Senior Kashmiri Hurriyat leader, Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai, who challenged India’s hegemonic rule over Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir for decades, died on May 05, 2021 while in police custody. He was 77.
Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai was born in Tekipora (Lolab) in Kupwara in 1944. He was youngest among the three brothers.
Sehrai completed his primary education in his hometown Tekipora and secondary education from Sogam Lolab High School in 1959.
After clearing secondary examination, he did Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Urdu He was considered one of the fluent and great orators and could speak tirelessly for hours.
Booked under draconian Public Safety Act, Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai was on July 12, 2020 shifted to Udhampur Jail in Jammu.
His condition deteriorated in jail, but was not given timely access to doctors and was only shifted, to Jammu Government Medical College on May 04, where he breathed his last.
Sehrai who replaced Syed Ali Geelani as chairperson of the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat in 2018 had tested negative for COVID-19 in the rapid antigen test but later his Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RTPCR) report in the evening showed him positive after his death as he had COVID-19 symptoms and his oxygen levels had fallen.
Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai was suffering from multiple ailments and was not provided with any treatment during his incarceration.
He was imprisoned in Indian jail under squalid conditions despite serious deterioration of his health and the prevailing Covid-19 crisis.
Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai’s dead body was ferried to his ancestral village Tekipora in Lolab area of Kupwara at around 4:00 am from Jammu where was laid to rest in the dark of night.
At the time of the arrival of the dead body and its burial the electricity in the village was completely cut off, plunging the area in total darkness.
The occupation authorities had put strict restrictions on the movement of the people and the whole area was cordoned off.
A small number of people mainly some close relatives were allowed to participate in his funeral prayers and to have a last glimpse of Hurriyat stalwart.
Indian army had laid restrictions all across the occupied valley to prevent mammoth gathering on the funeral of Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai.
Concerned about the health of hundreds of Kashmiri political detainees as India faces a massive health crisis because of an explosion of coronavirus cases, only last week the All Parties Hurriyat Conference had made an appeal to the Indian authorities to either release or shift the Kashmiri detainees languishing in Indian jails to jails in Kashmir but their appeal fell on deaf ears.
The prisoners were being denied “even basic amenities”, leading to “serious health problems among the prisoners” and Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai fell victim to Indian intransigence and negligence. This callous attitude amounted to the systematic killing of the leader.
Sehrai’s son, Mujahid Sehrai, told media that his father was denied proper medical care while in jail. He said he spoke to his father 10 days ago and he complained of ill health.
“He told us several times in the last few months during his two phone calls a week to home that he was not getting proper medical treatment,” his son said.
“We moved to a court on April 16 with a petition seeking proper medical assistance for him but the court was yet to review it.”
India arrested thousands of Kashmiris under the Public Safety Act since 1989, when an armed struggle erupted in Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir seeking the region’s liberation from Indian clutches and merger with Pakistan.
Human rights groups say India has used the law to stifle dissent and circumvent the justice system, undermining accountability, transparency, and respect for human rights.
Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai was a staunch freedom fighter and had allowed his son Junaid Sehrai to join the ranks of armed struggle.
Junaid was martyred on May 19, 2020 in Srinagar. Ashraf Sehrai all along his life worked as a lieutenant of Syed Ali Gilani, and was a member of Jamaat-e-Islami.
He spent more than 16 years in various Indian jails in a political career that spanned nearly six decades.
Sehrai made a “significant contribution to the Kashmiris’ struggle for their right to self-determination and suffered lifelong persecution at the hands of India.
India’s attempt to portray Kashmiri leaders as “terrorists” and then prosecute them through “concocted cases” was a violation of international human rights and international law, including the United Nations Charter and resolutions passed by the UN Security Council and UN General Assembly.
The custodial killing or deliberate murder of Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai authenticates the fears of Hurriyat leaders about their comrades like Aasiya Andrabi, Mohammad Yasin Malik, Shabir Ahmed Shah, Advocate Shahidul Islam, Altaf Ahmed Shah, Nayeem Ahmed Khan, Ayaz Akbar, Peer Saifullah, Raja Merajuddin Kalwal, Syed Shahid Yousuf, Shakeel Ahmed, Farooq Ahmed Dar, Fehmeeda Sofi, Nahida Nasreen, Zahoor Ahmed who have been languishing in jails either in India or in the occupied territory and its time United Nations and International Committee of the Red Cross should urge India to drop all fabricated charges against political leaders of Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir and provide them complete legal protections, including the right to a free and fair trial.
There is no difference between killing and actively creating the conditions of someone’s death.
When a state can’t take care of its own people, how could it ever look after the health of political dissidents it has declared as enemies and imprisoned?
Sehrai dedicated his life for Kashmir’s self-determination and its time the Indian government should “release all those detained on political or humanitarian grounds” to create a conducive environment for peace to prevail in the region and let the incarcerated leaders a chance to survive corona scare. Sehrai is survived by his wife, two daughters, and three sons.
[The author could be reached at [email protected]]