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From Kashmiri Nelson Mandela to Arvind Kejriwal

Some Indians don’t like the comparison between Nelson Mandela and Dr Faktoo

Hamid Mir
THE US Department of State recently released a report that says that an estimated one million individuals across the world find themselves behind bars as political prisoners. The report mentioned individuals like Iranian lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Narges Mohammadi serving a sentence of nine years. It also includes Dr Gulshan Abbas, an ethnic Uyghur physician from the Chinese province Xinjiang who was sentenced to 20 years in 2019.
I also found the name of Russian opposition leader Vladimir Kara-Murza sentenced to 25 years for criticizing Russia’s war in Ukraine but surprisingly I never found the name of Kashmiri prisoner Dr Muhammad Qasim Faktoo who has already spent more than three decades in Indian jails, and the last six years (2018-2024) in solitary confinement.
Dr Muhammad Qasim Faktoo is one of the longest-serving political prisoners and is often called the Nelson Mandela of South Asia. Former South African President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela served 27 years in prison but Dr Faktoo has now completed 31 years in prison and there are no signs of his release in the near future. In fact, he is a living example of judicial violence in India. His wife has also been behind bars since 2018. Dr Faktoo married Asiya Andrabi in 1990. They only spent three years together. Dr Faktoo was arrested in 1993 under the colonial Public Safety Act and Asiya, a mother of two, became an activist after the arrest of her husband. She was arrested many times in the last three decades but she has not been released since 2018. The couple is now imprisoned in different jails.
Some Indians don’t like the comparison between Nelson Mandela and Dr Faktoo. I met Mandela in New Zealand during the Commonwealth conference and read his autobiography ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ many times. I never met Dr Faktoo but I have read some of his books authored in prisons. It is easy to find commonalities between the two. Very few people remember now that Nelson Mandela became the first black president of South Africa in 1994. He announced retirement from politics in 2004 but he was on the terrorist watch list of the US government until 2008. Both Mandela and Dr Faktoo faced charges of terrorism and high treason due to their political views. Both struggled for freedom and justice and their enemies declared them terrorists.

Mandela became an international story after spending 27 years in prison because his party, the African National Congress (ANC), launched an international campaign for his release. Dr Faktoo has spent 31 years in prison but he doesn’t have a political party on his back to campaign for his release. No political party in India ever demanded a fair trial for him because a nation’s terrorist is simply another’s freedom fighter. Dr Faktoo is a freedom fighter for the majority of Kashmiris. Pakistan has always supported the right of self-determination for Kashmiris but most Pakistanis are not aware of Dr Faktoo who has spent more time in prison than Nelson Mandela. No Pakistani leader has ever mentioned his name at any international forum.

Dr Muhammad Qasim Faktoo was born in 1967 in a middle-class family in Srinagar. He was only 13 years old when his father passed away. He continued his studies and arranged college expenses through small private jobs. In 1985, the Kashmir police sought applications for the recruitment of sub-inspectors. Faktoo appeared in the selection test and passed but he was asked to pay Rs25,000 as a bribe for getting the job. He did not have the money and was denied the job. He completed his BCom degree from Islamia College Srinagar in 1987 and started preparing for the exam offered by the Institute of Cost and Works Accountants (ICWA).
During that period the Indian government held a sham election in the state of Jammu & Kashmir to install National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah as the chief minister. Many Kashmiri leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Sayed Salahuddin participated in the 1987 state election. Unfortunately, the Indian Army rigged the election shamelessly. This rigging pushed Kashmiri youth towards militancy. Many youngsters like Sayed Salahuddin and Faktoo realized that armed struggle was the only option left for them.

Faktoo abandoned his plan to appear for the ICWA and started a PhD in Islamic Studies from Kashmir University. He started writing columns in a local daily. He was appointed spokesperson of Hizbul Mujahideen, led by Sayed Salahuddin (who contested the election from Srinagar but lost due to rigging). In October 1990, Faktoo married Asiya Andrabi. He never participated in armed action but was the spokesperson of the militants, calling them freedom fighters. He was arrested in 1993 with his wife and infant. After 13 months, his wife and child were released but he was kept in jail under the Public Safety Act.
The then advisor of J&K Governor Lt-Gen DD Saklani met Dr Faktoo in an interrogation centre three times and offered him to take part in the elections. The Indian general not only assured him success but offered him a ministry in the next state government. Dr Faktoo refused to buy freedom in return for participating in another rigged election. Gen Saklani wrote a book after his retirement, ‘Kashmir Saga: A Bundle of Blunders’, but never dared to speak the whole truth about Dr Faktoo who was forced to sign blank papers under severe torture meted out under Saklani’s supervision. Ultimately, Dr Faktoo was implicated in the murder of a Hindu pandit, Hirday Nath Wanchoo.
There was no evidence against Dr Faktoo except a confession that was written by some intelligence officials. In March 1999, he was released on bail for a short period. He launched a religious organization, Muslim Deeni Muhaz, and he was again arrested after a few months. In July 2001, the TADA court in Jammu honourably acquitted him in Wanchoo’s murder case but the government challenged the verdict in the Supreme Court of India. The Superior Court overruled the TADA court verdict and sentenced him to life imprisonment. He was offered another deal in 2002, at the Talab Tillo interrogation centre in Jammu. Some intelligence officers offered him release if he agreed to participate in the 2002 state election. This offer again tarnished the image of the biggest democracy in the world in the eyes of a prisoner. Faktoo never said yes and preferred to remain in jail.

Dr Faktoo completed his life imprisonment (14 years) in 2007 but he was not released. Indian authorities were committed to teaching him a lesson through ‘judicial violence’. In 2012, the Supreme Court of India declared that “life imprisonment implies a jail term till the end of [a] convict’s life”. This person’s specific ruling was a violation of human rights. He wrote more than 15 books in different jails between 1993 and 2018. Finally, he was banned from reading and writing inside the jail and thrown in solitary confinement.
Dr Faktoo proved that a pen is more powerful than a gun. He raised a question about Maharaja Hari Singh who signed a document of accession in 1947, asking: “Was he an elected representative of the Kashmiri people?” He further asked: “If Hari Singh had a right to take such a decision, what about the ruler of Junagarh who announced accession with Pakistan but [it] was not accepted by India?”
In his books, Dr Faktoo expressed views that were not liked by some people in Pakistan. He proposed that Kashmiri political organizations, including the Hurriyat Conference, should not accept monetary help from any government or agency but should raise funds locally and snap all relations with the intelligence agencies of Delhi and Islamabad. He wrote a book on Kashmir before 9/11 and predicted that one day the Pakistani government would take a U-turn from its traditional stand on Kashmir. He was proved right when Gen Pervez Musharraf presented a four-point formula on Kashmir which was in violation of the UNSC resolutions on Kashmir.
Today many people in India are disappointed in the arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi has said that Kejriwal’s arrest weeks before the general election is political victimization and pre-poll rigging by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He perhaps forgot that Modi learned the art of rigging from his late father Rajiv Gandhi which he used in 1987 against Kashmiris in favour of Farooq Abdullah. Indian political parties remained silent on the fake cases and victimization against Dr Faktoo and many other Kashmiri leaders like Yasin Malik and Shabbir Shah who are imprisoned in the Tihar jail of Delhi.
Now it is Kejriwal and Rahul Gandhi’s turn to face fake cases. Indian courts denied justice to Dr Faktoo and now they can do the same to Kejriwal. If the opponents of Modi believe in real democracy they must confess that rigging and injustice actually started in Kashmir and reached Delhi due to their criminality. The Indian opposition is rightly worried about the downfall of democracy but they cannot deny the fact that their silence on the plight of Kashmiri prisoners like Dr Faktoo and Yasin Malik encouraged Modi to treat his political opponents like criminals. It is time to speak not only for Kejriwal but also for Dr Faktoo and many other Kashmiri prisoners.

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