Exclusive interview: Just killing an Indian soldier won’t get us anything- Syed Asiya Andrabi

  • Auqib Javeed
  • Publish Date: Jan 15 2018 2:30AM
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  • Updated Date: Jan 15 2018 2:34AM
Exclusive interview: Just killing an Indian soldier won’t get us anything- Syed Asiya Andrabi

                                                      Illustration by Suhail Naqshbandi/KI

Asiya Andrabi is attending to guests who have come to see the firebrand separatist leader at her home in Soura, Srinagar. The 55-year-old has just been freed after another spell of incarceration – of about eight months – and many visitors are enquiring about her health. Mostly, though, the discussion is about the political situation in Kashmir.

Andrabi founded Dukhtaran-e-Millat, an Islamist women’s organisation that is part of the separatist movement. It has hundreds of active members across Jammu and Kashmir and advocates for the state’s merger with Pakistan.

In an exclusive interview with Auqib Javeed, Andrabi talks about her political journey, how the Dukhtaran-e-Millat came into being in 1983, and the enormous cost she has had to bear for her political choices, and personal. Excerpts:

How did you come to launch your organisation Dukhtaran-e-Millat?

Dukhtaran-e-Millat is not an organisation, it is a movement. One day after I had graduated from college in 1981, I was going through my father’s library and I found a book called Khawateen Ke Dilon Ki Batein, written by Mayil Khairabadi. It is a collection of stories of different women who had reverted to Islam. Reading it proved to be the turning point in my life, it completely changed my feelings and my ideology.

One story was of Margaret Marcus, a Jewish woman from New York who had reverted to Islam and was named Maryam Jameelah. It moved me deeply. Here was a non-Muslim woman who had left everything, including her family, for Islam while I, born a Muslim, was totally ignorant about the teachings of Islam. I learned Arabic and began studying Islam. After some time, I thought I should share my knowledge with other women. So, I started a part-time school called Darsgah Taleem-ul-Quran in Hawal, Srinagar. The response was great. I told the women that Islam was not only about offering prayers five times a day, it was a complete way of life. And Muslim women are subjected to the worst kind of violence, be it at home or beyond, only because of their ignorance and arrogance.

From this school, I would visit many schools, colleges and other places to deliver speeches and spread the teachings of Islam. Eventually, it led to the creation of Dukhtaran-e-Millat in 1983.


So, how did your organisation get into separatist politics?

It was in 1987 that we first called upon women to come out and protest against the display of pictures of nuke women. We painted black all such pictures wherever we found them around business establishments or cinema halls. That same day, the police raided my house, claiming they had an arrest warrant against me. Our office in Batamaloo area of Srinagar was raided and ransacked by police.

I wasn’t at home and when I came to know about police raid, I went underground for 21 days.

The 1987 Assembly election was near and the Muslim United Front had come into being. One of its leaders, Mohammad Yousuf Shah, now Syed Salahuddin, head of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, approached me, seeking support for the MUF. But I refused, categorically.

My argument was simple and it has not change since: it is haram to contest elections under Indian constitution. It is hypocritical to say we are against India and then contest elections and take an oath to safeguard the sovereignty of the Indian state. Besides, I am of the belief that Kashmir is the natural part of Pakistan.

Immediately after the election, the armed movement started, and the first group of militants approached me for help. I remember Shaheed Abdullah Bangroo and Shaheed Maqbool Illahi asked me to help them in their armed resistance against Indian rule. I said jihad is a pillar of Islam but it is obligatory for men and women, so I wouldn’t allow Dukhtaran girls to participate in jihad directly. However, we would support them morally and try to take care of their families. For this, our organisation was banned in 1990 and I had to go underground again. My associates in Dukhtaran used to ask me for permission to participate in jihad but I made them understand that women were not allowed to participate until and unless there was such a need.

Then came time for my marriage. I told my family that I would only marry a mujahid fighting against Indian rule in Kashmir, so that we are ideologically compatible. I got married to Dr Qasim Faktoo in 1990.


Is Dukhtaran part of the Joint Resistance Leadership?

The JRL came into existence sometime before the martyrdom of Burhan Muzaffar Wani in 2016. Yaseen Malik Sahab approached me before the JRL was formed and we discussed the need for unity within the leadership of the freedom movement. After that, however, I didn’t get to know anything about the formation of the JRL.

Dukhtaran is not part of the Hurriyat Conference and that’s not important for me. Ours is a women’s group with no men interfering, and which believes in the complete merger with Pakistan.


When it comes to resistance, is shutdown the only option available to the pro-freedom leadership? Successive state governments have blamed shutdowns for damaging the valley’s economy.

It is India that is responsible for our economic condition. They want to destroy our economy. India is looting all our resources. Tax regimes like the GST have badly affected our businesses. I don’t think shutdown calls affect our businesses, it’s the restrictions and curfews imposed by the government.


But people seem to be getting fed up with this hartal politics. Don’t you have any new strategy?

Hartal is one of the ways of expressing our anger but we should not rely on it alone. We have to work on multiple fronts. Our youth are spilling their blood for the sacred cause of freedom. If we want to achieve anything, we have to give sacrifices. And our armed struggle should be strong so that it destroys India’s political writ in Kashmir.

In the 1990s, the armed struggle was so strong that it destroyed the Indian state’s political writ. Just killing a CRPF man or an armyman cannot get us anything. India has 10 lakh soldiers in Kashmir and it will not affect them if some are killed, they will recruit more.


Why are people now cold-shouldering the shutdown calls given by the resistance leadership?

I think the raids by the National Investigation Agency on the resistance leadership and propaganda by the Indian media has had some effect on people.

Yes, the people didn’t react to the NIA raids much. The reason is they fell for the Indian propaganda but people should know that the NIA has fabricated cases against the resistance leadership, they should know that India is not their well-wisher.

If the people think our leadership is wrong, they must also introspect if what they are doing is harming the movement. They must ensure they are not taken in by the Indian propaganda. While our youth are sacrificing their lives for freedom, some people are sending their children on army-sponsored tours.

India is trying to defame us before our own people. If we make mistakes, people should approach us directly and point out our mistakes.


Do you see any major differences between the militancy in the 1990s and now?

Today’s militant are fighting with maturity. Though they are younger, they are educated and brave. The storming of a CRPF camp by a 16-year-old boy is such a big thing. In the 1990s, the atmosphere was such that everybody picked up the gun. Today, militants have maturity but they lack guidance and are without any road map...they lack leadership.

How do you see Zakir Musa? He has spoken against the Hurriyat and Pakistan.

I was in jail when Zakir Musa released his statements against the Hurriyat. I later came to know that he talks about an Islamic caliphate in Kashmir. But I believe our main motive should be to get freedom from India first.

It is not possible to establish a caliphate in an occupied land. We have to free our land and then we should merge with Pakistan to form a nation of 19 crore Muslims. I want to make it clear that we don’t believe in the nation state; Pakistan is an ideological state based on the two nation theory of Muslims and non-Muslims.

I don’t endorse Zakir Musa’s Ideology. I don’t know who is guiding him. But I won’t say that he might be an Indian agent. I believe he is a sincere boy who left his home for jihad but has been misled by someone. ISIS, Al-Qaeda have nothing to do with the Kashmir issue.


Is your struggle secular or Islamic?

Our struggle is hundred per cent Islamic. Our politics is based on Shariah.


What is the militancy’s future in Kashmir? Is gun the only solution to the Kashmir dispute?

I think more and more youth will join the militancy and our armed struggle will get stronger by the day.

Killings and abuses by the Indian occupational forces will only increase the militancy. The gun is one of the means of achieving our goal but we must make our political struggle strong too. I believe the Kashmir issue will only be resolved through a referendum. To get a referendum, though, we need to carry on with our struggle and gun is a must for that.


Kashmir saw massive public revolts in 2008, 2010 and 2016? Did the separatist leadership fail to capitalise on these uprisings? Is Kashmir facing a leadership crisis?

Yes, we failed to gain anything from the mass uprisings. We could have achieved a lot but I think Pakistan did not take them as seriously as they should have. Most importantly, though, we lacked in leadership.


Despite calls to boycott elections, people still participate in the electoral process. What do you make of that?

People have largely boycotted elections and even those who have participated in them do not accept India as their country. They participate to address local issues but unfortunately India presents their participation as a referendum on the Kashmir dispute. Even at the time of voting, you can people clearly saying that they are voting for bijli, sadak, pani.


How do you see the ongoing dialogue process initiated by the Indian government’s interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma?

India has initiated many dialogues from time to time but they have never been serious to address the issue. India just wants to buy time and nothing else. Have we achieve anything so far from this so-called dialogue process? Dineshwar Sharma should say Kashmir is a disputed territory and that India wants to address the issue, then only will we believe in the dialogue process. Otherwise it is a waste of time.


Some people allege that separatist leaders push the youth towards violence but send their own children to study abroad. What would you say to such people?

No one is pushing anybody. India created a situation that forced our youth to pick up the gun. If my son wants to take up arms, I will never stop him. But you can’t force anyone.

My son was taken by my sister to Malaysia, where she lives, because I was behind bars and there was no one to look after him. When he passed Class 12 with good marks, he received an offer to do MBBS in Pakistan. But I refused. I told the people in Pakistan that my son cannot be a doctor at the cost of the freedom movement.

I was in Kot Bhalwal Jail in Jammu, when my elder sister came to see me. She told me that she was taking Muhammad with her. My younger son was also adopted by his aunt because there was nobody to look after him. My family is scattered so my relatives have adopted my children. What is wrong with that?


Your husband has been in prison for the last 25 years. How has it been?

I have been married for 27 years and I spent just two years with my husband. It is tough living without your husband. It would be for any woman. I cannot describe how much I have suffered without Doctor Sahib. But Allah has given me strength, and I believe we will be eventually be together, in the afterlife if not in this.