By Muhammad Faysal
On a cold breezy morning many years ago, I made my way to our national monument – the martyrs’ graveyard at Eidgah. My mother’s cousin is buried there along with his friends and neighbours. I asked Habibullah, the caretaker, to show me where Ashfaq is buried, “in the last row on your left.”
In the maze of this graveyard, I passed by familiar names from the stories of my mother. As I reached the last row of the graveyard, overwhelmed by the amount of people from a teething baby to a grandfather buried underneath, I took of my shoes to pray with a heavy heart.
Ashfaq was there, so was Hamid, and both were leaning under the plaque of Maqbool. Years later, Afzal joined them. The soil moist under my feat, I looked at Ashfaq’s plaque…aged 23.
I had known Ashfaq, he was my first hero before Batman who fought against criminals and the unjust in the city of Gotham had caught my eye. But this was no comic, Ashfaq was real, and this Gotham was my hometown.
There are many legends and stories woven around Ashfaq. Like the one narrated by his friend of how he carried his comrade on his back after he got sick while crossing back to the Valley. Or how his idea of struggle was demeaned by the stalwarts who later espoused the very cause he fought and died for.
In the mid 1980s he along with his friends screened the famous Omar Al Mokhtar film based on the Libyan revolutionary. Who knew that one day that he would become one himself.
In 1989 the call to fight against the might of the state was announced by the sheer will of a new generation of Kashmiris. Ashfaq had gone underground for many months.
Ashfaq appeared at Saraf Kadal, after the political prisoners were freed in downtown after the negotiations that ended the Rubaiya Sayeed hostage drama. A crowd of youngsters swarmed around this young man in his early twenties, touching him and shaking his hand. Young men who witnessed this event as a new beginning passed parchments; this was a pledge to join the new revolution. After brief minutes of his appearance, wearing a blue jacket, he climbed on a scooter and sped far away.
He had gone underground only to surface a year later, carried on shoulders to his new home in the earth. According to India Today magazine around 300,000 people had attended the funeral which defied the writ of the state.
In Ashfaq, one doesn’t just find a hero or a role model for youths. But it is his ideals that need to be looked into. His struggle carries a strong message, that only if one takes action after freeing his mind from the status quo mindset can real revolution take place.
He set an example by relentless campaigning through his teenage years and until his death based on self-reliance and sense of awareness. He was not just any revolutionary, he fought the status quo. His fight at first led him and his comrades to find space to live in sewage pipes, shrine complexes and mosques. An idea of a struggle was unthinkable during that time, having seen the tremendous repercussions post 1987 elections.
A revolutionary is never popular at first, it is his actions that convince people to rally behind the cause that keeps him going.
In the Kashmir of today, 26 years later, the politics of resistance has been restricted to political statements and half-hearted seminars. The approach has been restricted to hartals rather than decolonising the mindsets of people. There is hardly any attention given to what the young generation is reading.
It’s worrisome that Chetan Bhagat, a worthless writer, has become popular among university students while writers like Fanon, Sartre, Iqbal et al have been left to the margins.
Not just the reading, our other spheres of resistance such as community building has been delegated to the leaders. Ashfaq didn’t wait for the calls of leadership to take a stance for commemorating Maqbool Bhat’s anniversary. He did it as he felt responsible being a conscientious Kashmiri.
It is only through taking action which aims at bringing positivity in our politics of resistance that Ashfaq’s dream of a self-reliant and independent Kashmir can become true.
The boy in the blue jacket fought to end the sense of slavery and dependency of 500 years. It is upto the next generation to lay a foundation of responsibility and action. Political statements, calendars and bland hartals resist the idea of resistance. It has to make way in our homes and minds, so that we become the reflection of a nation that we envisage.
If you want to be free, act like it.