The loneliness of a JKLF militant in the Valley
6 March 2001
The Indian Express
Jammu: Iqbal Gandroo, an accused in the Rubaiya Sayeed kidnapping case, was released from jail recently. The former JKLF commander realised that life, and the nature of militancy, in the Valley has changed drastically. He is like a stranger among his own family. He recognises only few of his relatives. The concrete building that replaced his ancestral home is new to him.Iqbal Gandroo, the 31-year-old founder member of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) has returned home after spending 11-long years in jail. One among the first few Kashmiri youngsters, who picked up guns to launch a violent separatist movement for an independent Kashmir, Gandroo finds that both his domestic life as well as political dream lies in shatters. His father is dead, his brother was married while he was away and now his niece is a school-going girl. And the ‘‘movement’’ in the Valley is now dominated by pan-Islamic Jihadi groups, whose agendas contradict the very idea of what people like Gandroo believed in, an independent Kashmir. Frail and flimsy, Gandroo looks pale. The years of confinement has left him with visible as well as invisible scars. He was charged for his role in the kidnapping of Rubayia Sayeed, the daughter of the then union home minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Gandroo was accused of holding a pistol on passengers in the mini-bus while his accomplices forced Rubaiya to come down and accompany them. However, he was never tried and convicted for this crime. ‘‘I spent my 11 years in jail as an under-trial,’’ he said. ‘‘Even if the crime, I am accused of is proven and I am given the severest punishment as per the Indian law, I would get a maximum of seven year imprisonment’’. Gandroo’s downtown home, where he used to live with his six brothers and parents was demolished when the government decided to widen the narrow alley into a motorable road. He was a tailor and was known to be very emotional but silent youngster in the locality. ‘‘I was just 17 when I joined the group. Not many knew about the armed struggle those days. I left home and remained underground for almost three years. During these days, I had also crossed over (to Pakistan) for receiving arms training,’’ he said. He said despite a change in the political scenario in Kashmir, the only solution to the problem was an establishment of an independent Kashmir. ‘‘JKLF is no longer in the armed struggle but ask any common Kashmiri, everybody will echo our ideology,’’ he said. With short hairs and a low voice, Gandroo sat in a corner of the room, where an unending stream of friends, relatives and neighbours was pouring in to see him. One of his brother was serving Kashmiri ‘kehva’ and offering plates full of large bakerkhanis (kashmiri bread which is served on special occasions). Sipping the kehwa, his family members would occasionally intervene to introduce a close relative to Gandroo. ‘‘He is your youngest cousin. He was five-years-old then and now he is studying in college,’’ Gandroo’s brother Fayaz Ahmad explained. At the JKLF office in Maisuma, locally known as the ‘Gaza strip of the Valley’ for the pitched battles the place has witnessed between the police and local youngsters, friends, most of them former commanders of JKLF are waiting for Gandroo. Mohammad Saleem Nana ji, Manzoor Sofi and Javeed Zargar rewind the first few months of 1990. ‘‘There were just 20 boys with JKLF apart from the four top commanders (Ishfaq Majeed, Yasin Malik, Hameed Sheikh and Javeed Mir),’’ said Nana ji, who spent almost six years in jail and was also one among the accused in the Rubaiya Sayeed kidnapping case. ‘‘Yes, we are not fighting militarily since 1994 ceasefire but JKLF has definitely emerged as a political force now,’’ Nanaji, who is now a general secretary of the outfit, said. ‘‘We have a lot of forces to reckon with. We don’t have a country at our back. We are on our own,’’ he said. His friend and one among the 20 boys of the first group, Manzoor Sofi was known as Mustafa in the city then. He was picked up, when a ‘‘cat’’ of the Border Security Force identified him at Hawal locality on June 16, 1990. He was picked up and his jail yatra commenced only on October, 4, 2000. These young men are optimistic about the political role their outfit in the Valley. ‘‘For us, Kashmir problem is purely a political issue with a political resolution as per the wishes of the people living here,’’ one of the men said.