The Meaning of Maqbool Butt


Regarding the revolutionary struggle, Eqbal Ahmad writes in Confronting Empire, “A strategy of moral isolation assumes that the adversary has based its own legitimacy on moral grounds.” For Eqbal Ahmad the strategy of moral isolation of the adversary counts high. In retrospect we can analyse the life and sacrifice of Muhammad Maqbool Butt in this context. Maqbool Butt may not have achieved the complete moral isolation of the Indian State but he definitely has thrown an everlasting moral challenge to it and he himself stands morally on highground. Since Indian state as whole is not a totalitarian or fascist state but one which claims liberal democracy as its moral and political raison d’etre.

Thus the moral tussle has clear lines drawn. Maqbool Butt as a Kashmiri revolutionary was hanged in Tihar Jail on February 11, 1984. But his body was not handed-over to his family instead he was buried in Tihar Jail. And more than a decade later some construction work has been done to erase his grave in the jail itself. The fact was brought to light be a veteran Kashmiri journalist, Iftikhar Gilani, who was himself incarcerated in the jail for some time few years ago.

In the first instance why was not Butt’s body given to his family and still later why has grave been erased by some construction. Needless to mention that pro-freedom Kashmiri groups have been demanding the return of mortal remains of Maqbool Butt. Even a grave in his name stands ready in the largest graveyard of Kashmir, Eidgah, Srinagar.

Why has New Delhi been afraid of Butt?

The reasons are simple. As a revolutionary leader Butt died uncompromising, unwavering in his position unlike Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. Though a leader and co-founder of Jammu and Kashmir National Liberation Front, Maqbool Butt has now transcended party lines and even history. After his death he has turned into the eternal martyr hero for the people of Kashmir. This aspect of him is non-killable, non-destructible. And a state claiming the liberal democracy as its political rationale but at the same time doing grave injustices with Maqbool Butt clearly seems nasty and questionable. In this struggle Maqbool Butt has been the winner because what he could not achieve politically while alive, has achieved in death.

Maqbool butt was born at Trehgam village of district Kupwara in 1938. A well-qualified person though from a peasant family, he crossed LoC (Line of Control) in 1950s. In 1962 he formed Kashmir Liberation Committee to lobby with “Azad Kashmir” Government to take active and hard position on the liberation of Kashmir. He merged the liberation committee into Plebiscite Front (Azad Chapter) in 1965 and became its general secretary. When Indo-Pak war of 1965 was at its peak, he co-founded National Liberation Front in August 1965. It is said that he was very much inspired by the Algerian liberation struggle against the French colonialism. He advocated the Algerian method of armed struggle. Later he was arrested in Indian-held Kashmir in 1968 but escaped along with his two colleagues from Central Jail, Srinagar.

Maqbool Butt advocated the complete independence of Jammu and Kashmir, so was not favoured by Islamabad, instead suffered there too. However, he again crossed-over to this side in 1976 to prepare for guerrilla war but was arrested in the tracks of his mission in the same year. Charged of murder, he was sentenced to death which was carried out on February 11, 1984 in Tihar Jail where he had been incarcerated from 1976 who knows, as a seasoned revolutionary he might have adopted some other course of action in light of the later day experience.

It would be interesting to note that he was just a lonely revolutionary in the family instead his whole family has sacrificed for the cause. One was his brother’s disappeared outside the state in mysterious circumstances while he was in search of legal aid for Maqbool. His brother, a key figure in 1988-89 armed struggle was killed in a road accident in Srinagar. Another of his brother got killed in his native village in an encounter with the army. Yet another one was released from jail few months ago. The other family members have their own sacrifices and stories; his is a family of warriors.

Maqbool Butt has not been forgotten by the people. It still seems to them that he is in jail challenging the mighty state. Death has not killed Maqbool Butt instead it has turned him into the eternal martyr-hero for the people of Kashmir. He seems to be engaged with the Indian State in a titanic moral struggle for what he believed in life, he symbolises even in his death: the cause of his oppressed people. The borderline of life and death has made him strong and eternal in the history of Kashmir.

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