Our New Age Heroes

Carlyle’s hero is not great for his conquests but great in spirituality and thought. He lives by truth and is sincere in what he advocates.
Our New Age Heroes
Representational Pic

I remember a story my father would tell me in my childhood days. It was the story of a tyrant named Zuhak, God knows from what land. The king, weak but cruel, developed some incurable disease— serpent like worms appeared on his shoulders. Doctors advised him to feed human brain matter to the worms. The advice worked and once the worms were so fed, they would calm down till next morning without biting the king. Next morning same course was followed: The king's men would go to the town, get hold of a young man, drag him to the palace, slaughter him, take out the brain matter and feed it to the worms. Once the men appeared at the door, the inmates would helplessly weep and wail, and without any resistance say goodbye to their dear one whisked away to feed the worms. 

Days passed by, things moved on, every household waiting for its turn, reconciled to its fate. One day, it was turn of a blacksmith. King's men knocked at his door. The blacksmith was busy forging red hot iron into tools, his right hand on the sheepskin, blowing air into hearth, making flames dance around the hot iron. The knock attracted his attention to the men standing at the door. On asking the purpose of their visit, he was told that it was his turn to feed the worms and that his mother was henceforth to fend for herself. The blacksmith, to their shock and surprise took out the sheepskin, put it on a mast, rushed out of his house and raised slogans against the tyrant. The high pitch slogans were heard by the neighbors who poured out, responded to slogans and soon the whole town came out to join protests. The crowd kept swelling and thousands led by the blacksmith using sheepskin as flag and the mast as flagpole marched to the palace. King's bodyguard took to their heels, the crowd gate crashed into the palace, dragged out king and that was his end. But, for the guts shown by the blacksmith, the people were destined to suffer repression, without a murmur. The entire population took a sigh of relief, covered the sheepskin with a piece of velvet and declared it country's national flag. The courage shown by the blacksmith turned him into a hero. Incidentally, even today in Kashmir we call a weak but cruel person by the nick name "Zuhak" – may be because of our roots.   

The story was not told to send children to sleep. Those were good old days, when entire family would assemble at dinner in the living room, father would share his experiences with children to prepare them for challenges in their life. The experience shared would invariably be supported by short stories, anecdotes and at times by a couplet or two from Saadi, Iqbal or Mehjoor. Television, I-pad and Cell phone, have pushed the family away from living room and it now occasionally meets and rarely assembles. 

Whatever the truth of the story, it teaches us the lesson that one should not live only for oneself but feel pain of those around him and to usher change in their lives, must have will and courage to stand apart from the crowd and go against the current; that one has to raise his voice against oppression to see the oppressed free from a tyrant's yoke. 

The story reminds one of Thomas Carlyle's "On Heroes, Hero-worship, and Heroic in History", though one may not entirely agree with his downplaying the surrounding circumstances, in which his hero emerges. Carlyle's hero is not great for his conquests but great in spirituality and thought. He lives by truth and is sincere in what he advocates. To him courage and valor are of immense value. He as a torchbearer spreads truth and everyone around him aspires to model himself after him and enjoy the faith he inspires. Likewise, Dr Iqbal's falcon, does not like a philosopher only know how to fly but has courage to fly. He is least attracted by comforts, does not rest on the dome of a King's palace but prefers tough and hard mountain peaks. He stands for truth and justice.

 When we look back at our history of last eight decades, we find a galaxy of great men who have stood apart from the crowd, travelled against the wind, without waiting like blacksmith for their turn to be harmed, raised voice against oppression with courage and commitment, and come to the rescue of oppressed. We are grateful to Zahir-ud-din, a senior journalist, for introducing us to unsung heroes of yesteryears (Bouquet – A Tribute to the Unsung Heroes of Kashmir). We, in the current uprising also see men and women, who unmindful of the inconvenience that may visit them, the harm to which they may be exposed, or the discomfort that their conduct may bring them have articulated their pain over unprecedented atrocities,  rushed to the aid of the victims or fought for their rights. They are our "new age heroes".      

Ruveda Salam, a medical graduate from Kupwara has many firsts to her credit. She after obtaining degree in medicine and surgery, qualified Civil Service and thereafter UPSC Examination.  She made it to Indian Police Service and became first women IPS officer from the valley. She, true to what Dr. Iqbal said "from a spark, to a star and star to a sun" did not rest on her laurels. She appeared in UPSC Exam second time, ranked higher in merit and made it to Indian Administrative Service.  She is presently posted in Finance Department of Central Government. Ruveda, like thousands around the world, felt pain on watching scores of toddlers, young boys and girls killed, maimed and blinded in the streets of Kashmir. She was equally pained by insensitivity of people around her and at times their sarcastic remarks. She could not resist giving vent to the pain felt by her soul. She lamented "Kashmiri blood is not cheap and I will request my non-Kashmiri friends to kindly read about the entire history of J&K before making lewd comments about their character. It is not just a battle of ideas or religion. It is much beyond that. Let's hope there are no more killings and peace prevails. I write this while getting choked by a range of emotions which have stood by me since childhood". She was particularly pained by cold blooded murder of Reyaz Ahmad Shah, an ATM guard on his return from duty, leaving his family without a source to fall back upon. She expressed her anguish over, exploitation of religion and denigration of same religion for earthly gains. Ruveda, by giving voice to her emotions, responded to call of her conscience. A word of protest against atrocities and disapproval of exploitation is no blasphemy and does not amount to breach of rules.  When a civil servant questions misuse of religion, he is on the side of the Constitution and when he/she raises voice against a cold blooded murder, the Constitution is on his/her side. 

A civil servant to raise voice against human rights violations is not required to put in papers or join separatists. A number of civil servants, holding responsible positions have over the years protested against Operation Blue Star, Sikh Riots, Gujrat Riots, and intolerance.  Back home, Shri Ashok Jaitley, the then Chief Secretary, Hindal Tayab Ji, Mohd Shafi Pandit, M.L.Koul and five other members of Indian Administrative Service, in 1990 went a step further and addressed a memorandum to the then Governor, expressing their concern and anguish over the excesses heaped on the people and their consequent alienation. Ruveda, articulated her emotions over killings and blindings, notwithstanding her position in bureaucratic hierarchy, when her colleagues remained silent or acted as tools of repression. She undoubtedly stands apart from the mob.  

The pain and agony experienced by oppressed in a conflict zone cannot be as effectively portrayed by any medium as the art. The art at times becomes a form of resistance. The artists use their art to challenge the dominance of despots or make it reflect their tools of oppression. "The Wolves" by Franz Marc, "Old Seas" by Rick Amor, "The 2000 Yard Stare" by Tom Lea and "Guernica" by Picasso are but a few examples. However, the statement that the art gives voice to oppressed cannot be better illustrated than the art by Masood Hussain, our noted artist. Masood Hussain, has over the years inspired a generation of budding artists. He by his contribution to the world of art has carved out a niche for himself amongst top most artists of the world. No facet of Kashmir has escaped his brush. He has painted "everything that Kashmir witnessed from 1947" from Kunanposhpora mass rape to pellet blinding of children, as in his words "I felt this is the real depiction of Kashmir beyond the dominating areas of beautiful landscape". His brush has not left untouched pain and agony, the people of Kashmir are currently going through – killings, blindings and maiming, the valley witnesses. In the words of Chitra Padmanabhan, his paintings are "images of unfathomable grief and loss, the eyes drawn by the artist on the face of a boy made blind, his eyebrows drawn into a painful grimace".  Chitra in her "India of leaden skies and silences" writes, "When eyes blinded by the hubris of power think nothing of blinding young eyes has as self-righteous offering to a deity called "national interest" then in the hands of an artist like Srinagar – based Masood Hussain, those familiar images take on dark tones layered by a texture of loss that is at once personal and collective". Masood Hussain, by his art has brought our pain on canvas, documented our agony to give its feel to generations to come.     

Burhan Wani aftermath, brought death and destruction to most of South Kashmir. Within a few hours of the operation at Bamdoora, on Friday July 8, private vehicles and ambulances, carrying injured with bullet and pellet injuries made a beeline to SMHS Hospital, Srinagar. By Sunday evening more than 2000 injured, most of them with eye injuries were brought to the hospital. Kashmir presented look of a wailing valley. The print media, the only source of information played a commendable role in keeping people abreast of the situation. With curfew clamped on entire valley, it was difficult to imagine as to how injured in thousands would be attended and treated at SMHS hospital. Would it be possible for the medical and para-medical staff to reach the hospital and what about medicine and surgical supplies, were questions frequently asked. It suddenly occurred to me that one of my close relations working as an Ophthalmologist in the hospital would be right person to give some credible information about the situation. I was told that the Ophthalmology – Ward 8 was overflowing with injured and that entire team of the doctors lead by Dr.Tariq Qureshi, Head of Department, Ophthalmology was doing everything possible to treat the injured. I came to know that there was shortage of some medicine details whereof were conveyed to me. In the afternoon of Monday July 11th, after I laid hands on the required medicine, I visited the hospital. Dr. Qureshi met me in the corridor, he was in a rush, had hardly any time to exchange pleasantries, and asked me to handover the medicine to the doctor on duty in Ward 8. On reaching Ward 8, I was shocked to find the Ward filled with injured, some of the injured lying on the floor between beds and even in the corridor, with their eyes covered. It was a sight beyond description. It was very difficult if not impossible to cope with the situation. However, Dr. Qureshi and his team of doctors courageously and valiantly met the challenge, though at the cost of their personal comforts and inconvenience to their families. He extended all support to Dr Natrajan, Dr Mahesh Shanmugam, and their team and made it possible for them to conduct more than 500 eye surgeries. It is because of his commitment and dedication that the Ophthalmology Department has till date treated more than 800 injured with eye injuries, conducted 650 primary surgeries or repair surgeries and 439 secondary or retinal surgeries. Dr Qureshi could have dealt with the matter in a routine and lifeless manner, resulting in chaos and unbearable pain for the injured and their family. He by working round the clock during last three months to lessen the pain of young boys and girls, showered with pellets and giving them hope has set a precedent for his colleagues.  

Sometime in 1988, Nazir Ahmad Ronga and Bashir Ahmad Khan, advocates – my batchmates in Law School and colleagues at Bar, brought to my chamber a young boy wearing a newly stitched black suit, sparkling white shirt and black tie. He was introduced as Mir Shafqat Hussain. He had recently graduated from Law School, had made up his mind to start law practice and had joined their law firm. I welcomed Shafqat, to the world of law, said a few encouraging words and asked him to show patience and perseverance and not to run away from the lawyer's profession as I had done. Shafqat stuck to the legal profession and is now a well known lawyer, because of his direction and dedication and of course not because of my advice. He, however, as a lawyer has in the words of Scott Peck, chosen "the road less travelled". 

Right to life and personal liberty is the most precious right. A human being has the right, not because it is conferred on him by law but as he is member of the human race. It exists independent of International Treaties, Covenants, Constitution and the law. These merely reiterate, what is already there, though provide a legal framework for its protection.  The right can be interfered with only by just, fair and reasonable law to be enforced in a just, fair and reasonable manner. The Preventive Detention Law is repugnant to the right of life and personal liberty.  It provides for detention without charge and trial. The person deprived of liberty is not made aware of the charge against him, there is no trial to prove the charge and he does not have any opportunity to deny the allegations and discredit the material against him. The power, expected by the framers, to be rarely and sparingly used, is exercised in a routine manner, as the first option. It is used even against juveniles, old and infirm. The detention orders are at time repeatedly slapped on a person, one after other, extending the period of detention beyond what is permissible under law. There are instances where detention orders have been passed more than 20 times, one after other or with brief intervals to make detention without charge and trial stretch over a number of years. For the detenu, the period of detention is sentence without trial. 

Mir Shafqat Hussain, after the, "epidemic of detentions" broke out in early nineties decided to stand with all those put under detention and their families. He has till date filed and prosecuted more than 8000 Habeas Corpus petitions. To him, fight for personal liberty is a passion. One must watch him, urging before the Bench that a Habeas Corpus petition because of liberty involved is to be decided within two weeks, and his expressions when the petition for one or other reason gets adjourned – pain and disappointment  writ large on his face. He does not plead but fights for a detenu. His legal assistance to a detenu does not stop at filing a petition for quashment of detention order. He would frequently drop in, in scorching heat at my Jammu office, sweating but wearing a full suit. When asked Shafqat, would say that he is returning from Tihar after meeting a detenu, is on his way to Kot Balwal on a similar mission and would return to Srinagar day after, to file petitions for their medical treatment, shifting, permission to sit in examination etc. Shafqat, undoubtedly stands apart, pursuing a sacred mission, to be emulated by youngsters. 

There are hundreds amongst us, in and outside Kashmir who because of their relentless struggle for the rights of people  are heroes in their own right. Roshan Illahi @ MC Kash, rapps for Kashmir protest victims and appears to sing to the tune of Barkati in Europe, while Mehboob Makhdoomi, discusses Kashmir with Noam Chomsky, from my alma mater in America. When we salute our heroes, how can Mirza Wahid, Basharat Peer, Khuram Parvaiz, Muzzamil Thakur and Shehla Rashid be off our mind. They by their books, write ups and campaign initiated against human rights violations, associating scholars from around the world have given voice and identity to their hapless brethren. Let us conclude with words of  Ayn Rand, "some give up at the first touch of pressure, some sell out, some run down by imperceptible degrees and lose their faith and fire, never  knowing when or how they lost it …. Yet a few hold on and move on, knowing that fire is not to be betrayed, learning how to give it shape, purpose and reality".  

The author is former judge of Jammu and Kashmir High Court.

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