Muhammad Yusuf Khan – I

At a seminar, Unsung Heroes of Kashmir, in 2008, Muhammad Yusuf Khan spoke of how strongly he yearned to live till the day Kashmir got its freedom. But he breathed his last just two years later, on September 25, 2010.

I had the privilege of interviewing him in March 2007 during my research for Bouquet: A Tribute to the Unsung Heroes of Kashmir. Excerpts of the interview appeared in the Greater Kashmir, the Kashmir Uzma, the Daily Etalaat, the Rising Kashmirand the Kashmir Times.

Khan made startling disclosures on the politics of his times, but asked me not to publish certain portions during his lifetime.

His passing away has freed me from this bond.

Jabri Schools: Khan was born into a family of weavers based in Kani Kadal, Srinagar. His father sent him to a craftsman to learn the trade. This was the time Maharaja Hari Singh had introduced Jabri Schools, named so because of the force (jabr) soldiers used to take children of reluctant families for elementary education.

Ten years old then, Khan also fell into the net.

“It was a wonderful experience,” he recalled. “I was given books and stationery printed in England, and a shirt and a trouser, one rupee, and a cake of soap. My parents were delighted to see the treasure.”

Khan did not remember the year he started school.

“It was either 1932 or 1933.”

After matriculation, he joined the SP College where his political awareness sharpened and he thought of joining Kashmir’s freedom movement.

Revival of the Muslim Conference: The leadership had given its consent to convert the Muslim Conference into the National Conference after Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah accepted all its conditions. But he soon flouted the terms, prompting dissidents to think of reviving the Muslim Conference.

High level meetings were held in Lahore and elsewhere, while in Srinagar Muhammad Yusuf Qureshi worked hard to muster support for the idea. He approached college students and succeeded in forming a strong group. Muhammad Yusuf Khan was his favourite.

“National Conference workers would not allow us to assemble at public places,” Khan recalled in the interview. “But we soon devised a method. We set up a Darasgah at Reshi Sahib in Habba Kadal. Its membership soon exceeded one thousand, all young men. We would meet there to chalk out our future strategy.

“When we became strong enough, Muhammad Yusuf Qureshi wrote to Chaudhry Ghulam Abbas who expressed his willingness to revive the Muslim Conference. And he instructed us to involve Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah. The Mirwaiz’s inclusion gave added impetus to our group.”

The Muslim Conference was revived on April 9, 1943.

“Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah would take out a Milaad procession every year,” Khan went on. “In an editorial in 1943, theMartand, edited by Pandit Kashyap Bandhu, criticized him for his involvement in the event. And Sheikh Abdullah did not take out the procession that year.”

“We decided to take advantage of the opportunity. Qureshi did not encourage us, saying that Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah had been opposing the procession till 1942. We requested him to take the matter up with the Mirwaiz.

“Permission was finally granted and we took out a historic procession. This scared the National Conference, and the Muslim Conference became a reality again.

“And soon after, the Muslim Conference also held its annual session.”

-to be continued