Born in downtown, the jailed 50-year-old has served more than 20 years in jail
Srinagar: Days after Kashmir’s staunchest pro-Pakistan leader, Syed Ali Geelani, passed away, his protégé Masrat Alam Bhat, who is behind bars, has been made the new chairman of All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC).
In a statement issued to the media, the amalgam said that the decision was taken at a meeting held in Srinagar.
“Considering the challenges, Hurriyat members have consulted through different mediums and have unanimously agreed that Masrat Alam Bhat will be made the chairman,” it said.
It also said that Shabbir Ahmad Shah and Ghulam Ahmad Gulzar would be vice-chairmen while Moulvi Bashir Ahmad Irfani will continue to work as General Secretary of the amalgam.
Alam, Chairman of the Jammu Kashmir Muslim League, a constituent of Hurriyat Conference, is in Delhi’s Tihar Jail. Since the early ’90s, he has served more than 20 years of cumulative jail terms.
The 50-year-old is a resident of Zaindar Mohalla in Srinagar and was born in 1971 in an affluent family of traders. His father, however, died when he was young and he was raised by his grandfather and uncles.
He was given the best of the education and studied at Tyndale Biscoe School of Srinagar, a prestigious missionary school with a long list of influential alumni.
“Alam was arrested, for the first time, in 1990 when militancy erupted in Kashmir. Since then, he has spent most of his adult life in jails,” a source close to Alam’s family told Kashmir Reader. He said that the authorities have managed to keep him behind bars despite none of his alleged crimes being proved.
Curiously, Alam was accused of breaking the Hurriyat Conference in 2003 and then of uniting the same only 5 years later. “The authorities have involved one preventive order after another to keep him behind bars. He is presently serving his 37th prevention order,” the source said.
Alam has been held under the controversial Public Safety Act — originally used against timber smugglers in Kashmir. Alam served 12 years of jail between 1990 and 2007.
A petition in the High Court argued that the state has been unable to conduct a single successful trial against Alam in the 17 years between 1990 and 2007. The High Court granted his release but his freedom was short-lived.
Alam was again arrested in December of 2008, under what turned out to be his seventh PSA detention. He was released in March of the same year and arrested again in September.
“In May 2009 his PSA was quashed by the high court but he was not released and was booked under a fresh PSA,” said a senior journalist working in Srinagar.
Alam has been in continuous detention since 2011, barring the 40 days in 2015 when he was released and re-arrested after he hoisted the Pakistan flag along with Syed Ali Geelani in Hyderpora area of Srinagar.
In 2013 Alam was not released even after the Supreme Court disposed of his petition and ordered that no fresh detention order should come against him for a week, to give him time to mount a legal defence.
“Instead, the Jammu and Kashmir government booked him in 50 different FIRs registered in different districts of Kashmir between 2010 and 2013,” the journalist said.
Alam has been unapologetically pro-Pakistan and against New Delhi. He has proudly claimed that he has been a stone thrower since his childhood, maintaining that throwing stones was the only form of resistance for the Kashmiri people.
“He had a tremendous role in mobilising people during the agitations of 2008 and 2010. That is widely believed to have been the primary reason for his continuous detention,” the journalist said.
In 2010, Alam played hide and seek with the authorities and remained untraced for several months, while he issued one protest calendar after another. When he was finally released, police officials from across Kashmir reached Srinagar to be a part of the “historic” moment.
“He had kept the whole police department on toes for months at a stretch and when he was arrested, police officials from many districts rushed to Srinagar to witness the moment,” a highly placed police source told Kashmir Reader.
The source added that Alam has been unflinching in his stance, be it out or inside jail, and that precisely makes him the threat he is to law and order in Kashmir. “He is an orator and a mobiliser like none other in Kashmir,” the official said.
It was after the arrest of Alam in 2010 that the then Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, had infamously asked his police chief, “Why didn’t you bump off this man?”
The then Srinagar police chief, Ashiq Bukhari, had made the revelation in a later interview. “Why did you get him alive?” Bukhari had quoted Omar as saying in a 2015 interview to Open Magazine, a publication that described Bukhari as the “Khaki Fidayeen”.
During his long detention, his only sibling — a disabled sister — died but Alam was not allowed to perform the last rites. One of his uncles also died during this time.
But Alam, as per his family, has remained steadfast. “He asks us to remain steadfast as well,” a close family member was recently quoted by a news report as saying.