July 2002 News

Painted veil

17 July 2002
The Statesman
Kavita Suri

New Delhi: In autumn last year, when the world was still recovering from the shocks of 9/11, on our way out from a press conference at the All Party Hurriyat Conference headquarters at Rajbagh in the heart of Srinagar, we found a burqa-clad woman waiting outside to take us to an unknown destination. We were led through a few hours and by lanes to a beautiful house where Asiya Andrabi - the militant chief of Dukhteran-e-Millat (Daughters of the Faith) - was waiting to address a press conference. We journalists were visibly doted as the "burqa campaign" unleashed by lesser known militant group, Lashkar-e-Jabbar, and supported by the DeM, was then at its peak. Besides, many of us were not aware that she was holding a Press briefing. But that is how Andrabi the media savvy, woman militant chief in Kashmir chooses the to operate with scribes - picking them up from different places, beating them to pastries, tea, coffee or kahwa (liquor tea) and then making her statements in excellent English at an unknown venue. This was my first meeting with the 39-year-old Andrabi who founded the DeM in 1987. With a small bindi on my forehead and defying the dress code ''imposed" by her militant outfit for non-Muslim women (yellow dupatta), I was the only woman among dozens of local and foreign correspondents. There were butterflies in my stomach. My fears proved baseless because she did not comment on my dress and restricted herself to her agenda. She came out in support of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban and then got into a heated argument with a foreign correspondent over the 11 September attack, justifying the act. This was the elusive Andrabi whom nobody had ever seen without a veil, barring a few women journalists. Recently, her secessionist organisation was declared "unlawful" under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. According to the home ministry's gazette notification, the DeM is involved in terrorist activities and banned under POTA with immediate effect". A hunt has been launched to trace her as she has been absconding ever since Imtiyaz Bazaz, editor and publisher of a Srinagar magazine Mountain Valley confessed that he had approached Ayub Thakur, the London-based president of the World Kashmir Freedom Movement, for funnelling Inter Services Intelligence funds to the DeM chief. Bazaz was arrested for bringing in funds to the state. Andrabi, who denied any involvement, went into hiding immediately after the case came to light. Bazaz had claimed during interrogation that Andrabi was instrumental in introducing him to Thakur. Bazaz had confessed that he had taken money on earlier occasions from the former Pakistan occupied Kashmir Prime Minister and chairman of Pakistan's Kashmir Committee, Sardar Abdul Qayoom, in the early 1990s. The state police and the Central Intelligence agencies seized Rs 50 million and arrested 20 people in the case, this year. The case against Andrabi is based on alleged intercepts of her phone conversation with Thakur where the two were heard discussing ways to send money for the jehad in Jammu and Kashmir. Cases have been registered under Pota against Andrabi on charges of allegedly receiving money from the ISI through hawala channels. This followed the arrest of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, former chairman of the separatist APHC on 9 June from Srinagar under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act. 1978 for allegedly receiving money from the ISI through Hawala channels and for distributing it to terror groups, including the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen As Andrabi's husband Qasim Mohammed Faktu was the financial chief of Jamait-ul-Mujahideen (JuM), she reportedly got money from Thakur through Bazaz to fund the JuM as well as the DeM. Andrabi has always remained in the news, while other pro-separatist women's organisations which surfaced in the initial years of insurgency in the Kashmir Valley faded out The hardcore radical Islamist that she is, Andrabi always makes good copy for any reporter. Be it her comments on her two sons about not making them doctors or engineers but Osama bin Ladens, Saddam Husseins and Mujahideen (freedom fighters), or forcing her husband to many a few widows of militants, she has always made headlines. Justifying her stand on forcing her husband to marry militants widow. she told a foreign correspondent: "Allah says a man can have four wives but he must have the means to do justice to them all. The jehad against India has left so many widow and orphans. A man has responsibility to look after them." What differentiates the DeM from other militant groups operating in the Kashmir Valley is the fact that Andrabi cadres have not taken to arms so far. However they have always supported jehad in Kashmir and acted as owners and massagers for them. The DeM has been accused of delivering a parcel bomb in the BBC office at Pratap Park in Srinagar that led to the death of ANI videographer Mustaq Ali. Andrabi claims she formed the Dukhteran-e-Millat for a social cause - to help Kashmiri women fight for their rights given to them by Islam. She tried to serve the cause by fighting for special reservations for women in buses, socially boycotting families which demanded dowry, marrying off poor girls, in many cases, to Mujahideen. Her party's general secretary, Naheeda is married to an Al Jehad militant. She hogged the limelight for first time March 1987 when the DeM staged a rally against pornographic film posters. That was the time when foreign films were being screened in almost all of Srinagar's theaters and posters had been splashed over the city. DeM cadres, carrying brushes and cans of paint under their burqas, defaced advertisements and posters that showed scantily dressed models or actresses. Andrabi invited the wrath of the government which seized her office and issued warrants against her. With the outbreak of militancy in Kashmir in 1969, her cadres restricted themselves to staging rallies against excesses. The next year, Andrabi organised protests against those Kashmiri women who did not adhere to the burqa system. The DeM issued warnings to women in Srinagar in May 1993 not to venture outdoors without a veil. To terrorise Kashmiri women and ensure that the diktats were followed, her cadres threw acid and paint on the faces of women who dared to defy them. After lying low for many years. she was back in focus last year for having supported a new outfit named the Lashkar-e-Jabbar (LeJ) whose activists reportedly threw acid on two women in Srinagar on 7 August as they were not dressed in the Islamic style". LeJ men threatened to use violence against Kashmiri Muslims who did not adhere to their version of "Islamic dress code". Andrabi said the campaign was the beginning of a comprehensive social reform movement based on true Islamic thought". Not only did she help the LeJ enforce the "dress code" but went a step further, asking Kashmiri women to quit their jobs and stay at home as "women were supposed to look after the kitchen while men were supposed to work". Once again, she became unpopular with Kashmiri women. The DeM also opposed peace initiatives in the state, rejecting the ceasefire declared by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, last year. Andrabi urged militants groups to take action against senior APHC leader Abdul Ghani Lone for his remarks against foreign militants, asking them to leave the Valley. She warned Lone of dire consequences "if he did not hold his tongue" against "foreign militants and Islam". Last year, she had accused the former Hizbul Mujahideen chief commander, Abdul Mazid Dar - the man who announced the ceasefire last year - of being in league with the Government of India. Andrabi believes that the Kashmir issue is primarily a religious one and that jehad is mandatory and supports accession of Kashmir Valley to Pakistan. Her outfit primarily operates in the Valley and its present strength is reported to be about 350. The founder of South Asia's only all-woman separatist group has had a fairly enlightened upbringing in that her father,- a doctor, had encouraged her to acquire a secular education. A brilliant student, she studied biochemistry, bacteriology and diet therapy at a Srinagar college. But when she expressed a desire to study further, her family refused to let her leave home. Andrabi saw her dreams being shattered and locked herself in her room. But then she stumbled upon a hook, the Khawateen Ki Dilon Ki Baatein (Words from her Hearts of Women), a compilation of the writings of Islamic women revolutionaries. That changed her life. After reading the book, Andrabi decided to live and die for Islam. She studied the Koran and encouraged other women to do the same. Andrabi got so engrossed in jehad in Kashmir that she told her father that she would only many a Mujahid. At 27, Faktu was a member of the militant group Jamial-ul-Mujahadeen in 1990. She met her husband for the first time on their wedding day. The militant duo has been arrested many times. Faktu arrested from the Indira Gandhi International Airport a few years ago with Rs. 50 lakh - allegedly hawala money - but released after a few years. Andrabi's brother, Dr Inayat Andrahi was chief of the Jamaat-ul-Tulba (the militant student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami). He formed the Mahaj-e-Islami after differences between him and the Jamaat. At present he is in London. One of her uncles, Ghulam Mustafa Alvi, had fled to Pakistan in 1965 to escape a death sentence. Another uncle was a member of the Al Fateh - Kashmir Valley's first militant outfit formed in the early 1970s. With both police and Intelligence agencies body in pursuit of Asiya Andrabi, who is reportedly changing her hideout almost daily, she may not be able to evade arrest for long. With her arrest, many hawala transactions that fund terrorist outfits in Kashmir may be uncovered.


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