He is America's hated poster-boy of Islam. He is the angry face of separatism in Kashmir. He is the “vigorous organizer of protests” on the streets of Srinagar.
Thirty-one-year-old Shakeel Ahmad Bhat, tagged as the ‘Islamic rage boy’ in the West, has again been slapped with Public Safety Act, 9th time in a row since November 2008 when he was arrested in old city Srinagar, in the aftermath of Amarnath Land agitation.
The bony cheeked and unkemptly bearded, Shakeel shot to infamy in 2007 after his ‘jaw-drooping, crooked teeth, closed-fist, eye-bulged-out’ pictures were carried by many international media outlets during a protest in Srinagar. He was quickly dubbed as ‘Islamic Rage boy’ and ‘Poster boy’. Soon his pictures made it to spoof cover of Time magazine, on T-Shirts, posters, mouse-pads, boxer shorts, bumper stickers and beer mugs.
As Police slapped 9th PSA(the act allows police to jail a person for a maximum of two years without trial) against him this week, Hindustan Times team traveled to his home in the shabby Fateh Kadal area of old city to know his story.
Having inherited separatism from his father Ghulam Qadir Bhat, who was associated with separatist Mahaz-e-rai Shumari(plebiscite front) of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah time, Shakeel crossed border in early nineties, when he was a teenager, and came back as a militant of Al-Umar outfit only to be arrested in 1993 for 4 years. “After his release he left militancy but not the freedom movement. He first joined Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front but then switched to a constituent of Geelani sahib’s Hurriyat,” said his brother Ghulam Nabi Bhat(50).
Shakeel’s whole family has paid the price of his pro-freedom stance. His 14-year-old sister Shareefa faced a heart attack when police raided their house while searching for militants, in 1994. “Not long after his release in mid nineties, the Special Task Force of police came to our house looking for Shakeel. They beat our 75-year-old father instead, leaving him with a broken leg. He died soon after the assault. In another raid by BSF one of our brothers was beaten in head leaving him unfit for rest of the life,” said Nabi.
We met his 75-year-old mother, Fauziya. The frail looking woman seemed restless. She would often keep repeating “Choki people devastated me”. “I have left smiling. I don’t want to pray now,” she told Hindustan times with moist eyes. “My heart aches. I take four medicines daily to calm my heart,” she said.
Nabi was critical of police’s action. “Since October 2008, they have slapped PSA against him eight times. Four were revoked by government after finding bogus cases against him and four were quashed by court. Now they have against arrested him ninth time under PSA,” he said.
“For the past two and a half years he has been out of jail only for 13 days,” Nabi said.
Nabi does not care about Shakeel’s pictures being hated across America. “They think he is like Al-Qaeda which he is not. He is loved here by people. He has commitment towards freedom struggle,” he said.
“And raising a voice against injustice and getting angry for not getting your right is not a crime. Self determination was promised to the people of Kashmir which was never given,” he said.
Superintendent of Police North Srinagar, Showkat Shah said that Shakeel had cases against him registered in some police station. “He is not going to improve. He won’t leave protesting and pelting stones. Even I tried to persuade him personally,” he said.
“He is committed to what he is doing and it is better for him as well as others that he remains in custody,” Shah added.