Vital Memories

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A book by an Islamabad based journalist Qasim Sajad has added various details to events of kashmir’s contemporary history. But the beauty of the memoir is in its courage to name names, writes Khursheed Wani

Qasim Sajjad

Journalists in Kashmir have a unique distinction of reporting their own conflict. When militancy broke out in 1989, most of the journalists were caught unawares much like everyone from common people to the helmsmen.

Kashmir never remained the same after 1989. The unmatched state repression to quell the uprising, willingness of thousands of youngsters to join militant ranks, decision of Hindus to leave their homes for safer places outside Kashmir and atrocities committed by the militants on select people, changed Kashmir forever. The events of early 1990s were a function of political history of the embattled state since the Partition. These events can’t be studied, understood or analysed without the actual context. The journalists, who found themselves already in the field when the public uprising began, are an important linkage to study the conflict.

Our printing press was blasted when I refused to stop writing against him,” he says. “After the blast Manzoor came to me and blamed ‘someone else’ for the blast but after 12 years, when he returned from jail, he confessed to his involvement and expressed sorrow

Last month, Islamabad journalist Qasim Sajjad released a slim diary on his own experiences as a journalist and activist. On the face of it, 114-page booklet Lamhaat Ke Saath can be taken as another routine exercise of writers to stay relevant and grab attention by organizing a book-release function. But, the booklet written in chaste Urdu turns out to be gripping read and touching many a raw nerve. Sajjad has hurriedly discussed persons and personalities and many events, which have assumed significance in the south Kashmir region, especially Islamabad town that has historically remained relevant and vibrant in shaping Kashmir as we find it now.

An interesting event quoted in the book relates to Jamaat-e-Islami’s plunge into electoral politics at a time when Plebiscite Front gave it a miss. In 1971 parliamentary polls, Jamaat fielded its candidates in South, North and Central Kashmir constituencies. Hakim Ghulam Nabi had a fair chance to win from Islamabad against Muhammad Shafi Qureshi. However, Sajjad writes, during the campaigning, it was announced in the midday news bulletin from Radio Kashmir that Jamaat has decided to boycott the polls. Some Congress workers were seen distributing the boycott posters. This created confusion and eventually resulted into Hakim’s defeat.

Sajjad, who was jailed that time, claims that the conspiracy was hatched by Mufti Muhammad Sayeed who bribed a top Jamaat functionary (Amir-e-zilla) Ghulam Rasool Baba alias Imam to stage the boycott announcement. “Mufti Muhammad Sayeed bought Imam for Rs 7000, 100-150 tin-sheets for his newly-constructed house and a milking cow. Imam staged the drama. He lost his eyesight in the last days of his life,” Sajjad claims. Hakim was beaten to a pulp. The conspiracy was hatched at Bijbehara, he says.

He says the Jamaat was off-tracked after the poll debacle but it took part again in 1975 assembly polls and won five seats. He says Jamaat had been promised five seats before the conduct of elections and the then Chief Minister Mir Qasim rubbished rigging accusations by referring to the seats won by Jamaat candidates. Sajjad claims to be the eyewitness of Shafi Qureshi himself filling 600 ballots at a polling booth after forcibly evicting Jamaat’s polling agents. “After a long time when I asked Qureshi about the episode, he admitted that politics was a murky business,” Sajjad writes.

Sajjad also narrates an interesting episode on the construction of Jamia Ahlihadees in Islamabad. He says the place was known as Charas Takiya where marijuana addicts and hippies used to assemble. The addicts staked claim on the land chunk and the issue went to court. Interestingly, Ghulam Nabi Hagroo, a known Islamic scholar, pleaded for charsis while Prem Nath Bhat represented Jamiat-e-Ahlihadees. Eventually, the Muslim organisation won the legal battle and mosque was constructed on the site.

Sajjad has hastily touched the emergence of militancy in the area and subsequent counterinsurgency that replaced it. He says that writing a series of articles in his weekly Shahaab invited him the wrath of prominent JKLF commander Manzoorul Islam. “Our printing press was blasted when I refused to stop writing against him,” he says. “After the blast Manzoor came to me and blamed ‘someone else’ for the blast but after 12 years, when he returned from jail, he confessed to his involvement and expressed sorrow.”

Sajjad painfully writes about the migration of Pandits and specially mentions the killing of prominent lawyer Prem Nath Bhat at Islamabad and writer Sarwanand Koul along-with his son at Kokernag. He says even those Pandits who had declared migration as ‘criminal act’,  were forced to flee. “Omkar Nath Dasi stayed for many years. One day he invited me to his home to say that he was leaving Kashmir in the night. Even gunmen used to frequent his house. I saw Manzoorul Islam going there one day,” Sajjad says. He also mentions Chaman Lal Kantroo’s migration who was running a school at Mattan. “He (Kantroo) showed me a letter asking him to shut the school and pack up. I tried to convince him that it was the handiwork of some school rivals but he was not convinced. He died in penury at Jammu,” Sajjad writes.

Sajjad also narrates an interesting episode on the construction of Jamia Ahlihadees in Islamabad. He says the place was known as Charas Takiya where marijuana addicts and hippies used to assemble. The addicts staked claim on the land chunk and the issue went to court. Interestingly, Ghulam Nabi Hagroo, a known Islamic scholar, pleaded for charsis while Prem Nath Bhat represented Jamiat-e-Ahlihadees. Eventually, the Muslim organisation won the legal battle and mosque was constructed on the site.

Each episode Sajjad has narrated depicts the social dynamics and societal response to events. He mentions about the dread of Ikhwani commander Sajjad Ahmad alias Setha. How he brutalized people and eventually lost his mental balance and was killed by an unknown boy in broad daylight and the town heaved a sigh of relief. He mentions about al Fatah and how many of its leaders became bureaucrats after changing tack.

Referring to Shoreda Kashmiri’s Urdu college, he laments on how institutionalization has not been a priority with Kashmiri Muslims. If a talented person initiates a mission, he receives support but even his transfer from one place to another, results in death of that mission. Referring to Islamic Relief Trust, he says that a dynamic youngster from Bijbehara, Mohammad Maqbool Muqbil initiated it after Malakhnag arson. The trust plunged into controversies and fingers were raised on Muqbil who essentially was committed to social cause.

Sajjad has discussed the decade-long stint of Ali Muhammad Watali as the district police chief in Islamabad and how he managed the district. Fleetingly, he has discussed important political personalities from Islamabad like Mirza Afzal Beigh, Shabir Shah, Yusuf Tarigami, Pyare Lal Handoo, Qazi Nisar and others. He has mentioned some other ‘leaders’ who shot into prominence but were consigned to ignominy due to their trivial compromises

Qasim Sajjad has swung between political parties and has been jailed on occasions. From his affiliation with Jamaat-e-Islami to Ghulam Muhammad Shah’s Awami National Conference, he admits changing many goalposts. This has given him a range of experiences. “During the course of reading this diary, when the inquisitive search of the reader goes along, the brevity of the narrative begins explaining,” late Prof Ghulam Muhammad Shad, has written in the introduction.

The uniqueness of Qasim Sajjad’s book is that he has named the names to recall and record the events. His perspective can be debated but he has set an impressive trend.

When Qasim Sajjad can write such an interesting diary, I wonder why journalists like Yusuf Jameel, Altaf Hussain, Tahir Mohiuddin, Surinder Oberoi, Rashid Ahmad, Masood Hussain, Sheikh Mushtaq, Noorul Qamrain, Muzamil Jaleel, Shujaat Bukhari, Ahmad Ali Fayaz and many others don’t pull up their socks. It is their professional responsibility.

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