Srinagar: The slogans and rhymes of Sarjan Barkati may have resounded in the J&K Assembly, but the legislators forget that Barkati and his family continue to suffer on account of the same rhythmic resistance songs which he sang at pro-freedom rallies in south Kashmir.
Earning for him the sobriquet of Freedom Chacha of Kashmir, Barkati’s unique oratory and stirring words brought a new element to the folk culture of Kashmir. Barkati, a resident of Reban, Yaripora, in Kulgam district, appeared at almost all the major pro-freedom gatherings in south Kashmir after Tral’s iconic militant commander Burhan Wani was killed on July 8.
“People would flock to our home to fetch my husband. They would come in cavalcades of vehicles, sometimes 40 in number, or on motorbikes to take him with them to attend Ijtimas (congregations). He was the most sought-after man,” Shabroza Begum, wife of Barkati, said while talking to Kashmir Reader.
“He would not return to the house for days and nights. He would be busy addressing the congregations. People loved his voice and his freedom songs. Everybody wanted to listen to him,” Shabroza Begum said.
She said it was the popularity of Barkati that brought trouble upon him. The police began to look for him; their house was raided several times; the family was harassed and threatened to make Barkati surrender to police, she recalled.
“The police and STF raided our house several times. They would come even during nights. I would be alone with my two children, as many a time people did not allow my husband to come back home. They kept him back as the centre of attraction in the rallies,” Shabroza said.
“The forces ransacked our house. In one of the raids, I was alone in the house. They inquired about my husband. They told me that I should ask him to stop attending rallies and raising freedom slogans. What could I do? I said he was representing the people’s sentiment,” Shabroza said.
“In another raid, they ransacked our entire house. They started breaking household items. They broke our fridge and TV. They broke our doors and windows. They tore apart the electricity wires of our house. Our kitchen utensils were thrown on the ground. They took away our computer as well. You won’t believe, the forces mixed shards of glass into the rice stored in our house so that we cannot eat it. They abused us. They told me that they will kill my husband,” Shabroza told Kashmir Reader.
On Oct 1, 2010, Barkati was arrested from Wanpoo in Anantnag and later booked under the draconian Public Safety Act. He was sent to Kotbalwal jail in Jammu.
“We are not a well-to-do family. He was the sole bread-earner. The govt troops damaged our house and household items. The doors and windows were broken. I had to shift to the house of my brother-in-law,” Shabroza said.
She said that her six-year-old son Azaan went into depression following the arrest of his father.
“We have two kids, a six-year-old son and a ten-year-old girl. Azaan would accompany his father to all the Azadi congreagations. After my husband’s arrest, he went into depression. For three months I have not slept because my son wakes up in the middle of night and looks for his father. He would weep all night. All he wants is to see his father,” she said.
A week ago, Shabroza said, she shifted back to her own house. “We repaired a bit of our house with the help of relatives and neighbours. I put some plastic instead of glass on the windows to prevent the cold.”
Shabroza emphasised that people did not leave Barkati’s family to fend for themselves. “Hundreds of people came to our house after my husband’s arrest. They assured us they would be there to help us. Every day many people called on my phone to ask whether I needed any help. They expressed solidarity and offered material help. The people never let us down. They are with us,” Shabroza said.
Asked how she feels about her husband, she said she was proud to have Barkati as her husband.
“I am proud of my husband. No matter the suffering that his cause brought on us, I am ready to face them all. He is a man who stands with truth and justice. I am with him,” she said.
The resistance songs and rhymes of Barkati continue to be sung across Kashmir. His videos featuring slogans like “Pellet Bullet Na Bhai Na”, “Ye Jabri Qabza Na Bhai Na” and “Ye Pava Shava Na Bhai Na” have become an internet rage. Videos of small kids mimicking his distinct sloganeering style have gone viral on social media.
The popularity of Barkati’s rhymes is such that Opposition members chanted them on the opening day of the budgest session of the Assembly on January 2.
“They should have also raised the question of why my husband was suffering? They did not,” Shabroza said in complaint against the legislators.