What fuelled Kashmir’s Maqbool Butt

Born in feudalism-infested Kashmir where tyranny was an order of the day, Maqbool Butt demonstrated his defiant nature quite early in his life by striking some discipline in his school. Later crossing over to Muzaffarabad, he campaigned for an Independent Kashmir and returned to raise pockets of resistance in his homeland where he was jailed, tagged as agent and finally secretly executed, only to spark the armed uprising.

Inside the medieval township of Trehgam, dotted with rundown mud and wood structures covered with rusty roofs, the defiant legacy that Maqbool Butt’s native place wears like a badge of honour is on everybody’s lips. In this part of garrisoned countryside, the villagers identify their lineage of defiance deep into the Naga period of Kashmir, speak high about its sturdy course through the Shahmiri, Chak and Mughal era, before making its momentous mention in the historic year of 1931.

The centrality of the place which once determined the kingdom of Kashmir’s benevolent Badshah—Budshah of the Shahmiri pedigree—became the stronghold of Chaks once they made inroads in Kashmir.

Throughout the rising and falling of the regimes, this rustic populace made sure to wear one thing on their sleeves: Revolution.

Keeping a tab on these historic events in his hometown makes Ghulam Hassan a proud son of the soil. “Throughout its history,” says Hassan, a headmaster having a sway over the township, “Trehgam never disappointed.”

Down in Srinagar as Dogra forces piled 22 bodies outside the Central Jail on July 13, 1931, a day that marks the Martyrs day in Kashmir, Trehgam went into a tizzy. Later, as Moulana Masoodi and Sheikh Abdullah went door-to-door to collect funds for building the Mujahid Manzil—the structure which gave oppressed Kashmiris a voice against the Dogra regime—Trehgam donated graciously, from earrings, to hens in their coops. “Sheikh promised us Azadi, so we got together to collect funds for him,” Hassan says, veering into the past like a professor of history.

Mujahid Manzil

One of the donated hens was later auctioned and sold at a whopping 2.5 rupees back in the day. With Rs 2,300, the Mujahid Manzil or the ‘House of Mujahids’ was founded in October, 1932.

“The defiance continued and took a new form when the father of Amitabh Mattoo, the then Wazir-e-Wazarat ordered dismantling of the historic Shahmiri-era fountain in Trehgam,” recalls Hassan, sitting in his sprawling house, standing in the backdrop of a military-concerted hill. “As the village rose up in arms, the Dogra administrators were forced to come to the town to calm tempers.” This sense of defiance came handy for Trehgam, forcing Maharaja Hari Singh’s regime to bar it from the treacherous Begair—or forced labour—then sending Kashmiris to deadly terrains of Gilgit as slaves, for bonded labour.

But feudalism first, and ironically later, the 41 member vicious team squad of Qadir Ganderbali, a notorious policeman deputed in the Sheikh Abdullah era, to torture his own people, would still create dread around.

Inside his home, Hassan takes a long blank look at his front-wall, beyond which lies the menacing garrison. “Somebody had to take the bull by the horns,” he breaks the silence.

That ‘somebody’ had already taken birth in Trehgam, who lived less than 50 years, but took his freedom campaign across the board, crossed the mountains and earned himself tags, only to resurrect the Kashmir movement.

In a peasant family, migrating from Baramulla in 1920, whose headman was a minimalist tailor and Sheikh’s diehard supporter, Muhammad Maqbool Butt was born on 18 February, 1938. He gave his first sign of defiance as an 8-year-old child, when in the face of feudal raids in Trehgam in 1946, he along with village children would lie down in front of the jagirdar’s (feudal lord’s) motorcar.

Maqbool Butt as a child.

“I was also amongst these children and remember till this day that great hue and cry,” Maqbool Butt would later write in a letter from Lahore in 1972. “The children as well as elders, were crying, knowing that once the Jagirdar left the village without collecting anything, the peasants will have to face the Qiyamat, a great tribulation, as punishment. But, the Jagirdar seeing rebellion fueled by the naked hunger of worn yellowish children agreed to make some concessions.”

He did not stop there.

“Normally,” says Sultan Mohammad, Butt’s onetime Trehgam companion, “one cannot expect from a schoolboy to challenge and change the prevailing setup, which was very discriminatory in those days. But the Maqbool I know did it when he questioned the discrimination in his school where the privileged and poor students would be seated separately. As an achiever one year, he refused to receive the award until that class segregation was not scrapped. The discrimination had to end.” Later the boy would fight to elevate his school status to secondary level.

Even as he lost his mother at the age of 11, he continued his proactive village welfare works. He would gather his friends and villagers inside a Kashmiri Pandit cremation ground. With a chalk in his hand, the schoolboy would draw Kashmir’s map on a blackboard and talk about its “slavery”.  “Among the barely 5% literates around at that time,” Sultan reflects in a sunlit lawn of his, “he proved to be a sensational student, whose hunger for excellence was simply tremendous. He was a good speaker gifted with super-sharp intellect.”

Much of his pro-activeness came from his meticulous Islamic learning which doesn’t like the idea of slavery, says Mohammad Anwar Wani, a septuagenarian advocate from Trehgam.

“In the times when Gandhi’s Non-Violence would find takers in the Muslims of the Sub-Continent, here was this Islamic-minded person talking about the slavery and exhorting his tribe to rise above it by breaking the chains,” Wani says in his room facing a stripped bare courtyard.

Mohammad Anwar Wani

“He ably demonstrated his Islamic bent of mind when he chose to become a teacher in Arwani Kulgam’s Jama’at-e-Islamia school instead of taking an official position based on his qualification and intelligence.” It’s said that the teenager Maqbool Butt came in contact with Syed Ali Geelani at that school.

“It was Maqbool, then yet to step in his twenties, who introduced the Jama’at-e-Islami in Trehgam,” Wani speaks like a preacher about the rebel’s rise, drawing parallels with Islam’s great battles and Sir Mohammad Iqbal’s revolutionary poems. “He brought the likes of Maulana Saad-ud-Din Tarbali, Ghulam Ahmad Ahrar, Qari Saifudin and others to Trehgam for a seminar.”

In that seminar, the young Maqbool Butt whose legend was yet to shape up had conveyed something very important to Jama’at higher-ups. But what was it, not many would know, until a young man from Trehgam got a chance to receive Maulana Ahrar, founder of Jama’at-e-Islami in Kashmir, in Trehgam in the late seventies. That young man was Saifullah Wani, now a teacher, reflecting over the Trehgam-Butt relationship.

Saifullah Wani.

That day, the guest Maulana Ahrar had asked Wani to accompany him to Butt’s home. After spending some silent moments there, he took Wani to Trehgam’s Jamia Masjid and sat under a shade of a mighty Chinar tree in its courtyard. Wani recalls his unforgotten conversation with Maulana Ahrar, thus:

“My fond memories are associated with this place.”

“Like what?” the curious young man asked.

“When we first came here on Maqbool Butt’s invitation in the early fifties when he introduced the Jamaat here, I along with Saad-ud-Din and Qari Saifudin sat under this Chinar, where Maqbool served us with steamy Samovar tea of his home. Butt had said ‘I wanted to ask you something. But I don’t know how to say it.’ On this, Maulana encouraged him to speak. ‘Can a new plant grow under the shadow of this Chinar? I mean, it’s impossible, isn’t it? Even if that tree grows, it would be very weak.’ On this the Maulana asked him, ‘What do you want to convey?’ He promptly replied, ‘I just want to convey that as long as we are living under the shade of a big tree called India, we won’t grow. Either its branches need to be chopped or it should wither’.

“What did you people tell him?” Saifullah asked the visiting Maulana.

“We all looked at him in amazement. Then he continued, ‘Let me be very straight. Our primary goal should be de-occupation. We can choose our post-freedom goals later. Why to confuse our struggle right from the beginning? I’ve a problem with Jama’at. You seem to fight over the issues like whether we should end up becoming an Islamic nation or a secular one. That shouldn’t be our primary approach. We can decide it later — whether we should plant a rose or a thorn sapling. But first, let’s come out of that tree. At least that’s what I believe in. Otherwise, I respect Jama’at.’ ”

“What was your response to him?”

“We all told him that he is very much right, but should take it easy,” Saifullah, a Jama’at ideologue, quotes Maulana Ahrar.

Next time when another massive gathering took place in Trehgam, it had a direct link with the Butt family. The demise of Maqbool Butt’s younger brother, Ghulam Nabi Butt, the then acting president of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, in a road accident in the mid-90s, had sent the who’s who of the resistance camp to Trehgam into mourning.

Habibullah Wani

Among the people who addressed the gathering was Trehgam’s revered Jamaat-e-Islami member, Habibullah Wani. In presence of Mohammad Yasin Malik, Shabir Shah and Shabir Siddique—the JKLF commander gunned down inside Hazratbal shrine in 1996 along with 32 of his men—Wani said, the ‘Idea of Independent Kashmir is more close to Islam.’

Many in the audience — especially the JKLF members were stunned to hear a committed Jama’ati speaking their language. Saifullah Wani was also present in the audience.

“I was myself amazed when Hab Soab [dear name given to Habibullah] said that,” he recalls, sitting in his Trehgam home. “That’s why it’s often said that Trehgam’s Jamaatis have a JKLF bent of mind.”

Later the same Hab Soab would write in his tribute to Trehgam’s hanged son: Maqbool hona hai tou Maqbool bhan (If you’ve to create mark, become Maqbool).


Chapter Two: What fuelled Kashmir’s Maqbool Butt


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