From his arrest as a young boy to picking up arms and then shunning armed resistance, pro-independence leader and former militant commander Muhammed Yasin Malik has had more than an eventful political journey. In an interview with Saima Bhat he talks about his life and his upcoming autobiography.
Kashmir Life:You started your journey as an activist, then mobilized people to vote and eventually picked the gun and then shunned it. Tell us about this experience of your life.
Yasin Malik: During 1987 elections, a meeting was conducted by Muslim United Front that they wanted to participate in the elections so that they could pass a resolution in the assembly for the Kashmir problem. Our argument to them was ‘State won’t allow you to win, they said, we will take a chance’, after which they offered us seats but we rejected. There was no candidate from our side. We told them we’d support you.Their whole campaign was run by student’s organizations. Then result was out.Winners were declared losers and losers were declared winners and hundreds of our party members were arrested including me, Ashfaq, Javaid and Hamid. We were taken to Red 16 interrogation centre, where due to torture I got blood infection.I was shifted to hospital where doctors said my one heart valve had gotten affected,I was in hospital for 75 days and later spent rest of the year in prison.
When we were released,we realized that there is no space for non violent democratic movement.The concept of non violent movement was weaved by the Indian leader, Mahatma Gandhi himself but the people, who claim Mahatma as the father of their nation did not show any kind of respect nor provided any space for our non-violent democratic movement. So we joined JKLF- whose founder was Amanullah Khan and Shaheed Mohammed Maqbool Bhat and the armed struggle, which ultimately brought the biggest revolution in Kashmir, started in late 1980’s. Then I was arrested in 1990 and spend four years in solitary confinement in different places like Delhi and Agra. But during this period, in 1992 I was shifted to AIIMS (All India Institute for Medical Sciences, Delhi) for open-heart surgery where one of my affected heart valves was replaced. While I was recovering at AIIMS, diplomats from different countries and Indian civil society approached me. They would ask: ‘Kashmiri people have no history of violence then why did we start an armed struggle?’ I explained to them my experience of being in the non-violent movement and finally their reply was ‘Kashmiri people are justified’.
Then in 1994 I was released and we declared unilateral ceasefire, most unpopular decision of that time. Even many of my own colleagues opposed me.
KL:Picking up the gun was a major decision. What prompted you to do so?
YM: India claims to be a democratic country, it had two groups, one of Baghat Singh, Chandershekhar Azad, Ishfaqullah and Ram Prakash Bismil who said they will fight with the gun and another group ofGandhi. The Gandhian non-violent movement was provided space by British government. Though his members were sent to jails but they were never ever sent to any interrogation centre or tortured. There was some kind of a proper democratic space but here in the Valley that space was completely missing and then we thought armed struggle is the only option left.
KL:During 1980’s you realized non-violent movement was not given space then why did you return to a non-violent movement after your release in 1994?
YM: You cannot run amovement in isolation, our movement is a people’s movement.There was propaganda from the Indian state that it is a sponsored movement.Pakistan send us guns and this movement is based on that support. We showed from time to time to the whole world that our movement is a people’s movement and not of a single individual and then finally when Kashmiris came out on streets openly, they (world) couldn’t ignore this fact.
I suggest to the people that disciplined non-violent democratic movement is much powerful than an atom bomb.As we saw how Russia got disintegrated and people came on the streets for just 20 days in disciplined manner, we have seen what happened in Red Square and in Nepal, how the people were able to throw out their kings.
I am still of the opinion that we will strengthen non-violent democratic movement and make it more disciplined, which will yield us much better results. And I feel we were able to defeat Indian state morally, politically and spiritually also.
KL: Even after you adopted non-violent method of fighting, your 600 associates as you claim were killed by forces. Did you at any point of time feel you took a wrong decision?
YM: When you have a dead body of your colleague you always become emotional and sometimes you will feel sense of guilt but simultaneously I feel that we were able to defeat Indian state morally, politically and spiritually. Since 1988 movement what we have received are graveyards in every mohalla and village and on the other side their (Government of India’s) propaganda was that our struggle is a terrorist sponsored movement and not a people’s movement.
When we showed them it is a people’s movement, the people who got killed in armed conflict and we showed them they too were present in the sentiments of people so it was not a movement in isolation. It was the decision of people in late 80’s that we have to take up the gun and we took it because that time it was a mass militant movement so we were able to communicate that it is people’s movement and it is not at all the terrorist movement.
KL: You have been interrogated a number of times. How did that affect you?
YM: I was tortured a number of times and you will find marks all over my body. My heart valve has been replaced, I was humiliated but despite all this Maulana Rumi gave me the strength. While in Jail I was kept with mentally retarded people who were fully naked but still I preferred to maintain my calm. I lost hearing in my ear also. When you are humiliated and tortured your mental set up changes and you get angry but Rumi has the power to keep you under control.
KL: Being yourself a top commander, you were attacked around six times. What were the reasons?
YM: Militants attacked me only twice and once kidnapped me from a hospital but not six times, those six were from the state and Ikhwanis. And I have been arrested almost 200 times.
KL: JKLF started Safr-i-Azadi for which you visited 3500 villages, what was the idea behind it and did it meet any success?
YM: We hadthree motives behind that journey and with the grace of God we were successful. One, we wanted to prove our movement is not a sponsored movement. Two,due to presence of army in rural areas Ikhwanis had got a chance for their high handedness and in turn made the life of people hell.So I gave them (people) confidence. Three,It is not a border dispute between India and Pakistan, they don’t have any right to decide the fate of Kashmir without taking Kashmiris on board in the decision making process.
We mobilized people because they were suppressed; suppressed in the presence of armed forces and Ikhwan movement-there was no voice. Then we had a collective transition on the streets of Kashmir in 2008, we were expecting the international community and the Indian state, Indian civil society would respect this transition because the boys who took to the gun were on streets for a democratic movement but unfortunately again force was used on them and 72 got killed and hundreds injured. And then 118 people were killed in 2010. It is most unfortunate on part of the international community that Indian state and civil society who would peruse Kashmiri people to convince them that non-violent democratic movement is a better option to get the issue resolved, but till now we have got only body bags.
I personally still hope without wasting time people at the helm will respect this transition and find the way to resolve this issue according to the aspirations of the people of Kashmir.
But before that (Safr-i-Azadi) we started a signature campaign across Kashmir in 2004. The concept was Kashmir is not a territorial border dispute between Pakistan and India and it should be resolved because Kashmir issue is related to the future of people of Jammu and Kashmir and they have a right to be part of decision making, and second was to create a culture for non-violent democratic movement so I and my colleagues went to different villages, schools and colleges and we got 1.5 million signatures and then we arranged its exhibition in Delhi and Islamabad, then I personally handed it over to the President of Pakistan and Prime Minister of India.
KL: Kashmiri Pandits seem to blame JKLF for their exodus. What do you have to say?
YM: I have told them in Delhi to form a truth and reconciliation commission whose members will be selected by them and I am ready to face that commission. I am not responsible, rest I feel they are a part and parcel of this place. I have been to migrant camps in Udhampur and Jammu and I am frequently in touch with Kashmiri Pandits.
KL: You have been time and again inviting them to come back. Do you think they ever will?
YM: InshAllah they will come back.
KL:You are writing an autobiography, which, it is said will reveal ‘gory’ secrets of Kashmir’s recent history. When is it expected to hit the stands?
YM: I am writing it because the youth of Kashmir are always on the forefront of sacrifice, be it in (19)50’s or in ‘87 or be it in 2008 and 2010, I want to keep a record of what happened to the people of Kashmir and how they were betrayed from time to time. Besides,I will try my level best to speak the truth and be unbiased. Let me finish it then I’ll decide when and where to release it.