Srinagar, Oct. 7: Wedding bells are ringing in Kashmir’s separatist camp like never before — and the season of peace is not the sole reason.
Two summers of peace may have facilitated the setting but several of the marriages appear to have been prompted by the advancing age of militant leaders, a realisation that independence need not be round the corner and an eagerness to have progeny to whom the baton can be passed.
About a dozen leaders, most of them former militants, have either tied the knot or announced their engagement in the past two summers, described by officials as “the most peaceful” since militancy broke out in 1989.
Although several other pro-independence leaders, including Shabir Ahmad Shah and Yasin Malik, got married before 2010, rarely have so many senior separatists chosen to say goodbye to their prolonged bachelorhood in such quick succession.
Several leaders were reluctant to speak on record on the delicate subject but some did agree.
Most of the newlyweds had joined the pro-independence movement as teenagers in the 1980s and then turned front-ranking militant commanders. In their 40s now, some of them have had to break their teenage vow not to marry till they had achieved “azaadi”.
Only a handful of top separatists now remain in the club of bachelors. One of them is Islamic Students League head Shakeel Bakshi, 49.
“Azaadi is my first love. I took a vow along with many others in the 1980s that we shall die for azaadi, or never marry till we get freedom. Many of them died fighting India while some broke the vow,” Bakshi said. “I shall never marry until freedom is achieved,” he added.
Not all the newlyweds had taken such a pledge, of course, but the years of turbulence gave them little time to think about marriage. Starting from a decade before the birth of full-blown militancy, the Valley hardly saw any calm till the end of three successive summers of furious agitation in 2008-10.
“One reason we did not marry all these years is that many of us could not get matrimonial alliances because people thought our association with the movement had endangered our lives,” said one of the newlywed separatists, requesting he not be named.
“Now we have established ourselves as over-ground political leaders. We can be arrested but perhaps not killed, and this has brought the alliances.”
Separatist sources said the newlyweds include Iqbal Gandroo, Noor Mohammad Kalwal, Bitta Karatey, Saleem Zargar, Hilal Ahmad War and Feroz Sheikh. Bilal Siddiqui and Shabir Zargar too got engaged recently, while Mushtaq-ul Islam’s wedding had to be postponed after he was arrested a few months ago.
These are no small names in the separatist camp.
Bilal Siddiqui, 47, was among the first to join the militant struggle and is accused of participating in the Valley’s first militant strike, a failed attempt to assassinate the then Srinagar police chief in 1988.
He has since spent more than 15 years behind bars and now heads a separatist group, the Tehreek-e-Mazahmat.
Gandroo was the first military adviser to the pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) at the inception of armed insurgency. When Gandroo was arrested in 1990, Kalwal stepped into his shoes. He too was arrested a few years later.
Both of them have spent more than a decade behind bars and are now executive members of the JKLF, which announced a unilateral ceasefire in 1994 and has since been fighting politically.
Bitta Karatey, another senior JKLF leader, is accused of killing several Kashmiri Pandits, which many in the community say became a reason for their migration out of the Valley in 1990. Karatey, who denies the charge, spent 17 years in jail as an undertrial.
Saleem, Feroz and Mushtaq-ul too spent more than a decade behind bars. Mushtaq-ul heads the Muslim League while the other two are leaders of the Tehreek-e-Mazahmat.
Hilal Ahmad War, 42, now heads the People’s Political Party. War, who married in May this year, is candid about the timing of his marriage.
“I had planned to marry in 2008 but had to give the idea up because of the anti-Amarnath land agitation. During the following two years, there were two more rounds of agitation,” he said.
“One reason I got married this year is the situation, which has given me the time to go ahead with my wedding. Had there been another agitation this year, my marriage would certainly have got delayed again.”
War admitted he had taken the vow of celibacy like some others but said he had had a rethink and cited a reason.
“We never thought our struggle would drag on so long, and now we feel we will have to continue fighting for many more years. To do that, we have to pass on this struggle to our children and we need to marry for that,” he said.
Kalwal, 46, who married last year, however, said the improvement in the situation was not the reason for the spate in separatist weddings. “It was now or never because of our age. We were already in our forties and if there were any more delay, we would probably have remained bachelors all our lives,” he said. “But, yes, we got the time during this period to marry.”
Earlier, Yasin Malik married Pakistani artist Mushaal Malik in February 2009 and Shabir Shah wed a doctor, Bilqees. Both grooms were in their 40s.