Kulangam: The family of Ghulam Mohammad Bhat in Kashmir said that they were "kept in dark" about the death of the 65-year-old activist at Allahabad jail in Uttar Pradesh. His son Mohammad Hanif came to know about his demise only after he reached the Allahabad jail.
On Friday, December 20, at about 6 PM, Hanif says two Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) policemen came to his house. "They told us that my father's PSA (Public Security Act) has been quashed and he is ill. They told me to bring him back but didn't tell us that he has already died," Hanif told NewsClick.
Bhat, an activist of Jamaat-e-Islami, was arrested in July earlier this year like many other Jamaat functionaries in the region ahead of the government's move to abrogate Article 370 on August 5. Bhat, however, had been released for only two months from another detention of nearly four months. He was arrested in February after the government had banned Jamaat-e-Islami in Jammu and Kashmir.
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Bhat's family said he had been detained almost a dozen times, sometimes for days and sometimes for months, for his social activism in the area. "But, this was the most difficult and turned out to be the worst nightmare for us," Bhat's younger son Mushtaq said.
The family could never, since his detention, visit him in jail due to financial constraints, his son admitted. Even when the police came on Friday, he had refused to visit his father stating financial limitation. "They came next morning with an airline ticket and another person accompanied me until I reached the mortuary," he said.
In Allahabad, Hanif was alone asked to identify his father, who was then taken for post-mortem. He was flown back with Bhat's body and reached back home to Kulangam, a village in North Kashmir around 70 km from Srinagar, on Sunday evening. Bhat was buried at a local martyrs’ graveyard close to his home on the same day.
Bhat, a farmer who spent most of time in community work, had a limp and walked with the help of a stick, is survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters. His wife Zareefa Begum remembers him only as a strong person. "He was always bold since we were young and never gave up his aspirations or social work. I had to put extra effort to take care of my children," she recalled.
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According to Zareefa, Bhat was physically fit before his detention and didn't take any medication. He started limping, according to her, after his detention by Army in 1993. "He was tortured and couldn't recover complete strength in his knee," she said.
As Bhat's family mourns his death, the police checkpoint near his village enquires mourners visiting his home. He was a known figure in his village, his neighbours said. "Before he was arrested, he spoke inside the mosque saying goodbye and seeking forgiveness from neighbours and relatives for the first time as is customary before going for a pilgrimage," his next door neighbour said.
"He left in high spirit saying he is leaving for a pilgrimage," Bhat's wife said. But, Zareefa didn’t say goodbye, she added, as she did not expect it to be his final farewell.