India lets out Kashmir separatist leader from house arrest

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was taken into custody in 2019, after India revoked Kashmir's autonomous status. Farooq gave a speech at a mosque following his release, where he said he aims for peace in Kashmir.

After his release, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq delivered a speech at a mosque, expressing his commitment to achieving peace in Kashmir. (photo: DW)
After his release, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq delivered a speech at a mosque, expressing his commitment to achieving peace in Kashmir. (photo: DW)


India let Kashmir separatist Mirwaiz Umar Farooq walk free on Friday, 22 September, after he served a four-year house arrest term.

Farooq was then granted permission to give a sermon and guide Friday prayers at the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar, which serves as the summer capital of the Jammu and Kashmir region.

What did Farooq say after this release?

"All my rights and liberties were curtailed... we are not so-called separatists or peace-disrupters but realist resolution-seekers," 50-year-old Farooq told thousands of worshippers at the mosque.

Farooq's residence, located just down the street of the Jamia Masjid, is where he spent his house arrest sentence. Farooq was detained by Indian authorities in 2019, a day before Delhi revoked Muslim-majority Kashmir's autonomous status.

"This period of my house arrest and separation from my people has been the most painful for me since my father's death," Farooq said at the mosque, while calling for the freedom of "numerous political prisoners."

"One part of Kashmir is with India and other two parts are with Pakistan and China and we believe that it will be complete after all the three parts are merged," Farooq said.

Farooq is the chairperson of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, an alliance of secessionist parties in Kashmir which contest India's territorial claims.

Both India and Pakistan control parts of the Himalayan region of Kashmir, making the area a source of conflict between the two rival countries. China controls the remainder of the region. Since the partition of India in 1947, the South Asian neighbors have been involved in two wars over the territory.

Since 1989, Kashmir has also witnessed a militant insurgency, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives. India has said Pakistan is backing insurgent groups, a claim which Islamabad rejects.

Farooq, a religious leader at Jamia Masjid since he was 17, believes the Hindu nationalist government under Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been too forceful in its policies towards Kashmir.

Farooq on Friday, 22 September railed against Modi, labeling constitutional amendments by Modi's Hindu nationalist administration "unacceptable."

Modi "said about Ukraine that this is not the time for war. He is right," Farooq continued. "Disputes and disagreements should be resolved by talks rather than using power or unilateralism."

Why did India revoke Kashmir's autonomy?

Modi's decision in August 2019 to abrogate Article 370 of the Kashmir Constitution divided the state into two Indian-governed union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. By revoking Article 370, it opened the door to allowing Indians from other parts of the country to buy territory in the state.

Modi at the time said that by revoking Article 370 "we will be able to free Jammu and Kashmir from terrorism and separatism under this system." Modi said the move would promote development in the region and put it on equal footing with the rest of India.

In the aftermath of Article 370's revocation, the Indian government clamped down on Kashmir, imposing a curfew, blacking out telecommunications and engaging in a wave of mass arrests against opponents of the decision. India also barred foreign journalists and politicians from the territory.

Last month, India's Supreme Court began hearing challenges to the suspension of Kashmir's autonomous status, although they are considered unlikely to succeed. A ruling is expected in either November or December.

Pakistan has denounced India's decision to abrogate Article 370, calling it an attempt to change the religious demography of Kashmir. Pakistan's prime minister at the time, Imran Khan, called on the US and other players in the international community to intervene on the issue.

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Published: 23 Sep 2023, 9:00 AM