NEW DELHI: Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was freed on Friday after 212 weeks of house arrest. Leading the Friday congregation at Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid, as he always did before the disputed annexation of the held valley by India in August 2019, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference chairman called for a peaceful solution to all issues on the terms of the people of Kashmir.
Breaking down as he climbed the pulpit of the mosque to begin his sermon, the Mirwaiz said he would pay any price to stand by the people.
The Indian Express said Umar Farooq was received by an emotional crowd of hundreds as he returned to lead prayers after four years at Jamia Masjid with chants of “Marhaba, Mirwaiz”. People had started trooping in as news of his release from detention spread, with scores of security officials keeping a watch.
The Mirwaiz called for the return of “our Pandit brothers” to held Kashmir. “We believe in peaceful coexistence between communities and nations; between the strong and the weak, between the majority and the minority. We have always advocated the return of Kashmiri Pandits and disapproved of making this human issue a political one.”
APHC chief calls for peaceful solution on Kashmiris’ terms
For some, it may be a territorial issue, “but for us, it has always been a human issue”, Umar Farooq said, noting that one part of J&K is in India, another in Pakistan and the third in China. “All these make Jammu and Kashmir. It is a reality that the issue needs to be resolved, which the international community also endorses.”
The Mirwaiz also called for a rethink on a “stern approach” to issues. “It leads to human rights violations. Dozens of our leaders — men and women — are languishing in jails for years, thousands of young men and boys, journalists and human rights activists and lawyers are suffering in incarceration. They need to be released as soon as possible. Their health and families are suffering.”
He said that after the assassination of his father, the last few years had been the most difficult period for him. “I am aware that the time after August 5, 2019, has not been easy. Articles 370 and 35A were abrogated... the people of J&K were left weak and powerless,” the Mirwaiz said.
The political parties in Kashmir welcomed Umar Farooq’s release and hoped that he would be allowed to remain free.
“He should not have been detained for so long. Most of us who were released from detention had to seek the intervention of courts. This time as well, after Mirwaiz sahab went to the High Court seeking his release, the government was forced to release him,” National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah said, hoping that the Mirwaiz would be allowed to move freely and interact with people.
Former J&K CM and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti said the government is “correcting its mistakes” by releasing the Mirwaiz. “Mirwaiz sahab is a greatly respected religious leader and to have held him in detention for four years is against humanity and the democratic set-up of this country.”
People’s Conference president Sajad Lone said the Mirwaiz symbolises a tradition “which is primarily religious in nature but also has strong societal connotations”. “This tradition has been routinely interrupted in the last three decades, by all governments.”
Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2023