the freedom of our country then you must remember they are the enemy of freedom of whole Kashmiri nation. They are the supporters of repression and enemy of justice and (equal) rights. Such people never last long and usually face humiliation within their lifetime. The righteous people always rise victorious with truth and justice. At the end such people look at themselves and are shamed.

Picture: Roshni Ka Shaheed Awwal / First Martyr of the Light (Maqbool Bhat Monograph)

You have also written that Kashmiris have sacrificed their lives for Pakistan but Pakistan brands them as 'agents'. Here, your views are slightly misplaced. It is not Pakistan that accuses Kashmiris of spying but the ruling traitors of this country. It is the same bunch of rulers who have denied the people of this country freedom and democracy and eventually disintegrated it. Indeed, the role these bunches of traitors have played has been far worse than traitors. That is why they brand all patriotic (Kashmiris) and friends of (our) people as foreign agents or spies. These rulers, who committed crimes against their own people and called authentic leaders as 'agents', accuse us (Kashmiris) of spying but we should not get angry. As for the actual Pakistan, the people of this country are concerned; they will accept the truth when it is brought before them. The sufferings given to us is not the (work of) real Pakistanis. The cruel (men) of ruling (class) who open fire on their own people are responsible for our sufferings. Obviously the rulers who declared war against their own peoples cannot offer anything to anyone else but injustice. Pakistani ruling class never ever supported Kashmiris in their fight for freedom, as they should have done. Indeed this class has no interest in the freedom of Kashmir. Whatever they say is merely a lip service and must not be trusted. However the peoples of Pakistan are our true supporters and friends. We will certainly have their support. The (ordinary) people of Pakistan have sincerity as well as sympathy for us. Whenever Kashmiris move forward, the people of Pakistan will support them. You are right that by branding Kashmiri freedom fighters as 'agents' these rulers have actually served India. Perhaps it is the result of this hypocrisy (double policy) that they (Pakistani rulers) are faced with a humiliation at the end.

You (say that you) are happy about our determination to stand up for (our) right(s) and did not give up on the just cause during these challenges. This has only been possible with God's blessings who kept us on the right path though out. Please pray to the almighty Allah that we stay on the right path in the future. Only then the National Liberation Front (NLF), Inshallah, will achieve bigger and greater successes. The suggestion that 'Kashmiris have been brought to the point of neither here nor there' is a mistake. We were the true sons of the soil; we are and will remain so. The passion (flame) for freedom we possess will remain in us forever. We will confront any force on earth that may come in our way to achieve our freedom.

As you have rightly pointed out, the blood Kashmiris have given for the freedom of our country will never be wasted. The blood of (our) martyrs brings the goal for freedom nearer. You are quite right that those who fight for the right and just cause have to go through tests and trials. Yes that is what makes them so noble - as they face all such challenges patiently and with courage. The prayer, which rises from the bottom of your innocent heart, will surely be answered by the God almighty, as it is his promise to mankind that no power on earth can fail them as long as they are on the right path. Rubina and Papu told me about you are in good health and that you are paying proper attention to your education. You (may) know that the real power and wealth human beings may possess is the knowledge they acquire. This wealth can neither be stolen nor spent. Without 'knowledge' human beings are mere animals. That is why I hope that you will give even more attention to your studies. Give my regards to your Ammi Jaan and lots of love to daughter Rubina.

Yours loving uncle,

Muhammad Maqbool Bhat

Camp Prison Lahore, Pakistan