Masarat Alam has spent 17 of his 42 years in jail for his ‘dedication’ to the cause of an independent Kashmir. Speaking to HT in eloquent English soon after being released from jail, this former missionary school student says the years of detention haven’t dented his commitment to his cause. He calls himself a true representative of the sentiments of the people of Kashmir and dares New Delhi to hold a referendum to prove him wrong.
Q. Has the Mufti Sayeed government done you a favour?
A. Nobody has done me a favour. My release was facilitated by the law. I was detained under the PSA (Public Safety Act) but charges were not pressed for six months. I was bailed out in all the 27 cases against me by the court.
Q. Former CM Omar Abdullah said you were a threat to security. You were the architect of protests that led to the killing of youth in the state in 2010.
A. People were killed by armed forces; youth were showered with bullets. If they say I instigated people, let there be an international probe. Let the world know how the 120 youth were killed. I am not a terrorist, nor were the people who came out to protest. Ten lakh people gathered at Eidgah maidan (to protest against the killings). Did I instigate all of them? They were genuine freedom lovers who were demanding their right to be free. I am no Osama bin Laden. I am also a freedom lover who has spent 17 years in jail for that dream, and so have thousands of others like me. People in Kashmir don't want to be with India.
Q. But people came out to protest after your calls for it.
A. People were protesting against the killings —one killing led to another. Even the parliamentary committee — which visited Kashmir in 2010 and included BJP's current foreign minister Sushma Swaraj — agreed that the 2010 uprising was genuine. The Prime Minister said in Parliament that the problem of Kashmir was unique and needs a unique solution. Besides, if I instigated lakhs of people in 2010, who instigated the protestors in 2008?
Q. The previous government insisted that things did not go out of control after Afzal Guru was hanged since you were in jail.
A. If the Indian government is so confident that they have support in Jammu and Kashmir and people want to stay with India, let them hold a referendum and close the issue once and for all. Why do they shy away from it? If it is only people like me who are causing trouble, let the referendum be held. We will respect the verdict.
Q. But the state’s political dynamics have changed since you were arrested. Kashmiris have voted in large numbers; moderate leaders are willing to engage in dialogue.
A. The basic sentiment has not changed. Elections were held even after the 2008 uprising and people voted in large numbers. The same people came out to protest in lakhs in 2010. Elections and voting have nothing to do with accepting India.
Q. Now that you are out of jail, what are your plans?
A. I have come from a smaller jail to a larger jail, which is Kashmir. We will continue to cherish our dream of freedom. We are in a forum led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani. We will discuss our strategy.
Q. People have always said you are more hardline than Geelani.
A. I am just a freedom lover and I have followed Geelani sahib in the past, I will do so in the future.
Q. Do you think a government led by PDP will be different from one led by the National Conference?
A. All parties are the same. On whether the Hurriyat will be part of any dialogue is for Geelani sahib to decide. We will discuss and follow his directions.
Q. You have been out only a few days and people are demanding your re-arrest.
A. I’m ready to return to jail anytime.