Protests in UP, hope in Kashmir

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Muslims in the Valley find an echo in the mainland. The trigger is the outcry in UP over the arrest of two Kashmiri boys, says Riyaz Wani

Protesters in Azamgarh
Rallying support Protesters in Azamgarh

THE ARREST of two Kashmiri youth in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, by the Uttar Pradesh anti-terror squad (UP ATS) on 24 May was met with protests from several Muslim organisations in the state. This has come as a welcome surprise for most Kashmiris, as it is the first time that Muslims in the “mainland” have been so vocal in their concern for their counterparts in Jammu & Kashmir.

Kashmiri Muslims and Muslims across the country have always acted as distinct entities in their sense of identity and politics. Kashmiris, in the dominant perception, never take Muslims outside the state on board in their idea of India, while “Indian Muslims”, as they are generally called in Kashmir, have always maintained a safe distance from the conflict in the Valley. As a result, they have never made a common cause on any issue. The alleged fake encounter at Batla House in New Delhi did not resonate in Kashmir, neither did the killing of five innocent men by the army in Pathribal in 2000 become an issue with Muslims outside the state.

“The estrangement between mainland Muslims and their Kashmiri counterparts is one of the major sources of alienation of the latter from mainstream India,” says PDP chief spokesman Naeem Akhter. “Bridging this divide will be a watershed in Kashmir.”

The Azamgarh incident is thus seen as important. People in the Valley have watched with interest the spontaneous outcry over the arrest of the two Kashmiri youth, Sajad Ahmad Bhat, 23, and Waseem Ahmad Bhat, 20, students of Jamiatul Falah, a well-known madrassa in Azamgarh. The director of the madrassa, Maulana Tahir Madani, had led a protest of hundreds of students and residents at the Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar Park in Bilariyaganj area.

The Rashtriya Ulema Council lent its support to the protest. Its president Maulana Amir Rashadi threatened to hold a state-wide campaign if the two men were not released within five days. The Association for Protection of Civil Rights filed a petition with the National Human Rights Commission, seeking inquiry into the arrest and immediate intervention to protect their lives. A petition was also filed with the National Commission for Minorities. Madani has sent a memorandum to UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, urging him to take the matter seriously.

Sajad and Waseem are cousins from Sopore, Kashmir. They were on their way to New Delhi by the Kaifiyat Express to reportedly meet an elder brother when sleuths of the UP ATS held them near Aligarh Junction at 6:30 am on 24 May. According to Sopore SP Imtiaz Hussain, “Waseem has been involved in militant activities in Sopore. He was also in jail for a year. He fled to Azamgarh in January this year.” Sajad, however, he adds, has no militant connection.

In the Valley, the outcry in UP over the arrests was appreciated. “It is encouraging that Muslims in the rest of India are raising their voice against the witch-hunt of our youth,” says Ayaz Akber, spokesman of the hardline Hurriyat Conference led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

Moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq welcomes the protest. “Muslims in India have so far restrained from raising the issue of human rights violations in Kashmir. It will be a welcome development if this indifference changes,” he says.

PDP spokesperson Naeem Akhter, on the other hand, sees the greater engagement between the “Ummah, south of Kashmir” and the Kashmiri Muslims as a game-changer. “This will be a political value-addition for Kashmiris,” he says. “If issues in the state resonate among the Muslims and the larger secular public opinion of the country, it will give Kashmiris a sense of political empowerment within the country.” If that were to happen, then this could even impact the discourse within the state.

Riyaz Wani is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.
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