From Escape to Gallows

Maqbool Bhat became important after his death. Many people became important by claiming their close proximity to him. Different stories were cooked and circulated by such elements. Scores of versions were given about his escape from jail. But his friend, Khaliq Parvez of Baramulla, narrates the story in his Ja’la-e-Wattan (Volume II, 205 to 215). He has quoted one of Kashmir’s most efficient police officers, Ali Muhammad Watali.

Khaliq was exiled for his political activities in January 1958. He stayed in Pakistan for seven years and travelled extensively with Maqbool Bhat. The police in Kashmir knew about their friendship. When Maqbool escaped from prison on December 9, 1968, Watali called on him (Khaliq) to extract information about Maqbool’s whereabouts.

Khaliq narrates the story as follows: “Maqbool was detained in the female ward of the jail. Another prisoner, Mir Ahmad, gave him company. Maqbool’s associate, Yasin, was in another barrack. The holy month of Ramadhan brought incessant rains. Maqbool and Yasin communicated with each other through paper slips. A jail official carried these slips in lieu of some consideration. Maqbool had informed Yasin about his escape plan.

“A room in the female ward was used by jail authorities to dump blankets. The eastern corner of this room was connected to the outer wall of the jail. A four-inch brick wall separated the store from Maqbool’s cell. He made a hole in the wall and used to cover it with blankets. Now he could easily go into the store-room to make a hole in the wall for his escape. Slowly he succeeded in making it big enough for a man to pass.

“A prisoner, Abdul Ahad, detained for burglary, was assigned the job of taking food to Maqbool’s cell at sehri and iftaar. Yasin interacted with him one day: ‘You are lucky. In this holy month, you are taking food to a person who is destined to be hanged. Allah will reward you handsomely for this.’

“Feeling that he had struck the right chord, Yasin expressed his desire to take food for Maqbool at least once in the holy month. After some hesitation, Abdul Ahad agreed.

“It was raining heavily on December 9, 1968. Abdul Ahad handed over Maqbool’s food to Yasin who covered himself with a blanket and walked towards the female ward. The guard on duty took him for Abdul Ahad and let him in. Maqbool escaped along with Mir and Yasin.

“It took the jail staff at least two hours to realize that three prisoners had escaped. A manhunt commenced, but it was too late.”

In an interview with this writer a month before his death, senior advocate GN Hagroo threw light on Maqbool’s personality and his escape from Srinagar Central Jail.

They had been close friends, and Maqbool would often spend weekends with the lawyer at the latter’s house at Sarnal in Anantnag.

After his escape, Maqbool had taken refuge in his friend’s house for a couple of days. The lawyer persuaded him to go back to Pakistan-administered-Kashmir.
Leaving, Maqbool took along some of Hagroo’s books bearing the lawyers name and seal. He probably lost the books somewhere in Kupwara. They were recovered and Hagroo was taken into custody.

The police registered a case of jail break against Maqbool and others. This case was pending adjudication when the Government of India decided to send him to the gallows.

According to procedural law, a prisoner cannot be hanged if a case is pending against him in any court. Since the Government of India had to avenge the killing of Indian diplomat Ravindra Mhatre in Birmingham, the then Chief Minister, Dr Farooq Abdullah, was forced to withdraw the case to facilitate Maqbool’s hanging.

According to Hagroo, when Maqbool came back from PaK, he had come with a mission document and wanted to see people like Dr Farooq and Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad. The lawyer maintained that both Dr Farooq and Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad signed the document which had a provision for armed struggle.

After being rearrested here, Maqbool was shifted to the Tihar Jail where he was ultimately hanged on February 11, 1984.

But did he really die?

Excerpts from his statement before a court in Pakistan speak of his vision and commitment to the freedom movement in Kashmir.

“…… it is my faith that the dawn of freedom will come to my country and the line of division will be erased. This will be the time when facts about my life will come out. Only then will I get justice and this will be done in the court of history.”

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