Maqbool Butt and Afzal Guru: Kashmir’s fallen heroes rise after death


Rashid Ahmad

I don’t know whether it is problem with our thought process or we are incapable of judging people right in time. Shaikh Mohammad Abdullah was a hero (Sher-e-Kashmir) in his lifetime. But the lion came to be seen as ‘villain’ soon after his death.

More than 10 lakh people had participated in his funeral procession. Now armed guards are protecting his grave from the wrath of the very people. 

On the contrary, Maqbool Butt and Afzal Guru were seen as ‘collaborators’ as long as they were alive. It is after their death that they are being idolized as ‘heroes’ and ‘grand martyrs’.

Something wrong is there in our assessment of people.

Guru became the casualty of public apathy, in general, in Kashmir. Right from the day he was arrested and implicated in Parliament attack, he was seen, at least in private interface, as collaborator”, ‘a man who hobnobbed with the enemies to bring disrepute to our freedom movement’.

Many people in Kashmir believed, though without any material evidence, that the attack on parliament was orchestrated by government agencies and Guru facilitated it. Guru himself contributed to that perception. In 2006, some news outlets including newsmagazine Outlook and Kifila carried a series of stories about Afzal Guru’s “guilt” and “involvement” in which he had himself admitted that he, though under duress, worked for security agencies.

Till he was awarded death penalty, I have not heard any leader of any significance ever saying a word or two to sympathize with him. The Kashmir High Court Bar Association (KHCBA), which has a good record of contesting cases of Kashmiri youths arrested by security agencies, did never bother to offer him legal assistance during trial. Nor did any political leader ever thought it worth to speak for him. We, rather, were told in private conversations that “he (Guru) is their (New Delhi’s) man”.

I know about some leaders (say Hurriyat) who would occasionally visit his Sopore home, sympathizing and identifying with his family but they owe an explanation why didn’t they ever thought of giving legal aid to Guru.

In Afzal Guru’s case there is collective guilt.

He was left alone to face the might of one billion people, who had got enraged by the attack on what they called “symbol of democracy”. No lawyer in Delhi agreed to take up his case for known reasons. But what stopped Kashmiri lawyers is still unknown. As a result, Guru, as some legal experts say, was sent to gallows unheard and unrepresented in the court of law.

Ironically Maqbool Butt too was tried and hanged in an atmosphere of suspicion and doubt.

Butt was hanged in the same prison in 1984 for killing an intelligence officer. His hanging did not provoke any reaction in Kashmir then. Late Abdul Gani Lone was the only leader who protested against Butt’s hanging. For the rest of the folks, it was a usual normal day.

Maqbool Butt, for a large section of people and politicians, too was seen as a ‘collaborator’.

The hijacking of an Indian Fokker plane “Ganga” to Lahore and putting it to flames had created a negative image of the Butt. Ganga was hijacked by Hashim Quraishi and ashraf Quraishi on January 30, 1971 on its routine flight from Srinagar to Delhi. The hijackers were received by Maqbool Butt at Lahore airport where the plane was set ablaze, providing India an alibi to stop over-flights of Pakistan between its east and western parts.

A month later Pakistan was caught in serious domestic crises when East Pakistan rose in revolt against West Pakistan’s hegemony, which ultimately ended in emergence of Bangladesh. Pakistan sensed Ganga hijacking and India’s subsequent action of snapping West Pakistan’s air link with its East wing as a conspiracy by India. They cracked down on Maqbool Butt’s National Liberation Front and arrested hundreds of its activists and leaders including Butt and the Ganga hijackers—Hashim and Ashraf Quraishi. However, the Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted Maqbool as innocent but convicted the hijacker Hashim Quraishi.

In public view, Butt’s image suffered further blow when he attempted to loot JK Bank at Langate in 1976 and in the process shot dead bank manager Ghulam Nabi Magray. Local people chased him and his two associates Riyaz and Hameed, captured them and handed them over to police.

But for those, who knew Maqbool Butt in person, he was always a star.

It is by the word of their mouth that a section of the society, mainly the younger generation of the time, had unflinching faith in him.

In 1980, a street campaign was launched, by groups of valley youth against Butt’s death sentence. Shabir Ahmad Shah was main motivator of this campaign. The first rally was taken out from the Shah’s Kadipora (Islamabad) house which ended at the town’s main square.

Shiekh Tajamul Islam, head of Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, led the rally of hundreds of emotional youth. He gave a fiery public speech at the Islamabad Chowk, which rechristened his image from a soft student leader to a “rebel”. Similar protest marches were taken out in Srinagar, Sopore and Baramullah as well. The campaign however could not sustain because of police actions and restrictions, and overall indifference of the common people.

Maqbool Butt’s image changed overnight when armed struggle began in Kashmir in late 80s. He came to be known as its symbol. Despite negative image he had during his lifetime, his hanging left deep influence on the psyche of the people of Kashmir. 

It is the cause, not death, that makes a martyr.

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