Maqbool Bhatt : An overview of his life and struggle

  • by

By Shams Rehman   Mirpur, POK

 Life Sketch

Lived:                                                   18 February 1938 – 11 February 1984

Childhood and Schooling:                   Tregam in District Kupwara Indian Occupied Kashmir, or J&K as that part of Kashmir is officially and by large number of people is called.  

College:                                               St. Joseph College Bara Mola Indian IOK. BA in History and Political Science

University:                                           MA Urdu Literature, Peshawar University, Pakistan

Occupation:                                         Journalism

Family:                                                Mother died when Maqbool was just 11

Father Ghulam Qadar Bhatt remarried with Shah Begum

Four Brothers:                                     Habibullah Bhatt, disappeared when he had gone to meet Maqbool Bhatt at Tihaar Jail. Ghulam Nabi Bhat (Convener of JKLF) and Manzoor Ahmad Bhat – were killed in separate encounters with security forces at Srinagar and Trehgam. Zahoor Bhat (JKLF) recently released by the local police after investigating him for nearly an year for crossing the LoC illegally few days before the 25th Anniversary of Maqbool Bhatt.

Two Sisters:                                         Sayeda and Mehbooba

Children: Married Twice.                   Had Shaukat Maqbool and Javed Maqbool from Raj Begum and Lubna Maqbool from Zakara.

Struggle

Prior to the publication of ‘Shaoor e Farda’ (the vision of tomorrow) by Saeed Asad and Safeer e Hurriyat ( the ambassador of liberation) by Khawaja Rafiq, there was little known about the events that shaped Maqbool Bhatt’s life, struggle and Political thoughts. It appears from his letters written from various Pakistani and Indian prisons and interviews with various journalists at different times that life became a struggle from the age when children needs to be carefree and playing with their peers and toys.

Childhood Incidents

He writes in one of his letters that in 1946, just a year before the end of Maharaja Rule and beginning of the Indian and Pakistani occupation, when he was about eight, he along with several other village children had to lie down before the motorcade of the local Feudal Lord to win concession for the village peasants who due to bad season could not afford to pay the crops share per the land lords demands who was leaving in his motorcade after the failure of negotiations between him, his agent or Kardar and peasants. While the children were laying in front of the motorcade their parents told the land lord that if you are not going to accept the reduction in revenue share then drive over the kids who otherwise won’t have much left to be fed with anyway. The land lord accepted the demands and children saved their parents.

Another incident which is narrated by his younger son Shaukat Maqbool also gives some insight into the struggling aspect of Maqbool Bhatt’s childhood. This was in the village primary school where it was an established tradition on award ceremonies to have parents of the affluent children seated on side and of the poorer on the other. One year when Maqbool Bhatt was also one of the awardees, he refused to receive the award until that ‘class segregation’ was not scrapped. The tradition was since changed. In 1956 he moved on to St. Joseph, a private missionary college in Baramula.  

At college

At college as per expectations he became involved in extracurricular activities that in societies where injustice, suppression and oppression remains a norm usually composed of or at least inlcudes the politics of agitation involving Jalsa-Jaloos (rallies) and fiery speeches. Observing Maqbool Bhatt’s behaviour and listening to his speeches the college principle according to Rafiq, K(1997) commented that this sort of young people although contain extraordinary potential to become great, the change they strive for is usually impossible to be achieved therefore they get crucified.

His politics came into conflict with the state machinery of IOK when he led several agitations for the political rights of the IOK people. Subsequently, as appears from his interviews and Rafiq’s narration  confirmed by some his colleagues he went underground and then in 1958 crossed over to POK along with his uncle.

Finding the space in Pakistan

Here it is believed they were arrested and interrogated by the Pakistani military forces in POK or ‘Azad’ Jammu Kashmir (AJK) as this part is officially commonly known. They were released only after securing references from some Valley Kashmiris who were settled in Muzaffarabad, the AJK capital. From here it appears they went to Lahore where Maqbool’s uncle made efforts through his contacts for his nephew’s admission to Punjab University but to no avail. So they left for Peshawar, the city where progressive influences of Bacha Khan and Wali Khan lived.

At Peshawar

Here Maqbool Bhatt got admission in Peshawar University to do Urdu Literature and joined a local newspaper ‘Anjaam’ to earn living. At Peshawar University he met such people as Ahmed Fraaz, one of the big legends of romantic and radical or commonly called progressive Urdu poetry.

Entering into Politics: Plebiscite to National Liberation

It was also here that he was approached by Amanullah Khan, originally from Gilgit was a leading activist amongst Kashmiri diaspora in Pakistan. As he tells in his autobiography, another rare source of pro independence history in Pakistani and POK (AJK and GB), few years back he along with some other diaspora Kashmiris formed ‘Kashmir Independence Committee’ (KIM) in reaction the the rumour that India and Pakistan were going to agree on making the de fecto division of Kashmir de jure in their foreign ministers negotiations in 1962.  Instead of any agreement what followed was the war of 1965 when guerrilla tactics were used by Pakistan to conquer Kashmir from India. The fact that Maqbool Bhatt went to the Pakistani Generals and offered his services shows that by this time he was prepared for armed struggle under Pakistani army. However, it seems that their refusal to take him on board dented his confidence in Pakistani army for liberation of Kashmir. The Tashqand Agreement  between India and Pakistan that followed the war further disillusioned Maqbool Bhatt and he joined  Jammu Kashmir Plebiscite Front (PF) in 1965 which brought together almost all the pro independence Kashmiris from AJK and Pakistan to one platform. More likely due to his journalistic background, Maqbool Bhatt was elected PF’s Publicity Secretary. However, again what Amanullah Khan tells us, the pair proposed that PF should have an armed struggle wing as well like several other struggles. The buzz word at that juncture of the history was ‘National Liberation’. Failing to convince the PF leadership Amanullah and Maqbool Bhatt formed Jammu Kashmir National Liberation Front (JKNLF) in a bus while travelling from Mirpur to Rawalpindi. They then approached Major Aman ullah Khan, a retired Pakistani army officer and formalised NLF at his residence on 13th August 1965. Later some more people were taken into confidence.

Maqbool Bhatt, Aurangzeb, Major Amaan Ulla and Kala Khan crossed the division line to the IOK on ? June 1966. The purpose was to explore the feelings of Kashmiris there with the possibilities of forming some ‘cells’ there. It appears from the writings of such activists as Rehman, F.  who was amongst those contacted during the three months tour of NLF guerrillas in different towns and cities that they managed to convince some people for national liberation type of armed struggle as the only way to liberate Kashmir.

Most of the Kashmiri record on the history of NLF and Maqbool Bhatt shows that on their way back they were intercepted by the Indian intelligence agencies and in a clash with one of the security teams Aurangzeb, who was from Gilgit, and the CID inspector Amar Chand were left dead. Maqbool Bhatt and Kala Khan were arrested on 14th September 1966.

Two First Information Reports were registered against Maqbool Bhatt. The first one lodged at Police Station Sopore, Kashmir (F.I.R. 84/66) alleged that he crossed the ceasefire line without a valid legal permit with an illegal purpose to overthrow the lawfully established government of Jammu and Kashmir.

The second F.I.R. filed at Police Station Panzala, Kashmir (F.I.R. 38/66) charged   Maqbool Bhatt with the murder of Amar Chand. It alleged that Bhatt and accomplices first took cash, orna­ments and other documents from C.I.D. Inspector Amar Chand’s house then abducted and killed Amar. He was also charged with the enemy agent.

In his defence Maqbool Bhatt denied all charges except that he had without a valid legal permit crossed the ceasefire line in June 1966. He added that he did not think it necessary to obtain a per­mit for moving around in his own country. There is a statement frequently cited in writings on Maqbool Bhatt from Kashmiri perspective that Maqbool Bhatt also stated in the court that he accepts the charge of being enemy agent provided that the word agents is taken out. ‘I am the enemy’ he reportedly said.

The Court found him guilty and passed death sentenced on him while others were given life sentence. It is also reported that upon announcement of death sentence by Judge Neil Kant Ganjo Maqbool Bhat said:

Judge Saab Abhi wo Raso nahee bane jo Maqbool Bhatt ko Phansi de sakey; The Rope has not yet been made that can hang Maqbool Bhatt. He is also referred to as saying ‘If Indian authorities of occupation think that by hanging me they can crushed the Kashmir struggle they are mistaken. The struggle actually will start after my hanging.

Only four months into their sentence Maqbool Bhatt escaped from the prison through a tunnel they dug and sneaked back to AJK after over two weeks of walking through the forests and peaks of Kashmir. Here they were captured and interrogated for some months and were released only after series of demonstrations by NSF, NLF and PF.

In the years to come Maqbool Bhatt became an aspiration for the younger generation in AJK and he started advocating for armed struggle branding AJK rulers as puppets of Pakistani rulers and mortgaging the freedom of Kashmir for money and government posts without any power or authority. The PF also swung towards national liberation and Maqbool Bhatt was elected its president. This was followed by a Gilgit Baltistan Week in 1970 and Maqbool Bhatt along with Khaliq Ansari and Amanulla Khan went to these areas of Kashmir bared for ‘Azad’ Kashmiri politicians but were thrown out by the Pakistani authorities in forests outside of the state boundaries. This reminds one of Robert Thorpe, a British born to a Kashmiri mother who was similarly thrown out of the boundaries of Kashmir in 1867 by the then Maharaja of Kashmir Ranbir Singh. However, it appears that the campaign for independent Kashmir continued to grow in popularity amongst Kashmiris in the Pakistani controlled part.

Ganga Hijacking and Pakistani Courts

 Then something happened that was viewed by many as more dramatic and heroic than the escape from prison of Maqbool Bhatt and his comrades. At 1305 on January 30th 1971 two young Kashmiris Hashim Qureshi and Ashraf Qureshi hijacked an Indian airliner ‘Ganga’ flight from Srinagar to Jammu with 30 people including four crew members on board.  The plane was brought to Lahore where hijackers issued statement saying that that they have hijacked the plane on the instructions of their leader Maqbool Bhatt and demanded the release of NLF activists from Indian prisons. On February the 1st all passengers and crew members were freed and sent back to Kashmir via Amritsar while the plane was set on fire (Lamb, A. 1991, p:289).

Initially the hijackers were praised heroes by the Pakistani government and were received by massive crowds of people in different cities of Pakistan and ‘Azad’ Kashmir but when India suspended Pakistani flights over Indian territory and pressed Pakistan for actions against the hijackers Pakistan arrested Maqbool Bhatt and hundreds of NLF activists and interrogated them in the infamous Shahee Qila (Royal Fort) Lahore, Dulahee Camp Muzaffarabad where, several NLF activists including Maqbool Bhatt claim, they were brutally tortured to confess something which according to Maqbool Bhatt, the authorities themselves did not have clue what.

Six of the detainees including Maqbool Bhatt, Ghulam Mohammed Lone, Mir Abdul Qayum, Mir Abdul Manan (brothers) and two hijackers Hashim and Ashraf were later tried in a special court of Pakistan under the Enemy Act 1943 of the Indian Penal Code. The same Act under which Maqbool Bhatt was tried in the Indian Occupied Kashmir in 1966. The case started in December 1971 in which a total of 1984 defence and 1942 defence witnesses were called before it was concluded in May 1973. The court cleared all but Hashim Qureshi of all charges except dealing with weapons and explosives. The later was sentenced to prison for fourteen years.

While the ‘Ganga’ case had for reaching implications for the National Liberation struggle as the NLF virtually became dysfunctional  due to various organisations, political, financial and psychological effects on its members who could not carried on their activism, it, however, enhanced the wider independence politics and the ideology of independent Kashmir. This was proven by the strong opposition to the move by Peoples Party of Pakistan’s once of most popular and powerful politician Z.A. Butto to incorporate ‘Azad’ Kashmir into Pakistan as a province. It is claimed by several pro independence activists that in his meeting with Maqbool Bhatt, Butto made an open offer to the later regarding whatever post he wants in AJK government for joining PPP which the formed refused and carried on his mission for independent Kashmir. It seems that during this period several rounds of discussion took place between the Plebiscite Fronts  across the divided Kashmir and UK. While Dr Farooq Abdullah visited Mirpur and spent few days touring with PF activists in AJK including Maqbool Bhatt, Amanullah Khan and Abdul Khaliq Ansari, a delegation of PF members from UK went to discuss issues with the legendary Sheikh Abdullah. However, these transnational efforts to organisationally linkup the pre-division Kashmiri nationalism with that of the post-division collapsed with Sheikh Abdulla’s pact with Indra Gandhi in 1975.

In Tihaar

Maqbool Bhatt and some other members of PF participated in AJK elections but all lost alleging rigging against pro independence candidates. Subsequently, the UK Plebiscite Front invited Abdul Khaliq Ansari, Aman ullah Khan and GM Mir to Britain to broaden and strengthen the pro independence politics amongst diaspora in UK and Europe. From what follows shows that Maqbool Bhatt remained committed with the armed struggle. While the above Kashmiris flown to UK without GM Mir who did not get Visa clearance, Maqbool Bhatt for the second time that proved to be his last time crossed back to the IOK in May 1976 along with Hammed Bhatt and Riaz Dar, with the full knowledge of death sentence of 1966 still hanging on him. They were arrested on 7th June 1976. Maqbool Bhatt was sent to the Central Jail Srinagar where he was served with the earlier warrant of death sentence and the date for execution was set to be 24th July 1976. But he was not to go without a fight. Several legal battles started and different lawyers who took up the case of Maqbool Bhatt included both of Hindus and Muslim background.

He was transferred to Tihaar prison on 23rd July 1976 where according M. Yasin Bhatt who was imprisoned in Tihaar after the current uprising in the Valle, Maqboo Bhatt spent his time with dignity and faced and fought the suppression and injustice through legal and political means. At the same time he radicalised and empowered many prisoners and the lower staff of the prison for their rights.

He died fighting for justice

As noted in this rather lengthy quote from very critical article by an anonymous writer available on  http://www.gaash-online.com/articles/3/1/Mohammed-Maqbool-Bhatt.html:  

“Maqbool Bhatt is one of those rare prisoners who have been twice sentenced to death. He is also the one to have moved the Court seeking transfer from the “death cell” to an ordinary one, while still under the sentence of death. And in several other ways, he is an interesting subject of study.

He smokes Wills King size cigarettes; his lawyer gets them for him: He relishes Kashmiri food; his lawyer has it cooked for him. He does not like the “death cell”; his lawyer gets a judgement in his favour”. And as spears from another quote from the same article his spirit of fighting for justice could not be broken under the worse of conditions.

On April 27, 1981,’Bhatt was transferred to Ward 16, known as the ‘death cell’ or ‘condemned cell’. In a petition filed in the High Court of Delhi, Bhatt described the cell as “frog well” from where he was “unable to see anything except a small patch of sky through the skylight of the outer cell. . . The inner cell . . . has an open lavatory and a concrete bathing tub within this space thus. . . rendering the whole area into a bathroom; a stinking smell emanating from the… open lavatory and the whole place being virtually turned into a breeding spot for flies and mosquitoes… the summer heat turns the cell into a hot oven. . .”

In its judgement, delivered on August 6,1982, the Court observed that in view of the mercy petition pending before the President, Bhatt cannot be classed as one ‘under sentence of death’ and therefore cannot be confined apart from other prisoners. The Court held that his transfer to the death cell on April 27, 1981, is -“arbi­trary and illegal”. Consequently, Bhatt was shifted to Ward l–originally earmarked for “high security risk prisoners”.

 

Several attempts were made by different Kashmiri groups for the release of Maqbool Bhatt including the Hi jacking of an Indian plane by Abdul Hameed Diwani in 1976, an attempt to blow the Delhi conference hall of Non Alignment Movement in 1981 but with no avail. In the first week of February 1984, an unknown group ‘Kashmir Liberation Army’ kidnapped an Indian diplomat Rovindra Mahatrey from India consulate Birmingham. They demanded the release of Maqbool Bhatt and a sum of money from Indian government but killed him just two days after abduction. Within a week the Indian government hanged Maqbool Bhatt who was optimistically waiting for his review petition against his sentence on the grounds that  the case had several legal flaws from its very beginning in 1966. Several Kashmiri lawyers claim that the action of Indira Gandhi government left the law of Indian land aside and argue that Maqbool Butt’s hanging was an act of illegal execution by the Indian state. Whatever the legalities of such claims, some aspects of Maqbool Bhatt’s execution were clearly illegal beyond any doubt whatsoever. No member of his family was allowed to meet him. His dead body was not handed over to his family which makes this as the only second such case after Baghat Singh shaheed and his comrades whose bodies are said to be incriminated after execution in a similar manner by the colonial British India government in 1930s. A campaign is running for the remains of Maqbool Bhatt’s body and belonging with a website http://www.petitiononline.com/mbutt/petition.html. The petition is run by Maqbool Bhatt foundation http://www.maqboolbutt.com/ as a project of Kashmir Research and Record Council, the KRRC. Please log in despite the vulgarity appears on its Google cite by some hackers. The site contains scores of videos about the Kashmiri hero. The petition has so far attracted only 101 signatures which is shame. However, the figures should not be attributed to the lack of desire amongst Kashmiris for the release of a ‘prisoner of death’ from the largest democracy on earth, but lack of ICT access, skills and may be publicity of the campaign?

Someone would perhaps claim that a rope after all was made that hanged Maqbool Bhatt. However, those who have the ability and will to look at the Kashmir situation without the avenging narrow nationalistic and communal lenses could see that every word Maqbool Bhatt uttered has proved true. The struggle actually started after his execution and the rope may have squeezed his respiratory system from breathing, it could not kill Maqbool Bhatt – the revolutionary. He lives on in the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris across the division line and diaspora world over. This was perhaps best captured by a poet from Kotali ‘Azad’ Kashmir M. Yameen who wrote in one of his famous poems:

Kahaan tuu soya Khabar Nahee

Khabar Nahee Qabar Nahee

Maggar yeh Bandey Nisar tere

Karor dil hein mazaar tere

Where are you sleeping

We do not know

Where is your grave

We don’t know

But the hundreds and thousands of people

Willing to fight for your cause

You live in their hearts and minds.

 (The writer can be reached at: shamakashmiri@yahoo.co.uk  )

Leave a Reply