Birth and Childhood: Maqbool Butt was born on 18th February 1938 to a peasant family in Trahagam village Tehsil Handwara, district Kupwara. His father was called Ghulam Qadar Butt. All we know about his mother is that she died when Maqbool Butt was 11 years old pupil in the village’s primary (junior) school. He had a younger brother Gulam Nabi Butt. As per traditions Ghulam Qadar married again to provide mothering for his children. From second wife he had two sons, Manzoor Ahmed Butt and Zahoor Ahmed Butt and three daughters. The early years of Maqbool Butt’s life, like thousands of other Kashmiri children were shaped by the harsh living conditions that characterised the life of peasants at this juncture of Kashmir history.
It was the feudal system in the Maharaja’s Kashmir that forced Maqbool Butt to participate in the first political action in his life long struggle against suppression, occupation and for equality, freedom and social justice. Telling this story on 12 April 1972 from Camp Prison Lahore in a letter written in reply to Azra Mir, the daughter of veteran Kashmiri political activist and intellectual, G.M. Mir who was in prison with Maqbool Butt in relation to the hijacking of an Indian plane ‘Ganaga’, Maqbool Butt wrote:
Further Education: After completing his secondary school certificate, Maqbool Butt moved on to St. JosephCollege in Baramula. This was a private missionary college. Here he gained his first degree (BA) in history and political science.
Crossing the Divide First Time: The journey on that road to great sacrifice for Maqbool Butt was started while still a student at St. JosephCollege. Responding to a question about crossing over to Pakistan in the above interview that was recorded in room number 26 of Mujahid Hotel International, Maqbool Butt said:
In Pakistan: First and foremost problem before Maqbool Butt in Pakistan was to continue his education and at the same time find a job to meet the expenses. For with out that “it was hard to live in Pakistan’. Therefore, I joined ’Injam’ (end/conclusion/performance), a weekly magazine, as sub-editor and started my working life as a journalist. I did my MA (from Pehswar university) in Urdu literature and worked with ‘Anjam’ till the start of full time politics in 196(Khawaja, 1997). Meanwhile his marriage was arranged by his uncle with a Kashmiri woman Raja Begum in 1961. He had two sons from this wife, Javed Maqbool born in 1962 and Shaukat Maqbool in 1964. In 1966 he married to a school teacher Zakra Begum and had a daughter Lubna Maqbool from her.
First Crossing Back to IHK: For the next ten months the group of four recruited more people into the ranks of NLF including GM Lone (the vice president of PF) and on 10th June 1966 the first group of NLF members secretly crossed over to the Indian occupied Kashmir. Maqbool Butt, Aurangzeb, a student from Gilgit, Amir Ahmed and Kala Khan, a retired subedar (non commissioned officer from AJK force) went deep into Valley while Major Amanullah and subedar Habibullah remained near to the division line. The former were to recruit Kashmiris in the IOK into NLF while the latter were responsible for training and weapon supply. Maqbool Butt along with three of his group members worked underground for three months and established several gorilla cells in IOK.
Escape from Prison: Soon they started planning escape from the prison and within a month and half managed to escape from the prison in Srinagar. Maqbool Butt later wrote in great detail about the escape and submitted that before the Special Trial Court in Pakistant where he was tried along with other NLF members for ‘Ganga’ hijacking. However, only a brief account of the escape is included here from one of his interviews:
The Last Crossing: With NLF dismantled and PF demoralised, Maqbool Butt once again crossed over to the Indian occupied Kashmir against the advice of many of his friends and comrades in May 1976. This time he went with Abdul Hammed Butt and Riaz Dar. Within few days of crossing they were spotted and arrested by the Indian forces. In 1978 the Indian Supreme Court restored death sentence on Maqbool Butt and he was transferred to Delhi’s Tihaar Prison. After eight long years in prison Maqbool Butt was hanged on 11th February 1984 while the legal team was waiting for Maqbool Butt’s case to be reopened on the grounds of flaws in the trial that convicted Maqbool Butt of murder. His execution was carried out in haste to avenge the killing of an Indian diplomat in Birmingham by an unknown group ‘Kashmir Liberation Army’. Rovendra Mahatre was kidnapped in the first week of February 1984 from his Birmingham office by KLA who demanded among other things the release of Maqbool Butt. Thus was ended the life of one of the greatest revolutionary of modern Kashmiri history and was born what Kashmiris remember as Shaheed e Azam (the greatest martyr). Ironically, death warrants of Maqbool Butt were signed by Dr Farooq Abdullah the then Chief Minister of IOK who spent several days with Maqbool Butt in ‘Azad’ Kashmir and Pakistan in 1974 and who said later that ‘I have found Maqbool Butt a very romantic man, just like Che Guevara. He could have added ‘like Shiekh Abdullah in 1930s’, whose politics initially inspired Maqbool Butt as a student at St JosephCollege.
An Imprisoned Martyr in the world’s largest democracy: India is acclaimed by the democratic world as the largest democracy on earth. While there is no doubt that democratic traditions and institutions in India are far more established, when it comes to Kashmir India is no more than an occupier and oppressive state that rules Kashmir through colonial like structures and authoritarian means with little regards for the democratic values, human rights and civil liberties. This neo-colonial face of Indian rule in Kashmir was demonstrated in its worst form in the way Maqbool Butt was hanged and what followed.
He had a dream: 30 years on, since Kashmir’s first dreamer for an independent Kashmir was sent to the gallows, his dream, his prophecy and his legacy lives on.
While the political scene on both side of Kashmir changed dramatically after that fateful February day in 1984 – when Kashmir’s little known revolutionary was hanged in India, his hanging changed the fate and fortunes of Kashmir. That momentous change which evolved into an armed revolution has meant that the issue of Kashmir is not going to be brushed under the carpet until his mission is complete. He is now known as the Shaheed-e-Azam, ‘father of the nation’. He has become an icon for countless political groups both within and outside the vale of Kashmir.
11 February is being commemorated as Maqbool Bhat’s death anniversary. Every year on this day the scene was set to make a modern day legend for Kashmir. On this day Kashmiris remember their hero with honours and pride. Kashmiri groups, on both sides of the dreaded line of control and all over the world, remember him well but his adversaries who had hoped that he would be forgotten with the passage of time wish their nightmare was over. Born after his death, young men of age 22 who have grown up with the only undisputed name in Kashmir’s turbulent history are not likely to forget his dream and his mission. That name will live on for centuries to come.