Masarat Alam: In A Democracy, Why Jail Activists?

9 March 2015
The Hindu
Zahid Rafiq

Srinagar: There is hardly any trace of the previous day's heavy snowfall in the lane that leads to Masarat Alam's house in Zainadar Mohalla in Habbakadal area of the old city. It has turned busy as hundreds of people turn up to greet Mr. Alam, who is home after four and a half years in prison. The man at the centre of the growing tension in the PDP-BJP coalition, whose release caused a furore in Parliament on Monday, sits in a room full of people, meeting friends, speaking to journalists, and shaking hands with party workers. And he talks of returning to his 'normal' life outside prison - resistance politics. 'It is, in a sense, God's grace and gift, that my release from prison is causing such a huge debate and fight in the Indian Parliament,' Masarat Alam told The Hindu. 'But more importantly it shows how tenuous is the silence on the ground which is often portrayed as peace, and how afraid the Indian and pro-India establishment is of our ideas and beliefs.' General Secretary of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat and Chairman of the J&K Muslim League, 44-year-old Alam was one of the key organisers of the 2010 mass protests in Kashmir which led to the death of more than 120 civilians. Mr. Alam is aware that he could be arrested again as the uproar over his release continues to grow. Asked about the huge turnout in the recent elections, Mr. Alam said that he had no doubt that people in Kashmir were with the freedom movement, but voted because of several daily compulsions in a 'repressive atmosphere.' 'This is no democracy where the resistance activists are being imprisoned and put under house arrest so that they cannot reach out to people and articulate their ideas and politics. In a democracy and war of ideas, why would you imprison people? It is because this is not a democracy,' Mr. Alam said. However, he said that after a long imprisonment he had no plans of his own and would follow the programme of the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat. A science graduate who received his early education from the elite Christian Missionary Bisoe School. Mr. Alam joined militants in 1990. The separatist leader comes from an affluent family that had a well-known garment business, one of the few who 'sold Raymond cloth' in the valley. However, most of the money is gone now. 'When he [Alam] went to the freedom movement, the house [family] in a way followed the path of hardship. We slowly lost everything and now we live a humble life, but thankfully a dignified one,' Farooq Ahmad, Mr. Alam's uncle who raised him after the death of his father, told The Hindu. Mr. Alam lives with his uncle and his wife, Zahida, and his older, disabled sister. He has been in prison for more than five of the six years of his marriage.