KASHMIR’S UNSUNG HEROES: Muhammad Amin Qureshi

Born in Srinagar in 1898 into a Peer family of modest means, Muhammad Amin Qureshi was barely out of primary school when he lost his father, and continued education solely due to his mother’s sacrifices and privations.

But circumstances forced him to seek work after matriculation, and he served as a volunteer in the Revenue Department and the Department of Prisons for some time.

In 1918, Khwaja Kamaal-ud-Din, a prominent lawyer from Punjab, engaged him as his personal secretary when on a visit to Srinagar.

This proved to be a turning point in Qureshi’s life.

Greatly impressed by the young man’s talents, the lawyer took him along to Lahore, and thereafter on extensive tours in Burma, Malaya, Singapore, Indonesia, and eventually Europe.

The six years he spent on the Continent, travelling through France, Germany, England and other countries, served to educate him further, heightening his  concern for fellow Kashmiris whose condition he found deeply distressing when back home in 1925.

Qureshi began a long association with Molvi Muhammad Abdullah Vakil and Ghulam Ahmad Ashai, two prominent Kashmiris who played a significant role in Kashmir’s political awakening and happened to live in his neighbourhood.

During their discussions on political and other issues facing Kashmir, he would share his experiences and observations in Europe, which gave their endeavours a fresh perspective.

The group began calling for newspapers from Lahore and other parts of India, and analyzing news and commentary, an exercise that helped it immensely to frame its own strategy.

This culminated in the Reading Room Party, or Movement.

When Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah joined it, Qureshi was assigned the humble task of washing his clothes, which he accepted without hesitation.

He also opened a bookshop at Fateh Kadal, and would gift books to poor students despite friends advising against it.

Not surprisingly, the business did not survive for long.

Qureshi was critically injured on July 13, 1931 when Dogra soldiers opened indiscriminate fire on peaceful protestors outside the Central Jail in Srinagar.

He joined the Muslim Conference formally and became an important member. When Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah converted the party into the National Conference in 1939, he opposed the decision, and left Kashmir to work with his exiled friend, Abdul Salam Rafiqui, in Indonesia.

Returning to Srinagar in 1941, he joined the Islah newspaper, working for it till 1948, a time when political dissidents were being asked to leave the Valley.

Many Muslim Conference activists had already done so, going to Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and friends urged Qureshi also to follow them, but family problems compelled him to stay back, and suffer persecution.

The government banned the Islah, sealed its office, and seized the furniture.

The police did not even register a complaint for his stolen typewriter.

His hard times hardened further.

Some of his friends, who had switched to the other side, asked him to meet Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and assure him of his loyalty.

He refused, and continued to suffer.

He had to sell his house for his daughter’s marriage.

Forced to live in rented accommodation, and enduring severe hardship, he held on to his political beliefs.

In 1969, Qureshi happened to meet Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, who had been just released from jail and was raising funds for the reconstruction of  the Hazratbal Shrine.

When Abdullah asked for an exclusive meeting, he declined, saying: “Sheikh Sahib, I am what I was in 1931, 1938 and 1948.”

In 1971, friends and relatives advised him to enroll for the freedom fighters’ pension then under the government’s consideration, but he refused again, earning their resentment.

Muhammad Amin Qureshi passed away on May 12, 1977.