A “peace walker” from Kashmir valley is back to home after 16 long years of eventful life which took him from Mumbai to Mauritius. BILAL HANDOO traces the journey of a man with a mission of correcting perceptions and changing attitudes.
A “peace walker” from Kashmir valley is back to home after 16 long years of eventful life which took him to a number of states in India and outside. Muhammad Altaf Bhat, 41, who had gone out of Kashmir as a businessman, has come back as a missionary with an ignited mind to set his home state in order.
Mr Altaf, a resident of Buchpora in Kashmir’s summer capital, Srinagar, has adopted a world peace logo which says: Pray for peace. No war, No more killings. He wears a T-shirt which reads Peace is my religious and carries a photo album and a file of newspaper clippings written about him. Speaking fluent English, he narrates painful accounts of his life that traversed many borders. “I have come back to Kashmir to fight for peace, justice, human rights and corruption, which have become a norm in the valley,” Altaf says, exuberantly.
Altaf started his peace walk from Goregeon, Mumbai on September 24, 2012. He has visited different states of India like Gujarat, Jaipur, Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, and finally arrived in Jammu and Kashmir. During this long walk, he covered nearly 5500 km distance.
Altaf is fumed over the lack of solidarity by the mainstream and separatist leaders in Kashmir with him. “How many Kashmiris wander in different states of India for peace mission and to present correct picture about Kashmir? I have not heard a word of acknowledgement from those who matter,” he laments.
Altaf’s peaceful walk faced some roadblocks too. He claims that he was detained four times during his walk in Mumbai and Jaipur where he was put in detention centers. “The police called my father back in Kashmir to establish my identity first. Then only was I let off,’ he said. His relation with the men in uniform is not new. It dates back to early nineties.
When he was 18 years old in 1990, Altaf crossed over to Pakistan administered Kashmir (Pak) to receive arms training. “It was common in those days. I followed the hordes of people to get training in the other part of Kashmir to fight the atrocities committed by Indian forces in Kashmir,” Altaf says. He landed in Pak, where he received one month arms training. He was supposed to get training for three months but, one fine day, he fled the camp.
For the next two months, he visited different parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. “In Pakistan, I kept asking people about Kashmir struggle but most of the replies disappointed me. I find the so-called Pakistan solidarity with our cause missing,” he replied with a tinge of sadness on his face.
After three months, he came back to Kashmir but didn’t surrender before the security forces. He started working as photojournalist for a local daily, he says. For two years, everything went smooth. But his first nightmare came in 1992. “I was on the way home when the security forces picked me up,” he says. For the next two years, he was in jail. Although he was set free, his torture trail never ended. He faced frequent harassments from security forces which forced him to leave Kashmir again.
“I then went to Mauritius. I worked hard and made some fortune there. But an unfortunate incident forced me to come to Delhi. I never realized that the city will turn out to be a turning point of my life. I took a hotel on lease. I was duped and left with empty pockets. I started a massage centre and over the period of time opened up a cyber caf?, a travel agency and a clinic with my earnings and a bank loan,” he says.
But the mounting debt devoured all his business. “I went to Goa and subsequently to Mumbai and then Jaipur to change my ruined fortune. In Jaiselmer, Rajastan, I leased a hotel which was again snatched away from me because of being a Kashmiri. In desperation, I sought police help but instead of helping me, they put me in jail. At that moment, I thought enough is enough,” he says.
He then put on his characteristic “peace attire” and set himself on the journey to correct the perception of Indians regarding Kashmir. “From the last eight years, I haven’t seen the face of my two daughters. My mother and grand-mother passed away while I was away. My father is living under continuous threat because of me. Despite all these events, I have not given up,” he claims.
On his political lineage, he doesn’t subscribe to the separatist ideology. He says he wants to create a peaceful secular fabric in Kashmir through his efforts. “When our Prophet (PBUH) never discriminated on religious grounds, then who are we to do that?” he asks.