When the Srinagar deputy commissioner issued the sixth Public Safety Act (PSA), which bars a person from procuring bail for 6 months, against Masarat Alam in June 2014 it said the hardline separatist has "anti-India sentiment in his blood" and his arrest was "imperative to stop recurrence of 2008, 2009 and 2010-like street agitation".
Forty two-year-old Alam, who comes from a middle-class family, remains an enigma and unconventional separatist leader whose stride is unmatchable within the separatist spectrum. Alam was first arrested in 1990, when he was in his early twenties, for being a sympathiser of the armed struggle that broke out in 1989 and remained behind the bars till 1996 under the PSA.
A student of Kashmir's oldest and leading Christian missionary school Tyndale Biscoe and an arts graduate of Srinagar's Sri Pratap College, Alam tried to set up a business in 1996 but failed after frequent detentions by security agencies. He decided to join the Muslim League, an ardent supporter of Jammu and Kashmir's union with Pakistan, and was picked up the police at regular intervals since then.
Alam was slapped with around 27 cases in various police stations of the valley, mainly under Section 147 (unlawful assembly), Section 148 (rioting and armed with deadly weapon), Section 336 (endangering life and causing injuries), Section 436 (mischief to set afire property) and Section 153a (promoting hatred) of the Ranbir Penal Code. He also faces charges of attempt to murder and sedition for his fiery speeches.
Alam first shot to limelight on the political horizon during the 2008 Amarnath land row, which engulfed regions of Jammu and Kashmir for months together. He was the first Hurriyat leader to support the joint action committee of 2008 to rescind an order of granting forest land for the pilgrimage to Amarnath. He tried to use the 2008 street agitation to bring together separate Hurriyat factions through a joint coordination committee. Alam's Muslim League remains a constituent of hardline Hurriyat faction of Syed Ali Geelani.
He was arrested for his role in the Amarnath land row and only to be released in June 2010, when Kashmir was witnessing a cycle of street protests and deaths. He introduced anti-India songs like "Bharat ko de ragda (Stamp India with force)" and came up with anti-India graffiti like "Go India, Go Back" to galvanise support for his Quit Kashmir Movement launched in 2010.
Around 113 protesters were killed in 2010 in rare street agitation witnessed by the state, where stone throwing gained popularity among the separatist section and was seen as a shift in their strategy. He is perceived as the successor to Geelani for his role during the street agitations.
Though he does not come from the Jamaat-e-Islami cadre, which always remain a consideration in hardline Hurriyat for handing down the mantle, Alam has succeeded in earning followers among the youth who support Kashmir's secession from India.
Alam also guided Geelani on issuing weekly calendars containing different methods of protests, which continued for 5 months, and he was finally jailed in October 2010. It took several weeks and constant raids to arrest Alam from outskirts of Srinagar near Tailbal area.
Having spent around 17 years behind bars and married to the sister of a killed militant since 2006, Alam has hardly spent more than one year with his wife.