IT was an emotional return to Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid for Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. After over four years under house arrest, the Kashmiri cleric and pro-freedom political leader led Friday prayers at the iconic mosque in the held territory’s capital.
The Mirwaiz was greeted by hundreds of supporters, as Indian security forces kept a close eye on the gathering. The All Parties Hurriyat Conference chief had been under detention since August 2019, when the BJP-led government revoked held Kashmir’s autonomous status.
A large number of Kashmiri leaders and ordinary citizens have been hauled up by India’s security machinery since. During the sermon, the Mirwaiz pointed out that “thousands” of youths, journalists, activists and lawyers remain behind bars in occupied Kashmir, and called upon the Indian state to release them.
The APHC chief reiterated his call for a peaceful solution to the Kashmir dispute, terming it a “human” issue, and advocating for the return of “our Pandit brothers”, referring to the Kashmir-based Hindu community.
What has prompted the Indian state to release the Mirwaiz? It is difficult to say. The release came about after the leader had petitioned the J&K high court against his house arrest. It is safe to assume that the release could not have been possible without the green light from New Delhi.
Perhaps this is a signal that the Modi government has realised that its heavy-handed tactics to crush the Kashmiri freedom movement are not working. India’s attitude towards the incarcerated Kashmiris in the days ahead will prove if this assumption is true, or if the Mirwaiz’s release was an anomaly.
While all Kashmiris incarcerated for demanding freedom must be freed, the authorities, in particular, must look into the cases of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chief Yasin Malik, who remains lodged in Delhi’s Tihar jail. Mr Malik was convicted in a doubtful terrorism case, and Indian security agencies are seeking the death penalty for the Kashmiri leader.
These developments are largely being seen as attempts to silence the Kashmiri freedom movement by threatening prominent leaders with incarceration and death. But if a change of heart is indeed taking place in New Delhi, the peace process should be revived in earnest, bringing representatives of Pakistan, India and the Kashmiris to the table. A clearer picture in this regard should emerge after next year’s elections in India.
Published in Dawn, September 24rd, 2023