Ashraf Sehrai: ‘A Long Political Career Comes To An End’

Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai. KO Pic by Auqib Javeed.

Syed Ali Geelani’s close aide, Muhammad Ashraf Khan Sehrai passed away in GMC Jammu following a breathing problem. His demise is termed as an end of a transparently honest politician [who] spent decades in jail.

IN what could be described as a tidal wave of tributes sweeping Kashmir’s social media spaces, even the local unionists minced no words to hail the “gentlemen politician” for his steadfastness.

Sajad Lone termed Ashraf Sehrai a Jama’at ideologue, who struggled all his life.

“A long political career comes to an end,” Lone described Sehrai’s demise.

“When I was 19, I bumped into him [Sehrai] and he told me: “Tell your father —‘kitney haseen hain terey lab ki galiyan dekey bemaza na hua’ (Your words stayed sweet despite abuses).”

Questioning his custody, Lone asked why did Sehrai have to die in incarceration and not at his home amongst his kin and loved ones.

“Have we become so weak that an old infirm dying person is a threat to the state,” Lone said. “I am not being critical. But please introspect. Seharai Sahib was a political leader not a terrorist.”

This is the irony of Kashmiri politics, Lone said that top quality politicians got consumed by the conflict. “The ideological versatility of Kashmir politics is a curse. A transparently honest politician spent decades in jail.”

Even former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti expressed her ‘deep sadness’ over Sehrai’s sudden demise.

“Like him countless political prisoners and other detainees from J&K continue to be jailed purely for their ideologies and thought process,” Mehbooba said.

“In today’s India one pays a price with his life for dissent. The least GOI can do in such dangerous circumstances is to immediately release these detainees on parole so that they return home to their families.”

Sehrai passed away after developing serious breathing problems in Udhampur jail, where from he was later shifted to GMC Jammu.

“Sehrai was suffering from multiple ailments and despite repeated requests by the family that his health was deteriorating in jail was left unattended by the authorities till his condition worsened yesterday and he died,” All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) said in a statement.

In the death of Sehrai, Hurriyat said, people of J-K have lost a sincere able and an honest leader.

Sehrai after he became Geelani’s TeH successor.

Three years ago when he succeeded his mentor Syed Ali Geelani as the new Tehreek-i-Hurriyat chairman, Sehrai faced his son’s sudden insurgent move, bringing twist in his leadership role.

Last year, when the same son was killed in a Nawakadal gunfight, Sehrai in number of videos could be seen expressing gratitude for the “noble end”.

But soon after his son’s killing, Sehrai was slapped with the Public Safety Act (PSA) and lodged at Kot Bhalwal jail, Udhampur.

His pandemic imprisonment was only an extension of his drawn-out detention life starting from 1965, when 22-year-old Sehrai was jailed for the first time for “anti-government activities” and imprisoned in Srinagar’s Central Jail for about six months.

Life before captivity was an avid schooling in the ideology seeking merger of Kashmir with Pakistan.

Son of Shamas-ud-din Khan, Sehrai was born in 1944 in Tickipora Lolab, Kupwara. His forefathers— the Khans of Pakistan—had migrated to Kashmir before 1947 Partition.

Sehrai had his primary schooling in his hometown before graduating in Urdu from Aligarh Muslim University.

“In 1948, the Jama’at-e-Islami’s teachings and literature reached my Tikkipora village in Lolab, Kupwara, through my older brother Muhammad Yousuf,” Sehrai told this reporter in 2018.

Sehrai’s headmaster at Sogam High School, Ghulam Mohammad Sherwani, a Jama’at ideologue, would visit his home along with Syed Ali Geelani and other Jama’at leaders.

“They would discuss Islam and political issues concerning us and speak to small gatherings,” Sehrai told me. “I would serve food to the guests. I was brought up in that learned atmosphere.”

In 1959, on Geelani’s call, Sehrai came to Sopore to run a Jama’at seminary.

In Geelani’s hometown, Sehrai worked under his senior and groomed to be fiery Jama’at ideologue. Later as chairman of the Jama’at election board, the Lolab man would campaign for Geelani.

The bond continued and came of age when aged Hurriyat patron chose Sehrai as his successor in 2018.

“From the word go, Sehrai Sahab was a bright, intelligent but shy person who took great interest in debates and discussions on religious and political discourses since his childhood,” his relative said.

The vocal campus debater mostly remained a low key follower during his political career. But like his political mentor, Sehrai was a good orator.

With his mentor.

In 1970s, when Jama’at-e-Islami fielded him against Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah from Ganderbal seat, his fiery speeches became one of the hallmarks of the election. Later, as Muslim United Front candidate, Sehrai’s art of public speaking would hook masses to the 1987 MUF rallies.

A literature and poetry aficionado, Sehrai’s views on Kashmir conflict echoed that of Geelani’s.

He believed that inclusion of Kashmiris in the dialogue process is the only way of solving the conflict.

“People should be allowed to decide their fate, as promised by the Indian leaders,” Sehrai told me during that 2018 interview.

“The solution should be acceptable to all, otherwise, there will be no compromise.”

His sudden demise was described as “custodial death” by Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association (JKHCBA) calling for independent probe for the cause of his death and fixation of responsibility.

“Sehraie sahab was detained under PSA last year and his habeas corpus petition is still pending disposal before the JK High Court at Srinagar,” Bar Association said.

“The council for Sehraie sahab had filed three applications before court for shifting him from Kuthua Jail to Jammu jail, hospitalisation owing to serious heart ailment and meeting with the family members. Surprisingly no orders were passed on all the three applications.”

Meanwhile, recalling his 2017 interview with Sehrai, senior Kashmiri journalist Riyaz Masroor said that when he asked him why the Hurriyat suffered split post 9/11, Sehrai replied: “I cannot share some secrets, they will be buried with me.”

On the day of his demise, Kashmiri netizens asserted and argued that the unassuming Lolab man indeed died burying many secrets in his chest.

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed

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