| Yasin Malik
Srinagar, Dec. 5 (Reuters): Every time elections are held in Jammu and Kashmir, one theme keeps recurring — separatist leader Yasin Malik has been thrown in jail.
Thirty-five years old, Malik has spent more than 10 years in detention, four in solitary confinement, as perhaps the leading advocate of independence.
Malik counts five parliamentary and state legislative elections in Kashmir since 1995, including the most recent exercise in September and October this year, in which the government has sought to silence the sceptics.
“In all the elections, before the election they detain us, after the election they release us,” he said during an interview on the floor of his narrow house in a poor part of Srinagar. “Whenever elections are held we give a boycott call, and they do this to keep us away.”
Malik said he was beaten after he was arrested and accused in March of trying to finance subversive activities through the covert transfer of $100,000.
Released on bail after four months when the prosecution failed to substantiate its charge, Malik was met at the prison gate by a senior police officer.
“He told me: ‘We are detaining you for two years under the Public Safety Act’,” Malik said.
Malik’s release last month on parole has been held up by some as a sign the new government in Jammu and Kashmir is keen to promote reconciliation. Malik smiles at the notion.
“How strange it is — they are beating us ruthlessly, but when they release us, we have to tell them ‘thank you’.”
Leafing through prison medical records on the floor of his sparse, cold house, Malik detailed how beatings and confinement in often appalling conditions have destroyed his health.
His younger sister said she lost two toes after a severe beating by security forces in the same house.
Security officials deny allegations of abuse, and say all such cases are investigated.
Malik’s iron will has won him the respect of many Kashmiris, and around 10,000 turned out to hear him address a rally in northern Kashmir shortly after his release.
Malik was first arrested in 1985 when he was a student for distributing stickers showing a map of an independent state of Jammu and Kashmir. In April 1987, he was again arrested shortly after elections in Kashmir which were widely seen as rigged against fellow separatists.
Authorities have charged Malik with the killing of security officials in an ambush on the outskirts of Srinagar in the early 1990s.
Despite ill health which he blames on beatings by interrogators, Malik vows to continue his now-peaceful independence struggle as leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front.
“There is only one ray of hope,” he said. “India has used every kind of force on the Kashmiri people, but they have failed to break the will of the Kashmiri people.”
Released from prison in 1987, Malik decided there was no room for a non-violent independence movement in Kashmir, and the JKLF started its armed struggle.
But after another arrest in 1990 and four years of solitary confinement, he said, he accepted appeals from Indian intellectuals to try non-violence a second time, taking inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi.
“The Kashmiri people have no history of violence,” he said. “The Indians introduced the concept of non-violence to the world, but these very people have covered our non-violent struggle with every kind of violent reaction.”
The JKLF leader rejected Delhi’s assertions that the militancy in Kashmir is purely driven by Islamic extremists sent over from Pakistan, saying that 90 per cent of the fighters killed in recent years have been Kashmiris. “This a very, very unfortunate,” he said.