A Breed Apart


Legislator Engineer Rasheed remains in news for one or the other reason, mostly for his bold methods of representing people’s voice. This time police has filed an FIR against him. Haroon Mirani reports.

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Er Rasheed addressing a press conference at Srinagar.
KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

Engineer Rasheed, the outspoken legislator of the Langate constituency is in the news again. This time for being beaten up black and blue by the sleuths of Handwara police station led by the Station House Officer. Rasheed says he went to complain for a truck driver who was ruthlessly beaten up by the cops. His complaint was not registered but the cops overpowered him and administered a “dose of discipline” to him. “This is the treatment meted out to a legislator, an elected representative. You can better imagine what can be the plight of common beleaguered civilians,” he said.

Police have registered an FIR under sections 147, 148, 323, and 427 RPC against the MLA.

Rasheed in his opt-repeated style threw away the security paraphernalia, as a mark of protest and sat on a dharna on the premises of Handwara police station. He left the premises only at the intervention of the Deputy Inspector General of Police (north) who ensured inquiry into the incident. Rasheed demands action against the SHO and his subordinates. The police, on its part, says that Rasheed assaulted a cop and tore his uniform in pieces.

CPM legislator MY Tarigami registered a privilege motion in the assembly on Rasheed’s attack while the opposition PDP condemned the attack. Interestingly, Rasheed was beaten up in Handwara at a time when the Chief Minister had, a few hours before held a meeting with a selected group of locals on restoration of peace and normalcy. Rasheed had boycotted the meeting in protest against the alleged human rights abuses.

The legislator is usually in the news for one reason or the other. He trucked with the coalition when he was needed initially. He raised furore on inter-district recruitment and compelled the government to change the law. He celebrated the passage of a new law (on inter-district recruitment) though it is said to be detrimental to the people he is representing, even in the modified form. He staged a protest demonstration in Srinagar on June 7 against the fake LoC encounter when Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh arrived.

Who is Engineer Rasheed?

 A diploma holder in civil engineering, this 50-plus skeleton of a person is a blend of separatism and mainstream politics. Till November 2008, he was an officer with JKPCC, overseeing various construction projects in Handwara. When he quit his job to contest assembly elections, he had only 17 days left for canvassing. Pitted against experienced political stalwarts like Sharifuddin Shariq and Sultan Panditpori, he was unsure of his victory. Till the results came out, no one from his family would talk to him. But when his victory was announced on the day of results, he was hugged at the door of his residence by his father.

Every day since then has been eventful. Attending several public meetings, frequently travels to remote villages of his constituency, leading protests against army excesses, visiting sites of ongoing construction works, keeping the administration on their toes to ensure the increased pace of various development works, and then meeting groups of people that turn up at his home consume most of his time. He has redefined the image of an MLA as a public representative. His 19 months of tireless work for the constituency and remaining accessible to people round the clock have made him popular among the people. People say he is an MLA with a difference. They say he gets their work done, in time.

“I am trying to change things at the grassroots,” he said in his public relations office in Handwara town where he regularly meets people and mitigates their problems. The job of an MLA, he says, is to act as a bridge between people and the administration.

He claims that he has made a difference. Langate now boasts its own treasury, a Board office within municipal limits, three fire service stations, four community halls and one environmental centre worth Rs 3 crore. Work is apace on projects worth Rs 1 crore for the improvement of the irrigation system, on a sub-district hospital building, the wildlife rescue centre at Mawar, and three big bridges. “I have worked on all three bridges as an engineer. I will inaugurate them now,” he says proudly.

Many people affected by the turmoil over the years come to seek his help. He says he ensures they get the relief, irrespective of who the victim is. “I do whatever I can for them. Almost 50 per cent of people who have been affected by the conflict need desperate help,” he says. “Am I a traitor if I am helping these people,” he asks.

The pace of developmental works is matched by the increased sense of security people have come to enjoy in his constituency. In his brief tenure, he has been instrumental in getting two army camps removed from Chotipora and Rawalpora villages in Handwara. “For people living here this was the biggest demilitarization,” he says. I have lodged nine FIRs against army excesses in my constituency, he says, three of them before becoming an MLA. “I am trying to make them accountable. I tell them that this is my land and they need to respect my people,” he says.

In Chakpuran village for the past 18 years, a road was closed by the army for public movement. Last July, Rasheed along with the people of the area led protests against the blockade. As a result, the road was opened for the people for the first time in 18 years. “People of 26 villages were disconnected because of this road blockade,” he says. “I asked a poor farmer to remove the blockade and declare the road open for people.”

He says the army used to take people for forced labour in many villages in Langate and nobody would question them. “I brought an end to forced labour by protesting against the practice,” he says. “There is zero tolerance for human rights in my constituency now,” he adds.

His next dream, he says, is to get the 30 RR headquarters evacuated from the playground in Langate. “I am working to get it removed from here as it is not needed,” he says.

Rasheed feels sentiment and development were interlinked, and both need to be addressed. “Sentiment without development is impossible and development without sentiment is impossible,” he correlates. “There is a need for a leadership which will strike a balance between the two,” he says. “You cannot concentrate on development at the cost of sentiment, which is for freedom, or for resolution of the (Kashmir) dispute,” he says. “But when you talk only of sentiment that means you are weakening your own sentiment.”

Writing has always been a passion for Rasheed. His much-talked-about column was on political stalwart Syed Ali Geelani, which created a heated debate in 2008. He says he has always written against atrocities. In the past 12 years, more than 500 of his columns have been published in the vernacular weekly Chattan. Noted writer AG Noorani in a column in Dawn made a mention of them. “I was struck by the articles that Skeikh Abdul Rasheed had contributed to the weekly Chatan edited by Tahir Mohiudin. They reflected courage, independence and originality,” he wrote. “I was determined to meet him.”

“I had never thought that I would become an MLA,” says Rasheed at his modest two-storey home in Mawer village where he continues to live along with his family. As a shy boy he would dread public speaking. Now most of his time is spent addressing his people. “I was very shy. I never used to talk much,” he recalls. “I would only study and play cricket.”

Rasheed is said to be imitating the late Abdul Ghani Lone, who has been his political mentor. His sidekicks admit that the courage with which he takes the authorities head-on was the style of the late Lone who was assassinated on May 21, 2001.  Always donning a Khan dress, Rasheed enjoys the authority of being an MLA. “I know how much power I have. I can help people now. In one day I can sanction Rs 8 lac for the welfare of people,” he says. Travelling in his constituency with minimal security (which he returned umpteen times in protest against excesses) he says he wanted to look like an ordinary man. “I want to abolish this VIP culture,” he says. His two-storey home remains open for the public from early morning till late in the evening. And people keep coming.


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