Much has been said and written about Jalil Andrabi’s arrest, killing in custody killing, and his family’s struggle for justice, but very few people know about his early life, an insight into which gives some idea of why he had been constantly under the scanner, and was eventually eliminated.
Born in Ratnipora, Pulwama on January 30, 1960, he had been named Jalil-ul-Qadr (of high worth) by his father, Syed Ghulam Qadir Andrabi.
He had become an eyesore for authorities from the very beginning. A brilliant student, Andrabi had came to the fore as early as 1973 when defending the students of Government College for Women, who were out on the roads for political reasons. The mid-70s were very critical for the Kashmir resistance movement. The leaders were all set to take the Plebiscite Front to the altar for their vested interests. A deal had been finalized. People, by and large, were scared of political talk. It was at this crucial juncture of Kashmir history that the students of the Government College for Women did the “impossible.” Braving cane-charges and tear gas attacks, they made a strong political statement on November 14, 1973.
The authorities had wanted to change the name of the Women’s College on the birth anniversary of the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. The students resisted the move. Out they came on the posh Maulana Azad Road and pelted stones on government vehicles and the police. Unaware of the mood of the girls, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah arrived on the scene in his car to preside over the college rechristening function, but had to retreat as a few stones thrown by delicate hands smashed his wind screen. But for this incident, the political wilderness of the Plebiscite Front leaders would have ended in 1973 itself. It deferred the transfer of power to the Sher-e-Kashmir by two years, says noted historian Shabnam Qayoom.
(The college girls had first smashed the new signboard erected on their main campus building. The battered sheet of metal lay there till 2009 as a reminder of their fight).
Within moments, students from the SP College and the SP School too joined the fray.
“As soon as we came out of the college,” recalls Bilquees, a Women’s College student, “we saw a young man throwing stones on the police. He guided us and saved many girls from the cane-wielding cops. The boy was later identified as Jalil Andrabi.”
While he was pursuing a law degree at the University of Kashmir, which he had joined in 1982, varsity authorities called the police into the campus, a move the students strongly protested. Andrabi and many others were suspended, and later asked to apologize.
Andrabi refused, and approached noted lawyer Muzaffar Husain Beig for legal help. Impressed by his brilliance, the lawyer urged him to join his firm as his junior. Young Andrabi worked with him for some time, and in 1987 established his own chamber.
He was arrested by the police for protesting against Muhammad Maqbool Bhat’s hanging in Delhi’s Tihar Jail on February 11, 1984. He was severely tortured. After his release, he vowed to work for the welfare of detainees. He filed a petition in the High Court and won a landmark judgement – relatives were allowed to meet their detained wards every fortnight.
Taking cognizance of another of Andrabi’s petitions, the High Court directed the government to form committees in every district to review detainees’ cases. The order is still in force with some modifications.
In 1995, he challenged the Governor’s powers of lodging Kashmiri detainees in jails outside the territorial jurisdiction of the state High Court. He quoted this order while addressing a session of the UN sub-commission on Human Rights at Geneva in 1995.
He was also invited by the US-based Kashmir American Council the same year, and participated in conferences, seminars and debates during his stay, apprising the world community of various aspects of the Kashmir dispute.
According to people close to him, Andrabi came under the government scanner for his activities in Geneva and America. He was fully aware of the danger to his life. His family’s worst fears were realized when he was ‘abducted’ by a Territorial Army party led by Major Avtar Singh near Rawalpora. On March 27, his body was recovered from the Jhelum near Rajbagh.
Major Avtar Singh is dead, but justice is still awaited.
Andrabi was my senior at the Bar, and I admired him for a variety of reasons. He had filed a petition on behalf of my detained friend. Besides seeking my friend’s release, he had chosen to challenge the Public Safety Act (PSA) as well. The petition was forgotten. A disturbed Jalil mourned the helplessness of the judiciary. His colleagues consoled him.
Andrabi had been giving authorities sleepless nights for decades, and paid the price, but to their dismay, proved as lethal after his death as he had been during his lifetime. With his martyrdom, he succeeded in bringing the helplessness of the judiciary to the fore.
On a petition filed on behalf of Jalil Andrabi, Justice Rizvi observed: “By not observing the court orders, the government has rendered the judiciary dysfunctional.”
This has been widely quoted by rights activists across the globe to expose tall claims of Indian fairness and accountability in Kashmir.
In a bold confession, the then Chief Judicial Magistrate for Budgam admitted in open court that the judiciary had failed to administer justice in this case.
“The complainant party,” the judge observed, “seems to be now justified in leveling aspersions against the court for its inability to secure the attendance of the accused.”
The rarest of rare cases of a judge anywhere expressing his helplessness in the courtroom.