Mirwaiz Umar Farooq's Long Detention Is A Threat To Peace

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq's Long Detention Is A Threat To Peace
On August 4th of 2019, as Kashmiris were running helter-skelter for supplies while rumours filled the conflict region. The whispers in the wind foretold the coming of a political apocalypse - political leaders and activists were being sent to jails. The house of Mohammad Umar Farooq - chief of the region’s political movement for self-determination called the Hurriyat Conference - was turned into a jail. His last tweet was a quote from the Holy Quran - If Allah helps you, none can defeat you. But if He denies you help, then who else can help you?

The day after, India put a population of 12 million people under a military siege, suspended the internet and detained thousands of activists and political leadership It abrogated the nominal autonomy status given by Article 370. Since then India has continued the crackdown against political leaders, journalists and even internet users. While it says that ‘normalcy’ has been restored in the region, it continues to deny political space for those who call for self-determination.

For over 40 weeks, Mohammad Umar Farooq has been put under illegal house arrest. There are no charges against him, the current regime in Kashmir says that he’s free to move. But when he attempted to deliver the Friday sermon on August 27, he was pushed back. The reason was stated to be a security threat,’ at a time when the Indian establishment says normalcy has come to Kashmir.

Mohammad Umar Farooq is not only the leader of an inter-generational movement for the resolution. But also is the 13th generation Mirwaiz - the head cleric. A position he inherited after his father, Maulvi Mohammad Farooq was assassinated in 1990 inside his home. The funeral was also deemed a security threat, but the millions of people participating in the funeral became his protection. A few kilometres from his home, the caravan of people was shot at, and over 72 people became martyrs.

Anointed as the Mirwaiz, he along with his party advocated for the peaceful resolution of the conflict. His advocacy led to the foundation of the Hurriyat Conference in 1993, uniting various political and social groups into a single forum-based platform. Hurriyat later participated in various inter-governmental meetings at the United Nations, the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation and the European Union. It also held peace talks with many Indian and Pakistani governments, even coming close to the resolution of the dispute between 2005 and 2007.

It was the advocacy of peace and resolution that Time Magazine in 2001 listed Mirwaiz Umar Farooq amongst its illustrious list of Asian Heroes. But it came at a great personal cost too. Mirwaiz has survived many assassination attempts. He lost his uncle - Maulvi Mushtaq to bullets and even the school that his family built - Islamia High School - was set ablaze in 2004. But despite these attempts to silence him, he has continued to work for peace and dignity for the people of Kashmir.

In the last 3 years, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s colleagues have been jailed, and some of them including his mentor Maulana Abbas Ansari and Syed Ali Shah Geelani have passed away. He was barred from attending their funerals and even of his grandmother.

For the last three decades, the Mirwaiz has taken his place at the pulpit of the Jamia Masjid - the biggest mosque of Kashmiri Muslims. His Friday sermons and devotional prayers add to the mystical culture of the valley. Thousands of people men, women and children listen to his voice echoing in the halls of this 15th-century mosque. But since the illegal detention, Mirwaiz has been deprived of taking on his social, religious and political responsibility.

In any other part of the world, a political leader is barred from meeting his people and advocating for the resolution of conflict. They’re hailed as doyens of peace and advocates of human dignity. Yet the same is denied for a Kashmiri leader who has risked not only his life but also continues to pay the price by being confined in the walls of his home.

A political, social and spiritual vacuum in the valley has created a hole in the Kashmiri psyche after the events of August 2019. Mirwaiz’s continued detention exacerbates the wound, his freedom can help resolve the conundrum in the valley. The international community and civil society actors can help expedite peace and return dignity to the region. They must express solidarity with the incarcerated Mirwaiz and hundreds of other political and civil activists.

The last part of the verse that Mirwaiz tweeted So in Allah let the believers put their trust. His belief in God and the goodness of people remains steadfast.