It never started with Maqbool Bhat itself. Eight years before his secret hanging inside Delhi’s Tihar Jail could trigger a deep mourning in Kashmir, the Bhats of Trehgam were passing through a trauma—as their son, and Maqbool’s younger brother, Habibullah had vanished in thin air.
By 1976, Maqbool Bhat was the man who perhaps needed no introduction after managing to raise alarm bells on both sides of Line of Control with his political beliefs. He faced curbs, crackdowns besides detentions.
It was under this situation, his younger brother and Class 12 student, Habibullah mysteriously disappeared. His search freaked out his family to an extent of breakdown. The boy’s disappearance was linked to “Kashmir cause” linked with his brother.
While the Bhats were still tracing the missing whereabouts of their son, they had a déjà vu on February 11, 1984. That day, their fiery son faced a secret execution inside Tihar. After completing his MA Urdu Literature from Peshawar University, Maqbool worked as teacher and editor for a while before joining “pro-resistance” movement. While being tried in court, Maqbool had famously said: ‘‘I have no problem in accepting the charges brought against me except with one correction. I am not an enemy agent but the enemy, enemy of the Indian state occupation in Kashmir.”
In the days of to come, Bhat’s brother, Ghulam Nabi Bhat would become one of the main men behind the mass mobilisation in Kashmir. For his role, he shortly landed in Jail. Once walking out of prison, he met a tragic end.
On November 18, 1994, his body with fatal head injuries was found on Srinagar’s Chanapora road. The state government then run by governor KV Krishna Rao was quick to brand his death as an act of “accident”— contested by many.
A year later, in 1995, the Bhats were once again grieving. On October 4 that year, Bhat’s another brother, Manzoor Ahmad Bhat, was killed in an encounter in Trehgam. Manzoor died as JKLF’s divisional commander.
After passing through twists and trails, the last surviving Bhat brother returned Kashmir from ‘other’ Kashmir in February 2009. As a Class 10 boy, Zahoor Bhat, the youngest of all siblings, had followed in his brothers’ footsteps. He went to “Azad” Kashmir and got married there. But once back to valley after 18 years, he was arrested on charges of “unlawful activities.” For the next 6 years in prison, Zahoor was detained six times under PSA.
In the face of her sons’ sacrifice, the mother, Shahmali, is hailing the ‘cot of defiance’ in her family, emphasising that Kashmir will one day complete the mission of Maqbool Bhat—the JKLF founder who while being tried under the charges of ‘enemy agent’ in the Indian court, had said: “Have a good look at me and recognise me well, I am the enemy of your illegal rule in Kashmir.”