The faint and diffused rays of a cheerless September sun touched the tops of the sobbing Chinars underneath which the body of the tallest of all the Kashmiris, Sher-e-Kashmir Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, lay in state on September 8th 1982. The time to bid farewell to the titan of Kashmir’s struggle against autocracy, a tolerant Kashmiri and a jewel from Soura had come. Amidst the deafening shouts of ‘Baba-e-Qoum Zindabad’, the sea of humanity wailed, the old and the young. As the sun shed its parting light on the placid waters of the Dal Lake and the stoic Jhelum, the grief-stricken sea of humanity reached Hazratbal to consign their saviour to the earth. As the body was lowered into the grave in the sanctuary of Hazratbal Shrine, amidst reverberating cries and sobs, a sense of shock and sorrow gripped even those who had fundamental differences with him.
Kashmiris have faced many a traumatic experiences; the biggest ever had been the passing away of Sultan Zainul Abidin Bud Shah and the latest one was the passing away of Sher-e-Kashmir in 1982. There were invisible, yet very powerful scenes coming to the minds of the wailing sea of mourners, as to how he guarded the unique individuality of Kashmir, how zealously he shielded the wretched people of the valley from the rapacious feudal system and selfish quislings.
The memories overwhelmed of his soul-stirring speeches at Mujahid Manzil, his bold speeches repudiating communalism, his recitals of verses from the Holy Quran, his dismissal and arrest, his release and subsequent heroic welcome accorded by the people of JK in 1958. The memories of his heroic roars at Hazratbal, Khanqa e Moalla, Naqshband Sahib Shrine, Eid Gah, and Hazoori Bagh. His radical, inclusive, progressive prescription for the state of J&K in the form of Naya Kashmir document, and its materialisation in the times of our fathers and forefathers, it was as if something natural like the sun or moon had gone.
The land to the tiller, the abolition of big landed estates, the relief to debt ridden peasants, the single-line administration, the universal adult franchise, the education for all, the establishment of Auqaf-e-Islamia – the whole lot of his endeavours propped up in front of the eyes of wailing masses. It was on the evening of Wednesday, September 8th, 1982, that Dr Farooq Abdullah had to be called urgently from Datagir Sahib Shrine, where he had gone to pray for the recovery of his father. The grand old man passed away at 7.40 PM. During the entire duration from his demise to his burial, the never-ending wave of humanity poured into Polo Ground to get a glimpse of their father figure.
As the statue of liberty keeps a vigil on Americans as to what they do with the democracy bequeathed upon them by the founding fathers of their nation, the soul of Sher-e-Kashmir, an emblem of five-thousand years of culture and history of Kashmir, also keeps eternal vigil on his followers, admirers, and the millions of Kashmiris, enjoining upon them to nourish socialism, secularism, democracy, pluralism and the unique primordial individuality of Jammu and Kashmir. The London Times, on September 10th, 1982, wrote in a long obituary that “Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah was one of the last surviving major figures in the struggle for India’s independence and the one who had made his mark on the modern Indian history, but he above all was a Kashmiri nationalist. For the most he remained the lion of Kashmir, admired for his roar as well as for his lifelong commitment to Kashmir and its people.”
The writer is a PhD scholar at University of Kashmir