‘Omar Abdullah is the symbol of atrocities in Kashmir, not me’

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Masarat Alam | 47 | A Kashmiri Separatist Leader
Masarat Alam | 47 | A Kashmiri Separatist Leader, Photo: Faisal Khan

Edited Excerpts from an interview •

What is your take on the controversy over your release from prison?
My release from prison was part of the normal judicial procedure. I was let off by the courts on all the trumped up charges brought against me by the government. That is why I was freed. But I cannot understand the brouhaha surrounding my release. Does it imply that even if the courts declare you innocent, you have no right to freedom? Does it mean that anybody with a different ideology has no right to freedom?

Do you credit Mufti for your release?
Not at all. What has the state government got to do with it? I have been in jail for 17 years. I was arrested and subsequently released in the ‘90s, in 2005, 2008, 2010 and now in 2015. This time, I came out of jail after four and a half years. So, where is the question of favour?

You are accused of spearheading the 2010 protests?
First of all, the courts found no basis to the charge. On many occasions when the Public Safety Act was invoked for arresting me, it was quashed. And second of all, in 2010, I was only one of many protesters who sought their right to self-determination as promised to us by India at the United Nations (UN) I didn’t orchestrate those protests. No leader can initiate a people’s movement on his own. It was a spontaneous groundswell of people but the then state government headed by Omar Abdullah held me responsible for the killing of 120 youths. It is he (Omar) who is the symbol of atrocities in Kashmir, not me.

Is there any link between your release and the Pakistan high commissioner’s meeting with a Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani?
What link can there be? It is an annual affair. When Geelani is in Delhi, the Pakistan high commissioner meets him. It is a courtesy call to enquire about Geelani’s well-being. This year, too, it was about inviting Geelani to the Pakistan Day function on 23 March. It was just a coincidence that his visit happened to take place around the time that I was released.

In the evolving political scenario in the state, do you think separatists should opt for a change in their strategy? And what will that be?
Our goal is the implementation of the UN resolutions on Kashmir. On that there can be no compromise. But yes, there can be a change of strategy. But the new strategy will not come about in one day. It has to be discussed and deliberated at length. We in the Hurriyat will sit together with our leader Geelani and discuss.

What do you have to say about the Hurriyat’s participation in the political process?
See, I have been in jail for the past four and a half years. There is a lot to learn about the situation. We have to see why people are voting. We will sit down and talk after Geelani’s return from Delhi. Any new strategy will be worked out by consensus.

Now that you are out, what will be your priority? Do you have a new vision to carry on your separatist movement? What will be your modus operandi?
My first priority is to visit my relatives and pay condolence to some of my kin and acquaintances who have lost their loved ones. Then we will sit, discuss and chalk out a strategy. Our modus operandi is a peaceful struggle for the freedom of Kashmir. I am not a terrorist and Kashmiris are not terrorists. We are only demanding our legitimate rights.

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