At a time when a certain comrade is creating a buzz in town, a textbook Marxist of yore recounts the Red movement’s fate in Kashmir where the who’s who of the Naxalite movement of the day would arrive to discuss roadmaps.
On a sunny day of October 1970, two young men in their early twenties came out of Anantnag Degree College. Ambling through the bustling town, the duo’s body language hid the fact that they were on police radar for being part of the Naxalite movement in Kashmir.
Crisscrossing the alleyways, one of them, Gulshan Majeed looked pretty pleased. He always found the mathematics portion of the Organic Chemistry quite tough. After answering the questions correctly, he and his friend, in their final college year, thought of celebrating in anticipation of good marks. They arrived on the Tanta Bridge to celebrate.
Standing directly over the flowing river, they began talking about poetry, literature, politics and life. The pleasant autumn day weather was adding to their romanticism. Twilight was about to dim everything. That, however, hardly took the steam of their political talk.
Majeed fleetingly forgot his identity. He forgot that he was underground. He even forgot how he had figured on the intelligence reports for being one of the ardent campaigners of the Naxalite uprising in Kashmir.
The good mood ended when a sudden police van siren sliced through the peaceful evening, taking the friends out of their conversation. The duo was startled at the sound of the van. By the time they could gather themselves, police had surrounded them from both sides of the bridge.
There was a small escape gap on the left side of the bridge, by the river embankment. Majeed jumped out of there and started running. He had almost reached the village and the verge of escaping when suddenly a pack of stray dogs started barking. He suddenly stopped and felt calm. The police officer came and arrested him.
“I didn’t even flinch,” recalls Majeed, now a retired professor at the Kashmir University. While struggling to remember a long-forgotten memory, his mind, somewhere in a faraway land, searches for words to describe the events that could have changed the political landscape of Kashmir, he reckons, if properly practiced.
“I was in school when I was introduced to Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poetry by a senior of mine,” continues Majeed, sitting in a lush green lawn of Kashmir University. “It was early sixties, I think.” His fading memory confuses the dates of a period which changed his life forever. “I used to read poetry with my friend and discuss it with him. We didn’t restrict ourselves to poems written by old comrades only. We were reading Elliot, Shelley, every sort. We were romantics.”
His friend, who was a member of the then Communist Party of India Marxist, introduced him to the party and gradually, Majeed became a full-time member of the same. He was given the charge of Islamabad district.
“Kashmir has a very indigenous communist history,” he says. “Even before CPI (M), Kisan Tehreek members in South Kashmir were all very communist in their approaches. National Conference had a good number of communists in their party. Leader like Abdul Kabir Wani was a member of National Conference before joining CPI (M) and then shifted to CPI (ML) when the latter split.”
The Kisan Sabhas (Tehreeks) have always been vocal about the right of the agricultural labourers.
“Kashmiris celebrate Sheikh Abdullah’s ‘Naya Kashmir’ manifesto and his move of land to tillers,” Majeed says. “But we have to remember that he merely transferred the land back to the masses, which was forcefully grabbed from them by the ruling aristocrats like Dogras. The basic rights of farmers were still not there.”
In 1969, when CPI(ML) split from CPI(M), during the Naxalbari uprising in West Bengal, all the members of CPI (M), Kashmir, also joined CPI (ML).
“They were the first party to demand Kashmir’s Right to Self Determination,” Majeed says. “The Naxal movement here was as much about independence from Indian state as it was about the right of the proletariat.”
As an intrinsic part of the Naxal movement in Kashmir, Majeed used to organize meetings with locals, making them aware of the oppression of both the state and the bourgeois class. Within a few years of his work, he along with his comrades came under surveillance. The state wanted to crush the spreading communist movement in South Kashmir, forcing the comrades to go underground.
Those days, there was a small tailoring shop in Majeed’s neighborhood. With sundown, he would leave his house, face covered, enter the tailor shop from the back and sleep there. He would leave for home in the wee hours of dawn.
“There was a comrade of mine in Islamabad,” he says. “Whenever I needed to talk to him, I would go to his place. If he was not around, I would leave a message for him.”
To avoid suspicion, they had come up with intriguing and innovative message delivery system.
His comrade possessed the “Red Book” of Mao Tse-Tung. The book with ripped red cover was hidden among other books in his library. Whenever Majeed used to visit him, he would fold the page number nine, so that his comrade understands that he visited and would get back to him.
“Often the page nine would be already folded by some other comrade, so I used to fold the page 19 or 29,” says the professor, his lips carrying a nostalgic smile of a distant past.
After years of being underground, averting police suspicion, using fields instead of main roads, travelling in the dark, finally in 1970, Majeed was arrested during his celebratory bridge trip with his friend.
It was a gruesome period for the Bengal Naxalites as well. The Naxals were brutally killed or killed after brutal torture. The same was faced by the Kashmiri Naxals.
“We were tortured in police station. Beating was normal. More than beating, we were humiliated in many different ways,” which Majeed doesn’t want to explain in explicit terms.
Majeed and his comrades were transferred thrice; from Islamabad to Jammu, and then to Tihar jail.
“We were taken to Tihar at a time when it was not possible for them to open the normal wards. So, we were kept in the isolated cells where death row prisoners were kept. It was newly built and the comrades of Kashmir inaugurated that part of Tihar,” says Majeed with a sarcastic smile. “Later Maqbool Bhat and Afzal Guru were kept in the same cells.”
He was released in 1973. Three years of jail and torture had broken him. But what pained him beyond measure was to witness the pathetic plight of the Red movement in Kashmir.
“People were not ready to support us,” he says. “They forgot us. Jama’at-e-Islami, which was not getting a stronghold in South Kashmir, despite trying hard since 1967, because of the presence of us communists, was now spreading its ideology. And they were pointing fingers at us, and the gullible people simply believed them,” Majeed says.
As he recounts his elapsed comrade past, amid the dusted Red movement of Kashmir, Majeed’s welled up eyes emanates a void and longing for his long-gone friends and comrade-in-arms.
“Our comrades were broken, pained and hurt after we faced the larger societal snub. Many dead. Their corpses lying like dogs on the streets. We cannot believe how anyone can be so brutal as to leave their bodies lying on streets. Nobody bothered. All intelligent, good comrades with whom I spent so much time. All gone,” says Majeed with a broken voice.
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